Cray Wanderers hopes of reaching the National South for the first time came to an end but only after a dramatic evening of playoff football which saw the Wands come from 0-2 and 2-3 down to draw 3-3 at Hornchurch only to lose 4-2 after the gut wrenching tension of penalties 

This was Cray Wanderers first ever Isthmian Premier playoff game and the tension involved in these types of matches are nothing like that in league games and often the intention of not making that vital mistake which could be costly make these rather cagey affairs.

That was certainly the feel in the first half which seemed to fly by but perhaps with not a lot of quality football played. So what happened in the second half onwards was not expected.

Both teams started out positively, each winning a corner apiece in the first ten minutes and looked from the outset that chances might be at a premium.

Hornchurch, who finished the season in 2nd place made the breakthrough in the 14th minute when from a free kick down the left, Tom Wraight's ball into the area was flicked on by Liam Nash and Sam Higgins was on hand to turn in his 31st goal of the season from close range.  

Cray looked to get back into it and Tom Derry saw an effort blocked but from the break, the Urchins almost added a second when Joe Christou’s through ball found Ade Yusuff who shot wide of the right post.

The game became a bit stop-start but just before half time there were signs that Cray were beginning to make their mark and Dan Bassett and Tom Derry set up Nyren Clunis for a shot that was blocked.

Then, from a corner down the right, Sam Wood’s cross was helped on and cleared by Ricki Hayles but came out to Clunis who shot wide.

At the break though it was Hornchurch who went in ahead and the tension of the evening seemed set to increase.

The second half began with more enterprise and Higgins saw a driven cross shot down the left turned away by Shaun Rowley.

Cray looked to get things going in attack but fell two goals behind four minutes after the restart when keeper Joe Wright played the ball forward and fell to Nash who turned and hit a screamer of a shot from well outside the area which crashed into the left corner of the net.

The Wands now needed to throw everything forward for the rest of the game and after Yahaya Bamba came on for Dan Bassett, in the 58th minute Cray got back into the match.  From a corner down the right, Wood’s ball was met on the full by the excellent David Ijaha from 14 yards and flew into the bottom right corner of the net.

Now it was definitely game on and the shackles of the first half were abandoned as both sides sought to win the match.  Cray now had their tails up and won a couple of corners while at the other end Lewwis Spence shot over and Nash saw a shot saved by Rowley. 

Destiny Oladipo and Dajon Golding were brought on for Anthony Cook and Tom Derry with Hornchurch looking to take the sting out of the game but Cray to their credit kept plugging away and came very close when Bamba’s cross down the left was headed goalwards by Jalen Jones but was well gathered on his line by Wright.

The Wands persistence was rewarded in the final minute of the ninety when down the left, Golding’s ball across to the far post was excellent and Clunis was on hand to tidily tuck home a shot into the right corner of the net and take the game to extra-time.

Hornchurch opened the extra half hour with a third goal after just two minutes with Charlie Stimson setting up Higgins for another quality finish for his second of the match, shooting low past Rowley.

Cray kept showing their remarkable powers of recovery and almost levelled again when Clunis hit a cracking shot which Wright did well to get down to save.  Then shortly after Bamba down the left clipped the post with a near post shot.  Just before the break, Oladipo broke down the right but lofted a shot over.

It seemed that Hornchurch were beginning to sit back on their lead and three minutes after the start of the second half, Cray were back on level terms with another great strike when Harrison Sodje and Clunis combined to set up Wood who from 25 yards hit a superb shot which gave Wright no chance to save.

Both sides went for it but Hornchurch seemed to be tiring with maybe Cray just the fresher and Wood came close to a winner but fired a shot wide with a couple of minutes to go.  In the end, though, a titanic struggle ended 3-3 and would be decided by the lottery of a penalty shoot-out.

Taken at the club house end, Hornchurch took the first kick that was dispatched by Tom Wraight.  Freddie Carter made it 1-1 and then Jordan Clark made it 2-1 although Rowley came close to making a save.  The Wands second kick by Tanga was saved by Wright and Jamie Mascoll scored to make it 3-1 to Hornchurch.  Dajon Golding scored for Cray and were given a lifeline when Hayles skied a shot over the bar.  However, Harrison Sodje fired over the angle of post and bar and it was left to ex-Wand Chris Dickson to apply a cool finish to make it 4-2 and Cray’s promotion hopes came to an end but only after a remarkable performance on the night.

Hornchurch are a very good side full of experience and now face Aveley in Monday’s playoff final but were given a stern test by Neil Smith’s side who gave everything as they have all season and only just came up short.

The Wands can now build on the successes of this season and look to go again in August with confidence. 

Cray Wanderers: Shaun Rowley, Jephte Tanga, Jalen Jones, Freddie Carter, Harrison Sodje, Sam Wood, David Ijaha, Anthony Cook (Dajon Golding, 77), Nyren Clunis, Dan Bassett (Yahaya Bamba, 57), Tom Derry (Destiny Oladipo, 77):  Subs:  Rio Campbell, Marcus Sablier

Att: 710