Cray Wanderers vs Hornchurch – Isthmian Premier, Sunday 15th October, 3 pm – Match Preview

Cray Wanderers return to action at Hayes Lane this afternoon after a spell of away matches as Isthmian Premier leaders Hornchurch are the visitors.  Kick off 3 pm.

The Wands come into the game in decent form, back to back wins and clean sheets in league and cup and with three wins in the last four league matches.  After Saturday’s results Cray Wanderers are 17th in the league on nine points and making steady progress after a difficult start to the league season.

Last Saturday saw Cray advance past a strong Needham Market side in the FA Trophy with a resolute and positive performance reminiscent of some of last season’s performances away from home.  

A first half goal from Ellis Brown was just reward for the Wands efforts in the first half and in the second had to withstand late pressure encapsulated by Cameron Black’s headed clearance off the line and a defensive and goalkeeping masterclass from the Wands.

Another plus for Neil Smith was the return of Frankie Raymond and Will Wood off the bench adding experience to the side and it is hoped that the Wands injury list is beginning to ease going into the Autumn.  George Porter made his 50th total Cray Wanderers appearance last Saturday while Nyren Clunis is one match away from a half century of appearances.

There is no doubt this will be the toughest test for Cray so far this season as Hornchurch, now under the management of former Millwall, Norwich City & Leeds striker and former Cardiff City manager Steve Morison who took over from Mark Stimson and have quietly and efficiently started the season well and the only unbeaten side in the Isthmian Premier.  The Urchins moved four points clear at the top on Tuesday night on twenty one points after coming from a goal down to beat Hastings United 4-1 at home with goals from Lennon Peake, George Saunders, Liam Nash and Ade Yusuff and have won their last five league games.   

Away from home Hornchurch have won at Horsham (2-1), Wingate & Finchley (4-1) and Haringey Borough (2-1) and drew at Lewes (2-2).  At home Hornchurch beat Margate (4-1), Hashtag United (3-0), Dulwich Hamlet (2-1) and Hastings United (4-1) and drew with Carshalton Athletic.  Their only defeats have come in cup ties.  In the FA Cup, the Urchins advanced past Fakenham Town and Witham Town before going out in the 3rd Qualifying Round in a replay at home to Aveley (1-2) after extra-time. Meanwhile last Saturday Hornchurch were beaten in the FA Trophy 3QR at Leiston on penalties after a 1-1 draw.   Liam Nash is the leading scorer with 10 in all competitions and the current leading marksman in the Isthmian Premier.

Last season Hornchurch finished 2nd in the Isthmian Premier behind champions Bishop’s Stortford and made it back to back playoff appearances.  Wands fans would vividly remember a classic Playoff Semi Final at Hornchurch on 26th April (current Wands Jamie Mascoll played with Ellis Brown on the bench) which finished 3-3 after extra time as Cray twice came from behind to take the game to penalties with goals from David Ijaha, Nyren Clunis and Sam Wood after Sam Higgins (2) and Liam Nash put Hornchurch 2-0 and 3-2. Ultimately Cray were beaten on penalties but produced a fine performance and came close to reaching the final which Hornchurch lost at home to Aveley.  Hornchurch won the two league games last season, 2-1 at home on 30th September, 2022 and 2-0 at Hayes Lane on 25th February.  

Cray generally have tended to fare better at Hornchurch in recent seasons winning four times there in the Isthmian Premier years but the last home win was in February 2010 in a 1-0 victory courtesy of a Colin Luckett penalty.

The modern history of Hornchurch FC begins in 2005-06 as the original Hornchurch club folded in 2004 due to financial problems. They re-emerged and re-booted as AFC Hornchurch in the Essex Senior Premier and won the league at the first attempt and then back in the Isthmian North in 2006-07 won the title to return to the Premier. In 2007-08, Hornchurch finished 4th and lost to AFC Wimbledon in the playoffs. From the 2009-10 season, they met Cray in league competition for the first time and in 2011-12 finished 2nd and beat Bury Town and Lowestoft Town to earn promotion back to the Conference South. They remained there one season before relegation and in 2013-14 reached the playoffs once again this time losing to Lowestoft in the final. Perhaps surprisingly, they were relegated the following season to the North and met Cray once again. For three seasons they were contenders and in 2015-16 and 2016-17 reached the playoffs each time losing to Thurrock. However, in 2017-18 they won the Isthmian North in some style to return to the Premier where they finished in 15th place in 2018-19.  Hornchurch were 3rd in 2019-20, a point and place behind Cray when the season was discontinued due to Covid-19 and were 9th in 2020-21 when stopped.  However  The Urchins achieved one of the most remarkable stories of the season as with no league games being played from November, Hornchurch won nine cup ties from the 3rd Qualifying Round to the Final beating Bowers & Pitsea (3-1, A), Wingate & Finchley (4-1 , H), Tonbridge Angels (1-0, A). Dulwich Hamlet (2-1, A), Kings Lynn (1-1, H won on pens), Maidstone United (5-4, H), Darlington (2-1, A) and Notts County (3-3) advancing on penalties to face Hereford at Wembley on 22nd May. Coming from a goal down with fifteen minutes to go, goals from Charlie Ruff, Liam Nash and Ellis Brown won the trophy for the Essex side for the first time and then finished 4th in 2021-22 reaching the playoff final losing at home to Cheshunt after winning at Enfield Town in the Semi-Final.

