Down at the Badgers Sports Ground, Cray Valley Paper Mills are looking at their best season for over a decade when in 2005 they became champions of the Kent County League Premier Division as well as lifting the Kent Intermediate Shield to add to back-to-back London Intermediate Cups in the preceding two seasons. A resounding 3-0 victory at home to AFC Croydon Athletic, the club’s third won on the spin, secured a top four finish in the Southern Counties East Football League, though third spot seems out of their grasp. With two games remaining there remains a six-point gap to be bridged to catch Sevenoaks Town, who face bottom club Fisher at the weekend.
Along with their impressive performance in the League, the Millers have also enjoyed good runs in a number of the knockout competitions. Although appearances in the national competitions were fleeting, going out early in the FA Cup at the hands of Ryman South playoff hopefuls Hastings United and in the FA Vase to SCEFL First Division Champions-in-waiting Glebe, both the League’s Challenge Cup and the Kent Senior Trophy saw Cray Valley make excellent progression only to twice have their dreams dashed by the same opposition, Ashford United. In the Challenge Cup reached the quarterfinal stages after thrice winning on the road at Deal Town by dint of a penalty shootout, then seeing off Rochester 2-0 and then Bearsted 4-0. However, the resurrected Nuts’n’Bolts, boasting the likes of Shaun Welford and Paul Booth in their ranks, proved too strong on the days as the Millers slipped to a 2-0 defeat. The chance for revenge came just over a week ago when the two sides faced off one more, this time with the prize of the Kent Senior Trophy at stake. The Millers began their quest for the silverware with a dramatic encounter with Hollands and Blair. It all looked so simple when the hosts capitalised on a defensive error to take the lead inside 2 minutes, stamping their authority on the game with number a quarter of hour later. A red card for the visitors before the interval seemed to have killed off their hopes but the ten men rallied to level, setting up a tense finish before fortune favoured the hosts as deflected 89th minute goal settled the tie. Cray Valley welcomed erstwhile FA Vase runners-up Tunbridge Wells, narrowly winning through a single goal before Lordswood were comfortably dispatched 4-0. The semi-final sent them down to Deal Town, lightning striking twice as the game was settled by a penalty shootout. The sides had shared four goals in pulsating 120 minutes of free-flowing football but come the lottery of penalties, the Deadeye Dicks had lost all their potency. Deal managed to hit the net just once in their 5 attempts leaving Ryan Palmer do the necessary and send the Millers into the final to face Ashford United once more. In the intervening weeks since Cray Valley had been humbled 5-2 at home in the League by their opponents, the side had won all but one of its games. The pundits might have favoured the Nuts’n’Bolts but it was Cray Valley who got off to a dream start as central defender Laurence Collins swept home his first goal of the season from a free-kick after only 140 seconds. However, it was not to be as Ashford United equalised through Shaun Welford’s clinical finish, the experienced marksman winning the contest with ten minutes remaining with a trademark header; his 41st goal of the season.
However, the London Senior Cup has seen the club claim some famous scalps on the way to their upcoming semi-final clash with Dulwich Hamlet. After advancing from the First Round of the competition by virtue of a walkover from their tie with Croydon, Cray Valley travelled to Welling United emerging with an impressive 3-1 at the National League South club. The Wings might have made several changes from their previous league outing but the side still brimmed with first team experience with the likes of Pierre Joseph-Dubois and Ali Fuseini in the ranks and Sam Hatton skippering the side. However, the Wings flapped in the face of Cray Valley’s industry, falling behind early as Tom Youngs slapped a 9th minute penalty past Paul Agu. Joseph-Dubois scrambled a leveller bang on halftime but home fans who expected their boys to move up a gear after the break, got a mighty shock as the visitors soon extinguished a bright start by their hosts. Youngs curled home a second on 72 minutes before Ben Francis seized on a weak clearance from Agu send a long-range steamer back past the red-faced ‘keeper.
Next up a youthful AFC Wimbledon, once more using the Senior Cup as sounding board for their tyro talent. However, it was a teenager taking his place between the sticks for Cray Valley that would drew the plaudits from the watching fans. 18-year-old ‘keeper Jordan Carey proved an impassable obstacle for the young Wombles pulling off a string of top-notch saves, even keeping out a first half penalty from the Reece Williams-Bowers. His heroics allowed Ben Francis to send a sizzling volley past Carey’s opposite number 8 minutes from the interval. With just two minutes left the Dons were thrown a lifeline as substitute Egli Kaga was tripped in the box. The young Albanian exacted his own revenge steering the spot kick into the bottom corner just bottom the reach of Carey’s dive. It looked as it would take kicks from the penalty mark to separate the sides but the contest had one last twist as 30 seconds into stoppage time Chandler Kasai’s single-minded charge into the box was ended in inglorious fashion with a foul. The cool head belonged to club stalwart Ryan Fowler stroking his spot kick into the bottom corner and propelling his side into the semi-finals of the London Senior Cup for the third time in four years. Having fallen at that penultimate hurdle on each of those occasions history may not be on their side but an intriguing encounter awaits.
This game takes place at the Badgers Sports Ground (AKA The DGS Marine Stadium), Middle Park Avenue, Eltham, London, SE9 5HT kicking off at 7.45 pm. Click here for directions. Please note there must be winner on the night so if the teams are level at the end of 90 minutes the result will be decided by kicks from the penalty mark – there will be NO extra time.
Updated 15:42 - 19 Apr 2017 by Paul Griffin
- £8 for adults
- £5 for concessions (OAPs and students with valid ID)
- U16s are admitted free of charge if accompanied by an adult (otherwise £1)