Saturday 12th August 2017, 1500 KO
Cray Wanderers FC vs Thamesmead Town FC
The new league season is now firmly underway, with the majority of leagues kicking off last weekend. However, today saw the first fixtures of the National Pyramid Level 7-8 divisions. And the Premier League, but no one’s really interested in that. I scoured the divisions to find a match that took my fancy, and with family commitments in Essex the next day, a chance to get out to Kent and watch a local derby between Cray Wanderers and Thamesmead Town jumped out at me.
Cray Wanderers – like their opposition today – have flitted between the North and South iterations of the Isthmian League system in recent seasons, indeed Thamesmead Town were transferred leagues this year after finishing 17th in Division One North last time out. Unfortunately, being on the cusp of the geographical divide means that large travelling times, and costs, are regular occurrences.
Anyway, with an hour’s parking on the M25 to look forward to, I put my camera in the boot of the car – instantly tripling the car’s value (and my camera isn’t that great…) and headed off to Bromley. Cray Wanderers are in the planning stages of a new ground in Chislehurst, but for now, play their matches at the home of their Vanarama National neighbours, Bromley. After my SatNav originally took me to the Sidcup Bowls Club, I eventually made it to Hayes Lane slightly later than planned, where Mark Hunt and the gentlemen on the turnstiles very kindly allowed me to skip the £10 ticket fee.
I will say at this point, there is something delightful about non-league turnstiles, I actually love them. However, I digress. Onto more important matters, and being based at a National League ground, there are good facilities available to The Wands. They certainly make the best of them, providing by far the best chips I’ve had at a football match (£5 with a sausage roll and Diet Coke) along with an award winningly thorough programme. Cray Wanderers went on to secure top marks for their pre-match environment, with the speakers playing The Wanderer by Dion & The Belmonts. I may well be the only sub-30 year old in the country who recognises that song, but it was appreciated nonetheless.
When the match kicked off there was one player immediately conspicuous by his absence from Tony Russell’s Cray team. Danny Haynes (the England U21 international, formerly of Ipswich & Bristol City amongst others and still only 29) is currently serving a suspension. Having scored 24 goals last season, his return cannot come soon enough for The Wands. The ball moved slickly on the newly installed 3G pitch, and Cray were certainly the more comfortable side on it. Some slick passing moves opened up Thamesmead, but it was the visitors who had the first good chance, Nick Blue having to get down well to deny Tashi-Jay Kwayie inside a minute.
This signalled a frenetic early pace, and it was only five more minutes before a goalmouth scramble in the Thamesmead area (as in goalmouth, not the general geographic area of Thamesmead) almost resulted in a goal for number 9, Luke Medley – scorer of five pre-season goals.
It wasn’t long before Medley was influential again. In fact, he would continue to cause Leon Smith and Scott Kinch problems all afternoon. His strength, good first touch and impressive hold up play made him a threat with back to goal throughout. And, on the 11th minute he drove into the box and squared for Karl Dent. Dent bustled past a challenge and rifled in the opener past Lewis Carey. One nil.
The first half quickly established a definite playing style for each team. The Wands were the more attractive team to watch, moving the ball out to the wings quickly and using the pace and trickery of Brandon Scott down the right and Timi Osibodu linking up with Luke Medley and Michael Freiter down the left. Thamesmead on the other hand identified early that Cray’s defence was susceptible to long balls over the top for Alex Teniola and Kwayie to chase.
And it was exactly that which got the Old Boys level on 16 minutes, when Kinch lofted a pass over Cray’s centre backs for Kwayie. The strikingly ginger centre forward took a touch and slipped underneath Nick Blue in the Cray goal. This would identify a theme, with Kinch distributing well all match.
Luke Medley continued to cause problems in the box, and good interplay with number 8 Karl Dent saw Medley have a shot blocked from 12 yards. Medley has the potential to be a very dangerous striker at this level, but a bit more awareness in the box and he could have set up a number of chances for his teammates.
Unfortunately, an injury forced Cray’s left back Timi Osibodu off after 39 minutes, with Ben Mundele replacing him. This was a real shame as Osibodu had looked a real threat up to that point. His attacking drive from full back was one of The Wands’ main outlets, and he had real pace and impetus in possession. As it was, that was one of the last actions of the half and the teams went in for the break level pegging.
The second half adopted a similar theme, with Cray hogging most of the possession, but always looking likely to “Arsenal themselves” at the back. After 51 minutes Michael Freiter, a re-signing from East Thurrock, pounced to put The Wands back in the lead. An excellent break by Ben Mundele from right back, and the ball was with Brandon Scott, who tied centre back Scott Kinch in enough knots to satisfy even the most ardent scout leader. Scott laid the ball inside and there was Freiter to slam the ball home.
Cray really should have extended their lead as Dent became more and more prominent. Dent had been the stand out player of the first half, and it was more noticeable as the game wore on. His class in possession and eye for a pass set Brandon Scott, Luke Medley and substitute Bradley Stevenson through numerous times, but a combination of manky finishing and good one on one keeping by Carey kept the score at 2-1.
I also want to point out my thanks to Karl Dent, who, along with Thamesmead’s Harvey Brand provided me with easily the most suggestive photo I’ve ever taken at a football match…
Another chance came and went as skipper Lea Dawson headed narrowly wide from a corner. A goal from Dawson would have capped a fine game from the captain, who mopped up danger in midfield, and moved possession on well.
The game’s most acrobatic moment occurred on 76 minutes, when Alex Teniola almost scored for Thamesmead against his former club with a lovely bicycle kick, which was well held by Blue in the Cray goal.
Thamesmead refused to give up as the game entered the dying embers, and despite Cray’s best efforts, they were rewarded with an equaliser in the 3rd minute of stoppage time. A corner was taken and, while I was nowhere near ready (I’m not impressed), it was flicked on and the impressive Kwayie rose well to head in off the crossbar. Kwayie, who started out at Tonbridge Angels, looks like a real prospect at only 19. He is quick, tall and finishes well – he’s surely destined for a higher league at some point.
I’d also like to highlight Thamesmead’s left back, Laurent Mendy, who was faced with two direct runners in Scott and Mundele. He was full of running and diligent throughout. A less confident and competent full back could have had a thoroughly miserable day.
So, 2-2 the final score, and Thamesmead will be the happier of the two teams. Cray Wanderers dominated, and you can’t help but feel that with Haynes in the team, they’d have made more of the chances created. A Man of the Match performance by Karl Dent deserved more than one point, but credit to the Thamesmead players for pressing right to the end. An enjoyable start to the season in front of 133 fans, and both Tommy Warrilow of Thamesmead, and Russell can take positives into the season.