Isthmian League Premier – Saturday 1st February, 2020  

Cray Wanderers                                            2

Taylor 24 pen, Murrell-Williamson 27

Horsham                                                        1

Harding 29

Cray Wanderers began a tough February schedule with a gutsy and hard earned victory against Horsham at Hayes Lane to make it seven unbeaten and remain 3rd in the Isthmian Premier despite playing for 77 minutes with 10 men.

Against a strong Horsham side who began the game 4th and a point behind Cray, the Wands certainly had to do things the hard way when after 13 minutes, Ben Mundele was sent off after picking up two cautions and this came on the back of a positive opening from the Hornets.

Cray though showed great character to regroup and went ahead in the 24th minute from the penalty spot after Joe Taylor converted his 28th goal of the season following a handball offence.  Three minutes later things got even better for Cray when Rhys Murrell-Williamson curled home a superb strike from just inside the box to make it 2-0.  Horsham though fought back and in the 29th minute replied when Lee Harding tapped in to set up a dramatic last hour.

The second half saw Cray having to put a rearguard action to repel Horsham’s attacks and nine minutes from time had the chance to level when Lea Dawson was upended in the box but from the penalty spot, Harry Mills’ spot kick was turned round the post by Lewis Carey.  Cray then stoically held on and picked up a big win against another playoff contender.

The match was eagerly anticipated between last season’s Isthmian South-East promotion winning sides and also following the gripping 1-1 draw between the teams at Horsham back in October.  Just a point separated the teams going into the game and certainly the game lived up to the billing and was a hard, competitive contest but full of good players and played at 100 miles an hour.

For Cray from the side which won dramatically at Enfield last Saturday there were two changes, and into the side came Joe Taylor for Joel Rollinson and Jerome Federico for Lee Lewis.

The game began with Horsham looking confident and certainly had the better of the opening exchanges and had the first shooting chance when Jack Brivio found Lee Harding down the right of the area whose shot was well fielded by Lewis Carey.  Then a Harvey Sparks cross was headed over by Mitchell Nelson and from one of a vast number of corners during the game, Alex Kelly’s cross was flicked on by Harry Mills towards goal by Brivio knocked the ball wide.

For Cray, Federico and Bradley Pritchard combined to set up Tom Phipp whose well hit drive was blocked by a Horsham defender, however in the 7th minute, Greg Cundle was fouled by Ben Mundele down the left of the penalty area for a rather soft yellow card.

Then Horsham came closest yet when Brivio’s cross came to Rob O’Toole down the left of the area and his shot was pushed over the bar by Carey. Shortly after Brivio was booked for a foul on Federico.

A tough start to the game for Cray was added to in the 13th minute when Cundle just outside the area was brought down by Mundele and was dismissed to leave Cray a man short for a large chunk of the game.  From the free kick, O’Toole’s shot came back off the wall and behind for a corner.  Shortly after, Horsham had to make an early change when Dylan Merchant came on for Steve Metcalf.

Cray though appeared rejuvenated by the red card setback and played their way into the a game and the excellent Rhys Murrell-Williamson down the right showed good pace to play a ball into the box to Federico but his drive was one again blocked by the Horsham defence.

Then, Jay Leader broke forward and found Pritchard who played a ball through to Joe Taylor who finished well but the flag was raised for offside.

Cray though didn’t have to wait too long to get their chance to go ahead when from a free kick out on the left, 20 yards from goal, Murrell-Williamson’s ball into the box towards Leader came back off the hand of Merchant and a penalty was awarded.  From the spot, Taylor stroked home the penalty for his 28th goal of the season and give Cray the lead.

Three minutes later, Cray added a second when Nelson hit a fine ball up to Taylor who chested the ball down, turned and swept the ball out to Murrell-Williamson down the right who cut inside and from just inside the box curled an unstoppable finish into the top left hand corner for his second goal in four matches.

There was barely time to draw breath when Horsham pulled a goal back when a Sparks’ cross from the right looked to be over hit but Cundle got to the ball before Charlie Allen to play the ball into the area and Harding was able to tap home from about 4 yards to make it 2-1.

Cray threatened to score again when Taylor was fouled just outside the area and from the free kick, Murrell-Williamson curled his shot over the bar.

After a breath-taking opening to the game, the match just quietened for a spell with Kelly shooting over for Horsham but Cray seemed to carrying one or two knocks particularly for Phipp and Federico and half-time was welcome respite for Cray who after a tricky opening had just about edged the half.

