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Cray try but fail to stop the rot
Watching the first 45 minutes of Cray Wanderers home match against Maidstone United (Wednesday 11 September 2013) it was hard to understand why the Wands have won only once in their last nine games.
From the first whistle Cray took the game to United, fighting for every ball and passing with an assurance that has been missing from the team so far this season.
In the early exchanges Cray had two or three attempts at goal and had their finishing been a little more clinical could have been at least one up.
So it was very much against the run of play that they were hit with a sucker punch.
Maidstone’s Frannie Collin collected a clearance from his midfield and ran at the Cray defence. Cray’s Ben Frempah lunged at Collin but the weight of the tackle wasn’t sufficient to dislodge the ball from the Maidstone forward. His shot went past the despairing dive of Cray keeper Andy Walker and nestled into the corner of the net.
The large Maidstone United following, who made up a fair proportion of a crowd of 521, were ecstatic as their team, a promotion favourite, drew first blood on 12 minutes.
But it was to Cray’s credit that from the restart they took the game to Maidstone, not allowing them to settle.
Slowly the game settled into a pattern of Cray pressing and United hitting on the counter attack.
For all their pressure Cray couldn’t make their final pass count and all to often the ball was easily intercepted by a grateful Maidstone defence.
As the first half progressed Cray began to live a little dangerously at the back and, but for some fine positioning by Andy Walker, they could have been two down before the half hour.
But first-team manager Ian Jenkins instils a never-say-die attitude in his players and though previous defeats can hang heavy in a players mind these boys battled on.
And that perseverance nearly paid off on 28 minutes when Cray’s number nine, Leigh Bremner, collected a pass from midfield and beat the on rushing Maidstone keeper only to see his effort blocked on the line.
Cray were once again in their stride playing some good flowing football but again it was their final ball that let them down far to often at this level. And against a side of Maidstone’s quality you will get punished if you don’t keep possession.
Cray’s eagerness to win the ball back resulted in a yellow card Chris Saunders whose lunging tackle fell foul of the referee.
Still Cray pushed forward and saw another goal bound shot blocked which, on another day, could have found the back of the net.
Then on 35 minutes Cray were punished, against the run of play, when they gave the ball away once to often. The ball broke for Frannie Collin who bore down on the Cray goal. Cray’s defenders backed off and Collin took full advantage by rifling in a shot from the edge of the area.
There followed some concerted Maidstone pressure and it was only the head of Chris Sessegnon that stopped Maidstone adding to their tally before half-time.
Cray countered and Leigh Bremner could have added some respectability to the score but with only the keeper to beat he couldn’t find the touch to put it past him and into the net.
Maidstone then attacked Cray’s defence and it took an interception from Alex Stavrinou to break up that threat.
The referee blew for half-time with Cray wondering how they were trailing 2-0.
They started brightly in the second half but then came some sustained Maidstone pressure.
Aaron Day was adjudged to have fouled a Maidstone player half way into the Cray half. From the free kick Cray gave away a corner. As Maidstone pushed up the ball was won then lost by Cray. Maidstone’s Orlando Smith picked it up on the left wing and went on a jinky run evading several attempts to stop him. The ball ended up at the feet of Zac Attwood who lashed the ball home from 30 yards on 54 minutes.
The away supporters were having a field day but it was good to hear the Cray fans give as good as they got. The banter was certainly appreciated by those who sat in the main stand.
On 60 minutes Ian Jenkins decided to switch things around. Off came Chris Saunders and Jack Clark to be replaced by James Fray and Gary Cook.
Sadly the change didn’t have time to bed in before Maidstone United’s Frannie Collin latched onto a through ball and ran at the Cray defence before burying the ball in the back of the net. It was Maidstone’s fourth goal of the evening and it brought up Collin’s hat trick.
Frustration began to creep in to Cray’s forward line with Bremner penalised for a crunching tackle on a Maidstone defender. Words were exchanged between Bremner and another Maidstone defender with the referee stepping in to ensure it didn’t escalate. But that incident was the exception rather than the rule. Soon after another late challenge by Bremner saw his name go into the referee’s book and a yellow card was flourished.
It took another mazy run by Leigh Bremner to excite the home fans but his cross was safely gathered by Maidstone’s keeper. Bremner then shot wide after some good work by Cray’s Chris Sessegnon.
But that encouraged Cray to push on and after another penetrating run down the right by Sessegnon his cross was met by Tommy Whitnell who diverted the ball just wide of Maidstone’s far post.
Cray were again in the ascendancy but as they pressed forward it left them exposed at the back and Maidstone almost made them pay on a couple of occasions.
Maidstone changed their line up with two quick substitutions. Then it was Cray’s turn to bring on Tijani Eshliokun for Aaron Day. Unable to pronounce Tijani’s surname correctly the announcer raised a laugh when after an attempt to get it right he followed up with the words, “or something like that.” That was probably one of the few times all evening Cray fans were able to smile.
As the clock ticked towards full-time Walker had to make a fingertip save from Maidstone’s Paul Booth.
Further late pressure from Maidstone saw them win a couple of corners in quick succession and as the crowd were beginning to think about the journey home Maidstone’s Alex Fisher added salt to wound with his first and Maidstone’s fifth of the game. His rasping shot left Walker with no chance of saving it.
Leigh Bremner for Cray had one final attempt on the stroke of full-time but Maidstone’s keeper saved it at the foot of the post.
At the end of the game Cray’s manager, Ian Jenkins, tried to put a positive face on the final result.
He said: “If we had been more clinical with our finishing early on the game would have taken on a different complexion. As it is with our blend of youth and experience we are still finding our feet. Take nothing away from Maidstone they are a good side. But tonight I saw improvements in my team and if we continue to work hard in training and play with more consistency and finish clinically in front of goal we will turn the corner.”
All of Cray Wanderers loyal fans will say amen to that.
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