Isthmian League Premier – Thursday 26th December, 2019
Cray Wanderers 0
Cray Wanderers final match of 2019 ended in defeat as Leatherhead won a close, hard-fought encounter with the winner coming four minutes after half-time and made it three games without a win for a rather depleted Wands side.
The match pitted two sides with playoff ambitions and Leatherhead came into the game with just one defeat in nine and while Cray had lost their previous two games in Sussex at Bognor Regis Town and Worthing, home form had been good with just the two defeats at home in the league. The game had the look of one where maybe one goal would win it and Leatherhead began impressively with Lewis Carey making two important saves early on but Cray fought back and certainly the game had evened before the break with Bradley Pritchard coming closest for Cray. The Tanners took the lead on 49 minutes when Travis Gregory’s left wing cross into the area was turned at the far post by Callum Driver for his first goal of the season. Cray looked to get back into it and Joel Rollinson rattled a post and Tom Murphy and Joe Taylor came close to grabbing a point in the dying minutes.
Cray began the game with players out at the back with Barney Williams, Tom Carlse and Mitchell Nelson both missing through injury or illness and injuries have played a big part in the Wands season to date. Into the team that started the Worthing game were Charlie Allen, Geofrey Okonkwo and Joe Taylor. If there was some positive news then Tom Phipp on the bench augurs well for upcoming matches.
Leatherhead began the game looking like a side in form and could have scored three times in the opening quarter of an hour. The first opening came when Crossley Lema and Charlie Hester-Cook combined to find Travis Gregory down the left and he set up Izzuna Ikebausi who drove a shot just wide from the edge of the area.
For Cray, Jay Leader and Bradley Pritchard, skipper for the day played a ball to Jerome Federico who worked his way down the right and his ball across was put behind by Will Salmon for a corner.
At the other end, Cray were indebted to some fine goalkeeping from Lewis Carey. Firstly, following a blocked shot from Finlay MacNab, Gregory set up Hester-Cook whose shot was goalbound but was excellently turned round the right post by Carey.
Then shortly after, the lively Ibrahim Olutade worked his way down the right of the area and looked to squeeze home a near post shot but Carey did well to parry the ball away and the ball fell to Hester-Cook whose shot was deflected behind for a corner.
Around the 20 minutes mark, Leatherhead threatened again when Hester-Cook won the ball in midfield and ran and his shot was deflected wide of the left post for another corner.
Despite their early dominance Leatherhead didn’t score and Cray worked their way into the game and came close to taking the lead when following a throw in down the right, Joel Rollinson found Karl Dent whose ball into the box was helped on by Joe Taylor and Pritchard arriving into the box shot just over from 9 yards.
Then Cray came close again when Federico’s right wing cross went out to the left to Taylor who played an excellent ball into the six yard box which the onrushing Charlie Allen just couldn’t get a touch to divert the ball into the net and the ball went wide.
The game was now more of an even affair and for the visitors MacNab found Olutade whose effort was blocked and at the other end Taylor set up Rollinson who fired a shot over the bar.
The last chance of the first half fell to Leatherhead when down the right Gregory again found space and his near post shot was blocked by a combination of Leader and Okonkwo for a corner.
The game was looking like one where the first goal would be crucial and possibly decisive. The breakthrough came in the 49th minute as Leatherhead went in front. From a throw in down the left from Lema, the ball came to Gregory and his inswinging ball into the box towards the far post was turned in from around 5 yards by Callum Driver.
This fired Cray up for a strong and positive finish to the game. From a free kick, Pritchard’s ball towards Rollinson ended with his shot being pushed behind by keeper Zaki Oualah for a corner. Then Dent found Mundele whose shot was blocked by the impressive Leatherhead skipper Will Salmon.
The game then went through something of a scrappy phase but was still an engaging contest and Cray came close when Dent and Tom Murphy combined to find Allen but his cross-shot was claimed by Oualah.
At the other end a durable and resolute Leatherhead looked to double their lead and right-back Driver hit a half volley from 25 yards which cleared the crossbar. Then a cross from Ikebausi from the right was deflected off Okonkwo for Olutade whose shot was pushed out by Carey.
Cray kept pushing on and a Dent free kick 25 yards out was played into the area towards Prtichard who leapt to head the ball goalwards but couldn’t get a firm connection and was cleared by the Leatherhead defence.
Perhaps the clearest chance for Cray came when Murphy found Allen and his ball into the box was met by Rollinson but his shot came back off the left post from 12 yards out. Then Dent on the edge of the area saw a shot deflected through to Oualah.
The latter stages saw the game becoming more stretched and Cray came close when donw the left, Pritchard and Allen combined well again to set up Lee Lewis who shot wide of goal. Leatherhead meanwhile who had defended well throughout broke out to good effect and down the right, Ikebausi’s cross was met by the head of Olutade but was blocked in the area. Then from a free kick, Simon Mensah set up Will Seager who fired a shot wide of goal.
Cray though kept plugging away and were unlucky not to grab a point from the game when Mundele played a good ball through to Murphy down the right of the area and his shot was saved by the legs of Oualah and from the rebound Taylor rolled the ball agonisingly wide of the left post. There was also still time in added on time for Lewis to find Murphy whose effort was blocked.
The Wands certainly gave it their all despite the absence of key players but Leatherhead played well and look a side who could play a part in the playoff picture with the central defenders, Salmon and Jerry Nnamani very impressive and Hester-Cook looks a fine prospect in midfield and Olutade is a handful up front and Gregory also had a good game with his balls into the box.
For Cray, they kept on going until the end and though the defence had a few hairy moments in the opening stages stuck to their task well and Okonkwo and Leader did well against a lively attack and Charlie Allen moved to left-back and had an excellent game combining well with Pritchard and in a game of few real chances it was just a well worked goal that won the game. The Wands go down one place in the table to 7th on 34 points and are three points ahead of 10th placed Leatherhead.
It has been a good 2019 on the whole for Cray who moved up from the Isthmian South-East and have settled well into the Premier but perhaps just need to get all their players back fit and the small win-less streak will surely end soon. Cray are next in action on News Year Day with a trip to Margate with a 3pm ko at Hartsdown Road.
Cray Wanderers: Lewis Carey, Ben Mundele, Lee Lewis, Jay Leader, Geofrey Okonkwo, Charlie Allen, Bradley Pritchard (Capt.), Karl Dent, Jerome Federico (Tom Murphy, 55), Joel Rollinson, Joe Taylor: Subs: Tom Phipp, Chris Al Hassan, Emmanuel Oduguwa, Grant Hall
Leathehead: Zaki Oualah, Callum Driver, Crossley Lema, Simon Mensah, Will Salmon (Capt.), Jerry Nnamani, Charlie Hester-Cook, Finlay MacNab (Will Seager, 78), Ibrahim Olutade (Zachary Robinson, 74), Travis Gregory, Izunna Ikebausi: Subs: Charlie Dawkins, Marco Figuerido-Correia
Referee: Shelby Elson
Assistants: Joseph Kasper, Scott Orchard
Attendance – 188