Cray Wanderers 2-2 Harlow Town - I'm so confident we ain't going to get relegated, says Gary Abbott
CRAY WANDERERS 2-2 HARLOW TOWN
Ryman League Division One North
Sunday 21st December 2014
Stephen McCartney reports from Hayes Lane
CRAY WANDERERS’ sole manager Gary Abbott says his side must claim another thirty points to retain their Ryman League status.
Abbott, 50, was solely in charge for the first time after Michael Paye decided to leave the dug-out for the boardroom towards the end of last week.
Second-placed Harlow Town raced into a 2-0 lead inside the opening nineteen minutes through goals from winger Junior Appiah and impressive striker Alex Read, 26, who scored his 27th goal of the season.
But central defender Dimtri Larin headed home a lifeline only 114 seconds after Harlow looked certain to close the gap on leaders Needham Market.
The Hawks lost midfielder Billy Jones to a straight red-card before Shaun Welford came off the bench to plant his header into the top corner to salvage a surprising point for the struggling Kent side.
The Wands remain second-from-bottom in the Ryman League Division One North table with 17 points from 24 games, eight points adrift of safety, with only three league wins to their name.
“I think it was a brilliant point. We would’ve taken it all day before the game,” said an excitable Abbott, after the club’s eighth league draw of the season.
“It weren’t the best of games on Tuesday night, it was embarrassing to be honest with you.
“Everyone knows that Michael (Paye)’s had enough. He’s been doing it for a year and that’s fair play to him. I thought we worked well together but he’s made a decision. I was possibly thinking I’m not going to go, I want to do it myself and the club gave me the opportunity and I look at today as my first game really.
“I completely changed the system, completely changed it. I’m not going to say it, people watching will know. We completely changed the players that have been playing. I don’t want players getting comfortable thinking I’m just going to train and I’ll got to turn up and I’m going to play. The boys know that’s not going to happen, it’s not going to be like that.”
Abbott made six changes to the side that went down to a 3-2 home defeat to Dereham Town in midweek.
He handed right-back Frank Griffin his debut, having signed him on loan from AFC Hornchurch, while left-back Steve Springett returned from his dual-registration spell at Southern Counties East Football League leaders Erith & Belvedere. Midfielder, Michael Phillips, meanwhile, has been released.
Speaking about Griffin, Abbott hopes to sign him permanently, saying, “He’s from Hornchurch but he’s actually signed for Heybridge. He went to Heybridge on loan from Hornchurch but he’s with us at the moment. I’m hoping we can sign him so he’s our player so we’re trying to sort that out now.”
But Abbott wasn’t happy with the way that Harlow Town opened the scoring with their first chance with only four minutes and 19 seconds on the clock.
Read was played in behind the two central defenders Larin and Max Fitzgerald and played the ball across to Appiah, who rolled his right-footed shot across the keeper into the bottom far corner from fifteen-yards.
“First 20 minutes I thought it could get embarrassing but that was bad defending by us,” admitted Abbott.
“I set them out five minutes before we came out how we’re going to do goal kicks and then we never done it! It cost us the first goal in the first five minutes so I wasn’t happy with that!
“We just weren’t on it. We sat in the changing room for the first 20 minutes, you could say we were sat in the changing room.”
David Cowley, who took all of Harlow Town’s set-pieces, saw his corner headed back out to him and the captain cut in from the right and his deflected angled drive flashed across the face of goal and past the far post for another corner.
A poor back header from Springett gifted Read another opportunity, who curled his right-footed shot around Darren Behcet and past the far post.
Cray Wanderers faced a mountain to climb when Harlow Town deservedly doubled their lead.
Cowley floated in a free-kick from the right into the penalty area and the ball dropped for Read to take a touch before drilling his right-footed shot into the roof of the net from 12-yards.
Abbott said: “I’ve seen Read over the last couple of years, he’s already scored 27 goals this season and we ain’t even at the end of December yet so it will be interesting to see what he gets - but he does it every season.
“I’m surprised he’s not moved on so all the best for Harlow for keeping him.
“I’m not sure about the free-kick that they actually got anyway. When they got the final ball in, that’s the other thing that we’ve got to work on. I’m at them about the second ball and the second phase and if we don’t win the first one we must react. He reacted quickly than us and he smashed it into the roof of the net.”
But before the long-suffering Cray Wanderers in the club’s second largest crowd of the season started staring down the barrel, Larin gave them a 21st minute lifeline.
Hussein Isa floated in a perfect corner from the right and Larin made a dash from the edge of the box to plant his header down and up into the top right-hand corner from five-yards.
“Two-nil down after nineteen minutes, I’m thinking this could be embarrassing again but to be fair we got the goal at the right time,” said Abbott.
“What a great header from Dim. It was a great ball. I’ve got to say deliveries from Isa, the whole game, have been unreal. I’ve not seen anyone with a better delivery than him.”
There were no further goalscoring chances before Cray Wanderers twice went close in the 42nd minute.
Harlow Town defender Joshua Urquhart fouled Ben Hunt some 22-yards from goal and Isa’s left-footed free-kick was curling towards the near corner, but Edward Thompson dived to his left to push around the post.
Abbott added: “He practices them in training actually and he’s been doing them in four or five games. He’s almost scored four or five goals but goalkeeper’s have pulled worldy’s off and he’s done the same as well.”
Isa swung in the resulting corner and Fitzgerald’s near post header was tipped onto the top of the crossbar and behind for another corner by the Harlow keeper.
Harlow Town went close to killing the game just before the half-time whistle.
