Cray Wanderers 3-3 Haringey Borough - We shouldn't be drawing games when you're 3-0 up, says disappointed Cray Wanderers boss Neil Smith

Sunday 10th December 2023
Cray Wanderers 3 – 3 Haringey Borough
Location Hayes Lane, Bromley, Kent BR2 9EF
Kickoff 10/12/2023 15:00

Isthmian League Premier Division
Sunday 10 December 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from Hayes Lane

CRAY WANDERERS manager Neil Smith says his players’ self-destruct after throwing away a dominant three-goal lead to having to settle for a point at home to a Haringey Borough side that belied their current position at the foot of the Isthmian League Premier Division table.

Cray Wanderers were on course of edging away from the relegation zone after centre-half Tom Bonner, 35, headed in his first goal for the club since his switch from National League South side Havant & Waterlooville.

Versatile right-back Anthony Cook then slotted in his sixth goal of the season, from the penalty spot, to give the Wands a two-goal lead inside the opening 15 minutes, before winger Ellis Brown swept in his fourth of the season following a three-man set-piece routine just before the interval at Hayes Lane.

However, you sensed that Tom Loizou’s brave side were not out of the game and two sublime deliveries from corners by Matthew Young were headed in by unmarked centre-half Scott Mitchell (78 minutes) and then substitute striker Nadum Melvin-Lambert (31 seconds into stoppage time).

Haringey Borough snatched an unlikely draw through a route-one goal that was finished off by substitute striker Anthony Mendy (four minutes and 13 seconds into stoppage time).

Cray Wanderers last two away games, at Folkestone Invicta and Bognor Regis Town were both postponed, so it was a feeling of DeJa’Vu as ten-man Whitehawk snatched a last-gasp point in a 2-2 draw here in their last outing on 29 November.

“A game of two halves, that’s what it was.  In the second half we should’ve killed them off.  We were three-nil up. It’s ridiculous, not happy,” said Smith, who was asked why his side have let vital points in this relegation dog-fight slip late on in their last two home games.

“Listen, we’ve watched them, so we know they’re an attacking threat, which we nullified in the first half and obviously worked our wonders up front and then the second half, as soon as that first corner went in, then the second and the boys are just nervous at the moment. 

“We let a last minute goal in against Whitehawk when we dominated that game, (hitting the) crossbar and post again, so it’s four points dropped in the last two games but today was poor because I couldn’t see that one coming.”

When asked whether he can bring in new players, Smith revealed he has no budget available unless a player leaves the club.

“We wouldn’t be saying that at half-time for me to bring in new players so we’ve just got to work on it,” came Smith’s honest reply.

“We’ve just got to work on it. We’ve got to be stronger with each other. I don’t have a budget to go and get more players. What we’ve got is what we’ve got, so it's up to them to either do it. If they’re not, then maybe I’ll bring in a player to move one out but for 75 minutes (we were) cruising.”

Cray Wanderers were without pacey winger Yahya Bamba, who was given compassionate leave to attend a family funeral in Sierra Leone, while Nyren Clunis is two weeks away from recovering form a chipped bone in his ankle, while Smith lost his left-back Jamie Mascoll in the 84th minute of this game – with the home side 3-1 up – due to twinge in his back.

Haringey Borough arrived in Bromley with just one league win on the board this season (2-0 away to Cheshunt on 21 October), and propping up the foot of the table with eight points from their 18 league outings, while Cray Wanderers were in the bottom four (18th) with 18 points from their 16 league games.

Cray Wanderers flew out of the traps and took the lead with only two minutes and 44 seconds on the clock, following the first of their six corners.

Frankie Raymond raised his left arm and floated a deep delivery in from the right with his left-wand towards the back post and Bonner guided his towering header into the top near corner from three-yards out.

Smith said: “Again, brilliant, brilliant. Couldn’t have asked for anymore.  Frankie’s delivery was on point today. 

“I thought (just before the goal) Gary (Lockyer) should’ve tried to have gone with a header on Frankie’s free-kick, instead of going for a volley.  With Frankie’s delivery, you expect to get on the end of it – but it was a great start!

"We started very well and we've said we needed to get a good start - but it's how you finish.

"I'm very disappointed today because I was disapointed against Whitehawk. I was very disappointed then but today - we shouldn't be drawing games when you're 3-0 up!"

