Cray Valley (Paper Mills) 3-2 Croydon - Hopefully we can get through to a Cup Final or a couple of finals this season and try to get some silverware, says Cray Valley boss Kevin Watson

Wednesday 07th February 2018
Cray Valley (Paper Mills) 3 – 2 Croydon
Location Badgers Sports Ground, Middle Park Avenue, Eltham, London SE9 5HT
Kickoff 07/02/2018 19:45

London Senior Cup (Sponsored by Coventry Scaffolding) Quarter-Final
Wednesday 7 February 2018
Stephen McCartney reports from Middle Park Avenue

CRAY VALLEY (Paper Mills) manager Kevin Watson says he wants to bring silverware back to the club.

The current London Senior Cup holders reached the Semi-Finals after beating their Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division rivals Croydon on a bitterly cold night.

The Millers raced into a 2-0 lead inside the opening 26 minutes courtesy of striker Calum Willock’s second goal in as many games for the club and a beautiful volley from winger Ryan Flack.

Croydon appeared to be dead and buried but they showed character and two goals inside 130 seconds just before the break brought them level.

Right-wing-back Bradley Wilson placed a 20-yard free-kick into the top left-hand corner before striker Lauris Chin dinked home his 13th goal of the season as Croydon went route-one.

Croydon were the better side during the second half and looked destined to end Cray Valley’s hold on the prestigious trophy but Joe N’Guessan grabbed his eighth goal for the club in the final five minutes to seal victory.

“I’m a bit relieved to be honest.  I thought they were better for large spells of the game,” admitted Watson.

“They’re a good team.  I admire the way they pass the ball, they didn’t change their game plan.

“They started better for possibly the first 10 minutes and then we responded to the way they played in terms of our defensive shape and I thought we got better and got a foothold in the game with the 2-0 lead.

“We were 2-0 up and we got naïve for 15 minutes from the end of the first half, started to dive in and give free-kicks away, wasn’t pressing as a team as we were for probably the 20 minutes before that and then the lad has hit a decent free-kick.

“We were naïve for the second in terms of we’ve got a set-piece.  I don’t mind delivering the set-piece, I encourage that because I thought we looked dangerous from set-pieces but then defensively one ball has got through and the lad scored.”

Croydon manager Harry Hudson added: “Very odd game of football.  First half I thought we were very poor. We went in at half-time 2-2, which was really unfair on Cray Valley.

“We spoke to our players at half-time about moving the ball a lot quicker and try to break their press earlier and I think second half we took control of the game and played good football and had a lot of opportunities.

“But I thought we were the better side in the second half but we got done by a sucker-punch.  I thought Cray had one shot in the second half, which was a rebound for the goal, which they scored.

“I thought the only side I could see scoring would’ve been Croydon rather than Cray but that’s football. 

“We spoke to the players afterwards about the identity that we wanted to play and if we perform like we did in the second half, we’ll win more games than we’ll lose.”

Cray Valley went into the game sitting in eleventh-place in the table on a five-match unbeaten run and with 33 points from their 23 games, while the Trams arrived in Eltham in the top-five with 40 points from 25 games, seven points adrift of leaders Sevenoaks Town but having played five more games.

Croydon started the game on the front foot and a brilliant save from Andy Walker denied them with four minutes and 34 seconds on the clock.

Wilson cut back their first corner to winger Daniel Hector and he floated in a cross towards the far post for central defender Nathan Campbell, who planted his free header towards goal from eight-yards, which was tipped onto the bar by Walker, high to his left.

Hudson said: “It’s very rare to have a chance from a set-piece because we’re not the biggest side.  Regardless if that had gone in it might’ve settled us down. It might’ve allowed us to control the game but I don’t think we settled into our pattern at all in the first half.

“After that chance Cray had the better of the half, had control of us by their pressing structure, which was credit to them and they deserved their 2-0 lead.”

Watson added: “A great touch by Walks onto the bar, that’s what he’s about.  I wouldn’t have another goalkeeper over Walks.

“We’ve spoken about Walks finishing his career at this club, however long that is.  He’s a great lad, great attributes and every training session he turns up on time and does things right and he reaps the rewards of staying fit to be able to have the ability to make that save.”

Cray Valley’s opening chance arrived inside nine minutes, also following their first flag-kick.

Flack swung the ball in from the left and Cem Tumkaya came up from the back to loop his header over the crossbar from 10-yards.

With former Gillingham coach Jamie Day playing a holding role in front of the Millers back four, the home side called shaky Croydon keeper Alex Hewitt into action in the 12th minute.

