Cray Wanderers 1-2 Potters Bar Town - I want to try to get a bit of momentum going into next season, says Cray Wanderers boss Neil Smith

Wednesday 13th March 2024
Cray Wanderers 1 – 2 Potters Bar Town
Location Hayes Lane, Bromley, Kent BR2 9EF
Kickoff 13/03/2024 19:45

Isthmian League Premier Division
Wednesday 13 March 2024
Stephen McCartney reports from Hayes Lane

EXPERIMENTAL Cray Wanderers manager Neil Smith says he doesn’t want their Isthmian League Premier Division campaign to dwindle down and wants to win as many games to try to get a bit of momentum going into their Flamingo Park homecoming season.

The Wands suffered their first home defeat since losing 4-1 at home to Hornchurch on Sunday 15 October, as two goals from Potters Bar Town striker Brandon Adams, 26, - taking his tally for the season to 15 goals – gave Max Mitchell’s side a deserved victory at Hayes Lane.

Gary Lockyer hooked in his eleventh goal of the season for Cray Wanderers to score a late consolation.

“I tried something first half, tried a different formation, just wanted to have a look at young kids that I’ve got on board,” explained Smith.

“It was a bad goal to give away, they didn’t have a shot on target and they came in 1-0 up at half-time.

“Second half, we changed the formation and I thought we had the better chances.  I think they’ve had one shot.

“We’ve hit the post, young George Brooke has hit the post and another one flashed wide.

“I’m ok.  I got what I needed to get out of it, just having a look at different formations.  Obviously, didn’t get the result that I wanted.

“It’s just something new, we tried last night to have a look at. It’s the end of the season, it’s coming up to the end of the season and I just wanted to have a look at other things.

“What was missing tonight? First half, a little bit of enthusiasm, a little bit of desire. I think they probably shaded that.

“I thought second half, just that finish. I think if we would’ve scored one of our chances a little bit earlier, I think we come away with something but the boys have been amazing, we are safe (from relegation).

“We haven’t had a game for two weeks. That little bit of rhythm, getting that rhythm together.  They’re very direct, it’s an easier game to play. 

“We tried to just change it with a different shape, just to have a look at ideas for next season, people, positions. They probably just shaded it with a little bit more enthusiasm than us, a little bit more desire, I thought, first half.”

Cray Wanderers remain in 13th place in the table with 42 points (11 wins, nine draws and 13 defeats) from their 33 games, while Potters Bar Town remain in sixteenth-place in the table with 39 points (10 wins, nine draws and 10 defeats) from their 39 games.

The relegation zone contains Margate (25 points from 33 games), Haringey Borough (24 points from 33 games), Concord Rangers (21 points from 28 games) and Kingstonian (18 points from 32 games).

Smith was without the versatile Anthony Cook (calf sprain) and holding midfielder David Ijaha (illness), as both sides took to League action for the first time since Tuesday 27 February, with Cray Wanderers losing 1-0 at Whitehawk and Mitchell’s men extending their five-match unbeaten run with a goal-less draw at Folkestone Invicta.

Smith played the first half with a three-man defence with Tom Bonner (left), Sam Wood (centre) and Jack Holland (right) with Josh Hallard and Emmauel Kwatchey playing as wing-backs.

The Wands created their first goalscoring chance after only 76 seconds following the first of their five corners.

Holding midfielder Frankie Raymond swung the ball in from the left towards the back post where Bonner smacked his volley high over the crossbar.

George Brooke released Hallard on the counter-attack and the AFC Wimbledon loanee cracked a left-footed rasping angle drive from 25-yards, which was beaten away by visiting goalkeeper Finn Rushton.

“Josh has done well for us. He’s come in from AFC Wimbledon on loan until the end of the season. He’s done alright. He didn’t have the greatest of games today. He’s played better but again it’s a new formation and they’re learning,” said Smith.

Wood gave the ball away within the home side’s defensive third to winger Lateef Adaja, who cut into the middle before placing his left-footed shot past the foot of the right-upright from within the D.

“They didn’t really create anything, we gifted them everything today,” admitted Smith.

Wood played his part in Potters Bar Town grabbing a deserved lead with 17 minutes and 10 seconds on the clock.

Potters Bar’s right-back Prosper Keto threw the ball short to eight-goal big targetman Temi Babalola, who laid the ball off back to Keto from within the right channel and his left-footed cross skimmed off Wood’s head at the near post and fell kindly for Adams at the far post to sweep his first time right-footed shot into the bottom left-hand corner from two yards out.

“I would’ve preferred if Shaun – like he did for the rest of the night – come out and claimed that,” said Smith.

“It was under Woody. He couldn’t get any height really and flicked it on at the far post and the player is on his own.   They didn’t create anything. We gifted the goal.”

Potters Bar Town should have doubled their lead (18:58) when Adams played in Adaja inside the box but his right-footed angled drive from 15-yards was comfortably saved by Shaun Rowley at his near-post.

