Cray Wanderers went down to only their second league defeat of the season as the Isthmian South-East leaders were edged out by fourth placed Hastings United in a five goal thriller at a gusty Pilot Field. 

The Wands continue to lead the division by 13 points as the four teams in the playoff positions, Horsham, Ashford United, Hastings United and Haywards Heath Town all won to narrow the gap.

The Wands got off to an electric start to the game and were two nil up in just six minutes.  Firstly, Archie Johnson gave Cray the lead in the 3rd minute when he followed up to score after a Bradley Pritchard effort was blocked by keeper Louis Rogers.  The three minutes later, Johnson turned provider as his left win cross was clipped into the path of Joe Taylor off a defender and turned the ball in from three yards.  Hastings though produced a comeback and on 9 minutes Sam Cruttwell reduced the arrears with a stunning strike from 30 yards and then on 24 minutes drew level when Davide Rodari turned in Jordy Mongoy’s cross. Hastings had the better of the second half and took the lead on 56 minutes when Jack Dixon let fly with a crashing shot which flew into the top left hand corner and turned out to be the winner. 

The tone was set for a dramatic first 25 minutes as Cray came out of the traps quickly and went in front after three minutes when Junior Dadson’s right wing cross found Bradley Pritchard whose close range shot was blocked by keeper Louis Rogers but with a loose ball Archie Johnson was on hand to pounce and turned the ball into the net to get Cray off to a cracking start.  

In the sixth minute it got even better for Cray when from a free kick down the left, Karl Dent played a quick pass forward to Johnson who strode into the area and his ball across was flicked off Gary Elphick into the path of Joe Taylor who from three yards tapped in to make it 2-0.

Hastings though pulled a goal back in the 9th minute and it was a tremendous strike as Sam Cruttwell picked up a cross field pass from Lanre Azeez and from possibly over 30 yards let fly with a swerving shot which gave Nick Blue no chance and flew into the top right hand corner.

Chances came at both ends as Taylor put a close range shot wide and then saw an effort cleared off the line by Sam Beale while Hastings threatened through Lanre Azeez whose cutback was clearrd off the Jay Leader and Davide Rodari just couldn’t get a touch to an Azeez cross.

That was a temporary let off for Cray as on 24 minutes Hastings tied the game when Azeez found Jordy Mongoy down the right and from his ball across Rodari was on hand to turn the ball into the net to make it 2-2.

Cray had the first half opening of the second half when from a corner down the right, Dent’s ball into the box was cleared out by Elphick to Dadson who shot over from the edge of the area.

The Wands had a bit of a let off when Rodari and Adams combined to put Mongoy through his goalbound effort must have just clipped the foot of Blue and the ball went just wide of the left post.

Ten minutes into the second half, Cray almost went back in front when Blue’s goal kick the ball came to Taylor who held the ball up against two defenders and into the area saw his effort blocked by Rogers and the ball was cleared.

This proved to be a key moment as a minute later Hastings went up the other end and on 56 minutes took the lead with a goal out of nothing when Dixon picked the ball up 25 yards from goal down the right and he cut inside to shoot and his effort was perfectly placed and beat the outstretched hand of Blue to hit the top left corner.

Despite a lot of endeavour Cray couldn’t quite grab a leveller and it was Hastings who almost scored again when Adams cracked a shot against the crossbar and then Youssouf Bamba fired over the top.

Despite the defeat Cray have still plenty to be proud of for their part they played in this match and for the season so far as a whole.  To go this into the season with just two defeats out of 29 matches in March is quite a feat and there are still seven matches to go and plenty to look forward to including next Saturday’s home game with fifth placed Haywards Heath Town.

Cray Wanderers: Nick Blue, Ben Mundele, Tom Carlse, Jay Leader, Mitchell Nelson (Capt.), Bradley Pritchard (Sean Roberts, 30) Tom Phipp, Karl Dent (Freddie Parker, 65), Joe Taylor, Junior Dadson, Archie Johnson (Jerome Federico, 76): Subs: Lee Lewis, Donnell Anderson

Att: 491