Cray just shade it
By Dave Morgan
Fellow F A Vase last 16 side Cray Valley edged an entertaining game thanks to two second half strikes.
City’s trip to Eltham offered them the chance to test themselves against a side who were many people’s pre-season favourites to win the SCFEL Premier Division. In truth recent home games had made their task of living up to that tag significantly more difficult having recorded just the one victory in their last six home league games. They sat in sixth place 10 points adrift of leaders Fisher at the start of the day. Like City they have taken their place in the last sixteen of the Buildbase F A Vase and with the bookies quoting odds of 16-1 for Cray to win the trophy compared to City at 40-1 it was clear who entered this game as the favourites.
In truth the hosts probably deserved to sneak the three points but it might have been somewhat different had City been able to take the two best chances of the first half.
Manager Ben Smith rested most of his first choice starting eleven in midweek as his charges continued their good run of cup form with victory at Sutton Athletic. Returning to league action, he made no fewer than 10 changes from that starting XI with just Bola Dawodu retaining his place.
Now call me old fashioned or just plain pedantic, but in midweek City were asked to change the colour of their goalkeepers top because of the risk of a clash with their opponents green and white stripes. This afternoon the same thing happened and yet Andy Walker in the Cray goal wore a predominantly black top with black shorts and socks; his teammates sported dark green shirts with black sleeves, black shorts and socks. Fortunately there was nothing contentious in terms of claims of handball so I guess the officials got away with it!
City started brightly with the instructions seemingly not to be afraid to get the ball quickly up towards Dean Grant and Dawodu in an attempt to turn the home defence and similarly have an early shot. Indeed City had the first couple of shots at goal both courtesy of Kyron Lightfoot. The first, on two minutes was a free-kick from 30 yards that sailed well over the bar and then almost immediately he had a volley from a similar distance that was charged down by a defender.
Cray seemed happy to build from the back, content to pass the ball around and not be afraid to start again if the right pass couldn’t be seen. With Kevin Lisbie starting in attack City knew they had to alert but in fairness the former Charlton man had a pretty quiet afternoon with Paul Semakula, Francis Babalola and the impressive Chris Edwards at full back the standout performers. Semakula was generally the target and he created the home sides first shooting opportunity by drawing a foul having turned Laurence Harvey. Anthony Edgar chose to use Danny Smith’s run as a decoy but shot tamely wide.
The Cray bench and Walker in particular were keen to offer their advice to referee Toby Enstone during the first half as the hosts failed to take control of the game. Their frustration wasn’t helped when Babalola failed to get any pace on a header from Edwards early cross and Jack Delo was able to gather comfortably. On thirteen minutes Delo was down quickly to his right to save Ryan Flack’s shot after Lisbie had done well to find him in space.
The best chance, perhaps really only a half-chance, of the opening quarter came City’s way on 21 minutes. Dean Grant got on the end of Delo’s long clearance but when he tried to flick the ball over Cem Tumkaya the defender used his hand to deny him. From the resultant free-kick, Lightfoot found Liam Quinn in space at the far post but his attempted header back across goal lack both power and accuracy.
Minutes later and some excellent harrying work from Grant forced an error in the Cray defence enabling Dawodu to gain possession, cut outside his defender and force Walker to make a smart save low to his right.
The returning Dan Keyte then saw a twenty yard volleyed effort drift harmlessly wide before City fashioned the best chance of the first half on 32 minutes through the best bit of football in the first half. Lightfoot found Grant midway in the Cray half who flicked the ball on to Dawodu. The two City frontmen exchanged passes before Dawodu slid the ball in for Renford Tenyue to run on to. Advancing towards goal, the move probably deserved a goal, but Tenyue dragged his left foot shot across Walker and wide of the target.
Cray then issued City with a warning when after a brief period of pressure, Edwards’ ball towards the far post flicked off Grant’s head and Brad Potter’s header back across goal couldn’t find anyone in a Green shirt.
Right on the stroke of half time City had a glorious chance to open the scoring. With the referee having already played the minimum one minute of stoppage time he allowed City to take a corner from the left. Lightfoot swung the ball invitingly into an area about 10 yards out where it was met by the leaping Harvey whose powerful header flew narrowly wide of the goal. Immediately the referee blew for half time and probably City felt a little disappointed not to have been able to capitalise on the best two chances of the game so far.
The second half was a similar affair in many respects although the hosts certainly had the upper hand eventualy. That said City had the early pressure with Gary Sayer and Michael Turner keen to look for Grant when possible. Indeed Turner’s pass on 51 minutes set up the City striker for a left foot shot that took a deflection behind for a corner. When that was cleared for a City throw, Dawodu launched the ball into the Cray penalty area but Tenyue’s first time volley failed to test Walker. City continued to pressure and another Dawodu throw caused chaos at the heart of the home defence and Walker was relieved to see former City player Ashley Sains hook the ball clear after he could only flap at a flick on from the throw.
Around the hour mark the home side gradually weathered the City pressure and took control. A period of pressure during which Cray didn’t create anything to call a chance saw City defend well but concede a cheap looking corner as they struggled to clear their lines. Surprisingly perhaps, referee Enstone was happy for Flack to lay the corner flag on the ground when taking the kick and when he swung the ball over Lisbie met it with a bullet of a header. He was perhaps unlucky to see the ball crash down off the bar but no doubt delighted to see that Tumkaya was the first to react and he rifled the ball home through a group of defenders congregating on or close to the goal line.
City had a chance five minutes later when Dawodu appeared to get in front of Walker as he ran across the keeper to meet Lightfoot’s corner but failed to get a touch and the keeper held on well. At this point Ben Smith decided he needed to change things, basically going towards a back three and adding more fire power by replacing Turner with Jordan Casey. However, it was Cray who nearly doubled their lead on 73 minutes when Babalola found himself through on goal but Delo did well to block the strikers attempt on goal.
Back up the other end and Grant was making a nuisance of himself, giving the home defence plenty to think about and he was a little unfortunate to be crowded out seeing a header from Lightfoot’s cross go just wide. That was pretty much Lightfoot’s final contribution as Smith replaced him with James Turner in an attempt to introduce fresh legs.
In pressing for an equaliser City were always going to be at risk on the counter and Harvey did extremely well to nick the ball from Lisbie after he had seemed sure to at least have a shot on goal from Flack’s through ball.
The killer second goal came with five minutes remaining and it was hard on City and in particular Adam Woolcott, Gary Sayer and Liam Quinn who had worked tirelessly in midfield and at the heart of the defence. There was little anyone could do though to stop Edwards goal. Cray broke up another City attack, played the ball out to Edwards on the right hand side. He did little more than cut inside and fire an unstoppable shot high into the top corner. A strike worthy of winning any tight game.
Neither side really then created anything to trouble the keepers and when referee Enstone eventually drew proceedings to a halt after playing 6 minutes of the indicated 4 minutes of added time the majority of the crowd of 33 were sent home happy.
Both sides are in league action again next weekend in games that many will consider to be unfortunate distractions as both clubs build up to their ties in the last sixteen of the FA Vase.
City: Jack Delo, Michael Turner (Jordan Casey), Gary Sayer, Laurence Harvey, Liam Quinn, Dan Keyte, Kyron Lightfoot (James Turner), Adam Woolcott, Dean Grant (Rob Lawrence), Bola Dawodu, Renford Tenyue. Unused Subs: James Nurden, Josh Froggatt.