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|Stephen McCartney reports from Croydon Sports Arena|
|Cray Wanderers||2||Jamie Wood 82
Michael Power 90
Cray on the right track
Cray Wanderers' promotion push continues but they were made to work for the
points by bottom of the table Croydon at the Croydon Sports Arena on Saturday.
Two goals in the final eight minutes from Jamie Wood (his 18th of the season) and Michael Power's fifteenth strike, avoided the potential banana skin against a side that have won only four times in the league this season.
Cray - in their first season playing Ryman League football - are in fourth place with 61 points with only seven games left. They are, however, desperate for promotion, automatically with AFC Wimbledon by finishing as runners-up. Currently the Wands are in a play-off position but they have six-points to make up on Walton & Hersham, who are in the position Ian Jenkins' men crave.
But by the way Croydon started - they are now nine points from safety - you would have thought it was the Trams that were chasing a promotion dream.
The impressive Bronek Dabrowa left Cray's Drew Watkins' in his wake but poor control inside the visitors penalty area allowed goalkeeper Steve Northwood to collect the loose ball.
Two minutes later, Thierry Messi - who was sent off two minutes before the break for his second booking - burst down the right channel before pulling the trigger. However, his low drive, fell at Dabrowa's feet inside the box and he fired wide.
Another good move by Croydon down the left saw Mark Waters and Byron Thomas exchange passes and the latter sent a low centre across the face of the box. The ball was dummied by Jeff Goulding into Messi's path but his fierce drive flew well wide.
These good chances for the basement boys came in the opening fifteen minutes and should have been a wake-up call for stunned Cray.
Watkins blazed well wide for them before midfielder Matt Woolf was fouled by Messi inside the centre circle, which earnt the Croydon player his first card after 20 minutes.
Two more chances fell Croydon's way. Ray Tolfrey swept in a free kick from the left flank and visiting goalkeeper Northwood pushed Daniel Mathieu's volley around the post. Moments later Tolfrey's corner sailed out to the unmarked Messi and from 30-yards out, his drilled shot was comfortably saved by the former Thamesmead Town stopper.
Croydon goalkeeper John Odlum made a comfortable save from Jamie Wood's 20-yard effort but top scorer Leigh Bremner should have scored his 21st goal of the season in the 29th minute.
Croydon made a mess with a free kick yards from the half-way line and touchline on the left hand side allowing Bremner to intercept Tolfrey's short squared pass to Waters. The former Herne Bay striker ran 15 yards or so but decided to go for goal from 35-yards but his shot was embarrassingly well wide.
Cray striker Michael Power then watched the ball, as it came down from a great height, but he hit a 20-yard volley high over the bar.
Following Messi's stupid sending off, for kicking the ball away, Cray created some chances before referee Bentley blew for half-time.
Odlum made a fine reaction save from Power's fierce shot and then he collected David Gray's header - from Ross Lover's cross - and then the goalkeeper watched Wood's 22-yard drive all the way. Woolf then blazed over from long range.
Northwood kept his side in the game with another two good saves in the first seven minutes of the second half.
Cray skipper Ian Rawlings ran himself into trouble losing possession to Thomas, who raced into the penalty area, but Northwood saved the 16-yard shot to save his skipper's blushes.
Goulding then turned his marker and played the ball to Mathieu, inside the D, but his shot was straight at a well positioned goalkeeper.
Just before the hour mark, two long range shots from Power and Lover were off target for the frustrated visitors.
Goulding should have claimed at least a hat-trick had he wore his shooting boots. He received a 62nd minute pass from Dabrowa in space down the right channel, raced into the box, but with only Northwood to beat, screwed his shot wide from 16 yards.
Enough was enough for the Cray management team and they made a triple substitution. Lover, Tony Russell and Bremner were all sacrificed with Phil Collins, Luke Anderson and David Hall to try and score that elusive and much needed goal.
They thought that goal came with 19 minutes left. Wood's corner was cut back to an unmarked Watkins whose deep cross was headed back across the goal-mouth by David Gray from the by-line and Jamie Kempster prodded home from 4 yards. However, the flag had already been raised so the goal didn't stand.
Croydon hit Cray on the break five minutes later as Goulding outpaced Rawlings, the last defender, but once again, the forward, with Rawlings trailing behind him, fired another good chance wide.
Goulding, on the right, swept the ball to Mathieu in space, and after taking the ball forward, was off-target from 25-yards.
However, Cray punished the home side by breaking the deadlock with eight minutes left and grabbed a flattering second, four minutes into stoppage time.
Wood's 30-yard volley took a wicked deflection and you could feel the relief coming from everybody connected with the Wands as the ball found the back of the net and Wood celebrated his 18th goal of the season.
After clipping the near post from the by-line with an ambitious cross/shot, Power added the second, driving home from 16 yards.
Meanwhile, Joe Francis admitted it was difficult for this side to adapt to the surroundings - playing on a pitch surrounded by an eight lane athletics track and a lack of atmosphere
Most important thing about today's game was collecting three points?
"Absolutely!" the assistant manager replied.
"Hard, hard work, knew it would be," he added.
"Because you can't get much tempo on a park like that. Croydon battled their hearts out and it's a very hard earned three points. A day to be patient, I think.
"When you come to bottom of the league teams, fighting for their lives, they always find that little bit extra, don't they?"
"They were very dangerous on the break and I commend them. They gave us a really hard game!"
Croydon - with six straight defeats - left the field thinking what might have been had they taken some of their good chances. Their manager Dickson Gill ripped off his club tie and threw it to the ground in disgust as he waked down towards the tunnel.
Croydon: John Odlum, Mark Hall, Stuart Read, Ray Tolfrey, Thierry Messi (sent off 43), Bronek Dabrowa, Daniel Mathieu (Edward Palmer 85), David Shevel (Capt), Byron Thomas (Ahmet Akdag 67), Jeff Goulding, Mark Waters. Subs: Michael Jatto, Luke Milner, David Gill
Cray Wanderers: Steve Northwood, Drew Watkins, Ian Rawlings (Capt), David Gray, Tony Russell (Luke Anderson 64), Matt Woolf, Ross Lover (Phil Collins 64), Jamie Kempster, Michael Power, Leigh Bremner (David Hall 64), Jamie Wood. Subs: James Taylor, Ian Jenkins
Referee: I Bentley
Assistants: P Burton & A Ajobola
|Please credit match report to Stephen McCartney from www.kentishfootball.co.uk if using this article in your newspaper/website|