Cray Wanderers maintained a 13 point lead at the top of the Isthmian South East following a hard fought draw against fifth placed Haywards Heath Town at Hayes Lane as Cray twice quickly came from behind with two Joe Taylor goals to grab a well earned point. 

In the first ever meeting between the sides at Hayes Lane, a tight and tense first half caught fire before halftime when on 41 minutes Haywards Heath went in front when Karl Akehurst was on hand to follow up from close range when Melford Simpson’s header came back off the crossbar.  Two minutes later though Cray drew level when Taylor fired home from 6 yards.

Cray played well in the second half and Mitchell Nelson’s header came back off the angle of post and crossbar but it was the visitors who went back in front on 58 minutes when Callum Saunders headed in his 17th goal of the season from Alex Laing’s right wing cross.  Cray though once came back straight away as Ben Mundele’s shot was well saved by keeper Joshua Heyburn but Taylor was on hand to follow up the rebound and turned the ball over the line. 

Cray were looking to get back on track following the defeat at Hastings United last Saturday and Cray perhaps just edged a cagey start to the game.  After three minutes Junior Dadson tested Heyburn with a near post shot and it was mostly half chances until just before the half hour when Mundele played a fine ball through from midfield which found Taylor who broke through and into the area but Heyburn did well to come out and block with his legs and the ball was cleared.   Taylor then glanced a header wide from a Dadson left wing cross.

With five minutes to go till half time, the game burst into life when from a free kick 40 yards out Alex Laing attempted a speculative shot towards goal which forced Nick Blue to push the ball over the bar for a corner.  A minute later from the resultant corner down the left, Callum Saunders cross was met by the head of Melford Simpson who saw his header come back off the crossbar and following up Karl Akehurst was on hand to head home.

The lead though was only short lived as two minutes later Cray drew level.  From a free kick out on the right, Freddie Parker’s ball into the area was only half cleared and Sean Roberts dinked a ball back into the area which was helped on by Parker and volleyed into the net by Taylor from six yards out.

Cray began the second half well and Parker and Roberts sent efforts just over the bar and then from a corner Mitchell Nelson arched a header towards goal which hit the top of the crossbar.  Then Jerome Federico was unlucky to see his goalbound effort cleared off the line by a combination of Laing and Heyburn.

It was rather against the run of play when Haywards Heath retook the lead in the 58th minute.  Callum Saunders found Laing down the right and his ball into the area found Saunders who made a good run into the box and his header crept into the bottom right corner of the net.

Yet again though Cray showed their powers of recovery as two minutes later the Wands tied the game once again when Mundele hit a well struck shot from 20 yards which Heyburn did well to save but the predatory Taylor was on hand to follow up the save by turning the ball over the line from a couple of yards out and it was 2-2.

Both teams came close to winning the match with Dadson shooting just wide and Simpson hitting the side netting for the visitors.   For Cray, Taylor came close to scoring a hat-trick firstly when Nelson’s through ball but the striker away but shot just over the top.  Then Taylor saw a near post effort saved well by Heyburn as Cray piled on the pressure.

However it was Haywards Heath who almost snatched the three points when in the last minute Trevor McCreadie broke away down the left but pulled a shot wide of the right post and in the end the game finished in a draw.

With the teams in 2nd and 3rd at the start of play, Horsham and Ashford United drawing 0-0, Hastings United moved up to 2nd level on points with Horsham and 13 points behind Cray Wanderers.  The Wands next travel to in-form Whitstable Town next Saturday looking to keep up the pressure at the top.    

Cray Wanderers: Nick Blue, Ben Mundele, Tom Carlse, Jay Leader, Mitchell Nelson (Capt.), Tom Phipp, Sean Roberts, Freddie Parker (Karl Dent, 68), Joe Taylor, Junior Dadson, Jerome Federico (Jordan Clarke, 77): Subs: Archie Johnson, Lee Lewis, Joe Vines

Att: 318