Cowley swung in another free-kick into the Cray Wanderers box where Read sent his looping header dropping just over the crossbar from 12-yards.
Abbott said: “Do you know what, the last ten minutes of the first half, I think we dug in there and some of the football played on not the best pitch as you can see was unreal, which is why we played that system as well because we want to get on the ball and we want to play.
“I mainly said the first ten minutes make sure we don’t give a soft goal away. They had a couple of little half chances but there wasn’t nothing for them really.
“I think we dominated 35-40 minutes and I think we deserved to win it.”
Cray Wanderers delivered a vastly improved second half performance.
A big kick down the middle of the pitch by Behcet was latched onto by striker Hunt, who swept the ball out wide to winger Tyrone Berry, who whipped in a cross from the right and Adrian Stone’s header drew a low save from Thompson after 56 minutes.
Harlow Town issued a warning six minutes later when Cowley’s fourth and final corner from the right was planted over the crossbar by substitute Fabian Simms, who came on for the injured Luke Cuthbert.
But Cray Wanderers received a turning point when Harlow Town were deservedly reduced to ten-men when midfielder Billy Jones slid in late to catch Springett.
Referee Peter Conn walked over to assistant Oliver Fyfe before reaching for his right pocket to show Jones a red card.
“It wasn’t as bad as the one against Ware (last Sunday), but that’s a sending off all day long,” said Abbott.
“That’s a bad tackle. Steve’s gone in there to do a 50-50 side foot or whatever and the geezer’s just got his studs up and I’m just lucky he hasn’t been hurt on that one, so he’s got away with that, but it is a red card all day and from them we just put it on them, we had no choice.”
Abbott pulled off a tactical masterstroke to earn his side a vital point.
Mark Goldberg brings on two strikers for two strikers towards the end of games for landlords Bromley, so Abbott took off Hunt and Stone and brought on Welford and Laurent Hamici for the final 12 minutes.
He said: “I think we made two good substitutions. Stoney and Ben absolutely worked their nuts off. I think the two substitutes gave us a little bit of a go at them.”
And Cray Wanderers claimed a deserved leveller just five minutes later.
Alex Stavrinou clipped in a left-footed cross from the right into the penalty area where the unmarked Welford planted his header sailing across Thompson into the top far corner from 10-yards.
Abbott added: “A great ball from Stav and what a great header from Shaun Welford – that’s what he does!”
“I just gave Stavs a quick shout, left-foot, put it in and he don’t it so hopefully me shouting at him, he’s put the cross in.”
Both sides almost snatched it at the death.
Read was released down the right flank and he cut the ball back to unmarked substitute Jared Small whose low right-footed shot from fifteen-yards was hit straight down the middle and was blocked by Behcet’s legs.
“When Alex Read’s running at you, you expect him to score. He missed a great chance in the first half actually after his first goal, so we got away with that there. What a good save there!”
Cray Wanderers’ right-winger Tyrone Berry whipped in a cross which was flicked on by an unmarked Welford at the near post, which flashed across goal but Hamici’s shot from six-yards was somehow clawed out by Thomson’s hand at his near post and Hamici steered the rebound past the foot of the near post.
Abbott added: “Laurent should’ve won it. He was on the six-yard box and he’s got to score for me. I think the keeper’s pulled it from behind the line. I think it did go in. The linesman (Ronald Albert) wasn’t in line with it so the ref’s got to play on.”
Isa swung in the resulting corner from the left and Larin’s shot was headed off the line by Harlow left-back Layne Eadie.
Chatham Town host Cray Wanderers at Maidstone Road next Saturday, 27 December in a must-win clash for both Kent clubs.
Kevin Watson’s side have slipped down the league table to 20th place with 25 points from 26 games and are now only three points clear of the drop zone.
“We went all the way through the 95th minute and I can’t ask any more from the boys,” said Abbott.
“I would’ve taken that all day from the beginning. To know we’re in the dressing room disappointed that we didn’t actually win the game is brilliant and the belief in that changing room now, we just have to go to Chatham and build on that.
“I’m confident that we can get up to halfway (up the table). I’m so confident we ain’t going to get relegated. I’m so confident of that.
“We’ve got to put performances in like that and we’ve got to work hard to get rewards and that’s what the boys done today so fair play to them.”
When asked how many more points his side must claim to avoid back-to-back relegations and playing neighbours Holmesdale in the Southern Counties East Football League next season, Abbott replied: “There’s 66 points to play for. If we can get 30 of those, I think we’ll be ok.”
Cray Wanderers: Darren Behcet, Frank Griffin, Steve Springett, Dimtri Larin, Max Fitzgerald, Alex Stavrinou, Giannoulis Fakinos, Hussein Isa, Adrian Stone (Laurent Hamici 78), Ben Hunt (Shaun Welford 78), Tyrone Berry.
Subs: Nathan Simpson, Chidi-James Williams-Agunabor, Kery Kedze
Goals: Dimtri Larin 21, Shaun Welford 83
Booked: Max Fitzgerald 14
Harlow Town: Edward Thompson, Ben Glasgow, Layne Eadie, Joshua Urquhart, Sam Holloway, Luke Cuthbert (Fabian Simms 38), Junior Appiah (James Smith 76), David Cowley, Alex Read, Billy Jones, Robbie Martin (Jared Small 84).
Goals: Junior Appiah 5, Alex Read 19
Booked: Luke Cuthbert 29, Fabian Simms 82
Sent Off: Billy Jones 73
Referee: Mr Peter Conn (Gillingham)
Assistants: Mr Oliver Fyfe (Sidcup) & Mr Ronald Albert (Catford, London SE6)