Cray Valley (Paper Mills) 2-1 Herne Bay - It was important to start getting the winning momentum back, says top-of-the-table Cray Valley boss Kevin Watson

Saturday 04th December 2021
Cray Valley (Paper Mills) 2 – 1 Herne Bay
Location Badgers Sports Ground, Middle Park Avenue, Eltham, London SE9 5HT
Kickoff 04/12/2021 15:00

Isthmian League South East Division
Saturday 4 December 2021
Stephen McCartney reports from Middle Park Avenue

CRAY VALLEY (Paper Mills) manager Kevin Watson says his side are to be shot at because his good players have returned to the top of the Isthmian League South East Division.

The Millers leapfrogged over Ashford United – who lost 3-2 at Chichester City – to the top of the pile on 37 points from their 16 league games while Herne Bay slipped out of the play-off zone and are in sixth-place in the pecking order with 30 points from 15.

Cray Valley striker Marcel Barrington notched his eleventh goal of the season to give the Millers an early lead, which was doubled with 21 minutes remaining through holding midfielder Connor Dymond at a set-piece.

Lacklustre Herne Bay pulled a late goal back through striker Zak Ansah’s 12th goal of the campaign, but they lost their place in the play-offs after Hastings United thrashed second-from-bottom side East Grinstead Town 5-0 at home.

“I thought we started the game brightly and went 1-0 up and I felt after the first 15 minutes or so it plateaued a bit and we stopped doing the things we done in the first 15 minutes and the game evened out a bit,” said Watson.

“Then in the second half I felt that the work-rate was good and they were trying to get going and we ended up breaking a few times and had a few other opportunities.”

A subdued Herne Bay manager Ben Smith added: “Very angry with the performance of our players, nowhere near good enough and we got what we deserved.”

Cray Valley took only 149 seconds to break the deadlock, courtesy of some good wing play down the left from Hassan Ibrahiym and some poor defensive play from Herne Bay’s right-winger Bradley Schafer who got twisted and turned.

Left-sided winger Ibrahiym put over a cross, which was met first time from Barrington, who struck his right-footed drive into the roof of the net from inside the six-yard box.

“Yes, look, it was good play. Hassan played in a position he did for us before and I think he acclimatised to it really well,” said Watson.

“You would say that you would be pleased to have an early goal and obviously I was. I just felt after that period we could’ve got at them again in waves and we didn’t keep our intensity after the goal.”

Smith added: “A poor goal from our perspective. We got dragged around a little bit when they had possession, rather than keeping our shape and we ended up with our right midfielder (Schafer) being in the right-back area defending, which doesn’t always end well does it?”

Schafer won a free-kick some 25-yards from goal after being brought down by Ibrahiym but Adem Ramadan drilled a poor right-footed drive high over the Millers’ crossbar.

Cray Valley played out from the back and kept possession of the ball for long periods of the first-half, without creating many chances in the final third, while when Herne Bay got the ball they lost it almost immediately.

“We always try and have possession,” explained Watson.

“I felt though at times that it was possession for possession sake rather than trying to be threatening with the possession. 

“As you go into the winter months when the pitches start (deteriorating), we’ve got a very good pitch, it’s all about risk and reward isn’t it. The idea of keeping possession is for a purpose.”

Smith added: “Going up the hill, they’re always going to pen you in. They have a lot of territory. That’s the sickest I’ve been second half. We had that midweek against Whitehawk going up the hill and downhill and all that stuff both halves. 

“We’re happy for Cray Valley to have possession at the back and they didn’t really do an awful lot with it. They weren’t carving open loads of chances with it. 

“We just had to stayed patient really, going in 1-0 at half-time wasn’t the worst scoreline considering we haven’t really been anywhere near our best.”

Matthew Attenborough-Warren, who is a holding midfielder alongside Dymond in a 3-2-41 formation, rolled the ball out to Ade Adeyemo, who cut in from the right and powered a left-footed angled drive into the bottom of the side netting from 20-yards, with goalkeeper Jordan-John Perrin diving in an attempt to make the save.

“Ade strikes the ball well with both feet. It was a good strike and good lead up play up to that opportunity,” added Watson.

Herne Bay’s holding midfielder Bode Anidugbe floated in a cross from the left- wing which was met by a rising Laurence Harvey at the back post but the central defender’s effort bounced once and was comfortably gathered by Chris Lewington.

Smith said: “We actually looked dangerous from crosses today, which was a good thing but you just want one of them to nestle in, don’t you?”

Herne Bay created another chance from a header at the halfway point when Anidugbe’s floated a free-kick into the box from the edge of the centre-circle and quiet striker Aaron Millbank’s header from within a crowd of players was gathered by Lewington, stepping to his left.

However, the 33-year-old goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double-save to prevent Herne Bay snatching an equaliser in the 32nd minute.