Cray Wanderers created very little threat during a flat first-half performance.

“There were things we could’ve done better, final ball, little passing. We got into good areas, good situations but just didn’t have that end product,” admitted Smith.

A long ball out of defence from Bonner released Hallard, who cut into the penalty area but poor control inside the box saw the ball bounce past the near-post from a tight angle in the 40th minute.

This was a game of two sides that had nothing to play for, lacking in quality, with Potters Bar Town shading the first half.

Winger Aidoo reached the by-line down the left before putting in a low cross, which was stabbed clear by Cray Wanderers’ centre-half Jack Holland at the near-post.

Babalola played an inside pass towards an unmarked Keto, who lacked composure inside the box and hit his right-footed shot high over the crossbar from 12-yards.

“We’re just going to change the formation, go back to what we know, people in their positions. I was going to make three subs anyway and just have a look at Enoch Muwonge, who we’ve just got on dual-reg from Welling United,” said Smith, when asked about his half-time thoughts.

“We’ve got a 16-year-old making his (first start) and I’ve got a 19 year-old kid just to come in and have a look at.  I thought he (Brooke) was very, very good.”

Potters Bar Town received a huge slice of luck when they doubled their lead with seven minutes and 19 seconds on the clock.

Babalola dropped deep and was just ahead of the half-way line when he switched the ball out to Keto on the right and he charged upfield before whipping in a low cross.

A kind ricochet bounced off Bonner on the edge of the penalty area and the ball bounced off an unmarked Adams and nestled inside the bottom right-hand corner.

“Well, I think it ricochet off him. I’ve got to be brutely honest,” said Smith.

“I think it hit one player, hit him and ricochet, so again, no creativity to it.  Just a ball in the box. We didn’t defend it well and you have that run of luck and we didn’t.”

Cray Wanderers created their best chance of the game in the 64th minute and Smith was impressed with the performance of sixteen-year-old George Brooke.

Rowley’s kick was flicked on by Hallard before substitute winger Enoch Muwonge (making his debut having signed on dual-registration terms with National League South side Welling United), split open Potters Bar Town centre-half Dwight Pascal to play in Brooke, whose left-footed shot clipped the base of the near-post.

“George was getting into the game a lot more. He had a couple of chances, probably should’ve taken at least one of them, so we could see where we could get in,” said Smith.

“He’s a kid, he’s going to be a very, very good player. I’m hoping what I’ve got out of it is a bit of experiencing starting, playing 90 minutes at this level.

“I’ve seen him finish and he can finish, the boy can finish. He can play anywhere along the front and he’s earnt his start today and I was really proud of him.”

Both sides then went close to scoring at the half-way marker.

Aidoo’s left-footed free-kick came in from within the right-channel and was met by a header from central midfielder Leigh Rose, which cleared the Cray Wanderers crossbar.

Rowley launched the resulting goal-kick upfield and Brooke’s pace got him through on goal but his left-footed shot flashed just past the foot of the right-hand post, with Rushton scrambling to his left.

“Again, his runs and the timing of his runs. There were a couple of times and we was in line and the linesman flagged and he wasn’t (offside), so I thought he was a danger today,” said Smith.

“I thought he was the best player on the pitch.  We’ve got 26-27 players who might have been involved today and a 16 year-old kid outshone everyone today.”

Babalola played the ball out to substitute Darnell Goather-Braithwaite, who cut in towards the corner of the penalty area, before his attempt was comfortably plucked out of the air by Rowley.

Lockyer was living off scraps and wasn’t getting the service that he required – that was until he pulled a goal back with 40 minutes and 10 seconds on the clock.

Substitute central midfielder Alfie Evans exploded into life and drove into the final third before playing the ball inside to Lockyer, who laid the ball off to Kwatchey, who played in a low cross from the right into the D for Lockyer to take a touch before hooking his right-footed shot into the top right-hand corner from 20-yards.

Lockyer, who scored the only goal of the game when Wingate & Finchley visited here on 27 January, after six minutes, has gone the last six games without scoring and his strike tonight was his first goal in 710 minutes of football, pleasing his manager.

“I’m so pleased for Gary to be fair. He’s probably over-trying and that was like the old Gary.  Just come back to him, had a touch, a great finish.  I’m hoping that’s the monkey of his back now where he can just relax and just go and play,” said Smith.

Cray Wanderers threatened to grab an unlikely point when Lockyer’s reverse pass some 35-yards from goal gave Brooke his chance but his right-footed chip from 25-yards sailed over the crossbar and the chance went begging.

Referee Joseph Turnpenny played 10 minutes and 55 seconds of second half stoppage time and Potters Bar Town had another attempt off target (51:50).

The impressive Babalola hooked pass released substitute eight-goal striker Ore Bello, who cut inside before hitting his left-footed drive just over the crossbar.

Smith takes his side to relegation-threatened Haringey Borough on Saturday, a side that are three points adrift of safety (Cheshunt).

