Bostik League South-East – 23rd March, 2019 – Match Report
Cray Wanderers 2
Taylor 43, 60
Haywards Heath Town 2
Akehurst 41, Saunders 58
Photos: Jon Hilliger
Cray Wanderers maintained a 13 point lead at the top of the Bostik South-East following a hard fought draw against fifth placed Haywards Heath Town at Hayes Lane as Cray twice quickly came from behind with two Joe Taylor goals to grab a well earned point.
In the first ever meeting between the sides at Hayes Lane, a tight and tense first half caught fire before halftime when on 41 minutes Haywards Heath went in front when Karl Akehurst was on hand to follow up from close range when Melford Simpson’s header came back off the crossbar. Two minutes later though Cray drew level when Sean Roberts ball into the area was helped on by Freddie Parker and Taylor fired home from 6 yards.
Cray played well in the second half and Mitchell Nelson’s header came back off the angle of post and crossbar but it was the visitors who went back in front on 58 minutes when Callum Saunders headed in his 17th goal of the season from Alex Laing’s right wing cross. Cray though once came back straight away as Ben Mundele shot was well saved by keeper Joshua Heyburn but Taylor was on hand to follow up the rebound and turned the ball over the line. Cray came close to winning with Taylor shooting just over and was then denied by another good block from Heyburn. The best late chance though fell to Haywards Heath as in the last minute, Trevor McCreadie broke through but placed his shot just wide of the right post and the game ended in a draw.
Cray were looking to get back on track following the defeat at Hastings United last Saturday and from that side there were three changes to the starting lineup. Bradley Pritchard was unavailable so Sean Roberts came into the midfield, Freddie Parker started in place of Karl Dent and Jerome Federico for Archie Johnson. New signing Jordan Clarke was on the bench.
It was a tight game last the two teams played in November with Cray winning with a late Ben Mundele goal and it looked like it would be a similar game today as two strong defences stood firm in the first half and there were few goal scoring opportunities in the opening exchanges.
Cray had the first shooting opportunity after three minutes when Junior Dadson down the left worked his way into the area but his shot lacked power and was held by Joshua Heyburn. Then in the ninth minute Dadson again showed his pace down the left and his cross-shot was flicked behind off Joshua Spinks for a corner before Joe Taylor could get to the ball.
For Cray Jay Leader made a strong run up from the back and into the area but elected to pass to Taylor rather than shoot and the ball was cleared out to Dadson who fired well wide. Then Tom Phipp saw a shot charged down just inside the area but at this stage it was half chances rather than clear openings. The nearest Haywards Heath came was when Trevor McCreadie drove a shot wide from 25 yards.
The first real chance came for Cray just before the half hour when Mundele played a fine ball through from midfield which found Taylor who broke through and into the area but Heyburn did well to come out and block with his legs and the ball was cleared. Then Mundele shot wide from 25 yards and then Dadson saw a left wing cross glanced wide of the right post by Taylor as the game began to pick up momentum.
With five minutes to go till half time, the game burst into life when from a free kick 40 yards out Alex Laing attempted a speculative shot towards goal which forced Nick Blue to push the ball over the bar for a corner. A minute later from the resultant corner down the left, Callum Saunders cross was met by the head of the giant Melford Simpson who saw his header come back off the crossbar and following up Karl Akehurst was on hand to head home.
The lead though was only short lived as two minutes later Cray drew level. From a free kick out on the right, Parker’s ball into the area was only half cleared and Sean Roberts dinked a ball back into the area which was helped on by Parker and volleyed into the net by Taylor from six yards out.
This brought the first half to a close and with the game now catching fire much was expected of the second half.
Half Time: 1-1
The second half began much the way the first half ended with Cray beginning the half well with a couple of early shooting opportunities. Firstly, down the left, Dadson’s ball across was fired over by Parker. Then Roberts fired just over from 20 yards. For Haywards Heath from a free kick down the right, Laing’s shot was deflected off Nathan Cooper and went behind for a goal-kick.
Cray were unlucky not to take the lead when from a corner won down the right by Federico, Parker’s cross found Mitchell Nelson whose looping header from eight yards came back off the top of the crossbar. Then Roberts saw a shot from 15 yards deflected over for a corner
The Wands continued to press and from another corner this time down the left the ball was flicked into the area by Phipp to Federico who from the edge of the six yard box saw a goal bound effort cleared off the line by a combination of Heyburn and Laing.
It was rather against the run of play when Haywards Heath retook the lead in the 58th minute. Callum Saunders found Laing down the right and his ball into the area found Saunders who made a good run into the box and his header crept into the bottom right corner of the net.
Yet again though Cray showed their powers of recovery as two minutes later the Wands tied the game once again when Mundele hit a well struck shot from 20 yards which Heyburn did well to save but the predatory Taylor was on hand to follow up the save by turning the ball over the line from a couple of yards out and it was 2-2.
Cray still showed the bigger threat from here and Mundele shot over the top and then Parker from 20 yards saw a shot pushed out by Heyburn.
The game was becoming a high quality game by this stage and Cray came close when Karl Dent slipped Dadson through down the left but shot wide of the left post. For Haywards Heath from a free kick out on the left, Saunders ball into the box found Simpson down the right who turned and fired into the side netting.
Cray had more opportunities to score with substitute Jordan Clarke jinking his way down the right and set up Taylor whose effort was blocked. Then Dadson showed perseverance to break into the area down the left and his ball to the near post to Taylor was blocked and cleared away.
Then Nelson played a ball through to Taylor who charged towards goal and as Heyburn came to meet him shot just over the top. Then moments later Roberts found Taylor again inside the area and Heyburn did well to block the near post shot.
With the game entering the final minute and Cray continuing to press, Haywards Heath nearly snatched an unlikely win when Mundele gave the ball away and McCreadie down the left bore down on goal and pulled a shot fractionally wide of the right post and was a bit of a let off for Cray.
The Wands exerted more pressure during added time but on this occasion couldn’t find a winner but had played very well second half against a tough and durable side who deserve their place in the top 5 and the game ended in a 2-2 draw. Cray had had to show character to come from behind twice and to do so quickly and can be pleased to have maintained an unbeaten home league record.
Cray remain 13 points clear from Hastings United who moved up to second following their win at Three Bridges while Horsham and Ashford United fought out a 0-0 draw. With six games to go in the season, Cray are still looking in good shape and next Saturday travel to Whitstable Town who are unbeaten in four games so will be full of confidence. Cray though will continue to battle on and there is much to look forward to as April gets nearer.
Cray Wanderers: Nick Blue, Ben Mundele, Tom Carlse, Jay Leader, Mitchell Nelson (Capt.), Tom Phipp, Sean Roberts, Freddie Parker (Karl Dent, 68), Joe Taylor, Junior Dadson, Jerome Federico (Jordan Clarke, 77): Subs: Archie Johnson, Lee Lewis, Joe Vines
Haywards Heath: Joshua Heyburn, Alex Laing, Cameron Tutt, Karl Akehurst, Nathan Cooper (Capt.), Joshua Spinks, Callum Saunders, Bryon Napper, Melford Simpson, Kenny Pogue (Kieran Rowe, 90+1) Trevor McCreadie : Subs: Alessandro Nanni, Andrew Dalhouse, Omar Folkes, Thomas Graves
Booked: Akehurst, Napper
Referee: Shelby Elson
Assistants: Sam Gregory, Mark Edwards