Cray Wanderers 3-0 Fisher - We treat every cup competition with the respect and ultimately we want to win the London Senior Cup, says Cray Wanderers coach Alfie George

Wednesday 24th January 2024
Cray Wanderers 3 – 0 Fisher
Location Hayes Lane, Bromley, Kent BR2 9EF
Kickoff 24/01/2024 19:45

London Senior Cup (Sponsored by Veo) Second Round
Wednesday 24 January 2024
Stephen McCartney reports from Hayes Lane

CRAY WANDERERS coach Alfie George says he wants to put the London Senior Cup inside the Flamingo Park trophy cabinet after sealing a comfortable victory over Fisher to reach the Quarter-Finals.

Neil Smith fielded a very strong side to progress to earn a third home tie, against Vanarama National League South outfit Dartford or Queens Park Rangers’ under 21 side, who meet each other at Princes Park on Tuesday 6 February.

Smith made five changes to the side that were thumped 6-0 at Billericay Town on 13 January, handing a debut to centre-half Charles Paye, while fellow youngsters Cameron McQueen-Hinckley, Michael Ihiedi and Freddie Warwick came off the subs bench.

Winger Ibitayo Oyebola poked in his third goal for the club, since his move from their league rivals Hastings United, before central midfielder Alfie Evans slotted in a second early in the second half, before Cray Wanderers scored a last-gasp third with Frankie Raymond’s drive going in off the right knee off Fisher left-back Kaylam Burgess following a short-corner routine.

Smith sent out his goalkeeper coach George for post-match media duties.

“It was good to get a run-out. We’ve had a few games called off in the past week or so, so it was good for the boys to get some minutes, especially with a little bit of a change from the league as well, to see some new faces, young faces into the side.  Four under 16s-under 18s getting involved so it was good for the squad all round,” said George.

When asked about Smith’s strong team selection, George replied: “Just minutes for the boys really. We had games against Folkestone and Whitehawk called off, so we just thought we needed to pay the competition a bit of respect as well, so we went strong.

“Charlie Paye played alongside Tom Bonner making his debut and Michael Ihiedi, Freddie Warwick and Cameron McQueen-Hinckley came on and done well.  I thought all round, there wasn’t a bad word to say about them.”

Cray Wanderers went into this tie sitting in seventeenth-place in the Isthmian League Premier Division table, having picked up 25 points (six wins, seven draws and 11 defeats) from their 24 games, seven points clear of the relegation zone that currently contains Cheshunt, Haringey Borough, Kingstonian and Concord Rangers.

The Wands defeated Combined Counties League Premier Division South side Tooting & Mitcham United 4-2 here in the First Round, while Fisher came away from Isthmian League South East Division side Erith & Belvedere with a 2-1 win.

Fisher, meanwhile, arrived at Hayes Lane in eleventh-place in the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division table, having picked up 31 points (nine wins, four draws and nine defeats) from their 22 league outings.

Since Ajay Ashanike dropped a bombshell and announced his departure to Isthmian League North Division side Basildon United on 11 December, Fisher have yet tasted a victory under Michael Williams.

Fisher have lost to Glebe (2-3), drawn Stansfeld (2-2) and Sutton Athletic (1-1), before suffering back-to-back defeats to Corinthian (0-3) and Snodland Town
(2-5), but they put up a brave fight against a club that are 35 places above them in the pyramid, having made three changes to the side that lost to Luke Wallond’s side last time out on 13 January.

“I think the boys did well. We’re a really young side. We came out, worked hard, stuck to the game-plan.  We were looking for moments in the game where we could try and hurt Cray but it was tough, they were an experienced side,” said Williams, 34.

“The boys gave it their all, listened to instructions, nothing more than I can ask.”

When asked about his thoughts over the home side’s strength tonight, Williams replied: “We did look at the line-up before the game, saw a full-strength team, which is nice.  The boys got to play against a very, very good team, a very experienced team. A team that know how to play through 90 minutes and for them to stay in the game for so long made me proud, so I was really happy with how the boys played against a Step Three side.