Ramadan and left-back Jack Parter combined down the left before Ramadan cut in towards the corner of the box and his left-footed angled drive was pushed away by Lewington, diving to his left.  The ball fell to Schafer who smashed his shot  towards goal from inside the six-yard box and the keeper swiftly got up and hurled his frame to his left to make another save to maintain Cray Valley’s lead going into half-time.

Smith said: “That’s when you start thinking ‘well, it isn’t going to be your day is it?’

“First of all you’ve got to score.  The keeper has made a good double save there but you’ve got to score. If that’s up the other end of the pitch, they end up scoring.”

Watson added: “They were incredible saves, the first one was great.  We mentioned that at half-time, as a goalkeeper it’s difficult sometimes, isn’t it? 

“By his own admittance Chris in recent weeks hasn’t had a load of saves to make but he done that and it’s even more important isn’t it when you’re quiet at times and you make those saves. He collected some really good balls as well today that were put into the box.”

Both managers were asked their thoughts at the interval.

Watson said: “I thought we came out with the intensity that we asked and the work-ethic but one goal difference between the teams things can happen can’t they, moments in games.  It was important for us to be patient and disciplined.”

Smith added: “Show some personality, show some character. I thought we lacked a lot of belief and energy from us today, which is stage considering on Tuesday we’ve been a real backs against the wall job at Whitehawk and with the players we’ve got missing, you kind of thought we’ll bring some of that spirit here today.  I didn’t think we did at all, so I’m scratching my head why we didn’t bring that mentality here.

“We really lacked a bit of personality today. I said ‘impose yourselves on the game’ and it didn’t quite happen.”

Cray Valley created a couple of half-chances inside the opening three minutes of the second half.

Parter gave the ball away to Denzel Gayle (often an outlet on the counter-attack down the right for the home side) who fed Adeyemo, who played the ball out to Jack Sammoutis who released Gayle, who reached the by-line and his attempt was collected by Perrin at his near-post.

Gayle then released Barrington through on goal but Perrin cut out the danger and smothered the ball at the striker’s feet.

Anidgube played a one-two with Ramadan outside the box before flashing his right-footed drive past the left-hand post from 25-yards.

Dymond pounced on a clearance to hit a right-footed half-volley flashing past the left-hand post from a central position some 30-yards from goal at the other end in the 52nd minute.

Herne Bay then edged the second half stalemate and Ramadan threaded the ball through for Millbank, who was being sandwiched by Alex Breffo and Nathaniel Blanks and a poor touch inside the box ensured the ball rolled into Lewington’s hands.

Breffo (who plays in the centre of a three-man defence) and Cem Tumkaya (right), stood out in the Cray Valley defence, snuffing out Ansah’s threat and forcing the striker to drop deep to receive the ball.

Sammoutis played the ball out to Ibrahiym, who cut inside and smashed a right-footed drive towards goal, which was blocked by the pressing Noel-Reion McFarlane and went behind for a corner.

Sammoutis was about to take the set-piece from the left but was substituted by the returning Nathan Green.

Ibrahiym floated in the corner instead, which was flicked off a head within a crowded goal-mouth and found its way towards the back stick where Dymond slid in to poke the ball into the bottom right-hand corner from three-yards.

“A good delivery in, it might’ve been their player that it got a touch off and then Connor scored,” said Watson.

“Connor’s scored some real important goals for us last season. He’s extremely brave, very selfless in his performance, that’s why he’s so important to us and he was brave, good timing and done well to get it over the line.”

Smith added: “There you go, that happens in the first half and we end up not taking the chance.  There was one, it was right at the end of the second half when Millbank’s six-yards out and he doesn’t quite get a good connection on it. 

“Cray Valley are three yards out and they score. They’re the fine lines, which make a big difference, don’t they?  You look at it, did the have the better chances than us today? I don’t think they have but…”

Herne Bay centre-half Daniel Johnson undercooked an attempted back-pass to Harvey, the ball was intercepted by Barrington, who charged forward but was tackled superbly inside the box by Harvey.

The ball ran loose for Green, who drilled his left-footed angled drive across the keeper and just past the foot of the far post from 30-yards, as he made a return after recovering from a bruised knee.

Watson said: “Really good strike.  Another one who strikes a good ball from distance.  Nathan’s coming back from an injury so it was touch and go whether we could start him but we were quite confident that he would be able to come on if needed and make an impact which he did.”

Smith added: “I don’t think there was an awful lot between the two teams on the day.  I don’t think we defended quite badly. I know we’ve conceded two goals, that kind of contradicts it, but on the whole I thought we actually defended alright.

“They’re always going to be a threat on the break, they’ve got good attacking players. I was more disappointed that we couldn’t open them up a little bit more than we did, I was disappointed in that.”

Harvey sliced a clearance after Lewington punted a long ball straight down the middle of the pitch and Ibrahiym worked-hard to retrieve the ball inside the left-channel and curled his shot around the far post.

Herne Bay kept plugging away and pulled a goal back in the 85th minute through Ansah, who had a quiet game and didn’t have too many touches of the ball inside the Cray Valley penalty area.

