Hornchurch vs Cray Wanderers – Isthmian Premier Playoff Semi Final – Wednesday 26th April, 7.45 pm
Main pics credit: Jonas Lustosa
Cray Wanderers break new ground on Wednesday 26th April as Neil Smith’s side travel to Hornchurch in the Isthmian Premier Playoff Semi-Final in what is sure to be an evening of high drama. Kick off 7.45pm and the game will be decided on the night if level after ninety minutes and extra time on penalties. The winners will face Canvey Island or Aveley in the Final on Monday 1st May.
After an arduous 42 game league season, Cray Wanderers finished the Isthmian Premier season in 5th place, the club’s highest ever league position with 74 points, also a club record at Step 3 level. Following a 0-2 defeat to Hornchurch at Hayes Lane on 25th February, then 10th placed Cray Wanderers went on a nine game unbeaten run with seven wins and two draws to move back into contention for the playoffs and this was achieved on the final day of the season following a 2-2 draw at Haringey Borough on Saturday. The Wands finished level on points with 6th placed Lewes but by a slight margin of a plus two goal difference made it through to the nerve wracking post-season crack at promotion to the National South where Cray have never played before.
The transformation of the club’s fortunes since Neil Smith was appointed in late March 2022 has been remarkable with Cray surviving relegation on the final day of the 2021-22 season and by many experts were expected to finish no higher than 18th this season. So for Cray to quietly go about their business through the season and amass twenty wins, fourteen draws and eight defeats (another club Isthmian Premier record) shows a side that was hard to beat and two good unbeaten spells during the season kept the club in contention. A run of one league defeat in twelve (at home to eventual champions Bishop’s Stortford) between late November-January saw Cray move up to 2nd place in the table. After a mini-blip in February like most teams have in a season of one win in five, Cray hit form at the right time and remained unbeaten from 4th March to the end and the side merited their shot at promotion.
At Haringey on Saturday, Cray went two nil up through Dan Bassett who with 15 goals was the top scorer in the league campaign and Tom Derry whose 37th minute header was his 12th of the season. Despite a strong Haringey comeback to draw the game, this didn’t dampen the achievement at the end of reaching the playoffs and a visit to Mark Stimson’s Hornchurch side.
This will be a tough test for the Wands as Hornchurch finished 2nd in the table on 84 points and scored 98 goals eventually finishing four points behind Bishop’s Stortford. The Urchins’ finished their league campaign with a 2-1 win at Kingstonian, coming from behind to win with goals from Jamie Mascoll and Ade Yusuff. Hornchurch defeated the Wands twice during the season although not much to choose between the sides with Hornchurch winning 2-1 at home on 24th September with two Sam Higgins goals with the winner coming five minutes from time with Dan Bassett levelling for Cray. Hornchurch won 2-0 at Cray on 25th February with a goal in each half from Yusuff and ex-Wand Chris Dickson. At that stage Hornchurch looked to be in the driving seat for promotion but a run of four games without a win in March-early April just tipped the balance Bishop’s Stortford’s way who ended the season with seven straight wins.
Although Cray will have to earn promotion the hard way by winning both ties away from home, Cray can take solace in a decent record at Hornchurch which is in stark contrast to Hayes Lane and the Wands have won four times in the Isthmian Premier era at Bridge Road compared to just one win at Hayes Lane.
Hornchurch have experience in the Isthmian Premier playoffs with four previous appearances. Their first was as the previous Hornchurch club in the 2004-05 season losing at AFC Wimbledon in the semi-final. As AFC Hornchurch they gained promotion in 2011-12 beating Bury Town and Lowestoft Town both at home to earn promotion to the National South. After a one season stay they returned to the playoffs in 2013-14 beating Kingstonian in the Semi-Final before losing at Lowestoft Town in the final. Finally, back as Hornchurch last season they reached the final again after winning 3-2 at Enfield Town in the Semi-Final but lost 2-3 to Cheshunt at home. They have also reached two Isthmian North playoff Finals in 2015-16 and 2016-17 losing at Harlow Town and Thurrock respectively. Hornchurch also have recent successful knockout football experience after winning the FA Trophy in 2020-21.
