Cray Wanderers vs. Merstham – Isthmian League Premier – Sunday 1st March, 2020  

Cray Wanderers                                            3

Taylor 6, 44 pen, Pritchard 40

Merstham                                                      1

Ayoola 90+3

Pics: Kindly provided by Jon Hilliger 

Cray Wanderers moved back into 4th place in the Isthmian Premier league table and made it 11 matches without defeat after beating Merstham at Hayes Lane.  The win puts Cray on 61 points level on points with Hornchurch and Folkestone Invicta and seven behind leaders Worthing.  Cray are also seven points clear of 6thh placed Horsham in the race for the playoffs.

Joe Taylor took his league tally to 25 and 31 in all competition with a brace of goals in the first half, the first after six minutes and the second from the penalty spot just before the break.  Cray’s second goal was well finished by Bradley Pritchard five minutes before half time.  Merstham looked to rally in the second half and managed to pull a goal back with practically the last kick of the game, three minutes into added on time when Shola Ayoola netted.

On a bright if chilly afternoon before the game, after a presentation of framed shirts to club sponsors, the club made a special signing of 100 year old former Cray Wanderers goalkeeper George Taylor to commemorate the clubs oldest living player.

Cray had moved down one place to 5th on Saturday after Carshalton Athletic beat Horsham while Hornchurch had gone up to 2nd. The signs were there for a good, open match as Merstham need the points as in the midst of a relegation battle and come into the match 20th in the table on 24 points.

The Wands were buoyed by the appearance in the side once again of Jay Leader who had missed the last two matches and Tom Phipp who made his first start since the win against Horsham a month ago.  Leader came into the side for Geofrey Okonkwo while Phipp came in for Karl Dent.

Cray began the game at a breakneck speed and an early Tom Carlse cross from the left was put behind for a corner.  From the right wing corner, Rhys Murrell-Williamson’s cross was cleared out to Charlie Allen who from 25 yards cracked a volley off the top of the crossbar after 4 minutes.

Two minutes later, Cray were ahead when the ball was worked down the left and Joel Rollinson’s ball through was latched onto by Joe Taylor who from 10 yards calmly drilled a low shot wide of Matte Pierson and into the bottom right corner for his 30th goal of the season.

Merstham looked to work their way back into the game and James O’Halloran hit a shot wide of goal from 20 yards.

At the other end, Cray continued to impress going forward and Carlse who began the game impressively, set up Rollinson who shot over from just outside the area.  Then for Merstham Emmanuel Fernandez set up Calvin Ekpiteta whose drive from 20 yards was blocked.

Then Cray came close again when Murrell-Williamson made a great run down the right and cut into the area and his shot was pushed away well by Pierson in the 13th minute.

Merstham were awarded a free kick just outside the area to the left and Ekpiteta’s shot came back off the wall and out to O’Shane Stewart whose drive was deflected through to Lewis Carey.

Then Cray won a corner down the left and Murrell-Williamson’s cross to the far post was headed towards goal by Leader and appeared to perhaps strike the arm of Edwin Mensah before Taylor could get to the ball and eventually came out to Bradley Pritchard who fired over the top.

In the 25th minute Cray looked to increase their lead and the excellent Charlie Allen found Murrell-Williamson down the right and his looping ball into the area was headed out by Mensah to Carlse who from just outside the area pulled a shot just wide of the right post.

Just after the half hour the Wands almost scored a great goal when Tom Phipp from inside his own half turned and played a superb pass through to Taylor who held off a defender outside the area and found Murrell-Williamson down the right of the box and his shot was well held by Pierson.

As the half wore on, Merstham had a flurry where they looked to level and Omar Folkes and Eddie Dines combined to set up Bobby Mills whose shot was deflected behind for a corner.

However, five minutes before half time Cray grabbed a second goal to give comfort and was well worked with Rollinson and Pritchard combining and Ben Mundele played a lovely ball through to Pritchard and down the right hit an crisp finish from 8 yards into the net for his fourth goal of the season and his second this season against Merstham.

A minute before half time, Cray were awarded a penalty when down the left, Allen found Rollinson who played a pass to Carlse who broke into the area and was brought down by Fernandez for one of the more obvious spot kicks of the season.  From the spot, Taylor coolly fired home to make it 3-0 and give Cray a degree of comfort at the break.

HT:  3-0

To Merstham’s credit they came out second half and looked to get back into the game and never threw the towel in and almost got back into it straight away when a cross from the right by Folkes towards half time substitute Shola Ayoola was put behind for a corner.  From the corner, O’Halloran’s cross was punched out by Carey and out to Michal Gough who volleyed over the bar.

As the half went on Cray were looking to build forward momentum but were perhaps content to take the sting out of the game and were composed and defensively strong.

Merstham did seek a goal to put them back in the contest and Gough once again fired well over the top, then Yannick Monga set up Ayoola whose shot was blocked and came out to Folkes who shot wide.

Then, Ayoola won the ball and set up Folkes just inside the area who couldn’t get a shot away and was cleared by Leader.  The ball then came out to Dines who shot over from 30 yards.

Cray’s best opening of the second half came when Rollinson down the left from a tight angle was blocked by Pierson for a corner.  From the corner, Pritchard’s cross into the heart of the six yard box was met by the head of Leader but went straight to Pierson.

The game had long seemed won by Cray and they saw out the game with substitutions and weren’t overly troubled until the last couple of minutes of the match.  Firstly, Harry Mark found Ekpiteta whose low shot from 20 yards was well gathered by Lewis Carey.

Then finally in the third minute of added on time, Merstham pulled a goal back which perhaps their efforts in the second half deserved when Gough played a pass through to Ayoola who found space down the left of the area to drive a shot in off the right post to make it 3-1.  However that was virtually the last kick of the game and Cray had won and moved to within seven points of top spot.

The unbeaten run continues now into its third month and there were a number of impressive performances, with Pritchard, Carlse, Phipp, Allen, Taylor and Murrell-Williamson in particular playing well but at this stage of the season the main thing is to keep on amassing points and since New Year’s Day have picked up 27 points from eleven games.

Cray on Saturday meet Brightlingsea Regent who similarly to Merstham require points at the other end of the table but the Wands keep marching on and with their key players all coming back to fitness and a full squad for Tony Russell to choose from things are looking bright for the last ten games of the season.

Sponsors Man of the Match:  Bradley Pritchard

Cray Wanderers:  Lewis Carey, Ben Mundele, Tom Carlse (Barney Williams, 87), Jay Leader, Mitchell Nelson (Capt.), Tom Phipp (Lee Lewis, 81), Charlie Allen, Bradley Pritchard, Rhys Murrell-Williamson (Jerome Federico, 66), Joel Rollinson, Joe Taylor:  Subs: Karl Dent, Geofrey Okonkwo

Merstham:     Matte Pierson, Potchu Mendes-Calucane, James O’Halloran, Edwin Mensah, Emmanuel Fernandez (Shola Ayoola, H/T), Mitchal Gough, O’Shane Stewart (Yannick Monga, 45), Eddie Dines, Omar Folkes (Harry Mark, 79): Subs: Barry Hayles        

Booked:          Gough, Folkes

Referee:          Peter Cruise  

Assistants:     Tolga Inanc, Piotr Zachwieja

Attendance – 329