City Unable To Halt Cray's Title March
By Kevin Olver
Penultimate game of the season for City sees Cray get the better of them again - winning the league title in the process
Canterbury City 0 Cray Valley PM 2
Well they say the table never lies and following Cray's victory here and subsequent crowning as Champions, City, who with one game left could still possibly finish in eighth position, have now played the top seven in twenty assorted league and cup games this season only winning four of them.
Today, a determined effort by City to prevent the side that had knocked them out of the FA Vase at the semi-final stage a few weeks earlier and thus denying them a once-in-a-lifetime Wembley visit actually coming back to Salters Lane and triumphing again, lasted just seventy-six minutes when the title chasers took the lead and as City pushed up, a second soon followed and with it the three points that Cray ultimately needed for title certainty.
Cray had an early chance to open the scoring and settle some away nerves when in just the second minute a shot from Anthony Edgar was blocked inside the City box with the rebound fired back in and hooked off the City line as the hosts struggled to clear. City were soon going toe-to-toe with their opponents and had several possible openings but a brace of Rob Lawrence free-kicks and two subsequent corners could only produce one direct effort on goal when Renford Tenyue hurriedly volleyed over at the far post after Dean Grant had popped the ball over the six-yard box to him.
Francis Babaloa then bundled his way into the City box but couldn't get a shot off and the ball rolled harmlessly through to keeper Jack Delo before a needless corner given away by a nervy Cray again gave City an opportunity but, again, nothing came of it.
Given the circumstances it was a surprisingly open game as play moved from one end to the other. Edgar's attacking free-kick for the visitors was wasted with Delo eventually claiming the ball while at the other end, the referee inadvertently made the perfect block to a Tenyue shot as he struck the ball goal-bound from the corner of the box. Another City corner and a long-throw into the heart of the Cray box both failed to create a clear opening as City's lack of a cutting-edge in front of goal seen in several games of late was beginning to look as if it was going to haunt them again, although a Rob Lawrence shot from twenty yards was blocked.
On twenty-five minutes a shot whipped in from the wide edge of the City box by Liam Hickey was punched out by Delo for a corner from which Ashley Sains headed wide but while City were having plenty to say attacking wise, it was good approach play without end product as another handily placed free-kick and yet another corner both passed the hosts by with nothing created.
As the half-hour mark came and went, City's beligerence and presumably news of title rivals Corinthian being a goal up in their game seemed to start troubling Cray as they gradually started to do everything in more of a hurry and it has to be said with some less accuracy while City were doing their best to accommodate their opponents as little as possible by slowing the game down, holding onto the ball and defending deep and in numbers.
Cray had their chances though as Babaloa made himself some space and fired just wide of the angle from inside the box and then saw another shot blocked before Delo almost handed them an opening goal when going up for a regulation cross right under his bar he somehow must have lost the flight of the ball and was very relieved to see it slip off his gloves and deflect over the bar and with the ball running down the back of the net it caused some of the Cray supporters at that end of the ground to suddenly think the ball had actually gone into the net but a stifled cheer was immediately followed by an agonising groan..
Unbelievably then at the other end Cray were almost culpable in giving City the lead when a long ball forward saw Grant plus two defenders and visiting keeper Andy Walker all converge on a high bouncing ball the outcome of which saw all three Cray players confuse each other, not deal with it and leaving Grant free to hook the ball at an empty net but wide!
In the run up to the break, either side might have opened the scoring. An attacking Cray free-kick saw the ball loaded into the box and with several players forward it was - not for the first time - massively over-hit as nerves seemed to outdo the quality in their play. One they did get right though saw a fierce shot by Chris Edwards brilliantly charged down by Danny Lawrence before at the other end, brother Rob volleyed wide for City. With a couple of minutes remaining, the hosts almost opened the scoring when a break down the left from Tenyue saw him play the ball inside for Bola Dawodu who, under pressure, manage to steer it towards goal but then saw it spin and roll inches wide of the far post with Walker beaten.
The break arrived after an additional three minutes that still couldn't separate the sides and an entertaining but very even first-half came to a close.
