Cray Wanderers continued their remarkable form in 2020 with victory against Brightlingsea Regent at Hayes Lane which moved the Wands up to 2nd in the Isthmian Premier table, their highest ever league position at this stage of a league season.

Cray who are unbeaten now in 12 matches struck in the 9th minute through Joe Taylor’s 32nd goal of the season from Ben Mundele’s cross and despite opportunities to add to the lead had to settle for the one goal which puts the Wands on 64 points, seven behind leaders Worthing with 9 matches to play.

On a thankfully cold-free afternoon, the traditional pre-game handshake and lineup had been suspended due to the Coronavirus on instructions from the league. 

The game started with Kem Izzet’s Brightlingsea side who are bottom of the table looking positive and had the first half-chance of the game in the 2nd minute when Jordan Barnett and Romario Dunne combined to set up Lewis Byrne-Hewitt down the left of the area and just pulled his shot across goal and wide.  Then, Byrne Hewitt won a corner down the left and his cross towards the far post was met by George Forrest and his header was cleared almost off the line and away by Joel Rollinson.

Cray though were beginning to click into gear and in the 8th minute came close when Jay Leader played a ball through to Lee Lewis and his disguised pass found Joe Taylor on the edge of the area and his shot came back off the right post possibly by the fingertips of Charlie Turner.

That was just a temporary reprieve for Regent as a minute later Cray were in front.  The ball was worked down the right and Bradley Pritchard played a pass through to Ben Mundele who close to the byline put in short cross which was cleverly sidefooted into the bottom left corner for his 26th league goal of the season and 32nd in all competitions.

A minute later it could have been two nil when Lewis was played through and was unlucky to see his shot blocked by Charlie Turner and behind for a corner.   From the corner the ball into the box towards the far post was headed goalwards by Jay Leader and came out to Tom Phipp whose shot was blocked on the line.

Shortly after Cray almost scored an excellent second goal when Tom Phipp’s superb ball out to the right found Rhys Murrell-Williamson who took on Jake Gould and then laid the ball back to Lewis who hit a shot from 20 yards was well saved by Turner who got one hand to push the ball out.  Brightlingsea were just hanging in the game at this stage but came close themselves to scoring when Byrne-Hewitt set up Barnett who turned and shot just wide of the right post. 

It was almost two-nil on the half hour when Phipp played a pass out to Mundele who from just inside his own half made a great run forward to the edge of the area and hit a fine shot which only just cleared the crossbar.  Then two minutes later Mundele combined with Taylor and Pritchard who set up Lewis who fired over the top from 20 yards.

The second half saw Cray playing some fine football and almost scored three minutes after the restart when Phipp and Murrell-Williamson combined to play a ball through to Taylor who confidently backheeled the ball to Pritchard who from the right edge of the area drove a shot into the side-net.  Then Pritchard became provider down the right setting up Phipp who drove a shot wide of the left post.

The Wands were presented with a free kick in a decent position 25 yards from goal and Murrell-Williamson curled an excellent effort but just cleared the angle of post and crossbar.

Cray were unlucky not to score when down the left Rollinson picked up a returned pass from Taylor just inside the area and his shot was met by a fine save from Turner pushing the ball round the right post.   From an excellent Pritchard right wing corner from the edge of the six yard box, Nelson rose above Pip Boyland to plant a header just over the bar.

The Wands couldn’t quite put the game to bed but nearly did when Pritchard’s magnificent ball from his own half put Murrell-Williamson through on goal and as Turner came out from the edge of the area pulled his shot just past the left post.

Cray were then denied by Turner once again when Tom Carlse who had a fine game found Taylor inside the area who cushioned the ball to Rollinson whose first time shot was brilliantly turned round the post for a corner.  

This was followed by another great run by Mundele who strode forward and his pass through beat the offside trap for Dent who ran on and looked to dink the ball over Turner as he came out who just got his hand to the ball and was cleared away for a throw-in.  Then Dent attempted a shot from just outside the area which was blocked by Boyland.

The unlucky Murrell-Williamson came close when he cut inside down the right and from just inside the area curled a shot just wide of the left post with Taylor looking to profit with a touch.  Cray were on top for the closing minutes and down the right, Mundele who had a great game for Cray found Jerome Federico and his cross was put behind by Boyland for a corner. From the corner, Dent’s cross was headed over by Nelson.

In the end Cray had done more than enough to win the game and with Hornchurch and Folkestone both drawing Tony Russell’s side moved up to 2nd and seven points behind Worthing with a game in hand.  Cray now have two consecutive away trips to Cheshunt on Saturday 14th March and Corinthian Casuals as this exciting season goes into the business end of the campaign.   

Cray Wanderers:  Lewis Carey, Ben Mundele, Tom Carlse, Jay Leader, Mitchell Nelson (Capt.), Tom Phipp, Lee Lewis (Karl Dent, 68), Bradley Pritchard, Rhys Murrell-Williamson, Joel Rollinson (Jerome Federico, 84), Joe Taylor:  Subs: Barney Williams, Charlie Allen, Geofrey Okonkwo

Attendance - 167