The Story of the Great Escape part 1

The Story of the Great Escape part 1

By Mark Hunt
1 May 2015
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The first part of the story of Cray Wanderers 2014-15 season

The Story of Cray Wanderers 2014-15 Season – Part 1

After relegation from the Ryman Premier the 2014-15 season promised a journey very much into the unknown as the Wands took their place in the Ryman League Division One North for the first time.

Hopes were high during the summer after the club had signed some experienced reinforcements to add to the players kept on from the previous season. Veteran centre-forward Shaun Welford, defensive-midfielder Danny Lye, defender Steve Springett, Midfielders, Dan Stubbs and Pat O’Connor, Forward Ian Daly and wingers Ismael Welsh and Andre Marques promised much that a promotion push would be likely for the season ahead. First team Manager Keith Bird’s side won 5 of their 6 pre-season games and things looked rosy ahead of the big kick off on 9th August.

Any suggestion that this league would be anything other than awkward was bore out in the opening game against one of the bookies promotion favourites AFC Sudbury at Hayes Lane. After a bright start to the game an eventual ten man Wands went down 5-1 sending everyone crashing back down to earth.

There was an international flavour at Hayes Lane as on 12th August as a film crew from Thailand TV came to do a piece on London’s oldest Association Football Club which was aired in Thailand in December. On the same day a narrow defeat at Thurrock in what was Supporters Player of the Year Alex Stavrinou’s last game for the club (he would later return in December/January) was followed by a poor performance at Ware where the 9 man Wands were lucky to only lose 4-1. This left Cray pointless after three games.

On Tuesday 19th August Cray picked up their first three points of the season in an exciting 4-2 win over Barkingside with Pat O’Connor and Ian Daly scoring twice. However the following Bank Holiday weekend Wroxham turned up 40 minutes late due to traffic congestion but were three nil up in half an hour and though Cray rallied the game ended in a 3-2 defeat. Following the defeat Cray made one of their most astute purchases of the season as central defender Nick Humphrey joined the club from Canvey Island. Nick made his debut on a very wet and soggy August Bank Holiday Monday at Thamesmead but was unable to stop the Wands from going down to a 2-0 defeat. This was the first game that we saw the presence of former Wands player Gary Abbott on the touchline. The defeat at Thamesmead left Cray at the bottom of the table at the end of August with 3 points from their six games.

Cray’s entry into the FA Cup began on 30th August with a potential banana skin Preliminary Round tie against eventual Combined Counties League Champions Molesey at Hayes Lane. With a You Tube video crew and an excited media expecting an upset Cray delivered a professional performance to advance through 3-1. It was in the league however which continued to frustrate as the following Tuesday a lacklustre performance saw Cray go down 2-1 at home to Maldon & Tiptree.

There appeared to be steps in the right direction as the games early season came thick and fast. On National Non League Day on 6th September Cray picked up a vital three points from a 2-0 win against fellow strugglers Great Wakering Rovers. Things were starting to look rosy the following Tuesday as Cray came back from an early goal behind to lead 3-1 at Brentwood before the home side came back to draw 3-3. However 4 points from two trips to Essex would certainly have been welcomed before those games kicked off. Cray’s interest in the FA Cup came to an end on 13th September as the Wands entertained old rivals Tooting & Mitcham United in the first qualifying round. A Dmitri Larin header had seemingly given Cray a chance for a replay after being a goal down at half time. However a goal seven minutes into stoppage time gave the tie to the 10 man visitors and Cray’s interest in the FA Cup came to an end.

The following Tuesday saw Cray produce an error ridden performance at home to Cheshunt which ended in a 4-1 defeat. This turned out to be the final game of Keith Bird’s reign as manager. Although things never really turned out as planned for him at Cray, Keith was very passionate about the game and a very approachable man to talk to and tried very hard. It is hoped that Keith can find himself back in the game at some point soon as he has much to offer.

With immediate effect Mike Paye and Gary Abbott were appointed joint-managers. The new management team were given a baptism of fire with a difficult first game at Needham Market on 20th September which ended in a 3-0 defeat. The following Wednesday saw another frustrating result as goals from Adrian Stone and Shaun Welford gave Cray a 2-0 lead at Romford before the home side came back to draw 2-2. Two new signings then followed with defender Marlon Patterson and midfield playmaker Michael Phillips joining the Wands. The end of September saw two home games against teams near the bottom of the table. On Sunday, 28th September a debut goal from Phillips helped Cray to a 2-0 win against Burnham Ramblers but the following Tuesday Cray stumbled to a 4-1 loss to a rather physical Redbridge side.

At the end of September Cray were 21st in the table with a record of P. 14 W. 3 D. 2 L. 9 F. 20 A 35 Pts. 11.

Going into October the club announced that Cray Wanderers had signed an option agreement for purchase of land at Flamingo Park on the A20 Sidcup Bypass near Chislehurst for a new Cray Wanderers Community Sports Hub subject to Bromley Council planning permission approval with a two year window in which to build and progress the stadium.