The Wands have played in five Step 4 playoffs, losing at Horsham in 2004-05, reached the final in 2007-08 losing at Tooting & Mitcham United after beating Metropolitan Police in the semi-final. Cray earned promotion to the Isthmian Premier in 2008-09 after beating Worthing and Met Police in the final. Cray also reached the Isthmian North playoffs in 2015-16 (along with Hornchurch) losing at Harlow Town and in 2017-18 in the Isthmian South lost at home to Walton Casuals in the semi-final.
Whatever happens Cray Wanderers lasted the distance over the season to earn this crack at the playoffs and promises to be an exciting as well as tense occasion for management, players and supporters alike but one to relish.
Address/Sat Nav code
ESSEX RM14 2LX
Tickets will be available online via the Hornchurch box office as well as on the gate on the day. As Hornchurch are expecting a large crowd for a midweek game the club advise tickets be purchased in advance to avoid long queues on the night. https://hornchurchfc.ktckts.com/event/hch2223ilpposf/hornchurch-vs-cray-wanderers
Ticket Prices are as follows:
£12 – Adult
£7 – Concession (65+, student with id)
£3 – Young Person (12-16)
£2 – Child (Under 12)
The gates and bar will be open from 5:00pm.
Only the normal club car park will be in use. When full, street parking is available along Bridge Avenue and opposite the ground in Brookdale Avenue.
There will be all 6 turnstiles in operation. There will be dedicated turnstiles for online tickets, cash and card. For online tickets please ensure you have a printed copy of your ticket or your ticket is available on your mobile device. An emailed ticket receipt is not sufficient, and must be able to scan the QR code on your ticket.
A match day programme, priced at £2.50, will be available and these can be purchased at the programme station inside the main gate.
Alcoholic drinks and soft drinks can be purchased from the club bar. Seating is available within the bar area and on the terracing outside. A second bar, serving alcoholic drinks, is within the main stadium next to the burger van. The burger van will serve a selection of food plus hot and cold drinks.
There are toilets in the main bar and in the block adjacent to the burger van.
Hornchurch Stadium is actually located in Upminster, Essex – just north of the Dartford River Crossing and is easily accessed via car or public transport. Please note if travelling by car that West Ham United are at home also and may be some busy local traffic.
Take the M25 to junction 29 on the A127 towards London. Come off at the next major turn-off (signposted to Upminster) and turn left into Hall Lane. Follow this road for about a mile and a half, passing Upminster station on your left, until you come to a major crossroads with traffic lights. Turn right at the lights into St Mary’s Lane. Continue down the hill and take the second turning on the left (Bridge Avenue). The stadium is found about 200 yards down Bridge Avenue on the right.
Car parking is available at the ground on a first come first served basis. When full, street parking is available along Bridge Avenue and opposite the ground in Brookdale Avenue.
Nearest BR station is Upminster which is on the Fenchurch Street to Southend/Shoeburyness line. Turn left out of the station and follow the directions above.
Upminster Bridge underground station (District line) is also close to the ground. Turn right out of the station, walk under the railway bridge and take the second right turning into Bridge Avenue.
Nearest Pubs: If coming in to Upminster Bridge Tube station The Windmill on Upminster Road (Green King Brewery) will be ideal for those getting there early or for a quick one after the game. If you prefer Upminster station which probably has a bit more amenities then the Junction on Station Road (Green King Brewery) looks your best bet or nearer Upminster Park is the Crumpled Horn on Corbets Tey Road or for those with specialist tastes the Upminster Tap Room Micropub is in Sunnyside Gardens. Your nearest Fish & Chip shop is George’s Atlantic Fish Bar on Upminster Road not far from the Windmill pub.
Upminster lies in the London Borough of Havering and just about seems to straddle the East London/Essex border. A very agricultural area back in the day, the Upminster Windmill is one of the few remaining windmills in Greater London, has a preservation order on it and acts as a museum. Also for those with an interest in agriculture then the Tithe Barn Museum in Hall Lane close to Upminster Station is worth a visit. If you end up in Hornchurch which is a little bit more of a way away from the ground so give yourself plenty of time if you choose this route.