Cray Wanderers 2-0 Enfield Town - We've been burnt a couple of times and we weren't going to be burnt again, says injury-hit Cray Wanderers boss Neil Smith

Friday 29th December 2023
Cray Wanderers 2 – 0 Enfield Town
Location Hayes Lane, Bromley, Kent BR2 9EF
Kickoff 29/12/2023 19:45

Isthmian League Premier Division
Friday 29 December 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from Hayes Lane

CRAY WANDERERS manager Neil Smith says his injury-hit side deserve a pat on the back after beating third-placed Enfield Town to ease their Isthmian League Premier Division relegation fears.


Gavin MacPherson’s side arrived at Hayes Lane in third-place in the table with 40 points (12 wins, four draws and five defeats) from their 20 league games and were unbeaten in three league games since losing 3-1 at second-placed Chatham Town on 25 November.

The Wands leapfrogged over Margate into sixteenth-place with 21 points (six wins, five draws and nine defeats) from their 20 games with a two-goal victory, to move four points clear of the relegation zone going into an eight-match January.

Ibitayo Oyebola headed in a debut goal, having scored four goals for their league rivals Hastings United, before fellow winger Ellis Brown, 28, drilled home an emphatic strike to seal the victory, as Smith’s men maintained their second successive clean-sheet following the goal-less draw at home to Margate on Boxing Day.

Smith was without Yahya Bamba (concussion), George Porter (illness), Anthony Cook (away), Nyren Clunis (injured) and Tom Bonner (three-match suspension), while centre-half Jack Holland tweaked his hamstring during the early stages of tonight’s game.

“It weren’t looking good this morning when I got the news from the players,” said Smith.

“George Porter couldn’t make it, we’re obviously without Nyren Clunis, without Cookie, without Yahaya from the other day and Tom Bonner, so we’re five first-team players down and the boys that have come in were immense.

“To lose Jack Holland so early on, it’s another set-back. It seems like a lot of mud has been thrown at us but fair play to Dave Ijaha coming back there and Woody (Sam Wood) with his first 90 minutes for a long time and Alfie Evans coming in.  I could go through the whole lot of them, they were amazing!”

When asked about Holland’s injury, Smith replied: “I’m led to believe he’s tweaked his hamstring but I’ll get the full diagnosis tomorrow.  Nyren’s injured, Bonner’s suspended so that’s what I’m saying. 

“You’re going into a team tonight that were third. It was a big game for us.  We felt we probably let ourselves down when we played them at their place (losing 2-0 on 26 August) and we owed it to ourselves to show people what we’re about.”

Enfield Town created their first opening inside the opening seven minutes, after holding midfielder David Ijaha gave away a free-kick some 35-yards from his goal.

Enfield Town left-winger Oliver Knight raised his right arm and swung in a left-footed delivery, which was cleared away to impressive midfielder Sam Youngs, who hit a snap-shot over the crossbar from 16-yards on the angle.

Cray Wanderers’ right-back Emmanuel Kwatchey won the ball off Enfield Town’s left-back Joseph Payne before his inside pass was intercepted by Scott Thomas before Enfield Town’s seven-goal striker Reece Beckles-Richards played the ball out to Dylan Adjei-Hersey but the winger’s effort sailed harmlessly wide of the far post.

Kwatchey gave the ball away in the 12th minute, which produced a sweeping counter-attack from the visitors’ with Thomas and Knight linking up play before teeing up Youngs who swept a left-footed drive towards the top far corner from 20-yards, which forced goalkeeper Shaun Rowley to dive high to his left to push around his post and behind for a corner.

“Shaun was immense in goal.  I thought it was quite a comfortable save for Shaun at the moment but his confidence is up and I can’t ask for any more,” added Smith.

Cray Wanderers took sixteen minutes to create their first opening, which fell to in-form striker Gary Lockyer.

Centre-half Holland appeared to have been caught by Enfield Town striker Beckles-Richards as he hit a long diagonal out to the right.

