Ryman Premier League
Saturday 11th January 2014
Stephen McCartney reports from Queen Elizabeth II Stadium
The Wands remain rooted to the foot of the table with an embarrassing haul of 11 points from 25 games after much-travelled striker Bertie Brayley, 32, scored the only goal of a poor game to secure Enfield Town’s first league win since their 3-1 home success over Thamesmead Town on 31 August.
Cray Wanderers are now eleven points adrift of fifth-from-bottom East Thurrock United and Brayley’s stunning strike puts one nail into the Cray Wanderers’ inevitable relegation coffin despite 21 league games of the season left to play.
Bird made five changes to the side that suffered a humiliating 6-0 defeat to Dulwich Hamlet at Hayes Lane in their last game on 28 December.
Goalkeeper Darren Bechet, 27, left-back Jordan Bird, 20, the manager’s nephew, central defender Steve Smith, 19, striker Paul Vines, 30 and Greek midfielder Giannoulis Fakinos were all drafted into the side for this clash between the bottom two clubs, with Enfield Town two points clear of the Kent side going into the game.
But Cray Wanderers put in a poor performance and constantly kept giving the ball away or kicking the ball out of play onto the six lane running track around the pitch, as the club’s small loyal band of supporters watched their 20th league defeat of the season.
Despite travelling fans feeling depressed after their side lost a must-win game at the bottom of the table, Bird remained upbeat.
“I’m actually very encouraged, it’s a very positive performance from us,” said the former Bromley reserve team manager.
“We’ve signed eight, maybe nine players in the last two or three weeks so that was very much a brand new squad. We took it through to Christmas previously to see how we did and what we’re working with and we’ve brought a few new players in when we first came in.
“But basically over the Christmas period we worked very hard with some players going out of the club and a lot of players coming in the club and I was very encouraged.
“We were the better side, no disrespect to Enfield. I thought we were the better side, particularly in the second half. I thought we were worthy to win the game, certainly to get a point out of it.
“As I just said to the lads in there (the dressing room), I’m disappointed in the result but not disappointed in them. I thought it was a really, really good performance from a new look side.”
Bird added: “It was a big game for both teams. It was the classic six-pointer for both teams. No disrespect to Enfield, we were very unfortunate not to get all three points and we were very hard done by not to get points out of it.”
In all honesty, the best Cray Wanderers could have got today was a point – they did not deserve to win the game!
Enfield Town created the first chance of the game inside the opening eleven minutes when a poor headed clearance from central defender Jide Maduako fell to Brayley, who cracked a left-footed volley towards goal from fifteen yards, which stung the fingers of the former Harlow Town keeper.
Cray Wanderers immediately went up the other end and Alex Stavrinou flashed his right-footed angled drive past the far post from 25-yards.
Cray Wanderers should have lifted spirits with the first goal after fourteen minutes.
Striker Aaron Rhule was released down the left and the former Bromley and Merstham player cut into the penalty area and his shot was blocked by the onrushing keeper Noel Imber. The ball came out to Tom O’Connor, who blasted the rebound just over the crossbar.
Bird said: “We didn’t have as many chances as we would have liked and I think we had enough chances to win the game and we didn’t take advantage of them – our finishing wasn’t clinical.
“There were a couple of chances which were opportunities in the six-yard box and we needed someone to get a boot on the end of it and two or three long-range shots.
“There were five clear chances for us potentially and we didn’t out any of those away and that was the difference between the two sides.”
Enfield Town created their second chance in the nineteenth minute when central midfielder Bradley Quinton stroked a right-footed free-kick towards goal from 30-yards, which Bechet stooped down to make a comfortable low save in front of his body.
Bechet’s kicking and distribution was poor – but Bird said he was pleased with the goalkeeper’s debut.
He said: “Very good, very well, very good first debut.
“We’re delighted that Darren’s joined us and Darren’s committed to the club regardless of whatever happens this year whether we stay up or go down. Darren’s with us for the long-term and he’s a great keeper.”
Bird hopes he has found a solution to what’s been a problem area this season.
“The goalkeeper situation we didn’t intend to change,” he said.