Flack cut a corner inside to Day, who was given space to drill a right-footed shot towards goal from 25-yards, which was spilt by Hewitt and Willock couldn’t turn the ball in from the rebound and Matt O’Donoghue, who had a roaming role for the away side, cleared his lines.

“I thought Jamie was the best player on the pitch in the first half, he was so comfortable on the ball,” said Watson.

“He stopped playing to get into management or he was a player-manager to start with.  It’s hard to pick yourself up in that situation but he can still play at this level and probably levels above.

“He’s a model professional, a great lad. Realistically we won’t have him in the long-term, we’re well aware of that but in the meantime it’s an absolute pleasure for him to be out here. He plays like an 18-year-old in terms of his enthusiasm.”

Hudson said: “It was a good hit. I don’t know if it moved, I wouldn’t know. I thought there were two things in that game. We limited Cray to shots from distance, all three of their goals came from long-range efforts initially and we’ve got to get the ball out from the danger area if we can’t hold it and secondly, in terms of following up from our defenders, we were second to the ball that got spilt on two occasions, which ultimately was decisive.”

Cray Valley opened the scoring with 17 minutes and 6 seconds on the clock.

Ben Francis ran the left-channel before checking his run and playing the ball back to Day, who floated in a left-footed cross to Willock, who controlled the ball before planting his left-footed shot nicely into the bottom right-hand corner from 12-yards.

“We brought Calum in for Saturday and now he’s scored two in two. He’s a good player. He needs to get a little bit match sharper by his own admittance but he’s just played two games in the space of four days,” said Watson.

“He’s fit anyway through his job as a professional trainer.  It’s just his match sharpness but what an honest lad! He was working hard at the end keeping the ball in the corner and he gives us a different dimension.”

“I thought he was a threat. He’s very experienced and played at a higher level and he was a threat to us,” Hudson said of Willock.

“For most of the game our plan was to get him away from our goal as much as possible and be as tight as possible and in the first half that didn’t happen and if we don’t get up the pitch and get him away from goal as possible he’s going to be a threat and that told with the first goal.”

Cray Valley doubled their advantage with 25 minutes and 18 seconds on the clock through Flack’s third goal for the club.

The Millers had a spell of keep-ball in and around the Croydon box and the ball came out to Alex Nelson, who clipped the ball back in towards the edge of the box for Flack to hit a stunning right-footed volley screaming into the top far corner from 25-yards.

Watson said: “Technically there’s no disputing Flacky’s technical ability.  We see that in training on 3G pitches. He can score a goal like that! That’s not out of his range or ability by any stretch of the imagination so I wasn’t surprised to be honest when it’s come down, it’s set up nicely and it’s a great strike!”

Hudson added: “Poor goal for us to concede, fantastic hit from the kid, so fair play to him.

“We didn’t get enough pressure on the ball in the third phase from a set-piece. We didn’t attack the ball or put enough pressure on and from that point onwards take my hat off to the strike but from our point of view it was a goal that was avoidable.”

Flack cut back his fourth corner of the night to Day, who was given acres of space to power an angled drive straight into Hewitt’s midriff from 25-yards.

Croydon created a chance when roaming left-wing-back O’Donoghue found himself in the final third and he played the ball inside to impressive winger Hector, who skipped into the box and drilled his shot straight at Walker from a tight angle from the right-hand side of the box.

Croydon gave themselves a lifeline courtesy of Wilson’s fourth goal of the season from a free-kick with 42 minutes and 26 seconds on the clock.

Walker lined up his wall but he couldn’t prevent Wilson’s right-footed free-kick from 20-yards go over his wall and sail into the top left-hand corner.

Hudson asked for patience from his impressive young side.

“There’s no way we couldn’t play as bad in the second half as we played in the first half,” he admitted.

“All I wanted to do at 2-0 was get the guys in and talk to them because at 2-0, the game was salvageable. That was our mindset and as it transpired we ended up drawing 2-2 at half-time, which was a huge boost but at 2-0 I was disappointed in the way that we didn’t stamp our authority on the game.”

Reflecting on Wilson’s sublime free-kick, Hudson admitted: “It’s not like him either! A great free-kick, a great strike, very pleased with that and that gave us a foot hold to get us back into the game. Sometimes we need a bit of magic to get us back into it.”

