Cray Valley (Paper Mills) 3-2 Whyteleafe - Over the course of the season if you want to be successful and do well then you have to be quite resolute in games like that, says Cray Valley boss Kevin Watson

Tuesday 10th March 2020
Cray Valley (Paper Mills) 3 – 2 Whyteleafe
Location Badgers Sports Ground, Middle Park Avenue, Eltham, London SE9 5HT
Kickoff 10/03/2020 19:45

Isthmian League South East Division
Tuesday 10 March 2020
Stephen McCartney reports from Middle Park Avenue

CRAY VALLEY (Paper Mills) manager Kevin Watson says beating their fellow play-off chasing rivals Whyteleafe means a lot to his players.

Harry Hudson’s side found themselves 2-0 up inside the opening 35 minutes, courtesy of Andrew Sesay’s tap-in and Ryan Gondoh’s penalty.

However, Watson was pleased with the character shown from his players as they pulled a goal back through Gavin Tomlin’s 40th minute penalty.

Tomlin found top bins from his second penalty to equalise just 10 minutes into the second half before his strike partner Francis Babalola joined him on nine goals for the season by burying a far post header just 87 seconds later.

“A really tough game,” said Watson, whose side have now won eight games on the spin.

“Pleasing because we’ve beaten them twice in the league. They’re a very good team, no doubt about that!

“I thought we showed character going 2-0 down and them not winning the game. It was a different type of game for us and I think over the course of the season, if you want to be successful and do well then you have to be quite resolute in games like that.

“There was not loads of quality, I don’t think today but certainly showed character and attitude.”

Cray Valley’s eight-game unbeaten run came under scrutiny as Whyteleafe were the better side during large chunks of this frenetic game played in wet and windy conditions in Eltham.

Watson added: “There’s been a lot of games called off due to the weather, we’re in England, aren’t we?  Over the course of the season you’re going to experience that so it is important that we have a team that can deal with such conditions really.”

Gondoh was an impressive figure for Hudson’s side and he drove straight down the heart of the pitch before he was tackled on the edge of the Millers’ box and the ball came out to Bentley Graham who tried to score with a right-footed shot from 35-yards, which sailed over Walker and landed on top of the roof of the net after only 30 seconds.

“I thought in the first half they were picking balls off in good areas sort of 25-yards out and we spoke about that at half-time but they’ve got some good players that can hurt you,” said Watson.

Cray Valley created their first opening with only three minutes and 11 seconds into the game.

Tomlin released Babalola through on goal, in behind Nathan Campbell but Babalola flashed his left-footed angled drive across the keeper and past the far post when he only had goalkeeper Tyler McCarthy to beat.

“Look, he got in some good positions in the first half, ironically before conceding the first goal,” said Watson.

“I thought we had got in better clearer opportunities, not clear-cut as such, but slightly better opportunities but Babs is still learning, he’s not old, he’s learning that position.  Traditionally he was sort of a winger and he’s learning and improving all the time. 

“Some of the bits and pieces today, on reflection, it’s tough making decisions in split seconds as a player.”

Whyteleafe right-wing-back Emmanuel Mensah threw the ball to the impressive Gondoh, who switched the play to find Ricardo Thompson on the left-hand side of the box but the left-wing-back curled his left-footed shot around Andy Walker and past the far post.

Cray Valley squandered an excellent chance to take the lead with 12 minutes and 23 seconds on the clock, when Whyteleafe’s three-centre-halves all switched off following a ball over the top.

Millers’ left-centre-half Kalvin Morath-Gibbs swept a ball down the slope and down the left channel to release Tomlin in behind but his shot from a tight angle was comfortably saved by McCarthy at his near post.

“Yes, it was quite an acute angle.  Look, Gav’s got quality hasn’t he. If you give him enough chances he will hurt you at some point so not to judge off that one necessarily.”

This wastefulness proved costly, however, as Whyteleafe took the lead with 13 minutes and 3 seconds on the clock.

Central midfielder Alastair Gordon played the ball into Gondoh, who cut inside from the right before slipping the ball into Mensah, who was down the channel and he flashed a low cross towards the far post for Sesay to ghost in unmarked to tap the ball into the bottom near corner from a couple of yards out.

“There was a couple of errors leading to it, which we should’ve dealt with it better defensively because we’ve got quite a clear defensive structure. I don’t think we were too alert as it came across goal and he had quite an easy finish really the lad,” admitted Watson.

Gondoh was linking up well with his team-mates during a dominant first half from him and his team-mates and he whipped in a great cross from the left for centre-half Corey Holder to rise at the far post to steer his header past the diving Walker and past the post from eight-yards out, following a short-corner routine.

Whyteleafe were a threat in the air at set-pieces and Mensah cut the ball back to Bentley Graham, who swept a first time cross into the box for winger Sesay to rise to plant his header over the crossbar.

Cray Valley keeper and captain Walker told his team-mates to “liven up” and to show “desire” as they were hanging on during a poor first half performance from the home side in awful rain and wind lashed conditions.

