FA Vase Semi-Final Tightly Poised as City Take One Goal Deficit into Return Leg
By Kevin Olver
All to play for as a fine performance from City sees them unlucky to take a deficit into Saturday's second leg
Canterbury City 0 Cray Valley 1
Privately at least before the start of the match, some of the City contingent might have settled for a narrow one goal deficit from the away leg at Cray Valley, but now having seen the game play out, City can consider themselves extremely unlucky not to have come away from the Badgers Sports Ground being at the very least on level terms.
They had the better chances in the first half and after Cray had taken a fifty-fifth minute lead and had then enjoyed a spell of pressure, it was City who saw the game out very much on the front foot and Cray will be indebted to their keeper Andy Walker for a string of fine saves, especially towards the end of the ninety minutes that may well have kept his team in the tie - and this was despite a first minute injury for the keeper that hampered him for much of the game.
In some appalling first-half wintry weather conditions which included driving rain, hail stones and some very strong gusts of wind, City started the stronger and looked more determined and focused than their opponents. Adam Woollcott struck a twenty-five yarder straight at the keeper to test him early on as a dark grey sky enveloped the ground.
With the conditions soon at their worst of the afternoon, a midfield tussle ensued with neither team really grabbing the initiative. A Cray corner was defended away by the City defence while at the other end a Ryan Cooper cross was well taken by the limping Walker as Danny Lawrence came chasing in while an attacking free-kick from City was fired into the defensive wall by Woollcott with the follow up being lifted straight into Walker's arms.
The Cray keeper and his defence were by far the busier as a flicked on City long throw was cleared as Lawrence raced in again before Dean Grant headed wide under pressure and then Ollie Lee picked his way through three challenges before stubbing his shot and allowing Walker an easy save.
At the other end an Anthony Edgar free-kick was dealt with by the City defence while a right-sided corner from the same player saw a header blocked and the rebound poked wide of the City goal.
City continued to look the most likely to open the scoring as Woollcott dragged a first-time shot wide and then their best chance of the half fell to Bola Dawodu - who cutting in from the left saw Walker do well to block save his shot down by the foot of the near post at close range. A couple of long throws and a corner from City only produced a shot from Grant that was blocked while a nice turn from Lawrence in the Cray box saw a dangerous ball in scrambled away by the defence.
Cray finished the half with a disappointing free-kick being well overhit and going straight out as the referee brought the first period to a close. No goals at the break, but nonetheless a very positive and sterling performance so far from the visitors.
Cray started the second-half with a bit more urgency and within a couple of minutes a shot from the left had flashed across the City goal taking a slight deflection and going out for a corner. That was hoisted in to a congested area but City keeper Jack Delo showed off his good handling skills with a solid high take.
On fifty-five minutes the hosts scored the opening goal of the tie. Ryan Flack cut in from the right and was allowed to stroll along the edge of the box unchallenged before rifling a low shot back the other way past Delo's outstretched left hand and the ball nestled in the far side of the net for 0-1.
Cray's next attack that started as a decent move down the left unfortunately ended with a yellow card for Edgar going down in the box which was seen as simulation by the referee but apart from that, they started to grow in confidence and as the game opened up the next few minutes were probably their best of the match. Even so, they still produced very little as City worked tirelessly to keep Cray's much vaunted attack so far starved of any chances or indeed any sight of goal with just a free-kick from wide right headed downwards by Ashley Sains forcing Delo into a good close range save.
City responded well to going behind as they sought the strike that would level up the tie. Lee won the ball in midfield and fed Grant whose shot was saved by Walker and then an inch perfect pass down the left from Lawrence picked out Grant who surged forward before laying the ball inside for Dawodu who came sliding in but could only find Walker with his hurried effort stabbed straight at the keeper.
Gavin Tomlin then went very close to doubling Cray's lead when he burst through but was denied by Delo with a brilliant blocking save before he fired the rebound back at the City goal only to see it cleared off the line and then with Delo still slithering around on the greasy surface he still had the awareness to stick out an arm to paw the ball away from Tomlin before he could get a third effort off. Cray's next chance then saw Tomlin turn provider as his ball into the City box saw Edgar run onto but fire the ball past the angle.
From then on City dominated and created several good chances. Lee played the ball over the top of the defence for Grant to retrieve but he was forced a little wide before seeing his fierce shot deflect up and over the bar off a defender's outstretched leg. Cray responded with a handily placed free-kick which was launched straight at the City wall with the rebound volleyed high and wide over the stand by Danny Smith, before another one was well taken by Delo high and under pressure with another piece of confident handling.
For City, Lawrence fed Grant in the box but he couldn't get any power in the shot and Walker was able to make an easy save. Another ball in from Lawrence and two City corners failed to prise open the Cray defence as all the pressure was now coming from City.
As the game finally moved into four minutes of added time, Gary Sayer and Dawodu combined to feed Grant again but somehow Walker got down to make an excellent block before the keeper saved his side once more with another block at point blank range from Cooper as he was played through by Phil Starkey. In the very last minute, Walker denied City yet again by cutting out Dawodu's flick-on as substitute James Turner loitered with intent.
Over the ninety minutes, City definitely deserved something out of the game but a one goal deficit is what they have to take to Salters Lane next Saturday for the return leg. A mention too for the great support the team received from the maroon balloon travelling supporters, probably one of the best away supports the team has ever had.
A gutsy and determined performance from City today against a very good side in some difficult and stodgy conditions means the semi-final is now so tight and delicately poised and on a knife edge - pick your own cliche - that the return leg is now wonderfully set-up especially with the prize for the winner so great....
See you all there!!
Final score: Canterbury City 0 Cray Valley 1
City: Jack Delo, Ryan Cooper, Gary Sayer, Phil Starkey, Luke Wheatley, Ben Gorham, Adam Woollcott (Renford Tenyue), Oliver Lee (James Turner), Dean Grant, Bola Dawodu, Danny Lawrence
Unused Subs: Rob Lawrence, Josh Froggatt, Kyron Lightfoot.