HT: 2-1

At half-time there were a couple of changes with Karl Dent replacing Phipp and Geofrey Okonkwo on for Federico.

It was going to be a very long second half as Cray were penned in by Horsham and were going to absorb a lot of pressure but with now a strong back three with Okonkwo joining Leader and Nelson the trio certainly earned their stripes with a performance of great character and desire.

Horsham pushed forward and must have won about 12 corners in the second half and from a left wing corner kick, Kelly’s ball across was missed by Carey and went all the way through and back off the right post and the follow up shot from Cundle was blocked by Nelson on the line.

Then after a Harding cross was put behind by Leader, Kelly’s cross was cleared out to Harding who volleyed wide.  From here some solid defending kept Carey’s goal well protected but Cray were having to withstand some Horsham pressure.

Cray looked for a chance to break and Murrell-Williamson won a corner down the right and Pritchard’s cross towards Leader was nodded to Allen who saw his effort blocked.

Horsham began to work Cray harder in the last 20 minutes and Chris Smith set up ex-Wands skipper Lea Dawson whose shot from 25 yards was well held by Carey.  Then Smith was put through by Cundle who as Carey came out of goal, went round the keeper but sliced his ball across and eventually came out to Cundle who shot wide.

At the other end, from a free kick out on the right, Murrell-Williamson’s cross-shot was over hit and drifted wide but Cray attacks were few and far between at this stage.

Horsham had a spell where they won a number of corners and from a right wing, Kelly corner, the ball came to lively substitute Taurean Roberts who found space just outside the area to loft a shot towards goal which Carey tipped over the bar.

With nine minutes to go, it looked like Horsham would be rewarded when a cross into the box from Joe Shelley from the left found Dawson who was bundled over by Dent and a penalty was awarded.  From the spot, Harry Millis shot was well struck but Carey made a fins stop pushing the ball round the right post.

Horsham won a couple more corners and kept up the pressure but the imperious Jay Leader was knocking everything away, Nelson and Okonkwo strong and Carey’s handling superb to help release the pressure valve.

The Hornets still had one more good opportunity when Roberts found Kelly who from 25 yards hit a sweet strike which was pushed behind well by Carey.

Cray though managed to repel the remaining minutes and there were notable performances from Taylor, Allen, Pritchard, Murrell-Williamson and Barney Williams to go  with the defending and Cray had beaten a very good side with a display of heart, passion and determination which followed on recent displays against Hornchurch, Bowers & Pitsea and Enfield where they had to battle and despite having little of the ball in the second half were able to win and the defence had held firm and make it three wins in a row and seven unbeaten for Tony Russell’s side.

Horsham for their part have just hit their first little blip of the season but as a side they have come a long way from when Cray beat them 8-0 a couple of seasons ago and will surely be there or thereabouts around the playoff places.  Dawson in particular was excellent and reminiscent of many displays in a Wands shirt and as a team and with their new stadium reaping rewards their future looks increasingly bright.

So it does too for Cray Wanderers but February gets even tougher next Saturday with a trip to league leaders Worthing but in this form surely no need to go into the game without confidence and will be another exciting chapter in this captivating first season back in the Isthmian Premier for Cray Wanderers.

Cray Wanderers:  Lewis Carey, Ben Mundele, Barney Williams (Capt.), Jay Leader, Mitchell Nelson, Tom Phipp (Karl Dent, H/T), Charlie Allen, Bradley Pritchard, Jerome Federico (Geofrey Okonkwo, H/T), Rhys Murrell-Williamson (Joel Rollinson, 84), Joe Taylor:  Subs: Palace Francis, Aaron Rhule


Sent Off:         Mundele 13 (2 cautions)

Booked:          Pritchard, Nelson


Horsham:       George Bentley, Steve Metcalf (Dylan Merchant, 14), Harvey Sparks, Alex Kelly, Joe Shelley, Harry Mills, Jack Brivio (Capt.) (Chris Smith, 60), Lea Dawson, Rob O’Toole (Taurean Roberts, 67), Greg Cundle, Lee Harding: Subs: Gary Charman, Will Miles


Booked:          Brivio, Kelly                          


Referee:          Tom Ellsmore           

Assistants:     Stephen Hawkes, Shawn Barclay


Attendance – 193