Kwatchey put in a low cross for Lockyer, whose left-footed shot on the turn flashed across the keeper and just past the foot of the far post from 25-yards and Holland was forced off the pitch after treatment.

“Gary just wants to score goals.  He won near enough every header tonight. There’s a few things we still need to work on but his effort and his running was phenomenal today,” said Smith.

Ijaha dropped into centre-half alongside the excellent Cameron Black, while Sam Wood dropped from his number 10 role (behind Lockyer) into a holding midfield role, while Alfie Evans came off the subs bench to play behind Lockyer in attack.

Knight swung in Enfield Town’s third (of six) corners towards the corner of the six-yard box, which was met by Young’s header, which cleared the crossbar.

Cray Wanderers grabbed the lead – with 25 minutes and 40 seconds on the clock – following a set-piece that Smith often used while Bromley’s manager in the National League.

Wood held the ball high above his head before placing the ball down, for Frankie Raymond to whip in a quality left-footed delivery into the Enfield Town box for right-winger Oyebola to loop his header into the roof of the net from 10-yards.

“The first time I met him was when he walked through the door today,” Smith said of Oyebola.

“I spoke to him yesterday and I asked if he was interested (in signing for us) and he was and I told him he’ll be playing and he got introduced to the boys at a quarter-past-six this evening – so what a debut.

“Frank will put balls in fantastic areas.  I know Tayo, I’ve seen him play and I know what his strengths are and one of them is he’s got a great leap for a small guy. It was a great goal and what a welcome to the club.”

Left-back Payne – who launched seven long throws into the Cray Wanderers penalty area – drove his shot just past the foot of the near-post after his initial throw was worked back into him.

Raymond floated in the home side’s second (of five) corner of the game towards the back post but this time Oyebola jumped up and his header cleared the crossbar from eight-yards out.

Knight stepped inside Kwatchey on the by-line and whipped in a cross with his right-foot towards the back post where Enfield Town’s recalled centre-half Joshua Okotcha steered his header past the upright from a tight angle.

Black’s only mistake of the game came in first-half stoppage time when he was turned by 17-goal attacking midfielder Marcus Wyllie, who cut the ball onto his left-foot and his 25-yard low drive was comfortably held by Rowley, low to his left.

“Wyllie is a good player.  We learnt the hard way earlier on in the season playing against him. He’s going to cause problems but I thought Camereon (Black) come in, in certain circumstances when Tom Bonner and Jack Holland’s been in (the side) and he’s staked a claim.”

When asked about his half-time thoughts, Smith replied: “Seriously, just keep doing what we’re doing! We’ve got the wind behind us, keep putting them under pressure. I think there’s another goal for us. If we’ve got the chances, we’ve just got to take them.

“We worked on our crossing and finishing yesterday. The boys have come in and sacrificed themselves again in the afternoon to get ready for this game, so they got what they deserved.”

Cray Wanderers went agonisingly close to doubling their lead inside the opening eight minutes when a long ball split open Enfield Town’s two centre-halves Tailor Mackenzie and Okotcha.

Wands’ left-back Jamie Mascoll hit a long ball out of defence to put Lockyer through on goal and his right-footed drive flashed across the keeper and just past the far post from 18-yards.

Smith said: “He’s desperate to score. He probably got frustrated at the end when we’re running the ball into the corner and he wanted balls into the box.

“We’ve been burnt a couple of times (against Whitehawk and Haringey Borough) and we weren’t going to be burnt again, so he’s got to have to learn if there’s circumstances when we cross it and put it in he’ll take it.  I thought he was immense, without scoring.”

Cray Wanderers went route one as they scored their second goal of the game, timed at 12 minutes and 28 seconds on the clock.

Goalkeeper Rowley launched a big kick straight down the middle, the ball was flicked on by Lockyer and bounced kindly for Brown, who emphatically drilled a left-footed half-volley into the bottom left-hand corner from 17-yards to score his fifth goal of the season.

“We were literally just saying before the game, he owed us a couple of goals Ellis,” said Smith.