Haringey Borough showed character and desire despite their early set-back and created an opening just before the clock ticked five minutes.

Right-back Charlie Smith threw the ball to Young, who took a touch and with his second touch put in a low cross from within the right channel into Walter Figueira who put the ball on a plate for central midfielder Arthur Iontton, who swept a first time right-footed shot over the crossbar from seven yards.

“We know they like to get forward.  We know they’re a forward-thinking team, so we had to nullify that, which we did.  They’re going to get chances but you saw people throwing themselves in the way,” added Smith.

Haringey Borough then enjoyed a spell of pressure without creating any chances, before Cray Wanderers went up the other end and struck the crossbar in the 13th minute.

Cook played a low cross from within the right channel towards an unmarked Lockyer, who drilled a first time shot crashing against the crossbar from 16-yards.

“I thought Gary was brilliant today. His link-up, his hold-up, just his all-round centre-forward display was worthy of a goal – but again, I can’t criticise anybody from the first half,” said Smith.

Cray Wanderers doubled their lead with 14 minutes and 51 seconds on the clock.

Bonner clipped a long ball out of defence with his left-boot into the left channel and attacking midfielder George Porter won his side a penalty after a tackle from Haringey Borough centre-half Miles Mitchell-Nelson.

Raymond stepped up first but it was Cook who sent goalkeeper Dillon Barnes the wrong way with a clinical right-footed penalty, which nestled inside the bottom left-hand corner.

“Between Cookie and Frankie I’ve got two great penalty takers so I think they’ve had a little discussion and obviously Cookie’s been there and done it and took his chance,” said Smith.

The eight-goal Lockyer was outstanding for Cray Wanderers during the first-half, winning all but one of his headers in the air and he went very close to increasing the home side’s lead further in the 28th minute.

Porter knocked the ball down for Lockyer, who smacked a right-footed half-volley screaming just past the foot of the left-hand post, with goalkeeper Barnes scrambling to his right.

“As I say, when you’re in that sort of vein of form, you feel like you can score from anywhere, so he was unlucky not to hit the target,” added Smith.

Haringey Borough’s left-winger Figueira cut in from the flank and went on a 30-yard mazy run before unleashing a right-footed drive which dipped just over Shaun Rowley’s crossbar from 25-yards.

Loizou’s men should have done better with a decent opening in the 34th minute, following a well-worked three-man move.

Holding midfielder Khalifa Jabbie advanced in the attacking third before playing the ball inside to winger Georgious Aresti, who played the ball in behind Mascoll to play in Young but the 20-year-old lacked composure and drilled his first time right-footed shot past the near post.

Smith admitted his side were “coasting” when they scored their third goal with 43 minutes and 19 seconds on the clock, following a throw-in.

Cook threw the ball into the box where an unmarked Lockyer flicked the ball on at the near post and Brown was left unmarked in between the two centre-halves (Mitchell-Nelson and Mitchell) to sweep his right-footed shot across the keeper to find the bottom far corner from 10-yards.

“Again, I thought Ellis did well today,” said Smith, who was delighted with his side’s dominant first-half performance.

“I really can’t criticise any of the players in respect of individually. It was just little moments. It was good to see Ellis get on the scoresheet.

“So you say to someone (at half-time), if something’s working, don’t change it. We were getting good feed down the wings, getting balls into the box and we were just missing out, so (I told them to) keep doing what you’ve just been doing.

“We knew that Haringey were going to have the wind in the second half.  They were going to throw caution to the wind as well because they’ve got nothing to lose and for probably the first 25 minutes or half-an-hour we did everything right apart from score again when we should’ve.”

Loizou made a double substitution at the break with left-winger Mekhi Leacock-McLeod and striker Mendy coming on, after a bit of shooting practice with one of their coaches in front of the Glyn Beverly Stand towards the end of the interval.

Centre-half Mitchell-Nelson and Aresti were both hooked and ineffective well-built striker Jorge Djassi-Samba partnered Mitchell at the heart of defence.

However, Haringey Borough’s comeback was put on ice as Cray Wanderers squandered some decent chances to finish off the game.

Cook countered and released Lockyer, who charged into the box and was smothered by a brave save from the advancing Barnes inside the opening six minutes of the second half.