A big kick upfield for McCarthy saw the ball threaded through to otherwise quiet striker Freddie Parker, who flashed his right-footed drive past the left-hand post from 25-yards.

Cray Valley came close to grabbing an equaliser on the half-hour mark following the second of their five corners.

Ryan Flack floated in a great delivery from the left which was asking to be buried at the far post but Morath-Gibbs  - who plays on the left of a three-man central defence - glanced his header past the far post from three-yards out.

“We scored from a couple of set-pieces at their place (a 4-0 win in the league on 1 February 2020), so we knew that we could cause problems in that area,” added Watson.

Whyteleafe fully deserved their two-goal lead when it arrived with 34 minutes and 19 seconds on the clock.

Gondoh was tripped by Cem Tumkaya (right-centre-half) inside the penalty area and referee Michael Begley pointed to the spot.

Gondoh, 22, notched his fifth goal for the club since his arrival from Vanarama National League South side Concord Rangers, placing his left-footed shot nicely into the bottom right-hand corner, despite Walker diving the same way.

“I don’t watch penalties so I didn’t watch most of the game then did I,” said Watson.

“I felt that was frustrating to give away the penalty because we were 2-v-1 with Denzel Gayle and Cem Tumkaya there and the lad got in between them. We’ve just got to be a little bit more patient in our minds and not give teams things.”

The next goal was important and Cray Valley were the side that scored it, the goal coming with 39 minutes and 21 seconds on the clock.

Tomlin won the penalty himself after being fouled, as he was sandwiched between Mensah and Holder, with Mensah clipping the striker inside the box. 

McCarthy, however, stood no chance as Tomlin smashed his right-footed penalty into the roof of the net, just left of centre, sending the keeper the wrong way.

Watson said: “At 2-0 down you’ve got a bit of a mountain to climb so pull one back before half-time it didn’t change to much in terms of the half-time team talk to be honest, whether you’re 2-0 down or 2-1 but I think it gave the boys a little bit of buoyancy.”

Cray Valley went close to grabbing an equaliser just before the stroke of half-time following their third corner kick.

Flack swung the ball in from the right towards the far post for Ashley Sains, who came up from the back to steer his free-header past the left-hand post.

Watson revealed he wasn’t pleased with his side’s first-half performance and demanded more from his team.

“Just we had so much more in us and we haven’t shown our cards at that stage and we needed to improve,” said Watson.

“I don’t think there was one individual who was playing near their capacity or their level really, so you can’t expect to be at the top of their game against sides in the same league if you’re not playing well ultimately.

“I had a few choice words, I delivered that in a different way and Tommy Osborne and Kevin James went through a few tactical bits and we called for an improvement in the second half and to leave it all out there really.”

The second half wasn’t as exciting as the first half, with not many clear cut goalscoring chances between these two play-off chasing sides.

Hassan Ibrahiym, who sits in front of Cray Valley’s three centre-halves, released Babalola down the right but once again his shot from 15-yards was gobbled up comfortably by McCarthy after only 40 seconds.

“I don’t think we tested their goalkeeper enough for some of the areas that we got in,” admitted Watson.

Referee Michael Begley awarded his third penalty of the night with six minutes and 59 seconds, the goal being timed at nine minutes and 23 seconds.

Tomlin was dragged to the ground by combative centre-half Jamie McGeoghegan and there was a long delay as Whyteleafe’s Gondoh tried to put Tomlin off by trying to scuff out the penalty spot. Goalkeeper McCarthy also tried to put off Tomlin by walking up towards the ball before retreating to his line, punching his crossbar and dancing up and down his goal-line.

McCarthy stood no chance, however, as Tomlin lashed his right-footed penalty into the top right-hand corner of the net.

“We had a few penalty shoot-outs last season so I missed them.  I’m quite a superstitious person but I just choose not to watch them,” revealed Watson.

“When Gondoh was diffing the penalty spot up, its poor sportsmanship. It’s not something we do. I don’t think it’s something they encourage. They’ve tried to put him off, haven’t they?

“I won’t comment too much, it is what it is. It’s disappointing. I wouldn’t encourage it. I don’t think their management team encourage it, just the player has made the decision to do it. He doesn’t need to do it, the lad is a good player isn’t he, but look it’s difficult to judge isn’t it?”

On Tomlin converting the penalty, Watson continued, “He missed one against Ramsgate, fair play to him for stepping up and taking a second one but he’s a confident lad.

“He hasn’t been here for the entire season. We re-signed him (in December), he had a little bit of a time out. He was exploring a few other avenues inside of football in terms of the business but outside of the playing. He’s gaining his fitness but he’s a very good character to have around and he’s done well since he’s come back.”

Cray Valley claimed the victory just 87 seconds later.

Sains whipped in a cross of high quality from the right towards the far post and Babalola buried his free header into the bottom near corner from five-yards.

