Cray Wanderers begin their March fixtures with the first of two consecutive home games on Sunday, 1st March as Merstham are the visitors to Hayes Lane.  Ko: 3 pm.

Cray will be looking to maintain their promotion push which has seen Tony Russell’s side unbeaten in 2020, in ten matches and this has taken the Wands up to 4th in the table on 58 points, and going into Saturday’s fixtures just three points behind second placed Folkestone Invicta and level on points with third placed Hornchurch.

The run continued last Saturday with a hard fought 1-0 win at East Thurrock United in difficult conditions which was won by a tremendous free-kick strike from Rhys Murrell-Williamson in the 52nd minute and Cray had enough about them to see out the win against a good side and made it five consecutive away wins in the Isthmian Premier for the first time.

Defensively, Cray were excellent with Mitchell Nelson and Geofrey Okonkwo winning many headers and tackles while the midfield won the key battles with Bradley Pritchard and Charlie Allen outstanding.  During the run the whole team has played well from the sound, safe authority from Lewis Carey in goal, to the quality of the wide players and with Joe Taylor upfront who still leads the Isthmian League goal charts with 23 and 29 in all competitions.

As Tony Russell has stated during the run all scenarios have been thrown at the team, injuries during games, going behind against Bowers & Pitsea, Hornchurch, Enfield Town and Worthing to win, down to 10 men for 80 minutes against Horsham to win and also some blustery conditions to combat too.  Hopefully with the season down to the last 11 matches, the injury situation will cease with Jay Leader who missed the last two games following the gashed head he suffered at Worthing and Tom Phipp who hasn’t played since the Horsham game a month ago will soon return to give the luxury of a full team to choose from for the run-in.

Merstham though will be a tough barrier to break down for the run to continue and Frank Wilson’s side had been on a six game unbeaten run until last Saturday where they were beaten 1-4 at home to Enfield Town with Shola Ayoola’s goal coming late in the first half.  The Moatsiders are involved in a tight battle at the other end of the league table and just six points separates 16th placed Bishop’s Stortford to bottom placed Corinthian Casuals.  League position is no gauge on what happens on the day as Wingate & Finchley proved last weekend by winning at Folkestone Invicta.

Merstham going into the weekend games are one of four teams on 24 points and stand 20th in the table level with Wingate & Finchley, Brightlingsea Regent and Cheshunt. Merstham though are a good footballing side and had picked up form since January before the Enfield defeat and beat Horsham and Margate in recent weeks and picked up a point at promotion chasing Hornchurch with a 2-2 draw two weeks ago.

When the two teams met at Merstham on 15th October, Cray, not for the first time this season went a goal down after Yannick Monga’s early strike but the Wands battled back and won the game through goals from Taylor and Pritchard.


Away form has seen Merstham pick up wins at Corinthian Casuals (1-0) & Wingate & Finchley (4-0) and drew at Brightlingsea Regent (0-0), Carshalton Athletic (1-1), Leatherhead (0-0), Bowers & Pitsea (1-1) and Hornchurch (2-2). Their other games ended in defeat at Folkestone Invicta (1-3), Enfield Town (0-2), Horsham (0-4), Margate (1-2), Bognor Regis Town (1-2), Potters Bar Town (1-2), Cheshunt (0-3), Kingstonian (0-4) and Worthing (1-6).

At home Merstham have beaten East Thurrock United (2-1), Haringey Borough (1-0), Horsham (1-0) and Margate (1-0). They drew with Bishop’s Storford and were beaten by Hornchurch, Kingstonian, Worthing, Leatherhead, Cray Wanderers, Lewes, Folkestone Invicta, Potters Bar Town, Bowers & Pitsea and Enfield Town.  Leading scorer is Omar Folkes with 7 goals.

This will be the first meeting at Hayes Lane between the teams since August 2008 when Cray won 3-0 with goals from Colin Luckett (penalty), Tommy Whitnell and Jamie Kempster on target in an Isthmian South clash. The two other league matches ended in a 2-1 win for Cray and a 1-1 draw. The only other meetings came in the FA Vase in 1992-93 with Cray winning 1-0 at Oxford Road while two seasons later Merstham won 2-1 in a replay after a 1-1 draw.

Merstham were founded in 1892 and five years later joined the Redhill & District League where they won five titles between 1926-27 – 1950-51 and then moved on to the Surrey Intermediate League.  They then moved to the Surrey Senior League in 1965 winning the title in 1971-72 and then on to the London Spartan League in 1978, the year that Cray moved to the Kent League.

In 1984 Merstham moved to the Combined Counties League and in 2003 went into the Premier Division, In 2007-08 they won promotion to the Isthmian Division One South as champions and also reached the last 8 of the FA Vase.  They became mainstays of the Isthmian South and in 2014-15 after finishing fourth they won promotion after beating Faversham Town and impressively 3-0 at Folkestone Invicta in the Playoff Final to gain promotion to the Premier.

In 2016-17 they made national headlines by reaching the 1st Round Proper of the FA Cup for the first time and staged a televised tie against Oxford United.  Last season was a good one for the Moatsiders who finished in their highest ever league placing of fifth and won 2-0 at Carshalton in the Playoff semi-final. They eventually missed out on promotion losing 0-2 at Tonbridge Angels in the final.  After that manager Hayden Bird and many of those players went on to Kingstonian for the start of this season but former Tooting & Mitcham United manager Frank Wilson has come to the club and looked to assemble a new side.

There are just five more home games for the Wands this season and it has certainly been an exciting one but you feel there is just more drama and excitement still to come and despite both teams at opposite ends of the table will be nothing other than competitive.

Admission costs are £10.00 adults, £5.00 concessions/U16s but don’t forget the Football For A Fiver offer for season ticket holders of Premier League/EFL/National League clubs who may not have a game on Sunday on presentation of a valid ticket.  Programme: £2.00, Golden Goal £1.00.