An unmarked Mendy hit a right-footed drive flashing across Rowley and past the far post from 25-yards at the other end shortly afterwards.

Cray Wanderers hit the crossbar and post against Whitehawk and it was the same again today, as the post denied them just past the hour-mark.

Porter – who was now playing wide right - as Smith put Brown in behind Lockyer, with Alfie Evans switching from wide right to wide left – drilled a 30-yard pass into the box to play in Brown, who saw his shot tipped onto the near post by Barnes at his near post.

Barnes then pulled off a brilliant flying save to deny Cray Wanderers increasing their lead following their fourth corner of the game.

Raymond played a give-and-go with Porter, before curling a left-footed shot towards the top far corner from outside the box, only for Barnes to fly high to his right to claw the ball over his crossbar.

“They had a bit of a go, which we knew they would but we had enough chances even come the second half,” admitted Smith.

“Lockyer goes through – I think he should square it to Ellis, whose free at the far post – but he has a shot.

“I thought Alfie had a chance as well when he’s gone for a volley, when he should’ve gone with his head – and then self-destruct.”

Cray Wanderers kept knocking on the door and Barnes made a comfortable save to thwart a counter-attacking goal.

Cook charged forward and released Lockyer in behind Mitchell but his right-footed angled shot from 15-yards was comfortably held by the 27-year-old goalkeeper low to his left.

“We were cruising, cruising.  It’s a really difficult game to talk about other than the fact that we’ve self-destruct. We’ve pulled the trigger because we’ve had chances to actually get four, five and six and we’ve come off three-all,” said a clearly frustrated Smith.

However, brave Haringey Borough were always a threat as they kept three men (Leacock McLeod (left), Mendy (central) and after 65 minutes, another substitute, Melvin-Lambert (right).

Raymond found himself in the left-back position and hit a long ball up to Brown, who cut inside and fed Lockyer, who improvised a shot while falling to the deck, looping his shot over the crossbar from 25-yards as his large frame fell to the ground.

Haringey Borough’s salvage mission began with 32 minutes and 36 seconds on the clock, following the third of their five corners, after Leacock-McLeod’s shot bounced off Cook and flashed just past the foot of the far post.

Young’s left-footed corner came in from the right which was right on the money and Mitchell buried his free-header into the near corner from inside the six-yard box.

“It looked like a free header to me, so I’ll be questioning the boys on that one,” said Smith.

“As well as we’ve defended, they have got the wind and they are going to put it on the keeper. They surrounded him but we have to defend that better and he (Mitchell) wanted to get on the end of it more than we did.”

Smith brought on Sam Wood at left-back after Mascoll, 26, couldn’t continue after treatment, which gave Cray Wanderers back four that finished the game a combined age of 137 – Wood (37), Bonner (35), Jack Holland (31) and Cook (34).

The two players who sit in front of the back four, David Ijaha and Raymond are aged 33 and 31 respectively.

In fact eight of the 12 players that took to the field to represent Cray Wanderers today are over the age of 30.  This game lasted 98 minutes and 87 seconds.

With all that experience in his ranks, Smith insisted they should have seen the game out instead of “capitulating.”

The next goal was going to be crucial and when 12-goal leading goalscorer Young drilled a shot high over the North Terrace roof, you thought there was going to be no way back for Haringey Borough.

However, Leacock-McLeod had another shot that deflected past the far post and attacking midfielder turned central midfielder Young lined up another left-footed delivery from the right.

This time it was floated towards the back post where the unmarked Melvin-Lambert buried his header into the top near-corner from inside the six-yard box to snatch their second (45:31), to notch his fifth goal of the season.

“Just again, it looked like a free header.  When you’ve let one in that should be your wake-up call for everybody in that box to be on high-alert and don’t let it happen again and we did, so we haven’t learnt that lesson,” admitted Smith.

“When we had the ball, Alfie (Evans) is in the corner in the 90th minute and he’s crossed the ball to no-one in the box. They can break on us when they’ve got six players playing up front, where we’re lacking the players in defence.  I want Alfie to just keep the ball up there!”

Haringey Borough went route-one and completed the miracle comeback with 49:13 on the clock.