“They (my players) gave me a lot of hard work, a lot of discipline. They showed their understanding in terms of the tactics, where we can sit in a certain shape and be nice and disciplined and try to hurt in behind.

“I feel like the occasion, it was a big occasion, especially when we knew their full line-up came out so for the boys to then grow their confidence and then open up after about 30 minutes of playing, they tried to get their foot on the ball a little bit more. I was really proud of them for that.”

As expected, Cray Wanderers came out with all guns blazing and Fisher goalkeeper Samuel Nwabuko put in an impressive performance.

Cray Wanderers created their first opening after only 95 seconds when holding midfielder Raymond held the ball above his head with both of his arms before playing the ball down on the artificial turf for attacking midfielder Tom Beere to whip in a right-footed delivery, which was comfortably gathered by Nwabuko.

The home side called the Fisher keeper into making another save with only two minutes and 35 seconds on the clock.

Evans played the ball out to right-back Emmanuel Kwatchey, who drilled in a deep cross towards the back post and Beere’s initial shot from a tight angle was blocked by Nwabuko at the near-post.

“Another player who is really, really young but developing and that’s what Fisher’s about. It’s about bringing in the youngsters and helping them develop, helping them grow, giving them a path into the game and he’s grasping it with both hands,” said Williams.

Kwatchey then played a ball along the deck to a deep Beere, who swept the ball out to Kwatchey, who floated a cross towards the edge of the penalty area for nine-goal striker Gary Lockyer, who slipped as he got his weak shot away, which rolled into the gloves of the untroubled Fisher goalkeeper.

Fisher left-back Burgess, meanwhile, ventured into the Cray Wanderers half and in the tenth minute the ball sat up nicely for him to hit a speculative left-footed half-volley from 35-yards, which was comfortably gathered by Shaun Rowley, who went on to maintain his seventh clean sheet of the season.

Williams said: “That is what you get from the youth.  They can spend a portion of the game slightly overwhelmed and then you get moments like that as well where they have no fear in certain situations and they kind of break the rules, so to take a shot from left-back that far out is quite speculative.  It’s something that a lot of experienced players might not do, they might hold onto that ball but he’s gone for the shot.”

Kwatchey, though, continued to attack down Burgess’ side and put in another great cross towards Lockyer, who looped his header across the keeper and just past the far post from 10-yards.

George said: “He made a few good saves, a few from crosses as well, which he came out for. I think on another day we could’ve had one or two (goals).  The keeper made a couple of good saves. It was just biding our time until we got the first.”

Cray Wanderers’ pressure paid off as they deservedly took the lead with 18 minutes and 45 seconds on the clock.

Left-back Jamie Mascoll sent pacey left-winger Yahaya Bamba on his way, driving forward before cutting into the box before his right-footed shot was parried by Nwabuko, to his left.  The ball flashed across the goal towards the back post and Oyebola stabbed his right-footed half-volley into the bottom right-hand corner from four-yards out.

“Tayo’s come in from Hastings and he’s still bedding in with us and that’s his third goal for the club in three or four games,” said George.

“Yahaya (Bamba) obviously had the injury against Margate, so it’s good to see him back and involved and nearly getting 90 minutes.”

Williams added: “The winger was really, really lively. He picked up the ball, loved cutting inside. He was very good, very pacey, very direct, got his shot off.

“I would like the players to be slightly more alert but it’s the experience, the quality from the other side, who were first to get there. If we were more alert, we could’ve got the rebound but we learn and we move on.”

Fisher started to enjoy their best period of the game after the half-hour mark, confidently stroking the ball around the pitch, without creating a goalscoring chance to concern Rowley or his back-four, marshalled by Tom Bonner alongside Paye.

“We’re a Step Five side, playing a Step Three team with lots of experience, even on the bench, they’ve got lots of experience.  They brought out a full squad and naturally it would take us a bit of time to grow into the game,” explained Williams.

“We tried to hold in there for that time. We did and we grew in confidence and that was really pleasing going into half-time, knowing that the boys have half a chance here.