Cray started the second-half knowing that in terms of the live table, they were currently lying second but also knowing their fate was still in their own hands if they could just somehow prise a determined City apart and get infront and, most importantly, stay there!
They flooded forward and wave after wave of attacks pushed City back and put them under severe pressure. It started when an Edgar corner saw Delo take a good catch, but then need several minutes of treatment as he sustained an injury in doing so. Cray sportingly - given their situation - returned the ball but it was but a moment's respite for Delo and his defenders before an Edgar cross to the far post saw Edwards wander in from around the back and see his header hit the City bar before Delo scrambled it away.
Gavin Tomlin then broke free on the right but saw his low ball in well cut out by Delo before a Cray corner was played short and then whipped in for Hickey to see his header blocked before the ball came out and was then skied over the City bar from the edge of the box.
Cray then introduced Ryan Flack and he immediately took on corner taking duties producing balls in that were much more threatening and carried far more menace. City did well to deal with two in quick succession before Cray went close from open play when a ball in was punched clear by Delo but rebounded straight off Babaloa's head only to ping just over the bar.
An Edwards free-kick curled past the City wall but also just past the goal as Cray's plight became even more urgent with news filtering through that Corinthian were now coasting at Bearsted by three goals to nil.
A high cross come shot from Tomlin was pawed away from goal to safety by Delo for a Cray corner from which Hickey saw his shot deflect off a City block and spin up and over the bar. Two more corners came and went for Cray as they continued to push more and more players forward and swung to a more direct style of play as needs must pushing City even further back and completely nullifying what little attacking play the hosts could muster.
On seventy-seven minutes, Edwards - with other better options available - then blazed a terrible shot well wide bringing stinging consternation from his team-mates as they urged each other to produce better quality and less panic.
A minute later the breakthrough finally came when a huge ball forward from the back flew over the City defence and Babaloa, who had chased everything all game and been a complete nuisance to the City defence chased it through again - almost on a lost cause, but got to it first and lobbed the ball over Delo's head and into an empty net for 0-1.
Relief surged through the Cray ranks on and off the pitch and the game (as an individual match) was now completely turned on it's head. City, after being under so much pressure for so long tried to get forward desperately wanting to deny Cray another big celebration on City turf.
A long throw from Ryan Cooper bounced about in the Cray box but was cleared while a Tenyue break down the left saw his ball in fail to be attacked by a City shirt and Walker had the easy task of standing there and gathering in the ball.
With City now playing a high line and pushing forward and time running out the seemingly inevitable happened when, on eighty-seven minutes, Cray scored their championship winning second. Another long ball from the back landed in City territory - nobody took the chance to clear it and Tomlin didn't wait to be asked before pouncing and chipping the ball over Delo from wide left and again into an empty net for 0-2 and in the process sealing the game and the league title for his side.
In what little time that remained, plus over four minutes of stoppage time, City couldn't find the wherewithal to break their opponents down as they kept more and more players back understandably defending what they had. One very small light for City came in the ninety-second minute when a long clearance from Delo saw Dawodu's header drift wide as he beat Walker in an aerial challenge but even a goal then wasn't going to be anything other than a consolation.
There was complete joy and jubilation for the visitors on the final whistle and as the table doesn't lie they were deservedly crowned champions.
In total contrast, there's one more game for City away at Bearsted on Tuesday - the last game of the season in the league, while Cray's next stop is Wembley in the FA Vase final in May.
For Cray it's congratulations to them for today and the best of luck under the arch next month, but for City plenty to think about after their own highs in the Vase and relative lows in the league but Bearsted still await before thoughts and plans turn to next season...
Final score: Canterbury City 0 Cray Valley PM 2
City: Jack Delo, Ryan Cooper, Michael Turner (James Turner), Phil Starkey, Gary Sayer, Will Hadler (Kyron Lightfoot), Rob Lawrence (Adam Woollcott), Danny Lawrence, Dean Grant, Bola Dawodu, Renford Tenyue
Unused Sub: Chris Saunders