Goalkeeper Barnes launched a big left-footed kick straight down the middle of the pitch and Djassi-Samba flicked the ball on just outside the box and Mendy drilled a left-footed shot into the right-hand corner, despite Rowley getting his left hand to the shot, he couldn’t prevent the vocal travelling fans celebrating with their players as they ran towards the perimeter fencing.

Smith said: “We think we’ve done so well, they won the first header, which we’ve been doing very well in the first half and if we haven’t won the first ball, we’ve won the second ball. We just didn’t win the second ball and he’s gone through. I think Shaun gets a hand to it but just not enough.”

Cray Wanderers almost won it with the last action of the game (51:55).

Raymond hung a deep free-kick towards the by-line where Lockyer couldn’t steer his header on target from an acute angle.

When asked about the mood in the home dressing room, Smith revealed everyone was feeling “down.”

“It was awful after Whitehawk, today’s even worse, today’s even worse.  We were 1-0 down against Whitehawk, we came back to 2-1 winning and today we were 3-0 up.  That should be three points and then move onto the next game but unfortunately at 3-0 I think we just took their foot of the gas and having the chances they didn’t take them and thought we’d win four, five or six.

“This team (Haringey Borough) aren’t going to give up. They’re fighting for their lives, as much as we are, so that’s the disappointment. 

“We only started shouting at each other when they scored their third goal, too late, too late.”

So the four sides that are currently outside the relegation zone in this eighth-tier division are Folkestone Invicta, Cray Wanderers and Cheshunt (all on 19 points from 17 games), while Margate also have 19 points but have played two games more.

Inside the relegation zone are Potters Bar Town (18 points from 17 games), Kingstonian (11 points from 17 games), Concord Rangers (10 points from 14 games) and Haringey Borough (nine points from 19 games).

Smith takes his side to Pitsea on Saturday as Cray Wanderers lock horns with Hashtag United for the very first time.

Jay Devereux’s side are in seventh-place in the table with 26 points on the board from their 17 league outings, five points adrift of the play-offs.

They won an Essex derby yesterday by beating Canvey Island 3-1 at Crown Avenue, while Smith – whose side are now unbeaten in six home games in all competitions – go on the search for vital three points in their bid to avoid playing Isthmian League South East Division at their new stadium at Flamingo Park next season.

“Play like the first half, play like the first 25 minutes of the second half but then we’ve got to go all the way for the 90 minutes – where the referee got the six minutes from I don’t know,” said Smith.

“They’ve just got to stay focused, they can’t lose concentration. It’s easy to lose concentration when you are 3-0 up.  You think ‘I won’t track back’.  We can’t do that and teams that play us will say ‘you’ve got a chance with them’, and that’s not the team we want to be,” admitted Smith.

“We need points. We needed points at the beginning of the season and we need points now.  We need to put the last two draws into wins and it doesn’t feel like we’re unbeaten believe it or not.  The last two games feel like defeats.  That’s four points dropped and all off a sudden you’re on 21 points and you’re (above Lewes in fourteenth-place), which is a nicer place to be than where we are.

“Performance wise, that’s the shock, we weren’t bad. We just switched off from two set-plays and the last punt upfield, other than that, I thought, anyway…”

Cray Wanderers: Shaun Rowley, Anthony Cook, Jamie Mascoll (Sam Wood 84), David Ijaha, Tom Bonner, Jack Holland, Ellis Brown, Frankie Raymond, Gary Lockyer, George Porter, Alfie Evans.
Subs: Sahid Nallo, Cameron Black, Balai Antonio Dembele, Joshua Tobin

Goals: Tom Bonner 3, Anthony Cook 15 (penalty), Ellis Brown 44

Booked: Alfie Evans 69

Haringey Borough: Dillon Barnes, Charlie Smith, J’Ardell Stirling, Khalifa Jabbie (Nadum Melvin-Lambert 65), Scott Mitchell, Miles Mitchell-Nelson (Anthony Mendy 46), Georgios Aresti (Mekhi Leacock-McLeod 46), Arthur Iontton, Jorge Djassi-Sambu, Matthew Young, Walter Figueira.
Subs: Alexander Nicolaides, Alexander Zamani

Goals: Scott Mitchell 78, Nadum Melvin-Lambert 90, Anthony Mendy 90

Attendance: 190
Referee: Mr Michael Scott
Assistants: Mr Joseph Gray & Mr James Goodman