Cray Wanderers final match of 2019 ended in defeat as Leatherhead won a close, hard-fought encounter with the winner coming four minutes after half-time and made it three games without a win for a rather depleted Wands side. 

The match pitted two sides with playoff ambitions and Leatherhead came into the game with just one defeat in nine and while Cray had lost their previous two games in Sussex at Bognor Regis Town and Worthing in the Isthmian League Cup. The game had the look of one where maybe one goal would win it and Leatherhead took the lead on 49 minutes when Travis Gregory’s left wing cross into the area was turned at the far post by Callum Driver and proved to be the winner. 

Cray began the game with players out at the back with Barney Williams, Tom Carlse and Mitchell Nelson both missing through injury or illness and injuries have played a big part in the Wands season to date. 

Leatherhead began the game looking like a side in form and could have scored three times in the opening quarter of an hour.  The first opening came when Crossley Lema and Charlie Hester-Cook combined to find Travis Gregory down the left and he set up Izzuna Ikebausi who drove a shot just wide from the edge of the area.

Cray were then ndebted to some fine goalkeeping from Lewis Carey.  Firstly, following a blocked effort from Finlay MacNab, Gregory set up Hester-Cook whose shot was goalbound but was excellently turned round the right post by Carey.  Then shortly after, the lively Ibrahim Olutade worked his way down the right of the area and looked to squeeze home a near post shot but Carey did well to parry the ball away and the ball fell to Hester-Cook whose shot was deflected behind for a corner. 

Despite their early dominance Leatherhead didn’t score and Cray worked their way into the game and came close to taking the lead when following a throw in down the right, Joel Rollinson found Karl Dent whose ball into the box was helped on by Joe Taylor and Bradley Pritchard arriving into the box shot just over from 9 yards.

Then Cray came close again when Federico’s right wing cross went out to the left to Taylor who played an excellent ball into the six yard box which the onrushing Charlie Allen just couldn’t get a touch to divert the ball into the net and the ball went wide.

The game was now more of an even affair and for the visitors MacNab found Olutade whose effort was blocked and at the other end Taylor set up Rollinson who fired a shot over the bar.

The last chance of the first half fell to Leatherhead when down the right Gregory again found space and his near post shot was blocked by a combination of Leader and Okonkwo for a corner.

The game was looking like one where the first goal would be crucial and possibly decisive.  The breakthrough came in the 49th minute as Leatherhead went in front.  From a throw in down the left from Lema, the ball came to Gregory and his inswinging ball into the box towards the far post was turned in from around 5 yards by Callum Driver.

This fired Cray up for a strong and positive finish to the game.  From a free kick, Pritchard’s ball towards Rollinson ended with his shot being pushed behind by keeper Zaki Oualah for a corner.  Then Dent found Mundele whose shot was blocked by the Leatherhead skipper Will Salmon.

At the other end a durable and resolute Leatherhead looked to double their lead and right-back Driver hit a half volley from 25 yards which cleared the crossbar.  Then a cross from Ikebausi from the right was deflected off Okonkwo for Olutade whose shot was pushed out by Carey.

Perhaps the clearest chance for Cray came when Tom Murphy found Allen and his ball into the box was met by Rollinson but his shot came back off the left post from 12 yards out. 

Cray though kept plugging away and were unlucky not to grab a point from the game when Mundele played a good ball through to Murphy down the right of the area and his shot was saved by the legs of Oualah and from the rebound Taylor rolled the ball agonisingly wide of the left post. 

The Wands kept going right up to the end and were rather unfortunate in the end not to take a point from the game.  The Wands go down one place in the table to 7th on 34 points and are three points ahead of 10th placed Leatherhead.         

Cray are next in action on News Year Day with a trip to Margate with a 3pm ko at Hartsdown Road.

Cray Wanderers:  Lewis Carey, Ben Mundele, Lee Lewis, Jay Leader, Geofrey Okonkwo, Charlie Allen, Bradley Pritchard (Capt.), Karl Dent, Jerome Federico (Tom Murphy, 55), Joel Rollinson, Joe Taylor: Subs: Tom Phipp, Chris Al Hassan, Emmanuel Oduguwa, Grant Hall

Att: 188