There was still optimism that results would pick up but bad starts to games were really hurting the Wands and the month started with a 2-1 loss at Heybridge Swifts on 4th October. The following Tuesday saw the 1st Round of the Robert Dyas League Cup and the toughest draw possible away to holders and eventual Ryman Premier Champions Maidstone United. Two early goals from former Stone Shaun Welford put Cray two up in the first 10 minutes before a dreadful decision to award a penalty and send off Gary Beckett put Cray on the back foot and eventually the home side progressed 4-2. This was followed by a deserved point from a 1-1 draw at home to fifth placed Soham Town Rangers which saw a debut for midfielder Rory Hill and a goal from his only appearance for Tyrus Gordon-Young.

Cray took their bow in the FA Trophy with a preliminary round tie at home to Ryman League Hastings United on Sunday 19th October with goals from Welford and Daly putting Cray through 2-0. The following Wednesday saw an incredible home game against Aveley in which Cray found themselves 2-0 down and 3-1 down with ten men only for two superb strikes from Rory Hill turning the game around and the Wands came close to winning at the end but a 3-3 draw was considered a fine result. Another resilient display followed at Waltham Abbey on the 25th October when two Shaun Welford goals salvaged a 2-2 draw. Meanwhile an Adrian Stone hat-trick saw Cray through a tricky London Senior Cup tie as Tower Hamlets were beaten 3-1 at the Mile End Stadium.
November began with Cray in 23rd place on 14 points a position they remained in until late March.

The FA Trophy run continued on 1st November as Cray defeated Ryman South high flyers Faversham Town in the 1st Qualifying Round as Welford, Hill and Stone scored in a comfortable 3-0 victory. Suddenly there was confident talk about the team after that victory but things came crashing back to earth on the following Saturday at Tilbury as the Wands probably reached the nadir of the season as a nine man Wands were beaten 2-0 after a quite shocking and indisciplined performance.

With no game midweek Cray were able to try to put things right and a 2nd Round FA Trophy trip to Southern League Premier side Histon on 15th November was a great way to get back on track. Cray produced their best performance of the season so far with goals from Welford and Hill helping the Wands to an excellent 2-0 win with a much more disciplined and composed performance which belied their lowly league position. They carried that form on to their next league match up at AFC Sudbury on the 22nd November on a difficult pitch and led at half time despite injuries to Humphrey and Hill and but for an excellent performance from the home keeper prevented the Wands from going further ahead before two late goals gave the home side a 2-1 win. The following Tuesday Cray exited the Kent Senior Trophy after a very poor game at home to Ramsgate where an early goal for the visitors saw them through.

Saturday 29th November saw Cray face their biggest cup tie for some time as they attempted to reach the 1st Round proper of the FA Trophy for the first time with a trip to Southern League Premier side Weymouth. The Wands and their management and supporters travelled down to Dorset via a stop off for breakfast more in hope than expectation. However Cray put in a tremendously hard working performance with Fitzgerald, Fakinos, Phillips and Stone outstanding and the Cray support went delirious in the 15th minute when Stone put Cray in front to silence the home crowd. Cray came close to scoring again before Weymouth levelled on the half hour. Weymouth took the lead following a rather soft penalty award before settling the tie late on but Cray played very well and came back home with their heads held high and were a credit to the club, the fans and the Ryman North. Cray had only played two league matches in November so remained 23rd with 14 points from 20 games.

December began with a London Senior Cup tie at a freezing cold Wingate & Finchley where the game finished 2-2 but the home side advanced following a penalty shoot-out. This defeat marked the end of Cray’s cup involvement for the season and could now concentrate on building some good league form with 3 home games before Christmas. On December 6th a Laurent Hamici penalty earned Cray a point at Barkingside after once again going behind early on. Shortly after Alex Stavrinou returned to the club. The first of three successive home games took place on Sunday 14th December as Hamici put Cray in front but Ware levelled early in the second half. Cray had a great chance to take all three points with a stoppage time penalty award but Hamici’s spot kick was saved and the game finished 1-1. The following Tuesday saw Cray entertain Dereham Town where twice Cray came from behind to level at 2-2 but another stoppage time winner for Dereham sent Cray to defeat.

Following the Dereham loss Mike Paye resigned as joint-manager with Gary Abbott promoted to first team manager. Mike has remained part of the Cray Community project and the bid to get Cray a new home at Flamingo Park. Much like Keith before him Mike did his very best at Cray to try and succeed and is a regular visitor to Hayes Lane in his capacity as Director and is very much a part of Cray’s future off the pitch.

Gary Abbott’s first game in charge was a difficult one at home to second placed Harlow Town on Sunday 21st December. The game started badly for Cray going 2-0 down early on but a spirited comeback led by goals from Larin and substitute Welford helped Cray draw the game 2-2 and came close to winning late on.

Our final game of a tumultuous 2014 came on 27th December with a Kent derby at Chatham Town. A rather flat and disjointed performance saw Cray go down 1-0 and with the scheduled game against Thamesmead Town on December 30th postponed the standings at the end of the year saw Cray still in 23rd place with a record of P. 25 W. 3 D. 8 L. 14 F. 34 A. 55 Points 17.

This left Cray eight points behind Redbridge in 21st place and at this stage needing an escape plan to avoid a second straight relegation.

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