Cray Wanderers vs. Billericay Town – Saturday 17th December, 2022

The pre-game thoughts/Programme notes of Neil Smith

Pics:  Ozay Booth/Jon Hilliger –

BROMLEY, GREATER LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 29: Cray Wanderers’s Manager, Neil Smith, overseas the war up before The Pitching In Isthmian Premier League match between Cray Wanderers and Margate at Hayes Lane on August 29, 2022 in Bromley, Greater London, England . (Photo: © Jon Hilliger / HilligerPix)


Cray Wanderers play their final game of 2022 this afternoon as Billericay Town are the visitors in the Wands pre-Christmas fixture.  Here Neil Smith looks back to last Sunday’s 5-1 win vs Haringey Borough, looks back to our previous encounter with Billericay and a Christmas message.


Hello Neil.  Our final home game of 2022 and should be a good one against Billericay Town today.  Let’s look back to last Sunday and the 5-1 win against Haringey Borough.  It was a difficult game and Haringey got it back to 1-1 on the stroke of half time. Did that make it a difficult team talk or one you were confident we could bounce back from.

It was a difficult one because I could see it coming before they scored as they had chances, hit the post, one inside the six yard box which went over.  We knew the game was never going to be easy and they would have chances. So when they got the goal, it was disappointing as it was so near the break and they would be on the up and us on a downer.  So there were things we needed to correct at half time, their left winger was having some joy and it was our final ball in the last third, we had to be better as we were overegging it or making the wrong decision. The whole of the second half we seemed to make the right decisions and the final ball was spot on. The players took it all on board and although we rode our luck a little bit this is something we have been lacking this season so these things maybe are beginning to even themselves out.

Dan Bassett scored his ninth goal of the season first half and that was probably our best passing move of the half wasn’t it.

Yes, it was. Jephte Tanga received the ball just inside his own half and worked the ball out to Yahaya Bamba, who has done superbly for us since coming in, put a lovely cross in for Dan who thrives on chances like that and good to see him getting off the mark again.

We went back in front through Jalen Jones five minutes after half time. We were only saying recently that his first Wands goal may not be far away, he’s had a header at Horsham cleared off the line, keepers have made saves so great he is off the mark.

We were well chuffed for Jalen to get his first goal. Unfortunately when you are his size the pressure is put upon you to win all the headers and flick ons from set plays. It was a great delivery into the box from Sam Wood and Jalen deserved to get on the end of it. It was something we talked about and worked on, so nice for him to get off the mark and a weight off his shoulders.

A couple of goals for Anthony Cook who has just started to get into a rich vein of form especially after earlier in the season playing in a number of positions including right back.

He has been playing all over the pitch and I think early on in the season wasn’t quite up to speed. He’s played in both full back positions and a bit in midfield. He will do anything or play where we needed him at that time but his best position is the no 10 and I think he is proving that, he has scored four goals recently and it was a great free kick on Sunday. He has great delivery in situations like that and when he gets a chance with a penalty his ratio is pretty good and his confidence in front of goal and it was no surprise when he went up to take it.  

A couple of great substitutions to give us ballast once we went back in front with Omari Hibbert and David Ijaha coming on and Omari has helped himself to a goal too.

Yes, Omari has come in on dual registration from Dulwich Hamlet with us not having Tom Derry available with injury, Kellen Fisher and Ben Krauhaus have gone back to Bromley quite late in the week so couldn’t really bring anyone else in. So to have experienced players like Omari and David to help us over the line while the other subs were all young men starting out in their careers.  So they came on, David did a good job for us and Omari has tried to get himself up to speed, he hadn’t trained but was desperate to come and play for us rather than make the numbers up and got himself a goal.  

Just a quick point on the conditions because it became very murky especially in the second half and up in the stands we were a bit concerned in case the referee couldn’t see his assistants or the benches.  It must have been very cold for the players and for you on the bench.

Yes, it was bitterly cold, we couldn’t see from where we were in the far corner. First half we were okay with Jephte but in the second half we couldn’t see where Harrison Sodje was, there were problems down the left hand side and the right hand side.  When we went three and four one up there didn’t seem to be any reason to abandon the game. The conditions weren’t easy but the resilience of the boys and their belief got us over the line.

We turn to Billericay Town this afternoon. We are getting to the point of the season now, half way through where you start to play opponents for the second time.  There were certainly different weather conditions when we played Billericay on the opening day of the season in sweltering heat and we only just came up short after leading with twenty minutes to go.

That’s right we were winning the game and then we were trying to shepherd the ball out and we made a mistake which they capitalised as we gave a penalty away from which they scored.  We were still very new as a group of players and then Billericay score a winner when we had a player down and the ref didn’t think he was injured. For us to go there with a new side and put in a performance against a side with the experience of Billericay, we came away very disappointed but also we knew as a team we were going to be okay.  So hopefully we can produce a similar performance on Saturday.

I saw a tweet on our history page and the Wands have set an Isthmian Premier record for the club for the first half of season with just four defeats.  Also we are only three points shy of last season’s final total of points.  Are we just going under the radar a little bit?

Well, I think at the start of the season many people had us just staying up after what happened the season before. Myself and Tosh and with Alfie coming in knew it was going to be a tough ask to build a team and squad in our first full season together after just managing to stay up last season. To be where we are in 7th place is unbelievable. With the defeats record and being close to last season’s points total is beyond our wildest dreams. Now we can really get our heads down and enjoy the rest of the season. Believe it or not the first port of call for us this season was to stay up. If we get another couple of wins I believe we have achieved that and after that who knows where we can get to.  We’ve had a few changes during the season, Michael Ademiluyi has gone to Faversham Town recently so we are still evolving but if you continue to get the right people in from top to bottom in the coaching side.  I’ve got a great Assistant Manager in Tosh who I’ve known for years. We’ll have conversations and may not always agree on something but we agree as a pair that we will get it right.

We’ve got Alfie George as goalkeeping coach helping Shaun Rowley who has made six clean sheets which is more than last season and even the likes of Paddy Gray always in with the players and staff as kit man and Emily Sawyer as physio so I have a good squad off the pitch and on it but we don’t want to stop now and go on improving, getting better if not for this season then next season as well.

From behalf of myself and the whole club and fans we wish you, your family and the Cray Wanderers family a very Happy Christmas and enjoyable holidays.

Thank you and Mark I would like to reiterate again how important the supporters are and what you must all have been thinking pre-season in Jersey, I do not know as I know what I was thinking and they were not good thoughts so stick with us, get behind us.  Have a brilliant Christmas and a fantastic 2023 and that is to all the supporters out there who have been incredible, not just to myself but Tosh, Alfie, Emily, Paddy and to all the players and hopefully we can give you something back next year as well.