Herne Bay won the corner-count 6-2 and from their fifth, Anidugbe’s corner came back to him and he lost the ball and won it back and his industry down the right saw him cut the ball back for Ansah, who placed a first-time shot across the keeper and into the bottom far corner of the net.

Smith said: “Good from Bode. I thought our right-hand side of the pitch worked really well, certainly from where we are.

“Reion McFarlane, the right-back (is in the team) because Ryan Cooper has got an injury and Reion has come in for the last couple of games and he had a really good game.

“I don’t think many of our players had good games and I certainly think he had one and his link up play with Bode was good.”

Watson added: “I’m not to berate officials etc but I thought it was a foul on our player, the lino (Ronald Albert) or the ref (Will Briers) didn’t give it on Hassan and the lad cut it back and it’s a good finish. Everyone knows Zak Ansah’s good with a shot, his record says so. 

“After that, it’s important to stay resilient and work hard because they started to put loads of balls into the box from quite deep.”

Herne Bay right-back McFarlane hit two or three long balls into the Cray Valley penalty area, as Smith pushed Harvey up front to join Ansah and Millbank and bringing on centre-half Daniel Carrington for the dying embers but Breffo, Blanks and Tumkaya held firm.

The Millers have collected 14 points against the likes of fellow promotion challengers Ashford United, Hastings United, Haywards Heath, Ramsgate and Herne Bay in their last five outings to prove that Watson’s men are serious challengers for the league title.

“We’ve drawn our last two league games and it was important to start getting the winning momentum back and there were a couple of changes in terms of personnel and how we approached the game in terms of tactically,” said Watson.

“I thought we dealt with that well and the work-ethic of the boys, we’ve got very honest boys but I was frustrated last week against Ramsgate (1-1 draw) and they know why and I explained why before the game and what you look at as a management team is a response and I’m also pleased, with it being (goalkeeper coach) Craig Gibson’s last game and he leaves with us winning.”

Watson takes his side down to Brighton next Saturday to play a Whitehawk side in 12th place in the table after a 3-0 win at Sevenoaks Town today.

“We drew with Whitehawk at the start of the season and it was classed as a bad result,” said Watson, whose side have been top of the pile after six matchdays.

“Whitehawk are a well-resourced club with good support, a big club, good players and they had a poor run of form earlier on in the season and they’ve started to pick up again. It will be a difficult tie for us, as they all are.

“We’re there to be shot at anyway because we’ve got some good players and I think we’re a team where other teams – it sounds like a cliché – but they raise their game against us and that’s why every game is a difficult game.

“We’ve just had a run of games where we’ve played Ashford, Haywards Heath, Herne Bay, Ramsgate, teams that are all up the top but it’s not to take for granted any game. It concerns me more sometimes against other teams who maybe aren’t doing as well in the table but we just have to try to get a level of consistency of performance which over 38 games.

“It’s difficult. I understand football is difficult and I understand that trying to win anything is difficult but that’s why it makes it worth it when you do get results.”

Herne Bay, meanwhile, face a six-pointer clash against Hastings United at Winch’s Field next Saturday.

Cray Valley occupy the sole promotion place with 37 points, while Ashford United (35 points), Haywards Heath (32), Ramsgate (31) and Hastings United (31) occupy the play-off zone, while Herne Bay are sixth with 30 points but with a game in hand on all of the sides above them.

Smith said: “A big game, looking forward to it.  We have 38 games this season. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, 38 games, so we’ve dropped out of it (the play-off zone) today, Hastings have been out of it for god knows how long so I don’t read much into that.

“Look at the opposition we’ve played today in comparison. It was always a possibility that could happen today but we’ve still got a game in hand so it puts us third (if we win it), so there’s no need to panic.

“But I have said to the players’ I’m not happy with the performance so I need personality and character from people.”

Cray Valley (Paper Mills): Chris Lewington, Denzel Gayle, Hassan Ibrahiym, Alex Breffo, Nathaniel Blanks, Cem Tumkaya, Matthew Attenborough-Warren, Connor Dymond, Marcel Barrington, Ade Adeyemo (Joseph N’Guessan 76), Jack Sammoutis (Nathan Green 69).
Subs: Paul Semakula, David Omperon, Harry Day

Goals: Marcel Barrington 3, Connor Dymond 69

Booked: Connor Dymond 73, Marcel Barrington 77

Herne Bay: Jordan-John Perrin, Noel-Reion McFarlane, Jack Parter, Bode Anidugbe, Laurence Harvey, Daniel Johnson, Adem Ramadan (Samuel Naiwo 70), Hamilton Antonio, Zak Ansah, Aaron Millbank, Bradley Schafer (Daniel Carrington 90).
Subs: Kieron Campbell, Lucas Hanley, Rory Smith

Goal: Zak Ansah 85

Booked: Bode Anidugbe 28, Ben Smith (manager) 79

Attendance: 147
Referee: Mr Will Briers
Assistants: Mr Ronald Albert & Mr Jamie Wells