The Wands were 3-0 up over the North London outfit when they visited Hayes Lane on 10 December, but their opponents scored three goals inside the final 12 minutes to grab a draw.

“We’ve got nine games to go now, we want to win as many games as we can.  I want them (my players’) to enjoy it as well,” said Smith.

“Haringey are always difficult.  Even when we played them here earlier on in the season.  They are fighting for their lives, so if that’s what they are when they’re not, what are they going to be like?

“We know it’s going to be difficult. Hopefully I’ll get David Ijaha back. Cookie fit as well.  A few of the boys just having niggles and coming out of illness today, they’ll be that game fitter.”

Reflecting on losing their 15-match unbeaten home record in all competitions, which has taken them away from relegation trouble, Smith replied: “The boys have been amazing. It’s been very difficult.  We’ve lost players. We are where we are, it’s not going to change much but I just didn’t want to lose tonight against a team that I don’t think really created great chances.  They’re a good side, don’t get me wrong.  If they win their games-in-hand they can go above (us) and they’ll be safe but I just think (we gave them) two easy goals.

“We did that against Whitehawk and it’s something that we’ve got to try to clean up.

“At the same time we did miss David Ijaha. We missed Cookie and his enthusiasm.”

This game had an end-of-season feel to it with two sides with not a great deal to play for.

“I don’t want it to be like that,” insisted Smith.

“I want them to go out. We’ve got to figure out what we’re doing next season in terms of we’re leaving here (Hayes Lane), we’re going to our new ground, who wants to be a part of it?

“I just don’t want it to dwindle down. I want to try to get a bit of momentum going into next season and a little bit of energy and this is what we want to do.

“It is tough. The boys have had a long slog.  There have been little knocks and injuries but I want them to go and win as many games as we can.  At least be more competitive.  We were more competitive in the second half than we were in the first half yet we kept the ball probably better in the first half with no real penetration.”

The Wands are 13 points adrift of the play-offs and 17 points clear of the relegation zone and Smith was asked what he is targeting for their final nine league outings.

“We’ll be in the top half, top half.  When I first came in it was to stay up.  One, to stay up, two, make sure we don’t get relegated in the next two years’.  We got in the play-offs, probably over-achieved last year and you’re looking at squads and budgets that other people have got, I think we’re probably where we are rightly so, competition wise.

“You know me, I want to win every game.  I want to get in the play-offs. I want to be better than what we were last year but it’s been difficult.”

Cray Wanderers welcome Folkestone Invicta (24 March), Chatham Town (29 March), Hashtag United (5 April) and Bognor Regis Town (20 April) to Hayes Lane before playing at Flamingo Park next season.

“I think that’s the good news story, we’re moving into a new stadium, moving onto a new pitch and we can create our own fan base and try and call somewhere home,” said Smith.

“It’s always been difficult when you’re borrowing someone else’s ground and we’re just renting it. It’s hard and I must say I’ve got to appreciate the Bromley supporters’ that come down and support myself and the ex-Bromley boys because they do that and they don’t need to do that, I must say, to go along with the Cray boys who have been here for years.

“I feel like a bit of a cheat.  They’ve waited years for this to happen and I’ve been here in a very short space of time.

“People said it would never happen. It’s going to be brilliant. It’s about the owners. They’ve waited a long time, they’ve spent a lot of money, they’ve gone through a lot of stop-starts and they get their dream.

“People told me it would never happen. I believed Gary Hillman (chairman), all off them.  They said it would happen. They promised and they stuck by their guns.

“I said I’ll keep them up (in the Isthmian League Premier, the seventh-tier of English football). I said we’ll do the best we can, so I’ve done my job.”

When asked about the club’s plans for next season, Smith replied: “Nothing, nothing, I don’t know what’s happening next year.”

Cray Wanderers: Shaun Rowley, Emmanuel Kwatchey, Josh Hallard, Sam Wood (Enoch Muwonge 51), Jack Holland, Tom Bonner, Tom Beere (Alfie Evans 79), Frankie Raymond, Gary Lockyer, Ellis Brown (George Porter 63), George Brooke.
Subs: Rhys Murrell-Williamson, Cameron Black

Goal: Gary Lockyer 86

Booked: Ellis Brown 46, Gary Lockyer 90

Potters Bar Town: Finn Rushton, Prosper Keto, Louie Henry, Valckx Fernandes, Rickie Hayles (Max Jessop 59), Dwight Pascal, Kasim Aidoo (Darnell Goather-Braithwaite 72), Leigh Rose, Brandon Adams (Ore Bello 84), Temi Babalola, Lateef Adaja.
Subs: Shane Cojocarel, Shae Hutchinson

Goals: Brandon Adams 18, 53

Booked: Rickie Hayles 26, Finn Rushton 90, Darnell Goather-Braithwaite 90

Attendance: 163
Referee: Mr Joseph Turnpenny
Assistants: Mr Royan Campbell & Mr Mahdi Elhalawany