“He missed one earlier, then he scored a great finish and then he had two more afterwards that he probably should’ve done better as well with a ball that flashed across the post.

“Ellis has given his all since he’s walked through the door as well and I can’t ask for any more.”

Enfield Town responded to that set-back with a chance from the corner of the penalty area when Beckles-Richards laid the ball off for Youngs, who stroked his left-footed shot straight into Rowley’s midriff from 20-yards.

“They’re always going to be a threat. They’re not up there for being lucky. They’ve got good forwards, they get good play but I thought we snuffed them out a little bit today,” said Smith.

Cray Wanderers received a slice of luck when Payne’s fourth long throw was met by Oyebola’s head at the near-post and his attempted clearance screamed just over the top of the near post inside the final 18 minutes.

Kwatchey hit a long ball out of defence and the excellent Lockyer produced a sublime first touch to control the ball before playing the ball in behind with the outside of his boot to put Brown in on goal but the winger’s left-footed shot only just sailed past the far post.

Smith said that Brown “should’ve done better,” because “it was in the six-yard box.”

Oyebola’s debut lasted 78 minutes and Smith brought on George Brooke, who impressed down the left flank during his cameo role, after making his fourth first-team appearance as a substitute, having been promoted from the club’s under 18 side.

Brooke counter-attacked before playing the ball inside to Evans, whose right-footed drive from 25-yards was comfortably saved by Rhys Forster, low to his right.

“Listen, Alfie Evans has always done well for me. It doesn’t matter where Alfie plays or how long he gets, he will just give me everything,” said Smith.

“It took him a little bit, ten to 15 minutes to sort out and get his bearings but I thought second half he was exactly what I know Alfie can do.”

Smith was delighted with Brooke’s cameo role and revealed this was his second match of the day.

“What a cherry on the top when you bring on a sixteen-year-old kid on.

“George Brooke has got a lot of interest in Premier League clubs, Manchester City. He’s just come back, he actually played for (Championship club) Leicester City behind closed doors today.  He’s come on, having travelled all the way up to Leicester, play a game, travelled all the way back and he’s come on and he’s looked sharp.

“For a sixteen-year-old he has no fear and he’ll have a bright future.  I’ll never stand in anyone’s way, someone as young as that. If we can help and aid it (a move to a professional club), then we will do it.  It will be something good for Cray.”

There was to be no late capitulation tonight, like throwing away points in recent home draws to ten-man Whitehawk and Haringey Borough (three-nil up before drawing 3-3), as the home side went to the corner flag to waste time with seven minutes of this game remaining.

“Today, we’ve learnt from our lesson and with five minutes to go we weren’t looking for the third goal. We were running into the corner and time wasting,” admitted Smith.

“Against Haringey the other day, we were trying to go to four, five and six and not seeing the game out whereas today we did.”

But Cray Wanderers’ back four were guilty of dropping too deep, as they successfully protected their two-goal lead.

Wood cut onto his left-footed and hit a 30-yarder which was comfortably saved by Forster low to his left, before Brown was released on the counter-attack and put it on the plate for eight-goal Lockyer, who was denied by a fine block by the visiting goalkeeper.

Evans then released Brooke, who lashed his left-footed drive over the crossbar with the last kick of the game (50:04).

Cray Wanderers now have Margate (21 points from 21 games) and Cheshunt (19 points from 19 games) beneath them in the league table.

Folkestone Invicta (19 points from 19 games), Kingstonian (12 points from 19 games), Haringey Borough (12 points from 21 games) and Concord Rangers (10 points from 15 games) go into the New Year inside the seventh-tier relegation zone.

Cray Wanderers welcome Hastings United to Hayes Lane on Monday 1 January 2024 (15:00).

Hornchurch are top of the tree with 49 points from 20 games, while the play-off places are occupied by Chatham Town (43 points from 22 games), Enfield Town (40 points from 21 games), Wingate & Finchley (34 points from 20 games) and Hastings United (33 points from 20 games).

