Cray close in on retaining title after beating league leaders
VCD Athletic 1-3 Cray Wanderers
Go Travel Kent League Premier Division
Saturday 24 April 2004
by Jerry Dowlen
The end-of-April championship showdown at North Dane Way saw Cray Wanderers rise to the occasion and long-term leaders VCD Athletic falter in the eagerly-awaited clash of the two sides who seemingly were always destined this season to end up in a desperately close finish before the outcome of the championship would be decided.
Kicking down the slope in the first half, VCD pushed the Cray back line deep into defence at times but it took them 22 minutes to put in an on-target shot, Micky Simmons getting down to hold Danny Penny's drive.
By then the impressive Ross Lover had crashed a 10th minute shot against the bar at the other end, and the 168 spectators were witnessing the unusual sight of VCD largely being out-muscled by an opposing side, with James Taylor, Jamie Kempster and Sam Wood injecting plenty of bite into the Cray midfield.
Cray will have felt that they more than shaded the first half, especially when Lover turned and shot from 30 yards and demanded a flying save from Marc Brown just before the interval.
But Cray knew that VCD would come out fighting in the second half, and it was well and truly "game on" after 51 minutes when Matt Russell was left in acres of space to collect a through ball and assuredly lob Simmons to put the homesters one up.
It seemed that VCD immediately lost their concentration, and Cray were able to respond within a minute. Dean Thomson rather nervously put a nothing-ball out for a corner-kick and when Lover swung the ball over the normally resolute VCD defence didn't deal with it and David Gray headed home.
VCD then enjoyed a spell of pushing forward, but even though Cray struggled for a while to clear their lines the back four still looked to be solid and impenetrable.
Cray's front pairing of Jamie Wood and Richard Dimmock made the most of every ball that reached them, and VCD were stunned after 70 minutes when Dimmock was strongest in a scrimmage at the far post and he finished with a shot that took a deflection and went spinning into the net.
Unable to make anything of two free-kicks from dangerous positions on the very edge of the Cray penalty area, VCD seemed to become drained of self-belief, while the Wands grew in stature.
Cray put their victory stamp on the game when Sam Wood's forceful run down the left ended in a trip from behind after 87 minutes. Lover sent the free-kick into the goalmouth and with Cray first again in the aerial challenge, Taylor nodded the loose ball across Brown and into the net at the 'keeper's right-hand post.
And so the mathematics has it that Cray now need only two points from their last three League games, to retain the Kent League championship. Next up for Cray is a home match versus Hythe Town on Monday 26 April (7.45pm) at Hayes Lane. After that the Wands play Maidstone United twice over the May bank holiday weekend.
Cray Wanderers: Simmons, Whelan, Rawlings, Gray, Evans, Taylor, Lover (Silk), Kempster, R Dimmock, J Wood (Bennett), S Wood. Subs not used - Heaslewood, Mayall, Woolf.