Cray Wanderers vs Billericay Town
Isthmian Premier – Saturday 19th August – Match Report
Cray Wanderers 0
Billericay Town 1
Cray Wanderers continue to seek the first point of the 2023-24 Isthmian Premier season after Billericay Town came away from Hayes Lane with a 1-0 win.
The Wands have lost their first three league games for the first time since the 2014-15 season and certainly put in a much improved display to Wednesday night’s defeat to Horsham but a solitary goal by former Bromley striker Moses Emmanuel just after the half hour proved enough for the Essex side to become one of four sides with a 100% start to the season after three games.
On a sunny afternoon helped by the brightness of the Wands amber and Billericay’s blue shirts seemed set fair to be a keenly contested game and for the most part could have gone either way.
For the Wands, there were four changes to the side which took on Horsham with Frankie Raymond making his Cray league debut in midfield in place of David Ijaha, Anthony Cook for Yahya Bamba, Mason Saunders-Henry for George Porter and Cameron Thompson for Tom Derry. Billericay had won at Cheshunt on Tuesday night and there were also four changes to their lineup with Alfie Cerulli, Moses Emmanuel, James Blanchfield and Malachi Napa coming in for Bradley Stevenson, Ade Azeez, Adam Leathers and Frankie Merrifield showing their squad strength.
Town began well and Malachi Napa saw a shot deflected behind for a corner from which the ball was met by the tall central defender Brooklyn Kabongolo but the ball was blocked by the Wands defence.
For Cray in the sixth minute a corner down the left from Nyren Clunis was floated to the far post where Jack Holland got his head to the ball but straight at keeper Dan Wilks.
Two minutes later Cerulli who had a lively first half was set up by Moses Emmanuel down the left of the area but maybe should have done better than lift his shot over the bar from just inside the area.
Cray then had a decent spell which forced three corners and from the third of these, Cameron Thompson hit a strike that was charged down by the Town defence.
In the fifteenth minute, Napa found Cerulli and his ball across was turned behind by Cameron Black for a corner. From the corner kick the ball was cleared out to Aron Pollock whose first effort was blocked and half-volleyed over at the second attempt.
The Wands though were certainly clicking more in the first half than on Wednesday night and Saunders-Henry down the left hit a shot which Wilks had to parry away.
On the half hour, Cray created the best chance of the game when a fluent move led to Sam Wood breaking forward and teed up Anthony Cook who shot over the bar from just outside the area.
A minute later Billericay went ahead when from a corner down the right, Cerulli’s ball into the area was met by Emmanuel whose clever header made its way through a crowded six yard box and into the net.
Billericay had a bit of control after that and Kabongolo hit a fine ball forward for Cerulli to chase down the left, cut into the area and whipped the ball over to the far post for Emmanuel and his header was turned behind by Shaun Rowley at the second attempt.
Both sides had openings before half time with for Cray, Archy Taylor down the right fired in a shot which Wilks got down to save and did well to smother a low shot from Clunis from outside the area. Finally for Billericay from a free kick out on the right played to the far post, Emmanuel glanced a header wide.
The second half began fairly scrappy with Billericay winning an early corner through Cerulli from which the ball came to Matt Johnson whose strike was blocked.
Cray did come close when Anthony Cook was played through down the right but from a tight angle rattled the goal frame with an instinctive shot. Then Frankie Raymond attempted a shot which was deflected off Pollock and claimed by Wilks before Rio Campbell was introduced for the Wands.
Billericay were defending well and were pretty solid for a spell but the last twenty minutes saw the game spring more into life and Jamie Mascoll received a pass from Raymond down the left and cut inside and saw his cross-shot go just past the right post.
A minute later, Billericay substitute Frankie Merrifield cut inside from the right and crashed a shot just past the right post.
Tom Derry came on with fifteen minutes to go for Cray but Billericay were still looking good going forward and Cerulli was set up by ex-Wand Bradley Stevenson and his shot was well gathered by Rowley.
With eight minutes to go, Cook’s ball in from the right was headed into the side net by Derry. Then two minutes later, Cray created perhaps their best chance of the game when Mascoll did superbly to find space to put over a cross from the left into the area but Campbell turned the ball over the bar. At the other end a fine ball from the left by Jay Porter to the near post was stabbed wide by Merrifield under pressure from Rowley.
As the game went into its final minutes, Taylor from close to 35 yards tried his luck with a shot which went over. Then in the first of six minutes added time, Wood’s ball into the area was met by Cook with a spectacular overhead kick but the ball drifted wide of the left post.
In the end Billericay had defended very well for most of the match and three clean sheets out of three showed a side that will be hard to beat this season and was a very professional performance.
Cray are one of four sides yet to pick up a point but there were some positives in the performance going forward to two tricky away games at Enfield Town on Saturday and at Hastings United on Bank Holiday Monday but perhaps are just lacking that sharpness in front of goal but defensively have been pretty sound with Cameron Black and Jack Holland outstanding.
Cray Wanderers: Shaun Rowley, Archy Taylor, Cameron Black, Jack Holland, Jamie Mascoll, Sam Wood, Frankie Raymond, Anthony Cook, Nyren Clunis (Tom Derry, 75), Mason Saunders-Henry (Rio Campbell, 62), Cameron Thompson: Subs: Reggie Rye, Tom Penfold, David Ijaha
Booked: Black 45+1
Billericay Town: Dan Wilks, George Wind, Jay Porter, Brooklyn Kabongolo, Aron Pollock, Matt Johnson, James Blanchfield (Bradley Stevenson, 62), Richard Asamoah (Frankie Merrifield, 63), Malachi Napa (Junior Velasquez, 86), Alfie Cerulli, Moses Emmanuel: Subs: Adam Leathers, Jayden Robinson
Booked: Cerulli 19, Porter 26, Stevenson 90
Referee: James Hall
Assistants: Oliver Bierman, Andreas Anastasiou