Cray Wanderers FA Trophy hopes for the season came to an end as National South Leaders St Albans City proved just too strong on the night despite a gutsy effort from a Wands side reduced to ten men just before half time and three second half goals won the tie for the Saints.

Cray were looking to build on the momentum of last Tuesday’s win at Uxbridge which was Cray’s first game back after lockdown whereas St Albans have been playing a pretty full schedule and went top of the National South on Saturday and are unbeaten in the league.

The Wands began the game confidently, stroking the ball around and Tony Russell’s side showed their attacking intentions when Rhys Murrell-Williamson found Kyron Richards who sent over a cross to the far post towards Joe Taylor who saw his effort blocked behind for an early corner.  Then a good passing move ended with Taylor and Freddie Parker combining to set up Jason Banton whose shot was fielded by keeper Michael Johnson.  This was followed by Banton shooting narrowly wide of goal.

St Albans though after a quiet opening began to threaten after the first ten minutes and a free kick out on the right from Luke Warner-Eley was headed over by Mitchell Weiss.  Then down the left, Zane Banton played the ball into Shaun Jeffers in the area and laid the ball to Weiss who was denied by a smart block from Lewis Carey, one of several fine stops in the game. Cray perhaps had their first real alarm when Weiss found Zane Banton whose shot from just inside the area crashed back off the crossbar and put behind by Mitchell Nelson for a corner.

The game then went through a quiet and even spell before Munashe Sundire cut inside from the right and fired a shot over the bar.  Then Cray were indebted again to Carey who made a smart stop to from Warner-Ely’s long range effort and then did well to push out a Weiss shot.  Then Carey made perhaps his best save of the night when Banton’s volleyed cross was met by Jeffers’ flicked header and tipped brilliantly over the bar.

The key moment of the half came in the 44th minute when a terrific pass from James Kolaczi sought out Weiss who just outside the area was adjudged to have been brought down by substitute Lee Lewis who was shown a straight red card when there didn’t seem to be a lot of contact to leave Cray with ten men.  From the resultant free kick, Banton’s fierce shot cannoned back off the bar and Sundire’s follow up shot was held by Carey.

Then Cray against the run of play bounced back off the ropes and out of nothing Taylor just outside the area down the left hooked a shot goalwards but was denied by a good save from the chest of Johnson which was the last chance of a lively if scoreless half.

It was always going to be a tough ask for Cray with a man less to keep going for another 45 minutes and St Albans carried on where they left off at half time and came close two minutes after the break when Banton down the left of the area saw his shot deflected past the right post by the fingers of Carey.

However, in the 49th minute the deadlock was broken when Kaloczi played a fine ball out to the right to Wiltshire who cut inside and from just outside the area fired low past Carey into the bottom left.

Another goal was looking likely and came in the 61st minute when slick passing down the left saw Warner-Eley set up Banton for a smart strike into the bottom right for a goal his performance deserved.

Cray now had to work very hard and continued to graft exceptionally but the home side continued to come close and from a free kick out on the right, Warner-Eley’s swung the ball towards the far post and Carey did well to push the ball over.

Warner-Eley then saw a rasping shot from distance held by Carey and then down the left, Banton’s cross into the box was somehow spooned over the bar from close range by Sundire.

As the game entered the latter stages, Parker fired wide of goal for Cray from a free kick and then neat play down the left between Murrell-Williamson and Taylor set up Jerome Federico and his effort was well blocked by Michael Clark.

The game was finally up for Cray in the 86th minute with a third goal for the hosts and possibly the best of the night as the excellent Solomon Nwabuokei sent a tremendous pass out to Stanley down the right and his whipped in cross to the far post was turned in by Weiss.

Cray though kept going and certainly nothing to be ashamed of in the performance against a side that will surely be there or thereabouts at the top of the National South this season and on this occasion just had too much especially in the second half where, St Albans looked that bit sharper with continuous games whereas Cray’s season and flow has been staccato through no fault of their own.

What happens now in regards of the next match remains to be seen with the Tier 3 restrictions coming ia re-start date from the Isthmian League is awaited but when it does resume, Cray still have much to look forward to but is just a question of when. 

Cray Wanderers:     Lewis Carey, Kyron Richards, Mitchell Nelson, Tom Phipp, Tom Carlse (Barney Williams, 39), Rhys Murrell-Williamson, Charlie Allen (Lee Lewis, 33), Bradley Pritchard, Jason Banton (Jerome Federico, 64), Freddie Parker, Joe Taylor:  Subs: Karl Dent, Martin Onoabagbe, Emmanuel Oduguwa, Roman Hall

Attendance: 174