Bostik League South-East – Sunday 6th January, 2019
Cray Wanderers 1
Three Bridges 0
Pictures Jon Hilliger
Cray Wanderers remain eight points clear at the top of the Bostik South-East after a dramatic finish to the first league game of 2019 as Archie Johnson’s thumping strike in the sixth minute of injury time clinched victory against a tough, in-form Three Bridges side who played the last twenty minutes with ten men.
Cray were looking to keep up the momentum of the two wins picked up over the festive season while Three Bridges had won six of their last seven league games. Cray began well and had some opportunities in the opening stages with Karl Dent’s free kick hitting the crossbar and following up Bradley Pritchard’s shot was saved by keeper James Shaw’s legs. The rest of the half evened itself out but the second half saw Cray swarm forward and laid siege to the Three Bridges goal. Three Bridges were dogged and resolute but were reduced to ten men on 71 minutes when Connor French was dismissed for two bookable offences. Despite a number of near misses and good saves from Shaw it was destined to be a draw until Archie Johnson’s superb first time shot from 20 yards which rifled into the top left corner broke the deadlock deep into stoppage time.
The downside of the game for Cray was an early injury to Aaron Rhule who was replaced by Daniel Uchechi and all our thoughts are with Aaron with his recovery and hope to see him back soon.
There were no changes from the side which started at Sevenoaks on 29th December and Cray began the game well and Joe Taylor and Jerome Federico combined to set up Ben Mundele for a shot which was held by keeper James Shaw. In the 7th minute, a right wing corner from Karl Dent was floated to the edge of the six yard box where Mitchell Nelson turned the ball wide.
Three Bridges looked confident too early on and Connor French hit a shot which was claimed by Nick Blue.
Cray were dealt a blow when Aaron Rhule had to go off in the 12th minute with injury and was replaced by Daniel Uchechi. Daniel was soon involved and from Bradley Pritchard’s layoff, set up Dent who shot over from the edge of the area.
In the 16th minute Cray were awarded a free kick in a good position 18 yards from goal and from the free kick Dent’s shot came back off the angle of right post and crossbar and following up Pritchard was unlucky to see his shot come back off the legs of James.
Then from a free kick out wide on the right, Dent’s ball into the area was headed over by Tom Phipp. This was followed by a good passing move ending with Dent finding Ben Mundele inside the area who drove a shot into the side netting.
For Three Bridges, they had a free kick in a decent position on the edge of the area and from the kick, Brannon O’Neill curled a shot just over the bar.
Cray kept looking for an opening and Pritchard and Taylor combined down the left to set up Dent for a snap shot which was held by James.
The game then went through a scrappy phase after the half hour and became a bit fragmented with a couple of yellow cards apiece for Taylor and O’Neill in separate fouls and the game lost its flow for a little while.
Three Bridges came close to taking the lead when French down the right played the ball through to Ibby Akanbi who drove in a shot which was well saved and blocked by Blue.
For Cray, Phipp’s fine ball found Federico inside the area and James had to come out and smother at the second attempt.
Before the break, for Three Bridges, an Akanbi cross was headed over by French from 14 yards while for Cray, from another good Dent delivery from a right wing corner the ball was headed wide at the far post by Jay Leader.
Half Time: 0-0
The second half saw Cray almost entirely on top and came close early on when a shot from Dent stung the hands of James and then from a Dent free kick out on the right, the ball was headed wide by Nelson of the left post.
The half continued with Cray knocking on the door and Taylor saw an effort blocked by Jenson Grant inside the area and then Dent fired over the top.
Cray then put a lovely flowing move together which ended with Pritchard finding Uchechi who played the ball into the left of the area to Taylor who spun off his defender but shot wide of the left post. Still looking to find an opening, Taylor set up Dent from Pritchard’s pass who fired over from ten yards.
Three Bridges were defending well but almost took the lead when Akanbi put George Gaskin through who burst into the area and dragged a shot just past the right post.
Into the final twenty minutes and Federico found Taylor with an incisive pass down the right of the area and his effort was blocked well by James.
In the 71st minute, French who was booked three minutes earlier for a foul then received a second yellow card for kicking the ball away following the award of a free kick and Three Bridges were reduced to ten men.
The latter stages saw Cray lay siege to the goal and from a Pritchard corner, the ball was flicked towards goal by Freddie Parker but was cleared off the line by Joe Tennent. This was followed by Mundele seeing a shot deflected for a corner.
From the corner, down the right Pritchard’s cross to the far post has flicked on by Nelson and deflected to Parker whose shot from 12 yards was superbly saved by the legs of James at the left post and Taylor couldn’t follow up the rebound.
There was plenty of added on time as despite the attacking there were a few stoppages in play and it seemed Cray’s last chance of a winner had gone when Parker fired a free kick over the bar from the edge of the area and then Uchechi played Pritchard into the area who turned but his shot lacked power and was gathered by the diving James.
Into the sixth minute of added on time and the breakthrough finally came and it was well worth waiting for when Uchechi found Pritchard who intelligently laid the ball to substitute Archie Johnson who let fly with an arrow of a shot from 20 yards which flew into the top left corner of the net and the cue for great excitement for the fans.
There was still a couple more minutes to play but Cray were able to see out the remaining moments and a huge three points to go back to eight points clear at the top and showed a remarkable never say die spirit to keep on going. Three Bridges were very tough opponents and will give many teams problems in the coming weeks so this was a very big win indeed and a high quality performance.
Cray will next be in action at East Grinstead Town on Saturday which will also be a hard game as they will all be from now but the Wands keep on going to the end and can never be discounted.
Cray Wanderers: Nick Blue, Ben Mundele, Barney Williams (Capt.), Jay Leader, Mitchell Nelson, Bradley Pritchard, Tom Phipp, Karl Dent (Archie Johnson, 77), Joe Taylor, Aaron Rhule (Daniel Uchechi, 12), Jerome Federico (Freddie Parker, 73): Subs: Sean Roberts, Marcus Evans
Three Bridges: James Shaw, Nathan Simpson, Toyo Adeshina, Jensen Grant, Antone Douglas, Joe Tennent, George Gaskin (Darryl Siaw, 88) John Ufuah, Ibby Akanbi (Alex Clark, 82), Brannon O’Neill, Connor French: Subs: Mason Doughty, Bradley Peters, Liam Collins
Sent Off: French 71 mins (2 cautions)
Booked: O’Neill, Adeshina, Ufuah
Referee: George Warren
Assistants: Tolga Inanc, Nick Blogg