“We tried to continue that through the second half. It didn’t quite continue but I was really happy with the efforts and that just shows that what we’re working on is coming to light and they are understanding it.”

George said: “I thought they were good value for themselves, with a lot of young players.  Their manager has just left in the last few weeks and there’s a big transition going on at the club, new faces and bedding in and there were a few players that I recognised that were playing a little bit out of position for them but on the whole I thought they done themselves credit today.

“Fisher made us work for our goals, they weren’t easy goals and I thought on the whole they done themselves proud.”

Burgess played the ball down the line into striker Teddy Jones, who played the ball back to Burgess, who played the ball inside to five-goal Jehovany Kinzonzi but his shot was charged down on the edge of the penalty area and Rowley comfortably gathered.

Paye’s intended pass for Oyebola was intercepted by Burgess on the half-way line and the former Chatham Town youngster drove forward before drilling a left-footed angled drive from 25-yards, deflecting off Paye and flashing past the far post.

Beere released Lockyer, who tried to score with a left-footed chip from 16-yards, which lacked conviction and was comfortably gathered by Nwabuko.

“Lock’s had a couple.  He was getting a bit angry with himself that it wasn’t falling for him.  The angrier he got with himself, the tougher the chances become,” claimed George.

“I said to him at half-time, he just needs to relax and it will start to come naturally. It was just one of those days for him but he’s carried us most of the time this season.

“He’s come from Faversham, he’s done really well.  We don’t look at goals on the whole as a benchmark.”

Lockyer then released Bamba, who charged down the left, cut into the box and from the edge of the corner of the six-yard box drilled his right-footed shot into the base of the side netting, as Cray Wanderers went into the interval with a slender one-goal advantage.

George said: “Just keep doing what we’re doing, don’t be sloppy. We knew they were going to start probably a little bit lively second half. 

“Credit to Fisher, they came out and they made us work. We were a little bit sloppy, some of our rotations but in the end it showed how we wanted to set up.”

Williams added: “I told them exactly what we’ve just spoke about in terms of growing into the game, growing in confidence. Actually, now that you’ve gone through a certain period of the game, you can afford to, not take a chance, but you can use the ball a bit more.  You can find a few more passes rather than just try to turn them straight away as soon as you pick up the ball.

“We were talking about our game plan, making sure that we’re nice and compact and the boys responded really well to it.”

Cray Wanderers killed the game off by scoring their second goal of the game with five minutes and 30 seconds on the clock, finishing off a well-worked move.

Beere played the ball through a crowd of players, a 20-yard pass which played in Evans, who took a touch inside the box before clinically placing his right-footed shot across the keeper to find the bottom far corner from 12-yards.

“Alfie’s done that brilliantly for us, those late runs, late arrivals into the box.  He does that superb, Alfie,” said George.

“He hasn’t had his fair chances of doing that this season but when he has been called upon, he’s popped up with a goal or an assist. Great third man running and he took his finish well.”

Williams admitted: “That was a bit of a blow to us because we wanted to come out again, keep the other team out for a while and make sure you grow into the game and then hopefully create some chances.

“When they got that second goal they did celebrate quite loudly, which shows me they wanted that second, they wanted to end the tie there because they can at least recognise it, just recognised we were growing into the game and their celebrations told me that when they got their second.”

Cray Wanderers were then denied a third goal, courtesy of another fine save from the impressive Nwabuko.

Lockyer’s through ball released Oyebola down the right channel and he cut the ball back for Evans to whip in a cross towards the penalty spot where the unmarked Bamba steered his header towards goal, which was held well by the Fisher keeper.

George said: “Great save, he’s held it well as well.  A big reach. We were right behind it and the goal was on.  It was a nice height but he got off the floor well. 

“I didn’t think Yahaya knew too much about it. It was kind of hit his head and went up. It was a brilliant save in my opinion, obviously being a keeper, I’m going to give the keeper a credit there.”

Williams said: “Another great save from Sam.  I thought he was really good with his shot-stopping today, also with the ball with his feet. He was really good, really happy with his performance.”

