Cray Wanderers moved up into 5th place and into the playoffs after a hard fought victory against Lewes which kept up the Wands unbeaten start to 2020 in Tony Russell’s 200th Isthmian League game as Cray Wanderers manager. 

Cray got off to a good start and were very impressive for the first half hour and went two nil up through a Karl Dent goal after 11 minutes finishing clinically after getting on the end of a great pass from Mitchell Nelson.  Then on the half hour, Cray went two nil up when a Dent corner was cleared out as far as Jay Leader who rifled home a shot through a ruck of players.

Lewes though played well and pulled a goal back seven minutes before half time when Charlie Coppola clipped home a tremendous left-wing cross-shot to reduce the arrears. 

Cray started the game in 6th place and in good heart after a good week where a win at Bowers & Pitsea was followed by a deserved 1-1 draw with Hornchurch on Wednesday night.  

On a bright sunny but rather chilly afternoon, the tone was set for a good end to end game right from the start with both teams passing the ball well.  It was Cray who did shade the opening stages and had the first goal attempts when down the right Federico found in-form Ben Mundele who fired a shot over the bar from 20 yards in the 7th minute.

Shortly, after Cray almost took the lead after an audacious piece of opportunism from Phipp who from nearly 35 yards out on the right attempted a chip over Nathan Stroomberg-Clarke who he spotted off his line and only just drifted over the top of the crossbar.

In the 11th minute Cray made the breakthrough when a quite superb pass out from the back from Mitchell Nelson which was latched onto by Karl Dent on the edge of the area and as Stroomberg-Clarke came to meet him, turned the ball past the keeper and rolled the ball into the net for an exquisite finish.

Lewes though looked to come back into it and after Billy Medlock was fouled just outside the area by Barney Williams, he stepped up to take the free kick and his shot was turned aside by Lewis Carey and the return ball across from the left to the far post just couldn’t be turned in by Thomas Day.  Then the Rooks came close when after a fine passing move, Day and Medlock combined to put Dayshonne Golding away down the right and his ball across was turned wide of goal from the edge of the area by Jordy Mongoy.

Cray though were still playing well and almost scored when from 25 yards out, Rhys Murrell-Williamson’s well hit free kick was pushed onto the crossbar by Stroomberg-Clarke and as the ball bounced away from Joe Taylor, Stacey Freeman had to head the ball away.

In the 28th minute, Cray came close to making it two nil when Jay Leader’s fine ball forward was helped on by Taylor onto Charlie Allen breaking into the box and his goalbound effort was turned around the right post superbly by Stroomberg-Clarke.  From the corner, Dent’s cross to the back to post to Taylor who was surrounded by players but managed to squeeze a shot towards goal which was deflected behind for another corner.

From the right wing corner, on 30 minutes Dent’s cross was headed out by Freeman to Leader who from the edge of the area returned a first time volley which through a crowd of players went into the bottom right corner.

Lewes though despite being two down never looked out of the contest and Golding in a goalmouth scramble tried to place a shot towards goal which was blocked at the near post and Carey was able to save.

Then in the 38th minute, Lewes pulled a goal back with a goal out of nothing when the ball was switched out on the left was glanced by Mongoy onto Coppola who from the left of the penalty area hoisted a tremendous cross-shot towards goal which flew past Carey and made it 2-1.

Then Cray came close to making it 3-1 when Leader made a run forward and set up Murrell-Williamson inside the area who turned and then his shot was pushed out by Stroomberg-Clarke and Taylor following up saw his effort blocked.  Then just before the break, Phipp down the right disguised a shot by passing the ball through to the impressive Allen who inside the box was met by Stroomberg-Clarke who did well to get to the ball first to clear away.

The second half carried on in the same vein with Cray almost scoring just after the restart when Federico down the right found Taylor inside the area and his cross-shot was pushed aside by Stroomberg-Clarke but no-one could follow up.  Then for Lewes, down the right, Golding found space to cut into the box and his shot was deflected behind for a corner.

Lewes had a fair amount of the ball but Cray were defending well and still looked positive going forward and Murrell-Williamson made a good run forward down the right and his ball across was headed over the bar by Taylor.

This was followed by another good move with another fine Nelson pass out to Federico down the left and he found Dent who cushioned a pass to Murrell-Williamson whose well hit shot clipped the crossbar and went over.  Lewes were seeking a leveller and a ball into the box was met by Coppola who turned and fired a shot just past the left post.  .

Cray almost put the game to bed when Lewis Carey’s pass out to Taylor was flicked out to Federico who made a run down the left and swept the ball across to Taylor who hooked a shot over.

Then for Lewes another run by the lively Coppola into the area ended with a shot which was well turned aside by Carey.  At the other, end Dent and Allen combined to set up Federico who shot wide form 25 yards.  Then in a draining finale, for Lewes, Medlock cut in from the left and his curling shot was claimed well by Carey.  From a free kick, Kayne Diedrick-Roberts played a pass to Coppola whose well struck shot was blocked for a corner.  Then from another Lewes attack, Leon Redwood blasted a shot wide from distance wide of the right post.

Cray were able after four minutes of injury time and despite some good pressure from Lewes to hold on and get the win which keeps up a nice little 5 game unbeaten run in 2020. The win moves Cray up into 5th on 45 points and 4 points behind 2nd placed Folkestone Invicta and next up is a tough trip to Enfield Town next Saturday, 3pm.

Cray Wanderers:  Lewis Carey, Ben Mundele, Barney Williams (Capt.), Jay Leader, Mitchell Nelson, Tom Phipp, Charlie Allen (Lee Lewis, 87), Karl Dent (Bradley Pritchard, 75), Jerome Federico (Joel Rollinson, 76), Rhys Murrell-Williamson, Joe Taylor: Subs:  Geofrey Okonkwo, Grant Hall

Att: 198