Cray Wanderers vs Kingstonian – Saturday 15th April, 2023 – The pre-game thoughts/Programme notes of Neil Smith

Unbelievable as it may seem, this afternoon sees the final home league game of the 2022-23 season as the Wands look to cement a place in the Isthmian Premier playoffs for the first time against Kingstonian.  Here Neil Smith looks back to the quickfire Easter double header which saw six points gained and continuing a seven game unbeaten run.

Hello Neil.  Well done to the team for picking up six points over Easter and keeping our promotion push going into the final two games of the season.  Looking back at the weekend games, are you a fan of these quick turnover matches and two games in 48 hours?

Not really because like Saturday we had four players complaining of injuries and you only have Sunday to recover. You wait for Monday morning to arrive and we didn’t know how bad the players were until the day. So the permutations were that those players weren’t playing.  There isn’t any preparation time, I know our opponents on Monday Herne Bay had played on Friday so did have an extra day. Some might say that is an advantage but it is what it is, that is football. The boys that I’ve had to call upon as I have said before it is not about the eleven players, it never has been and always been about the squad and those that came in did brilliant.

Looking back to Monday, we got off to a great start at Herne Bay who didn’t play at all badly and went three nil up in just over half an hour and on a great playing surface.

It was a beautiful playing surface, one of the best I think and the surroundings make it conducive to good football. Nyren Clunis was outstanding especially in the first half, he took his goals well and we know what he can do. Dajon Golding up front also with Tom Derry so we had a bit of freshness in attack and also Dajon never played on Saturday. Nyren is a fit lad and Tom hasn’t played many minutes but I had to start with them and I thought we blew them away and had another couple of chances flash across the goal. 

We had watched Herne Bay at Lewes on Friday and we knew if they got a goal and with the crowd behind them it would not be an easy game at all and that is how it turned out.

Just before half time Herne Bay got back into it with a goal and a couple of shots wide and probably half time came at the right time for us.

If you think about it they also had the one where their player hit the crossbar and missed from a yard. We created our own problems with five minutes to go and what we were doing playing on the edge of our six yard box but they go in at half time with that bit of belief and I said this game is not over. They have got nothing to lose and everything to gain so they are going to come out at us.  We were just sloppy at the wrong time and a good time for them but when Rio Campbell then cuts inside and shoots and that kills the game off and all of a sudden you can relax.  We should have been better over the ninety minutes though to see the game out especially being 3-0 up.

It was great for Rio to come on as we haven’t seen much of him but what we have seen in two cameo appearances is that he has caused a lot of damage with two goals.

Rio comes in and trains and he’s phenomenal but it is one of them I haven’t seen him in a game. I know what he can do on the ball and I need to find out what he can do off the ball when we are out of possession. Those are the certain things I am looking for but every time he has come on, a bit like Destiny Oladipo he just changes the game for us, gives us a bit more impetus and pace, keeps the ball well and took his goal very well.

We have now gone back into the top five and seven unbeaten. We have had to show a lot of patience to do it with our results and others dropping points which is how it has proved. You must be pleased with the players’ form since February.

Of course, we said that for us to get anywhere near we were going to have to win every game and that was about ten games ago and it has given us an opportunity. That is all I ever wanted was to get to the last week of the season and look to achieve something we have never done before.  You can see there is a bit of nerves out there but other teams are under more pressure than us because our expectation levels at the start of the season was just to be better than the last.  So we have overachieved on that after being fourth from bottom last season fighting relegation and with two games to go we have a chance no one expected.  It gave us a few days to get the boys rested going into today’s game with Kingstonian for our last home game.  The pressure will be on us due to the fact they are fighting relegation but we got together on Thursday for a light training session due to the two games in succession and hope to have David Ijaha back. The boys have had a couple of extra days rest but we can’t take anything for granted as they will want to come down and upset the party but it is all about us now.

If this is our last programme of the season Neil, on behalf of the club and fans we just want to say thank you to you, your staff and players for an excellent season. The difference between this season and last in terms of the pressure has been quite stark but we have enjoyed it thoroughly and the football played.

Like I have said before, the supporters have been amazing. When I walked through the door and only winning one and drawing one of six matches, I knew the situation and how difficult it was going to be. I often harp back to the trip to Jersey in pre-season and thought then that Tosh and I and the Directors have got a job on our hands.  The players that have come in have bought into what we want, it was hard work but there are no superstars, they all run for each other, take in the disappointment of perhaps not starting but end up showing what a team and squad we have got. I want them to finish on a high and if it is as a thank you to the supporters and let’s hope we can do it.