George revealed post-match that the (right) shoulder injury sustained by left-back Jamie Mascoll was not serious, adding, “He’s had an issue with it before and he thought he dislocated it but it was more of a jolt and nothing too serious. He’s fine, happy.”

Darnelle Bailey-King stormed past Mascoll in the 58th minute and cut into the penalty area before hitting a rasping right-footed drive, crashing high into the side netting.

Williams said: “He broke into the box with real speed and he can do that against many teams. I would love to see him do a lot more of that because he’s got the pace, he’s got the power, he’s really direct and he’s got great technique, so we just want to get that out of him a bit more because he is one player that can take the game to a team like Cray.”

Fisher kept 10 men behind the ball, as Cray Wanderers bossed the possession, as the away side maintained a well-drilled shape, while both teams got through their full quota of bench warmers.

Fisher then enjoyed a spell of good passing but lacked quality to create a real goalscoring chance during the game, which is understandable given the two level gap between the two teams.

Raymond chipped the ball into the Fisher penalty area for Lockyer, who looped a header across the keeper towards the top far corner, which forced Nwabuko to bravely claw the ball towards safety, before his centre-half Prince Imoru collided into him and both required treatment.

“I was starting to worry at that point because we had two man down with the goalkeeper and the centre-half down.  That was my main thought at that time,” revealed Williams.

“Sam came out really brave to claim it, put his name on it. He was really loud again today, which is another really stand out moment for me and for him.”

Cray Wanderers dominated the corner count by 9-0 and they went close with their penultimate flag-kick.

Raymond floated the ball in from the right with his wand of a left-foot but Paye’s free downward header bounced just past the foot of the far post.

Cook saw Nwabuko was off his line and tried to chip the ball into the back of an empty goal from 35-yards, but Nwabuko moved to his left and used his left arm to put the ball behind for the home side’s final corner of the game.

Raymond played it short to substitute winger Ellis Brown, who cut the ball back from the right by-line back to Raymond, who hit a left-footed shot towards a crowded goal mouth, from just outside the corner of the six-yard box.

Video evidence proves that the ball bounced off Burgess’ right knee last and looped into the bottom far corner to seal the home side’s passage with 49:37 on the clock, despite Cook running away with his right arm in the air claiming that he got the last touch.

“They (Raymond and Cook) are having a little bit of an argument in the changing room now,” revealed George.   

“Frankie’s trying to claim it desperately because I’m on to him about not scoring many this year and Cookie told us before ‘I’m going to score tonight,’ so I think he’s going to try to take it – I think it’s an own goal in my opinion.

“It came off someone’s foot at the end, so we’ll let them carrying on arguing with each other.”

Williams brought on Conor Darwish with 86 minutes on the clock and the wideman suffered another injury set-back.

Williams said: “They were a threat from set-pieces. At that point we went down to 10 men with an injury to one of our players, who is just recovering from a knee injury.

“It was quite distracting because he has just returned. He’s only just had the last five minutes, just to get a run out and then he went down injured.  They got a corner, last minutes of the game. Naturally Cray are switched on, we’re not quite so switched on at that point in the game and they go and score.”

When asked about the knocks that the Fisher players picked up tonight, Williams revealed: “We’ll get the (medical team) to look at them tomorrow.  Apart from possibly Conor, there were no long-term injuries there.

“A few players who were returning to Fisher, returning to games, they haven’t played that many minutes in recent weeks, so I think their feeling a bit of the pressure for that ball being moved for so long and them staying on their feet  and on their toes and staying switched on.

“I think the injuries came more from that rather than the impact.”

When asked what pleased him tonight, George replied: “Seventh clean sheet of the season. We count all the cup games.  We have our targets to hit.  Shaun’s his biggest critic and he admits himself that it’s been a little bit below par for him. 

“He was supporters’ player-of-the-season here last year and we’ve done what we can to keep him because he’s integral part to not only the first team but also the youth players here, so it was nice to see him get his clean sheet and he didn’t have much to do but what he did, he done well.

