Cray Wanderers pre-season schedule enters it’s last two weeks and face the challenge of home games with Bromley and Welling United and away at Hayes & Yeading United before the Pitching In Isthmian Premier season begins on 19th September. Here Tony Russell looks back on pre-season so far, a newcomer to the team, what to expect from Bromley and Welling United and also thoughts on the season opener vs. Kingstonian.

It seems to have been a long pre-season Tony, but the games have been enjoyable and extremely competitive. What are your thoughts on how pre-season has gone so far?

This pre-season we’ve tried a different approach and came back a bit earlier and did 4-5 weeks of real hard work before playing any competitive games. We had a few trialists in and played a couple of in-house games behind closed doors. We’ve taken it nice and slow as we didn’t want to burn the lads out. Some teams have played about 10-12 games which can run the risk of injuries so our main aim was to peak at the right time.


The game at Whitstable on 20th August was the last game that we decided to play two teams and give players a bit of action here and there. From the VCD game onwards we cut it down into the sort of numbers we want to run with. It was a good performance against VCD especially for 50-60 minutes and got going after 15 minutes into it.  The Burgess Hill Town game we played really well without being totally ruthless in the final third. We played Aveley who beat Welling United and from speaking to their management were unlucky not to beat Kingstonian and drew 1-1 with them when they scored with their one shot on target. We’ve controlled the game with 60-70% of the ball and had chances during the game. We’re getting there, we just need to be a bit more clinical in the final third. We’re getting into good areas and not having enough attempts on goal.

What I have noticed about pre-season is that the teams we have played, normally in pre-season the games are quite slow, stop-start and with the amount of changes in a game not how they expect to play during the season. This time teams are playing more like they would in competitive football. Corinthian were very direct, their keeper was taking free kicks from the halfway line, Aveley were quite direct so no-one is really trying to play football against us, happy for us to have the ball and counter us so very similar to what happens during the season. From that perspective, the games are not really friendlies and more like proper games.  So we are getting more out of them because of that.  It has been rather hard work going down the route we have, we’ve had a lot of bodies in and trialists so has been difficult at times.  As I said I thought we played well at Burgess Hill, created a number of chances and dominated the game against a very good Aveley side.  We rested Freddie Parker at Aveley as we felt he had played enough minutes and been one of our best players pre-season. Bradley Pritchard only played the last 20 minutes and in recent weeks he also has played a lot of the games so trying to protect him and Ben Mundele as well. We’ve been constantly rotating it so we can monitor who’s getting what minutes and to not burn them out.

We did training Wednesday night, the boys couldn’t do much as a bit sore and we feel perhaps we are still one player short of what we want. We missed out on the player we were really looking for and this has happened a couple of times recently and we can’t compete with some of the money offered but it shows we’re going in for the right players and we are prepared to wait until the right player comes along. Apart from that everyone is fit and well, we have three more games until it all starts and bubbling along nice and about 70-80% fitness and match fitness. We are going to use these last three games to get players to 100% and bring them to the boil at the right time.

For those that haven’t been to see the team pre-season please tell us a little about Kyron Richards who has been playing very well in the friendly games.

Kyron first came to us for the trial day on 1st August and did very well. Me and Vinesey were officiating the game he was playing in and he looked good and spoke to him after. We put him in training and he did brilliantly. Where his best position is we are still trying to work out but he is a great guy and the boys love having him around.  He has done well in the pre-season games, perhaps a little quiet against Aveley but from the trial game to where we are at now he has been a good addition to the team.

With Bromley’s season not starting until October what type of game are you expecting from Neil Smith’s side.

Bromley are a full time side so fitness for them won’t be a problem so I think they will put out a strong side against us from what we’ve been told and a good challenge for us and I think Welling United will on Tuesday too. They will be two good games and it will be nice to play against a side above us as so far in games we’ve had most of the ball and teams are counter-attacking us so I’m expecting that Bromley and Welling on paper should be a better side than us but we will work on our defensive shape and will be well prepared for a challenge we are looking forward to.

Since the Whitstable game, supporters although restricted in number have been permitted once again into grounds at our level. Do you notice the supporters during a game or are you focused mainly on the job at hand.

It doesn’t really bother me in that sense as more focused on what we are doing rather than in the stands. Listen, it’s nice to before and after a game to see some friendly faces and good to get a fan base and to play in front of fans away from home can be fun as you get a bit of banter by the dugouts and is all part and parcel of it and tongue and cheek.  Definitely good to see fans back in the grounds and hopefully get back to some sort of normality.  Possibly on Saturday there could be 600 there which would be great to see everyone and we are looking forward to it.

The next three games are going to be very hard but a good challenge for the boys. Last season we had the stats from all the games and there was only one game where the opposition had more of the ball than us and that was Horsham at home when we were down to ten men for 80 minutes and that is a fantastic stat. It will be interesting, can we do that against a full time side?  Can we have the ball and control the game and do that against Welling?  It is a great challenge and it is what we all want to do and be tested against better players. Bromley are an excellent side who train every day so up to us as a group to see where we are at with it. I’m not overly concerned about the result more about the performance.     

Finally, the league fixtures were announced last week. What are your thoughts on the start to the season and a repeat of last season’s opener vs Kingstonian.

Kingstonian are an excellent side who’ve recruited well and brought in some very good players to add to an already strong squad and Hayden Bird is an excellent manager and they’ve also plenty of firepower too.  They are the favourites to win the league with the players they have but we haven’t got a bad team ourselves and we will respect Kingstonian.

East Thurrock after that we know they’ve got some rich owners come into the club and don’t know too much about them at this stage. We are not really a club that concerns ourselves too much on what everyone else is doing. We respect everyone and certainly with Kingstonian, last season we drew both games 0-0, how they were both 0-0 I don’t know but I think it will be a very open game. They will try to get a lot of the ball and play good football. Last season we had more of the ball in both games and he is going to want to try and wrestle that back off us and won’t take a backward step for us and we won’t for them and has the makings of a great game. Hayden is one of the few managers that I take time to have phone chats with and he’s been in the game a while and we have mutual respect for each other.  We will both be confident and something has to give on the day.