Cray Wanderers match report
Despite going down 0-2 in a competitive game at promotion-chasing Cray Wanderers, celebrations and relief in equal measures were still to be had as results elsewhere ensured that Kingstonian would finish above the relegation zone with one game to play.
When Simon Lane was appointed to the hot seat in February soon after a comfortable and absolutely deserved thrashing at the hands of Raynes Park Vale in the Surrey Senior Cup, the stated intention was to pick the club up by the proverbials and avoid what seemed to be an inevitable and lifeless relegation. Eight weeks after Simon's first match as Kingstonian manager, a respectable-for-us 0-1 defeat at home to Aveley, what seemed impossible proved to be eminently probable and the club can prepare for Premier Division football in the 2023-24 season.
With a six point lead over both Bowers & Pitsea and Herne Bay with two games remaining, the job was mostly done but things tend to happen to Kingstonian and so no chickens were made available to be counted. Alex Solomon, a former Leyton Orient junior with experience at Enfield Town signed just before the deadline in March, made his debut for the K's in the centre of defence.
As expected, Cray Wanderers went straight on to the front foot, as early as the second minute Rob Tolfrey was brought into action, making a fine save from a Jephte Tanga shot from the edge of the area. The Wands did not have to wait too long to take the lead, as in the 11th minute a corner from Anthony Cook on the Cray right wing was missed by everyone inside the six yard box, found an unmarked Harrison Sodje, who produced a fine finish with a surgical strike from an acute angle.
K's began to settle into the game after this setback, and were nearly on level terms in the 16th minute when a cross from Michael Abnett found Darnell Goather-Braithwaite, and his first time volley from close range was superbly saved by Wands goalkeeper Shaun Rowley. The Cray number one would later make another outstanding save from a rifle blast from a Lee Lewis free kick from just outside the penalty area. So the home side deservedly led at the half but K's were hanging in there,
Elsewhere, Herne Bay had been delayed by traffic on their way to Wingate and Finchley and were two goals down early in their game, whilst Bowers & Pitsea were a goal down to title contenders Hornchurch.
K's will be annoyed that Cray's second goal, in the 47th minute, also came from a corner from the Wands' right that wasn't dealt with, this time Jalen Jones forced Rob Tolfrey into a top class save at close range but the tall Cray defender reacted first and headed home the rebound.
Two minutes later the home side came close to scoring a third when a rocket from Dan Bassett was saved by Rob Tolfrey but too powerful to catch, Destiny Oladipo seized the rebound but was put off by some desperate defending, with the ball bouncing back to Bassett, who sliced his shot wide. On the hour, Cray hit the post with a fine turn and shot from former K's man Nyren Clunis before Darnell Goather-Braithwaite was once again foiled by Shaun Rowley after a fine strong run down the left followed by a shot at the near post.
The Wands did hit the post again with eleven minutes to go, but by now most hooped eyes were shifting to the interweb to see what was going on elsewhere. Soon after the final whistle went at Hayes Lane, the same thing had happened at the Hornchurch Stadium. The Urchins had won 2-0, relegating Bowers & Pitsea, though a Bishop's Stortford win ensured that Hornchurch would not be able to win the title. As the K's team waited on the pitch, it emerged that Herne Bay were 2-1 down with ten minutes to go, but when Wingate and Finchley extended their lead to 4-1, realisation dawned that K's were staying up. There were celebrations by some, tears of relief for others, well, one other (me).
Cray Wanderers will be very dangerous opponents if they reach the play-offs and they won't be afraid of anyone they play. A win for them on Saturday 22nd at Haringey Borough will do the business for them, As for K's, they face Hornchurch at Imperial Fields feeling no pressure whatsoever. That's a nice feeling.
Cray Wanderers: Shaun Rowley, Jephte Tanga, Sam Wood, Jalen Jones, Dan Bassett, Dajon Golding, Anthony Cook, Nyren Clunis, Destiny Oladipo, Harrison Sodje, Freddie Carter.
Subs: Tom Derry, Marcus Sablier (for Destiny Oladipo, 82m), Rio Campbell, David Ijaha (for Anthony Cook, 56m), Yahaya Bamba (for Dajon Golding, 71m),
Kingstonian: Rob Tolfrey, Lee Lewis, Hakeem Adelakun, Emmanuel Adebiyi, Matt Drage, Charlie Greenwood, Darnell Goather-Braithwaite, Michael Abnett, Tom Collins, Alex Solomon, Ibrahim Bangura.
Subs: Chike Kandi (for Tom Collins, 59m), Alex MacAllister, Keane Anderson, David Nyarko (for Michael Abnett, 59m), Sean Bonnett-Johnson (for Ibrahim Bangura, 71m).
Goal scorers: Harrison Sodje (11m, 1-0), Jalen Jones (47m, 2-0)