“Charlie Grainger, who we brought in on loan from Leyton Orient, we expected and the agreement we had with Leyton Orient was he was going to be with us until the rest of the season but unfortunately they recalled him on Christmas Eve because their first team keeper got injured and as a result of that we had to put two stand-by keepers in goal, which unfortunately they weren’t recognised keepers and the results sort of reflected that but we worked very hard over Christmas and the New Year to bring Darren in.”
Enfield Town used the wings on a number of occasions but their final ball in the final third lacked quality and The Wands survived a number of raids during the first half.
Cray Wanderers weathered that storm and created another chance when striker Paul Vines smashed his chance over,
Right-back Ugo Udoji – who rejected a move to Margate to sign for Cray Wanderers from Conference Premier side Salisbury City – whipped in a cross towards the far post where the unmarked Vines cracked a scissor kick sailing harmlessly over the crossbar from sixteen-yards.
Enfield Town left-back Newman Carney – who was substituted at the break – clipped the ball up field to ten-goal striker Liam Hope who slid a right-footed drive along the soaked surface from 25-yards and Bechet made a comfortable low save.
Imber dived to his right and held on to the ball as Stavrinou stroked his right-footed free-kick around the wall and towards the bottom near corner after 37 minutes.
The home side went close within two minutes when Mitch Hahn looped a long throw into the box, which was flicked on at the near post and Corey Whitely sent his header from eight-yards across the keeper and narrowly past the foot of the far post.
Aaron Day – who is expected to join his former boss Ian Jenkins at Greenwich Borough in the next few days following a seven-day approach for the long-serving midfielder – and Maduako suffered a mix-up outside their penalty area but Whitely failed to punish them as his low shot was comfortably saved by the visiting keeper.
Brayley – who was playing for his 22nd different club of his career – made space for himself down the left channel – but his left-footed lob looped over the stretching Bechet and sailed past the far post.
Bird revealed Enfield Town boss George Borg gave his players the hairdryer treatment inside the home dressing room at half-time.
He said: “We could hear their manager next door giving their team a real going over so they would come out hard for the first five or ten minutes.
“We said to the lads to live with them for the first five to ten minutes and we feel if we could live with them then we’d probably go and win the game but what happens is we let them score in the first two minutes and then of course we’re chasing the game then.”
Borg – who managed Enfield FC earlier in his career – made a double substitution at the break and right-winger Tyler Campbell made an instant impression on the game as Enfield Town grabbed the winner just 63 seconds into the half.
Cray Wanderers’ Irish central defender Smith allowed the ball to bounce over his head and Campbell strode forward before clipping an inch-perfect cross towards an unmarked Brayley, who cracked a stunning left-footed volley across Bechet to find the bottom far corner from fifteen-yards.
It was to be the 82nd goal that Cray Wanderers have conceded in 25 league games this season.
Bird said: “We made a mistake, the ball bounced over our centre back’s head and they were clinical.
“It was a very good finish, an excellent finish. I don’t think there was nothing Darren, our goalkeeper, could do about that. It was a fantastic shot.”
Jordan Bird allowed Brayley to show his skill out on the right channel when the striker brought the ball under his spell before unleashing a left-footed volley which sailed over Bechet and clipped the top of the crossbar and behind for a goal-kick.
Brayley went close again in the 56th minute when his left-footed drive from nineteen-yards (inside the D) sailed just over the crossbar after Campbell picked the ball up and burst towards the edge of the Cray Wanderers penalty area.
Jordan Bird played the ball into Vines on the edge of the Enfield Town penalty area and the striker – who scored six goals for Cray Valley before his return to The Wands - spun his marker before sweeping his left-footed shot across Imber and harmlessly wide of the far post.
Bird said: “What Charlie gives you is at 30-years-old he’s still fit enough to do it, still quick enough to do it, but obviously at 30 years of age he brings a lot of experience so you’ve got the best of both worlds.
“You’ve got a striker who I believe is still very, very capable but he brings bundles of experience and one of the problems we were having was the ball was going up and coming straight back again and one of the things Charlie gives us is that pivot up there to keep the ball and build from that and that was the difference today.
