Thursday 01st September 2005

History repeats its self for Cray

Trouble sparks favourites Sudbury into life

Cray Wanderers 0-2 AFC Sudbury (aet)
FA Vase Quarter-Final
Saturday 21 February 2004
Jerry Dowlen reports from Hayes Lane

According to the statistics that Peter Goringe researched for the match programme, AFC Sudbury have reached the FA Vase quarter-final a record eight times, if you count their predecessor clubs.

In recent years their Vase pedigree is extremely impressive. But in a tense encounter at Hayes Lane on Saturday before an attendance of  771 it needed extra-time to separate Cray Wanderers and Sudbury and to determine which of them would battle through to this year's semi-final.

Spare a thought for the Cray supporters who could remember the Wands' one previous appearance in the Vase quarter-final, at home to Stamford (lost 0 - 1) in 1979-80.

They must have been wondering whether they were watching the re-run of an old film. Nil-nil after 90 minutes and then the bitter pill of conceding in extra-time. Alan Whitehead, Cray's right-winger in the Stamford game, was one of the many ex-Wands' faces glimpsed in the crowd at Hayes Lane.

The close comparison between the Stamford and Sudbury games even extended to the fine detail that the Cray man-of-the-match wore the number three shirt on both occasions (Kenny Edwards and Ian Rawlings).

There was the unwanted incidence of crowd trouble too, at both games.

But in particular it was the run of the game against Sudbury that was so reminiscent of 24 years ago.

Cray taking the game to their opponents in the early stages, and nearly scoring, but eventually being pushed back into a dour midfield slog which produced very few clear-cut chances at either end.

That was the story at Oxford Road versus Stamford, and the script was much the same at Hayes Lane too.

Cray were quicker out of the starting blocks against Sudbury, winning three early corners and finding a surprising amount of time and space on the ground and in the air to pressurise a wobbly-looking visiting rearguard.

But Cray couldn't hit the target - efforts from David Gray and Matt Woolf went closest - and gradually the visitors settled down and brought themselves into the game.

A flying save by Micky Simmons from Gary Bennett's flick-header marked the halfway point of the first half and also the nearest that either side came to scoring in the first period. The pattern of play had become an increasingly tense and nervous battle of wits on a partly-sanded and puddingy surface that didn't allow much flowing football.

Simmons needed two attempts to beat away and hold the ball from a corner-kick just before the interval, by which time it was noticeable that the strong and determined bursts by Cray's Jamie Kempster and Sam Wood into Sudbury territory had become less frequent.

Wood in fact had needed two lengthy spells of treatment from the physio after taking a hard blow to the face, and, worse still for the Wands, Ross Lover on the right flank had been forced to hobble off after 40 minutes with an injured ankle.

Even so, the opening period of the second half gave Cray fans just cause for believing that the game was there for the taking. Cray certainly weren't overawed by the Sudbury presence. The cut-and-thrust battle between Rawlings and David Gray in Cray's central defence and the front runners Gary Bennett and Andy Claydon whom they were marking was worth the admission money on its own, but at the other end Jamie Wood and Matt Woolf were scampering after the ball, jinking and turning and giving the visitors some stout defending of their own to do.

The first of Cray's best two chances came on 58 minutes when Sudbury couldn't prevent a left-wing cross from drifting into the path of the unmarked Paul Dimmock at the far post, and although he seemed to drag his shot a little, it looked to be on target until the ball struck a defender and flew clear.

Dean Greygoose was the less busy of the two 'keepers during the whole game but he had some luck on his side just after the hour when he hurled himself full-stretch to claw away a left-wing cross, sending the ball out to the edge of the box. With one-third of the unguarded goal to aim at, as he raced to meet the loose ball, Sam Wood fired into the side-netting.

But as the skies darkened and the nuisance wind got colder, and the players had to cope with a 13-minute cessation of play while the scrimmaging of rival supporters behind the Cray  goal was dampened down, it was Sudbury who began to take a firm grip on the game.

The Wands began to look starved in midfield, failing to get forward in number to support their two front strikers and failing too to give their strikers the ball on the floor where they wanted it.

As the game moved into extra-time one sensed that Cray's mission was now limited to containment - to hold out for a replay and hopefully use the seven day respite to get some of the walking wounded in fit shape to do battle with Sudbury on East Anglia soil on Saturday week.

Simmons made a great one-on-one save to keep Cray clinging on, but their undoing was the arrival of Sudbury's substitutes Sam Banya and Dean Francis who respectively set up and scored the opening goal on 102 minutes.

Barely had the visitors' celebrations subsided than Paul Betson was hammering in the second and killer goal on 104 minutes, and the exodus of the Kent and South London followers was becoming a flood rather than a trickle.

Cray's FA Vase dream is over - and now their season starts all over again! The Wands have done the Kent League proud this season but it certainly doesn't mean that their rivals in the championship chase will stand aside and let the title stay at Hayes Lane for the second year running.

In fact, Cray's opponents will have the scent of blood in their nostrils and will hope that the Wands might be on a big downer after their Vase exit.

The next few games will show what  Ian Jenkins' Army is made of. Till then, well done Cray in the Vase and well done AFC Sudbury - you edged Cray out in a good sporting game and there can be no complaints.

Cray Wanderers: Simmons, Whelan (Silk), Rawlings, Gray, Evans, Sharman, Lover
(P Dimmock) , Kempster, J Wood, Woolf (Bennett), S Wood.

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