This promises to be a great match on a Sunday afternoon between two sides in good form and one not to be missed.

Admission £12 adults, £6 concessions/U16s on the gate (cash only) or via the ticketing page (, printed programme £2 and golden goal tickets £1.


Cray Wanderers after a spell of four away matches in league and cups return to Hayes Lane this afternoon as the Wands welcome Hornchurch, one of the promotion favourites and league leaders going into this week.  Here Neil Smith looks back on the recent travels including an impressive win at Needham Market in the FA Trophy last Saturday and the challenge the Urchins will pose this afternoon.

Hello Neil.  I hope that you and your coaching staff are all well.  It’s been a while since the last home game on 23rd September, the 2-1 win against Cheshunt.  Since then we have progressed in the Kent Senior Cup at Phoenix Sports, had two league matches at Kingstonian and Concord Rangers and defeated Needham Market in the FA Trophy last Saturday. What have been your impressions on the last couple of weeks of travel and the outcomes!

That’s right it has been strange up to now to have only played three home league games yet six away but we had a very good win to complete the run at Needham Market last Saturday to set us up for a very tough game today.

I think taking it right back to the beginning and the Phoenix and Kingstonian games.  For Phoenix it was all about getting players who hadn’t played many minutes some game time and also to have a look at our Academy setup with players coming through the ranks with the first team boys. We were obviously very disappointed with the Kingstonian game as the boys didn’t produce what I know they can and came away with a defeat.

Then on to Concord Rangers as well which was always going to be difficult but ended up a great victory and then on to Needham Market.  I think they went into that game as the favourites with their form having a couple of good wins beforehand and getting the Cup draw at York City.

I felt it was a very underrated victory at Needham Market who have been flying in the Southern League Premier Central and through to the 4th Qualifying Round of the FA Cup so to beat an in-form team like that should have been one of the performances of the round.

I agree with you it was a very underrated victory and I don’t think anybody has taken in how we got the result.  We lost a player in Gary Lockyer through injury after just twenty minutes and also having players changing positions and having to bring players on.  I thought Ellis Brown took his goal very well and they were always going to put us under pressure. They had scored six in their last league game vs St. Ives Town and were quite prolific up front but our defence and Shaun Rowley at the back coped with it brilliantly.  They did have chances especially late on as you would expect as the home side but I thought what a great victory it was.

I thought it was a result and performance reminiscent of some of last season’s away performances like the win at Aveley where we have to knuckle down and really graft for the win.  That was also back to back clean sheets for Shaun Rowley too.  Also special mention for Cameron Black’s header off the line which was Italianesque in its quality and has gone viral on social media.

That was something we knew we had to work a lot harder on from the start of the season with the defensive side of things and I don’t just mean the goalkeeper and back four, but starting from the centre-forward, the midfield players doing their jobs, tracking back.  I think as a collective eleven they defended brilliantly.  You will be put under pressure away from home but they were brilliant and I was so pleased for them especially for Shaun and the back four as they had been put under pressure in recent games but it is not all about the back four.  It is a bit like we don’t rely on one player to score the goals and look to spread that around but overall the team were amazing as a whole.

Cameron’s clearance off the line was brilliant but not only that the reactions after the clearance from Shaun and his teammate Jack Holland celebrating with him and patting him on the back and that is how it should be as that is as good as a goal that clearance and you want that team spirit and we had it abundance shown in that moment last Saturday.

That sets us up with a home time in the 1st Round of the Trophy against another Southern League Premier club in Chesham United but they play in the opposite league to Needham Market and perhaps more familiar clubs to our supporters like Walton & Hersham, Harrow Borough, Hendon or Hanwell Town.

Yes, we have had a quick look at them and they are doing well in their league, 3rd in the table so it will be another tough game.  I know a bit more about the clubs in the South Division than the Central. As a comparison we saw Hendon playing Billericay in pre-season and they are a good side so if they are anywhere near that sort of level we know it will be a tough game.  Obviously we have three league games before that game but then we will start to prep for Chesham United.

Let’s look ahead to today’s game. We had some tough battles with Hornchurch last season including the Playoff Semi-Final where we put in such a great performance but ultimately just fell short.  Hornchurch are perhaps quite rightly banded around amongst the favourites for the title this season, do you concur with that point of view.

Yes, I’ve watched them a couple of times already this season. They have got the likes of Sam Higgins, Liam Nash and I watched them with Sean Scannell the other day before he had to come off injured. They have got the quality in their team that can hurt you. I saw them against Dulwich Hamlet a couple of weeks ago and the link up play between Higgins and Nash was phenomenal and showed resilience at the end when they conceded a goal and had the ability to hold on and get a result.  They are one of if not the favourites you fancy to go up this year and we know it will be a tough game.   Steve Morison has come in and getting to know the level quickly and doing a fantastic job there.  It is a great game for us as well as it will show how far away we are from being one of the top sides.

We had a tough start to the season but are looking now to keep climbing away from the bottom four.  We need to look back. Last season we had a great back four, Jalen, Freddie, Jephte and Harrison and we have had to replace them all with another back four. I have some good players but was not able to play them as regularly as I would have wanted and getting that understanding you need.  We are still learning as a back four and in the midfield, Frankie Raymond has come in but has been injured a couple of times and been suspended, Gary Lockyer has arrived recently so we are a team still getting to know each other.  I’m hoping that the last couple of weeks especially from the end of September and going into October we are becoming that team and hopefully we can keep putting the same eleven out week in week out.