Watson added: “Good strike! We had a couple around the box in similar distance and didn’t hit them that well so fair play to them.  I thought he was a good player to be fair, good feet, good passer. It didn’t surprise me especially going down the slope slightly where it was on the edge of the box.  It was a tough one for Walks, he gets to set up his wall and sometimes you have to say it was a decent strike but we shouldn’t have given away the free-kick!”

N’Guessan cut into the Croydon box and from an angle drove his shot towards goal which screamed behind for a corner.

Flack floated in the resulting corner from the right and Tumkaya steered his header past the post.

Hewitt punted a big kick straight down the middle of the pitch and Millers’ left-back Nick Harvey’s error of judgement let in Chin, who raced through on goal and as Walker advanced, dinked his right-footed shot past the keeper to find the bottom left-hand corner from a couple of yards inside the box.

Hudson hailed the goal as a piece of “inspired magic” from his striker.

“Anyone will know at this level that Chiny is probably the quickest player at this level. He’s the quickest player I’ve worked with because he’s a real, real threat and you can’t give him five or six yards because he will only catch you up and run past you and that was a perfect example of his ridiculous pace and it was a lovely sublime finish over the goalkeeper.

“For us it was a goal out of nothing, similar to our first goal but it’s not something necessarily we work on but a bit of inspired magic.”

Watson added: “We didn’t deal with it!  Nick Harvey is another player that’s come from the reserve team.  Count the number of players who has come through from the Suburban League team this season?  He’s played the last two because we’ve not had Matt Parsons.

“A bit of naivety, he’s neither dealt with it before it’s bounced or he’s left it bounce and not dealt with it. 

“Do you know what? I said to him at half-time, what a great attitude from the lad, he’s taken it on the chin and you need to be able to deo that as a footballer. It’s a results game and you need to be able to be resilient and be able to take criticism.”

Both managers were asked their thoughts at the break.

Watson said: “I was disappointed because I half could see it coming.  I mentioned it before the game. When we were 2-0 up against them earlier in the season and they came back to win 3-2. 

“They didn’t change the way they play.  It was frustrating because if you get through to half-time at 2-0 I think it takes the wind out of their sails. They got one goal back and I knew that would change the game especially at that stage,

“I spoke to the boys and they were disappointed at half-time and rightly so, go 2-0 up and then give away a 2-0 lead, which they worked hard for it. It’s going to be hard work in the second half but I thought we were resilient, we showed good attitude and the work-rate, no one was cheating, which is a good sign for me as a manager.

“We’re on a decent run at the moment and when you’re winning as we have and when you’re not you can lose those games.”

Hudson added: “We focused on free-kicks.  The first thing was when we had the ball in the first half not all of our players wanted to contribute so we didn’t want the ball enough, so the first thing was that everyone needs to want the ball and be brave on the ball so when you give the ball to someone semi-opposed and pass to a team mate. Cray were trying to lock us and we have to break their pressure and that’s what we managed to do.”

Cray Valley created the first opening of the second half when Flack whipped in a cross from the right wing and Tumkaya’s third header bounced into Hewitt’s hands for a comfortable save inside the opening three minutes.

Croydon wasted a glorious chance to grab the lead just 32 seconds later.

Hector’s low pass released Chin bursting down the right channel and he cut into the penalty area to pull the ball back to Andy Mott, who slid in to sky his shot over the crossbar from six-yards.

Hudson said: “Shame! I think the ball was maybe slightly behind him.  I thought it was a fantastic move and it was very good football to get into that situation. We do have pace and we like to do good movement in high areas up the pitch so we do expect to create those type of chances.  I thought it was unfortunate we couldn’t finish off what I thought was an excellent move.”

Watson added: “They had a couple in the second half, like I say, they’re a good team. Their wide players are dangerous, they have a good shape and they know what they’re doing.  They’re well drilled so all credit to their management so it was inevitable that they were going to get chances and it was just important we limited them and we caused them problems down the other end.”

Cray Valley won themselves a free-kick in a similar to spot to where Wilson buried his free-kick, but all Day could do was drive his attempt under the wall for Hewitt to make a comfortable low save.

But Croydon were soon to dominate proceedings, playing with an eye-pleasing brand of football on the deck.

Hudson said: “I’d like to think we’d be as objective as possible. I think first half we weren’t (the better side) but second half I thought we probably had 75% possession, a lot of action on the pitch. It was at least 40-45% in their defensive third of the pitch, our attacking third and then we had very few times when Cray couldn’t get out.”

The pacy Chin beat two defenders as he cut into the box but he lacked the finish, lashing his right-footed shot over the top of the post.

