Cray Wanderers hopes of promotion to the Isthmian Premier were dashed as Walton Casuals won a thrilling playoff encounter at Hayes Lane against a ten man Cray side to advance to a playoff final at Corinthian Casuals on Saturday.

The two teams had played as recently as 21st April and Walton won 5-2 that afternoon. Walton had to win their last three games to guarantee a playoff place but only finished three points behind Cray Wanderers in third place.   

On an evening of almost incessant attacking football the game was also laden with drama.  In front of a crowd just shy of 450 Cray were caught cold as early as the third minute from the first corner kick of the game.  From the right, Harry Mills cross was a good one to the near post and was powered home unmarked by Joe Hicks into the bottom right corner to give Casuals the perfect start.

The Wands were extremely unlucky not to level after ten minutes when from a free kick out on the left, Michael Freiter’s driven effort came back off the left post with keeper Denzel Gerrar beaten and the ball came to Charlie MacDonald who turned and cracked a shot against the crossbar.

Cray were just hanging in the game but things got more difficult for them when Zak Henry who was booked in the 26th minute six minutes later was booked again for a slightly mistimed tackle on Harry Mills 30 yards from the Walton goal and the Wands were down to ten men for the last hour of the contest.

However Cray stuck at it and in the 38th minute drew level.  From a free kick out on the right Freiter’s ball into the six yard box was difficult to defend against and Aaron Rhule reacted quickest to prod the ball into the net to make it 1-1 and game on once again.

Incredibly four minutes later Cray turned the game completely on its head as the ten men took the lead with a super goal when Barney Williams found Rhule down the left and his ball across missed the onrushing MacDonald but instead at the far post came to Brandon Scott who fired home emphatically to make it 2-1 to Tony Russell’s side at half time.

Walton though made two half time changes and played a very clever game in the second half with the man advantage.  They were starting to threaten with regularity and an excellent cross from Youssef Bamba down the right to the far post was met on the full by Richardson-Brown who headed against the left upright and Cray appeared to have had a let off.

However In the 56th minute, Walton levelled with a tremendous goal fit to win any game when Dominic Ogun’s left wing cross looked to have gone out of play.  Instead it was picked up by Bamba who played the ball infield to substitute Daryl Coleman who exchanged a pass from Alex Kelly to pick the ball up around 25 yards from goal and hit an unstoppable shot which arrowed into the top left hand corner of the net.

Walton were now on top and twenty minutes into the second half took the lead with another fine goal and from another substitution.  Stuart Baldwin entered the fray in the 64th minute and with sixty seconds made an immediate impact.  The ball was carefully worked down the left and from the edge of the area Baldwin hit a hard low strike which gave Blue no chance and made it 3-2 to Walton and deflated the Wands balloon.

Cray had moments when they could have scored notably when Michael Power and Junior Dadson tested Gerrar with shots.

Walton had opportunities to put the game to bed and Alex Kelly prodded wide of an open goal and then Nick Blue made some fine saves especially to deny Josh Kelly’s snap shot from ten yards and Jack Sammoutis.

Cray thought they may have made it 3-3 when Michael Power hit a curler from outside the area but the referee had seconds earlier called the play back for a free kick to Cray.

This was a key moment as five minutes from time Walton scored a fourth when the ball was worked down the right and Josh Kelly got past Jay Leader and ran on towards goal, took the ball round Blue and squeezed the ball in from a tightish angle.

There was still time in the last minute for Walton to score again when Sammoutis cut inside down the right and finished impressively to win the game.  Sammoutis then hit the post again but the scoring was completed and Cray’s hopes of playing in the Isthmian Premier for the second time came to an end.  Cray will now take their place in the new Isthmian South and East Division in 2018/19 whilst Walton travel to Surrey rivals Corinthian Casuals on Saturday for the right to join Carshalton Athletic and Lewes in the Premier Division next season.

Cray had had an excellent season finishing third place with 89 points and scored 112 goals but on this night it was Walton who took the honours.

Cray Wanderers: Nick Blue, Ben Mundele, Barney Williams, Jay Leader, Marcus Evans (Michael Power, 75), Lea Dawson (Capt.), Zak Henry, Michael Freiter, Charlie MacDonald, Aaron Rhule (Kyron Farrell, 50), Brandon Scott (Junior Dadson, 50):  Subs: Karl Dent, Craig Holloway

Att:  446