Hastings United 3-2 Cray Wanderers
Hastings United 3-2 Cray Wanderers

Cray Wanderers went down to only their second league defeat of the season as the Bostik South-East leaders were edged out by fourth placed Hastings United in a five goal thriller at a gusty Pilot Field. 

The Wands continue to lead the division by 13 points as the four teams in the playoff positions, Horsham, Ashford United, Hastings United and Haywards Heath Town all won to narrow the gap.

The Wands got off to an electric start to the game and were two nil up in just six minutes.  Firstly, Archie Johnson gave Cray the lead in the 3rd minute when he followed up to score after a Bradley Pritchard effort was blocked by keeper Louis Rogers.  The three minutes later, Johnson turned provider as his left win cross was clipped into the path of Joe Taylor off a defender and turned the ball in from three yards.

Hastings though produced a comeback and on 9 minutes Sam Cruttwell reduced the arrears with a stunning strike from 30 yards and then on 24 minutes drew level when Davide Rodari turned in Jordy Mongoy’s cross.  There were chances at both ends but in the second half, Hastings had the better chances and scored another cracker when Jack Dixon let fly with a crashing shot which flew into the top left hand corner.  Despite Cray’s endeavours they couldn’t produce a leveller and Hastings held out for the win.

Cray had moved 16 points clear at the top last Saturday with a 2-0 win against Horsham and from the side which won that game there were a couple of changes.  In to the side for his first start for the club came Tom Carlse for Jerome Federico while Tom Phipp returned after missing the Horsham game through injury in place of Sean Roberts.

It’s probably hard to remember as good a first 25 minutes of a game as this as the two sides showed their qualities with some great attacking play despite the very windy conditions.

Cray came out of the traps quickly and went in front after three minutes.  Ben Mundele moved forward and played the ball out to Junior Dadson down the right and his ball towards the near post found Bradley Pritchard whose close range shot was blocked by keeper Louis Rogers but with a loose ball Archie Johnson was on hand to pounce and turned the ball into the net to get Cray off to a cracking start.

In the sixth minute it got even better for Cray when from a free kick down the left, Karl Dent played a quick pass forward to Johnson who strode into the area and his ball across was flicked off Gary Elphick into the path of Joe Taylor who from three yards tapped in to make it 2-0.

Hastings though pulled a goal back in the 9th minute and it was a tremendous strike as Sam Cruttwell picked up a cross field pass from Lanre Azeez and from possibly over 30 yards let fly with a swerving shot which gave Nick Blue no chance and flew into the top right hand corner.

Moments later Cray almost scored a third goal when again Dadson down the right played a ball across to Taylor who nudged the ball just past the left post.

The game was now going from end to end and for Hastings, Azeez’s cutback from the right was cleared off the line by Jay Leader and came out to Jack Dixon who shot wide.  Then Sam Adams hit a shot from 20 yards which was held by Blue. 

Again, Cray came close to a third goal when Johnson down the left put another good ball across to the far post where Taylor got a touch and the ball was blocked and cleared off the line by Sam Beale.

For Hastings from a free kick out on the right, Azeez’s ball towards the far post was turned wide by Davide Rodari.

That was a temporary let off for Cray as on 24 minutes Hastings tied the game when Azeez found Jordy Mongoy down the right and from his ball across Rodari was on hand to turn the ball into the net to make it 2-2.

Cray had to make a change when Pritchard had to go off after a knock and Sean Roberts came on the half hour.

The game then took something of a breather but still Hastings looked strong going forward and from a free kick on the edge of the area, Cruttwell’s shot was deflected behind for a corner.  From the corner the ball came to Dixon who hooked a volley over the top.

The nearest Cray came before half time was from a free kick, Dent found Mundele and his ball into the box was met by the head of Taylor and was tipped over well by Rogers but the flag was up for offside and a goal wouldn’t have counted.

After a pulsating first half the game went into the interval all square and the fans could take a breather.

Half Time: 2-2

The second half perhaps lacked the early first half zip and verve but was still an engaging contest with lots of quality on show.

Cray had the first half opening of the second half when from a corner down the right, Dent’s ball into the box was cleared out by Elphick to Dadson who shot over from the edge of the area.

The Wands had a bit of a let off when Rodari and Adams combined to put Mongoy through as Blue came out to meet him and his goalbound effort must have just clipped the foot of Blue and the ball went just wide of the left post.

Tem minutes into the second half, Cray almost went back in front when Blue’s goal kick the ball came to Taylor who held the ball up against two defenders and into the area saw his effort blocked by Rogers and the ball was cleared.

This proved to be a key moment as a minute later Hastings went up the other end and on 56 minutes took the lead with a goal out of nothing when Dixon picked the ball up 25 yards from goal down the right and he cut inside to shoot and his effort was perfectly placed and beat the outstretched hand of Blue to hit the top left corner.

From here Hastings were able to contain Cray’s attacks and were well marshalled at the back and looked a threat on the counter.

The home side almost scored a fourth when Azeez found Adams again from distance down the right who cracked in a shot which came off the angle of post and crossbar.

Cray kept on going but Hastings came close to scoring again when substitute Youssouf Bamba who made such an impact while playing for Walton Casuals against Cray last season broke away down the left and with pace and charged into the area but fired over the crossbar.

The Wands pressed for a leveller and came closest in the last minute when Dadson’s ball from the left was cleared out by Jamie Fielding to Jerome Federico down the right who played the ball to Mundele and then to Tom Phipp whose ball towards the penalty area was met by a glancing header from Taylor but Rogers dived down to save.

After five minutes of injury time, Hastings United held out for a win they just about deserved on the run of play in the second half and Cray’s lead at the top was trimmed to 13 points and 15 from Hastings United who are jockeying for playoff positions with Horsham, Ashford United and Haywards Heath.

Despite the defeat Cray have still plenty to be proud of for their part they played in this match and for the season so far as a whole.  To go this into the season with just two defeats out of 29 matches in March is quite a feat and there are still seven matches to go and plenty to look forward to.

Next Saturday sees another big match against a playoff contender with in-form Haywards Heath Town visiting Cray Wanderers for the first time.

Cray Wanderers: Nick Blue, Ben Mundele, Tom Carlse, Jay Leader, Mitchell Nelson (Capt.), Bradley Pritchard (Sean Roberts, 30) Tom Phipp, Karl Dent (Freddie Parker, 65), Joe Taylor, Junior Dadson, Archie Johnson (Jerome Federico, 76): Subs: Lee Lewis, Donnell Anderson

Booked:          Carlse, Phipp, Nelson          

Hastings United: Louis Rogers, Jamie Fielding (Jahmal Howlett-Mundle, 82), Sam Beale, Adam Lovatt, Gary Elphick, Sam Cruttwell, Sam Adams (Capt.), Jack Dixon, Davide Rodari (Youssouf Bamba, 68), Jordy Mongoy (Antonio Walker-Barth, 89), Lanre Azeez: Subs: Oliver Black, Charlie Horlock 

Booked:          Adams. Lovatt, Cruttwell     


Referee:          Aji Ajibola

Assistants:      Ciaran Fidler, Will Briers     

Att:      491