“This season has been a tough season for him in one way or another. Charlie is at his best when he’s happy and at the moment he’s very, very happy and we think it’s something we can build on and take advantage off.”
Quinton – who was awarded man-of-the-match by the home club - swept his right-footed free-kick towards the edge of the penalty area but Hope looked up in the sky in agony after looping his header over the crossbar on the hour-mark.
The impressive Campbell spun left-back Bird and reached the by-line before looping over a cross towards the far post where Brayley looped his header over the bar from four-yards and Maduako took the resulting goal-kick.
Bird explained why Bechet’s kicking was woeful in both halves today.
He said: “Unfortunately, believe it or not his boots split while he was out there and it affected his kicking in the second half so that didn’t help but he’s going to be a great asset to us.”
Halfway through the second half Sam Griffiths played the ball up to Hope, whose flicked pass put Brayley through on goal but a poor first touch allowed Bechet to rush off his line to smother the ball.
But Cray Wanderers upped their urgency in the final twenty minutes.
A cross from Udoji was cleared out to Stavrinou, whose poor shot from 25-yards lacked conviction and rolled into Imber’s gloves.
Griffiths was off the pitch after receiving treatment and this would have been the ideal time for Cray Wanderers to grab an equaliser.
Smith played the ball up to Vines, who slid his left-footed shot across the keeper and past the far post.
But manager Bird rued his poor luck as his struggling team failed to take a couple of late excellent chances to grab a point they deserved.
“There were two or three there I think in that six-yard area where what we were looking for was a little toe on the end of it or a foot or a shin or something, just needed to get something on the end of the ball in six six-yard box.
“There were two or three of those in the last five minutes and early on in the game as well.
“I think we were unfortunate to come away with nothing today.”
Smith clipped the ball forward and substitute Adrian Stone knocked the ball down inside the penalty area and a shot from fellow substitute Josh Oyinsan was blocked and the ball rolled to an unmarked Stavrinou, who lashed his right-footed shot over the bar from fifteen-yards.
A long throw into the box from left-back Bird resulted in head-tennis being played inside the Enfield Town box and Stone planted his header towards goal from 12-yards but Imber gathered the ball after it dropped inside the muddy six-yard box.
It will take a miracle for Cray Wanderers to avoid their first relegation in their proud 154-year history.
But Bird remains positive that his side can produce that miracle during their last 21 league games.
“We’re still thinking positively,” he said. “We’re still working on the basis that we’re doing all we can to try and stay up but there’s no doubt about it, we’ve got to start getting points. That’s the disappointing thing about today. We were worthy of maybe three points.
“We’ve got to regroup and focus on Tuesday night’s Ryman League Cup game (at Chatham Town) and then Saturday will be a big game for us (at home to Margate). We’ve got to get some points quickly.”
When asked how many points his side need to collect to stay up, Bird replied: “I think it’s difficult to predict. If you can get 50 points in this league I think you’ll be ok so we’ve got a big hill to climb.”
Enfield Town: Noel Imber, Sam Griffiths, Newman Carney (Joe Stevens 46), Mark Kirby, Lee White, Mitch Hahn, James Elmes (Tyler Campbell 46), Bradley Quinton, Liam Hope, Bertie Brayley (Nathan Livings 89), Corey Whitely.
Subs: Jamie Smyth, Ben Ward-Cochrane
Goal: Bertie Brayley 47
Booked: Bertie Brayley 45
Cray Wanderers: Darren Bechet, Ugo Udoji, Jordan Bird, Aaron Day, Jide Maduako, Steve Smith, Tom O’Connor (Adrian Stone 83), Alex Stavrinou, Paul Vines, Aaron Rhule (Josh Oyinsan 71), Giannoulis Fakinos.
Subs: Carlos Talbot, Helge Orome, Nathan Simpson
Booked: Ugo Udoji 45
Referee: Mr Daniel Bonneywell (Herne Bay)
Assistants: Mr Simon Finnigan (Maidstone) & Michael Marsh (Herne Bay)