Cray Valley withstood the pressure and should have done better with a headed chance at the halfway point.

Day swung in a quality free-kick from the middle of the park and Willock rose to drift his header across the keeper and past the far post from just inside the box.

“He’s got up well again,” said Watson. “it’s a decent delivery from Jamie, which we’d expect and set-pieces is something that’s important at this level. We need to do some more work on set-pieces because we’ve got some big, strong boys so once we get the movement right we’ve got people in the squad to deliver decent balls so it doesn’t surprise me we’ve created an opportunity from a set-piece.”

Nelson cracked a left-footed half-volley from 30-yards, which was destined to find the bottom left-hand corner, forcing Hewitt to dive to his right to grab hold of the ball.

Cray Valley snatched victory with 39:16 on the clock, following another spillage from the Croydon keeper.

Substitute right-winger Sam Bailey was in a central position when he cracked a left-footed dipping drive from 30-yards, which Hewitt dived to his right to parry the ball straight into N’Guessan’s path and the winger placed his first time shot across the struggling Hewitt to find the bottom far corner from 10-yards.

“We see Sam do that all the time, that’s his trademark.  A great strike of the ball, lots of potential, will be a very, very good player, better player in time to come once he’s starts to learn his trade,” said Watson.

“And that’s what Joe does. He’s a great finisher!  I thought the lad had a good yard on him but Joe’s quicker over a couple of yards and he had composure and finished it and we tried to shut up shop.”

Hudson added: “Similar to the incident that happened in the first half when someone shoots from 30-yards, it’s not a massive threat to you straight away.  We have to deal with the first shot better. Secondly, you get the seconds when the ball’s coming out, which is a real shame. If you follow up goal side of their runners that chance doesn’t go in.”

Croydon went close to forcing a penalty shoot-out when Wilson’s cross from the right was drilled across the face of goal by Hector but substitute striker David Owusu couldn’t poke the ball into the bottom right-hand corner at the far post.

“I thought our wide players were a constant threat to Cray today,” said Hudson.

“We put in some excellent crosses into the box. They defended resiliently. The ball didn’t quite fall for David, it dribbled wide and it happens.

“I think Cray were holding on towards the end and they were looking for the final whistle more than we were with 20-25 minutes to go.

“The only side that was going on to win the game would’ve been Croydon.”

Cray Valley became the first club at this level to win the London Senior Cup when James Collins’ side defeated Bostik Premier side Metropolitan Police 2-1 last May.

Metropolitan Police host Tooting & Mitcham United next week for the right to host the Millers in the Semi-Finals.

Watson said: “It will be a tough test for us, we like those sort of tests. I think that’s a good measure of where we’re at playing opposition but we go to Metropolitan Police or Tooting & Mitcham with the same mindset to try to win the game.”

Watson takes his side to Whitstable Town on Saturday in the Kent Reliance Senior Trophy Semi-Finals and then to Tunbridge Wells next Tuesday in the Quarter-Finals of the Challenge Cup.

“Hopefully we can get through to a Cup Final or a couple of finals this season and try to get some silverware,” added Watson.

“Football’s a funny old game and unfortunately it hasn’t happened this evening,” added Hudson.

“I would rather lose by playing well in the second half than win when you don’t deserve it because that’s more worrying for me as a manager.  The tide will turn and the results will follow and that’s what we’re focusing on.”

Cray Valley (Paper Mills): Andy Walker, Connor Dobson (Tommy Osborne 65), Nick Harvey, Jamie Day, Cem Tumkaya, Ashley Sains, Ryan Flack (Sam Bailey 78), Alex Nelson, Calum Willock, Ben Francis (Jordan Sandiford 87), Joe N’Guessan.
Subs: Simon Glover, Junior James

Goals: Calum Willock 18, Ryan Flack 26, Joe N’Guessan 85

Booked: Nick Harvey 52

Croydon: Alex Hewitt, Bradley Wilson, Matt O’Donoghue, Nathan Campbell, James Fotheringham, Jamie McGeoghegan, Daniel Hector, Bryan Akongo, Lauris Chin (David Owusu 70), Andy Mott (Fidan Fejzi 65), Raekwon Bailey-Allen.
Sub: Rio Davidson-Phipps

Goals: Bradley Wilson 43, Lauris Chin 45

Booked: Lauris Chin 68, James Fotheringham 84

Attendance: 47
Referee: Mr Gerry Heron (West Wickham)
Assistants: Mr Valentine Anekwe (Bromley) & Mr Silvester Aina (West Drayton, Middlesex)

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