“That’s two clean-sheets on the spin now,” highlighted Smith, who was then asked what pleased him about his team tonight.

“The togetherness.  Like I say, five first-team players down, players had to come in and stood up and Woody’s been patient, waiting for his time, took it. Tayo coming in literally the day before. Cameron’s had a few knock backs and he’s come in and done well. Dave’s had to go out of position. It was just the togetherness that we’re generating here and the belief in themselves. The hard work that we put in yesterday paid into fruition today.”

Hastings United beat Cray Wanderers 3-0 at The Pilot Field on Monday 28 August – but the Wands are now unbeaten at home in the league for six games since losing 4-1 to Hornchurch on 15 October.

“We let ourselves down against Hastings earlier on in the season, we gave away two soft goals but hopefully we’ll have another couple more players back as well,” revealed Smith.

“But the players that played today, they deserve their chance again, so it’s up to the players who are coming back from injury or not playing, to try to work their way back into the team.

“We should have Cookie back. We should have George Porter back.  Tom Bonner’s another two games away. Nyren’s probably another 10-14 days away.  Yahaya’s coming in on Monday to see us. He’s ok, he’s ok, he’s ok. He fainted, I think, more than anything else (towards the end of the Margate game) but we’ll get a look at him on Monday.”

When asked how his side will cope with a hectic eight-match programme in January, Smith replied: “It’s going to be difficult.  You saw tonight, we lost Jack Holland. He’s probably two or three weeks so Dave Ijaha will have to do a job (at the heart of our defence).  Tom Bonner’s got another two games so it’s going to be one of those months where I’ll have to call upon everyone.  If it means I’ll have to play the kids, I’ll play them.

“Listen, we know we want to get more wins on the board.  We probably deserve a couple more from what we’ve got at the moment so it’s not all been bad but it’s going to be a very, very difficult January with a lot of travelling as well.

“We’ve got one more home game and we’ve got a lot of away games.”

When asked about training at their new stadium at Flamingo Park, Smith said: “There’s good things happening. It’s not been as bright on the pitch in terms of league position but there’s bigger things going on at the club and moving into your own stadium and your own pitch and having a home that they’ve not had.

“Fair play to the chairman (Gary Hillman) and the directors, they deserve it and they’ve had to do a lot of hard work to get to where they are now.

“It’s been a really weird year.  We finished last season in the play-offs. This year we’ve probably haven’t been where we should be or where we believe we should be - but we’re still building, we’re still building.

“It’s a crazy league but we move on. That’s brilliant (beating Enfield Town tonight), pat ourselves on the back but we’ve got another big game on Monday.

“I’ve just asked the boys to prepare right and hopefully on New Years Day we start the year fresh and with a win.

“I expect a very difficult game (against Hastings) but I’m hoping they’re going to expect one as well.”

Smith confirmed that Oyebola can feature against his former club.

Cray Wanderers: Shaun Rowley, Emmanuel Kwatchey, Jamie Mascoll, David Ijaha, Cameron Black, Jack Holland (Alfie Evans 19), Ellis Brown, Frankie Raymond, Gary Lockyer, Sam Wood, Ibitayo Oyebola (George Brooke 78).
Subs: Cameron Thompson, Balai Antonio Dembele, Tone Kusel-Gabriel

Goals: Ibitayo Oyebola 26, Ellis Brown 58

Booked: Gary Lockyer 26, Emmanuel Kwatchey 70

Enfield Town: Rhys Forster, Mickey Parcell, Joseph Payne, Sam Youngs, Joshua Okotcha, Tailor MacKenzie, Oliver Knight, Scott Thomas, Reece Beckles-Richards (Jonathan Hippolyte 63), Marcus Wyllie, Dylan Adjei-Hersey (Lewis Taaffe 61).
Subs: Leo Donnellan, Gucci Soulya-Osekanongo, Adi Connolly

Attendance: 307
Referee: Mr Charlie Roberts
Assistants: Mr Fabien LeHouezec & Mr Gulam Damji