“It was a really good ball. He’s still got a lot to do Babs in that position so fair play to him,” said Watson.

“He scored a header the other day so pleased for him because his work-rate is unquestionable.

“It was a really quality cross from Ashley, put it in to a very good area.  You’ve seen the way the boys celebrated, it’s important, it means something to them and they will go on and have a better week until Saturday. Whyteleafe’s players’ won’t so much and our players’ will.

“That’s why it’s important you’re going to work for 90 minutes, you come in, the weather is poor and it means a lot!

“It was a resolute performance. We’ve got character, which is pleasing because it’s tough for players out there.  You go 2-0 down, you’ve got to pick yourselves up and get on with it but there was enough time to get something out of the game.”

Gondoh also whipped in a great delivery from the left, whipping in a left-footed free-kick from 22-yards, which needed a touch from one of many players inside the penalty area in the 62nd minute, as the ball flashed across the face of goal.

But clear-cut goalscoring chances were at a premium despite the frenetic pace not dropping during the entire game.

Whyteleafe had plenty of the ball during the second half but they couldn’t trouble Walker, who like his opposite number didn’t have to deal with many shots on target.

Watson handed Lee Noble – who is on loan from Vanarama National League South side Dartford – his second start, the combative central midfielder having scored in a 5-3 home win over Ramsgate at the weekend.

“He gives us composure, intelligence, experience but he’s the right character,” said Watson.

“It’s important to sign people of the right character and Lee and Nathaniel Blanks (on loan from Isthmian Premier Division side Folkestone Invicta) are exactly that.  We know that we do our homework and we knew both players prior to bringing them in so that wasn’t the question really.

“Lee had an injury and he’s getting match fitness. He’s had to play two games in three days and he’s done well and he’s come through it. He was tired at the end but he’s got the right to be tired, he done a lot of work.”

Hastings United lead the Isthmian League South East Division table, having collected 62 points from 28 games.

The four play-off places are occupied by Ashford United (59 points from 30 games); Cray Valley (57 points from 28 games); Whitehawk (56 points from 28 games) and Herne Bay (51 points from 28 games).

Waiting in the wings are Chichester City (45 points from 25 games); Whyteleafe (45 points from 28 games) and VCD Athletic (42 points from 30 games).

Watson takes his side to eleventh-placed side Hythe Town on Saturday (15:00), Steven Watt’s side have collected 40 points from their 29 league outings and the Millers’ have everything to play for in their final 10 league games of their debut campaign at this level.

“They’re a good team. I’m surprised they haven’t progressed a little bit more because they’ve got a lot of experience and made some really good signings,” said Watson.

“They’ve got aspirations to still get in to the play-offs even though they’ve played a few more games than other teams.

“I hope the weather is a little bit better. It’s a tough place to go. We drew with them here 1-1 (on 16 November) so we’ll have to regroup, train on Thursday again.

“Training has been good, we’ve been doing a lot of training in poor weather conditions which shows the players’ commitment and we’re starting to get more of a squad back now.

“Matt Warren is a big miss and he will be out for some time still. Jacob Erskine has got a bit of a sore calf that he’s nursing, Danny Smith, Jack Sammoutis is still a big part of our plans moving forward.”

The Millers have climbed up a place in the league table and are back in third-place in the table for the first time since New Years’ Day.

“Well, I can’t remember the last time we’ve moved in the position, we’ve won quite a few (eight) on the bounce and we’ve only just moved. It shows how tight it is,” said Watson.

“Hastings are the front runners, they’re resourceful, a very good side and they’ve improved from last year haven’t they?

“But we just need to concentrate on ourselves. We can’t affect results of other teams. If Hastings win all of the remainder of their games, they can’t be caught can they? They’ve got that foot-hold at the moment.

“We’ll just take it each game as it comes and see where we end up at the end of the season.”

Cray Valley (Paper Mills): Andy Walker, Denzel Gayle, Nathaniel Blanks, Ashley Sains, Kalvin Morath-Gibbs, Cem Tumkaya, Lee Noble, Hassan Ibrahiym, Francis Babalola, Gavin Tomlin, Ryan Flack (Ryan King-Elliot 74).
Subs: Liam Hickey, Emilano Hysi, Josh James

Goals: Gavin Tomlin 40 (penalty), 55 (penalty), Francis Babalola 56

Whyteleafe: Tyler McCarthy, Emmanuel Mensah, Ricardo Thompson, Jamie McGeoghegan, Nathan Campbell (David Ompreow 86), Corey Holder, Andrew Seesay, Bentley Graham (Corie Andrews 67), Freddie Parker, Alastair Gordon, Ryan Gondoh.
Subs: Helge Orome, Matthew O’Donoghue, Tahjae Anderson

Goals: Andrew Sesay 14, Ryan Gondoh 35 (penalty)

Booked: Ryan Gondoh 75

Attendance: 82
Referee: Mr Michael Begley
Assistants: Mr Neil Keirs & Mr Dominic Barrow