Cray Wanderers start a tough February for fixtures on Saturday as Horsham are the visitors to Hayes Lane in a clash between the two promoted sides from the Isthmian South-East last season. Both sides have settled down very nicely in the Premier and Cray are 3rd a point ahead of Horsham in 4th and have playoff ambitions. Kick off is 3pm.

Cray moved up into 3rd place last Saturday after that dramatic 3-2 win at Enfield Town where Jay Leader’s injury time winner, his second goal in two games sealed a big win on the road.  Charlie Allen marked his appearance up front in the absence of expectant father Joe Taylor and chipped in with two classy finishes with the second tying up the game after Enfield went 2-1 up on the hour.

This capped off an unbeaten January for Tony Russell’s side picking up 14 points with three away wins in a row and steadily after an injury plagued opening to the season players have started to return and this has led to consistency and an opportunity to face a month which includes games at the top 2 in Worthing and Folkestone Invicta and the always tough trip to East Thurrock United plus home games against Horsham and Kingstonian with confidence.

There were some fine performances at Enfield last Saturday with Allen catching the eye plus Rhys Murrell-Williamson was in terrific form on the left and an impact display off the bench from Palace Francis was key in turning the match around.  It was certainly a hard earned victory but one that showed the character in the side and a never say die spirit.

Horsham came up with Cray Wanderers last season via the playoffs and with their move to the impressive Camping World Community Stadium, the Hornets have real stability on and off the pitch and Dominic Di Paola’s team have been impressive all season.  They too had late drama in their last league match when Horsham came back from 1-3 down to draw 3-3 at home to Bishop’s Stortford with Rob O’Toole’s 90th minute penalty, his second goal of the game and a Chris Smith strike claiming a point after Jamie Cureton’s hat-trick had put Bishop’ Stortford in front.

Horsham’s away form has seen them pick up wins at Enfield Town (4-1), Lewes (2-0), Brightlingsea Regent (4-0), Cheshunt (1-0), Corinthian Casuals (2-1), Haringey Borough (2-1) and Potters Bar Town (2-0). They drew at Bognor Regis Town (1-1) and were beaten at Bishop’s Stortford (0-2), Folkestone Invicta (1-2), Worthing (0-3), Hornchurch (1-2) and Merstham (0-1).

At home Horsham beat Wingate & Finchley (2-1), Hornchurch (1-0), Merstham (4-0), Bowers & Pitsea (4-0), East Thurrock United (1-0), Lewes (3-0) and Corinthian Casuals (1-0). Horsham drew at home to Leatherhead, Carshalton Athletic, Cray Wanderers and Bishop’s Stortford while they lost to Folkestone Invicta and Margate.  In the FA Cup they got past Tower Hamlets and Met Police before losing at home to Dartford in the 2nd Qualifying Round and in the FA Trophy they were beaten at Haringey Borough.  Top scorer in all competitions is Chris Smith with 16 goals but do share goals around the team proficiently and are a very attack minded side.

When the two sides met at Horsham on 22nd October, it was a fine, competitive game which ended in a 1-1 draw after ex-Wands skipper Lea Dawson headed Horsham in front, but Jay Leader two minutes later, headed Cray level and despite chances at both ends a draw was about the right outcome.  The last time the two sides met at Hayes Lane was on 9th March 2019 when Cray won 2-0 in a game which was decisive when deciding the eventual destination of the title. A goal in each half from Junior Dadson and a Joe Taylor penalty decided the game.  The sides have met 19 times either in the Isthmian South, South-East or Premier with Cray winning 9, Horsham 5 and 5 draws with Cray winning a couple of FA Trophy games in between.  Horsham though did win an Isthmian Division One South Playoff Semi-Final in May 2005.

Horsham were a good team at Sussex County League level in the 1930’s winning the league six times.  They won the Athenian League in 1972-73 and joined the Ryman League where they have remained for all but one season.   They first met Cray in competition in 2004-05, the Wands first in the Ryman League Division One where we met in the Promotion Play-Offs Semi Final with Horsham winning 3-1 before they lost in the final at home to Bromley.  The following season they did get promoted to the Ryman Premier for the first time finishing runners up to Ramsgate.  In 2007-08 they had a good FA Cup run to the 2nd Round Proper where they met Roberto Martinez’s Swansea City and took them to a replay, both games were televised.  We would meet again in 2009-10 after Cray’s promotion to the Premier for three seasons before they were relegated and after three more seasons in the South were relegated to the Southern Combination.

In 2015-16 they were promoted from the Southern Combination and then consolidated for a couple of seasons in the Isthmian South.  After playing a couple of seasons at the Sussex FA HQ at Lancing in the newly formed Isthmian South-East a tremendous run during 2018 made them the main challengers to Cray Wanderers in the division and finished in 2nd place behind the Wands.  In the playoffs they achieved dramatic victories against Hastings United and Ashford United and were promoted back to the Isthmian Premier. They began life at the new Camping World Community Stadium at Hop Oast after winning planning permission for the new ground three years ago and have started this campaign in great style.

This has the makings of a great afternoon between two sides who have built up a little bit of a footballing albeit friendly rivalry on the pitch and it sees two sides whose future is looking bright and play football in the right way.

Admission costs are £10.00 adults, £5.00 concs/U16s although season ticket holders of Premier League/EFL/National League clubs can on presentation of a valid ticket watch the game for £5.00.