“Overall, getting the youth players on.  It’s massive.  Smudger and Tosh (Neil Smith and Tim O’Shea) are building the Academy at the club.  It’s given the club that pathway and the players within the club the opportunities out there. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough and you’ll get looked at.

“On the whole, the result, the clean-sheet. It was great to see the youngsters out there today and putting on a show for us.”

When asked about facing Dartford or Queens Park Rangers in the next round, George replied: “A good game. It will be a good test.  We played Leyton Orient’s under 23’s here last year in the competition and they’re young exciting players and it’s also an opportunity for us to look at what other clubs have got and where we’re at.

“We’re using games as benchmarks because they train every day, so there’s going to be a good element of quality to it.

“We know what Dartford are about so either or, it will be a game we’re looking to win. 

“We treat every cup competition with the respect and ultimately, we want to win the cup. If we put in performances like that and build on performances like that, then I don’t think we’ll be too far off it.

“Moving into the new ground (at Flamingo Park), it will be great to go in there with a cup behind us.”

Both teams return to League action on Saturday, with Smith’s side welcoming fifth-placed Wingate & Finchley to Hayes Lane, while Fisher welcome Tommy Warrilow’s Faversham Town.

George said: “Our next game is Saturday here, tough opposition in Wingate, that’s where our focus is now.  They’ve surprised a lot of people this year with where they are in the league and that’s credit to them.

“When we played them at the beginning of the season, we had a good game and they’re a totally different side to what they usually are.  They are very expansive and fluid in their football and they’ve got some real quality players and they’ve added a few recently as well, so we know it’s going to be a tough game but one we hopefully look to get a result in.”

Glebe are leading the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division table with 51 points from 25 games.

The four play-off places contain Faversham Town (47 points from 25 games), Corinthian (45 points from 21 games), Deal Town (45 points from 20 games) and surprise-package Bearsted on 43 points from 23 games.

“I think with every game, you just learn more about the squad and you think about the various aspects of the game, so maybe out of possession, in possession, set-pieces and I learn the boys can keep their discipline really well against a side that is a couple of league’s above.

“We battled and they kept running until the end and it’s just about finding that quality on the ball to try and hurt the opposition.

“Faversham is another big game. They’re a really good side, really experienced, a strong side and they’re going to be up for it.  They’re going to be desperate for the win and we turn up and try out best, like we always do.

“I’m enjoying it so far.  I’ve got a team together, a squad together that are working hard.  They’re trying their best. We’re trying to put different aspects of playing in place and they’re responding really well.

“We’ve had a really, really tough fixture list where we’ve played some of the top sides with big budgets and it’s been great to learn against them and try our best. It’s all about learning at this level at this stage.

“We’re a young side, we’re a young squad and we’re learning lots really, really quickly and there’s nothing better than that.

“When you change manager and you’re a team without a budget, it’s really hard to recruit players mid-season.  Teams are settled with squads, so it’s hard to move lots of people about at this time of the year, so it’s about finding a squad, doing well, learning, growing as a club and giving young players a chance to then thrive.”

Cray Wanderers: Shaun Rowley, Emmanuel Kwatchey, Jamie Mascoll, Frankie Raymond, Charles Paye, Tom Bonner, Yahaya Bamba (Michael Ihiedi 80), Alfie Evans (Cameron McQueen-Hinckley 72), Gary Lockyer (Anthony Cook 81), Tom Beere (Freddie Warwick 72), Ibitayo Oyebola (Ellis Brown 63).

Goals: Ibitayo Oyebola 19, Alfie Evans 51, Kaylam Burgess 90 (own goal)

Fisher: Samuel Nwabuko, Ibrahim Kamara, Kaylam Burgess, Michael Sarpong (Kyron Cooper 62), Prince Imoru, Ben Sangare, Nathan Tshola, Darnelle Bailey-King, Thomas Ngegba (Ezekiel Miller 72), Teddy Jones (Sineen Sineen 72), Jehovany Kinzonzi (Conor Darwish 86).

Booked: Ben Sangare 45

Attendance: 115
Referee: Mr Morgan Conn
Assistants: Mr Thomas Nicholls & Mr Jordan Crichlow