Tony Rickson reports.
Sunday 23rd December 2018
Bostik League South East Division
Cray Wanderers (1) 2 (Pritchard 22, Mundele 73) Sittingbourne (0) 1 (Webber 87), Attendance: 259
Cray Wanderers: Nick Blue, Ben Mundele, Barney Williams, Jay Leader, Mitchell Nelson (Yellow card), Bradley Pritchard, Sean Roberts, Karl Dent (Zak Henry, 90+2 min), Joe Taylor, Junior Dadson (Archie Johnson,
29 min), Jerome Frederico (Aaron Rhule, 82 min). Subs not used: Freddie Parker, Marcus Evans.
Sittingbourne: Patrick Lee, Danny Devine, Chris Webber, Dan Parkinson (Yellow card), Lex Allan (Red card), Ben Fitchett, Gil Carvalho (Chimidi Otuadinma, 82 min), Lewis Chambers, David Smith (Bola Dawodu, 62 min), Tommie Fagg, Henry Woods (David Latunde, 73 min) . Sub not used: Rob Lofting.
OK, Cray Wanderers are a very decent team at this level and are runaway league leaders with a 10-point advantage. And they did hit the woodwork four times.
But on the other hand they benefited from and early decision when the referee gave the offending Cray player a yellow card early on when David Smith was hacked down when clear on goal .
Yet when Lex Allan got involved in a tussle with Cray’s Joe Taylor near the end, in which both players were tugging and pulling at each other, it was Allan who was penalised and was then given a straight red.
How his ‘last defender’ challenge could have been judged worse than the one in the first half I really don’t know.
Outclassed for the first 20 minutes, Sittingbourne eventually made quite a game of it and Cray, unbeaten at home all season, will have been glad to eventually settle for all three points.
On a grey drizzly afternoon with Christmas just round the corner, Sittingbourne made just one change from the team that thumped Sevenoaks
4-1 in their previous game, influential top goalscorer Tommy Loynes out injured with Henry Woods replacing him.
Cray zipped the ball around on the artificial surface with plenty of style and dash in the first 20 minutes and although Sittingbourne tried to press high and stifle the possession they couldn’t get in the game much at this stage.
Midway through the first half and Cray took the lead, Dadson outwitting an isolated Danny Devine in a one-on-one down the left and although Ben Fitchett blocked the low cross it fell nicely for Pritchard to follow up and lash it high into the net.
Either Cray sat back or more possibly Sittingbourne began to play themselves into the game and Gil Carvalho hit over a fine cross from the left that Smith couldn’t quite reach.
Former Sittingbourne favourite Taylor, such a good player and a real handful all game for the Brickies defenders, put one chance over from just six yards and also hit the post with a header just before half-time.
But Sittingbourne were making a determined effort to win the ball back over the pitch and when a Cray defender slipped in possession just outside his own area in the 35th minute, Smith was onto it. He jinked past the last man and was about to close in on goal with the ball on his favoured left foot when Nelson brought him down. It looked a red card all day, but the referee gave the Cray player the benefit of the doubt which he didn’t extend to unlucky Lex later on.
Both Dan Parkinson’s free-kick, and another for Smith in a similar position just afterwards, came to nothing and Sittingbourne ended the half still a goal down.
Sittingbourne goalkeeper Patrick Lee made a tremendous save early in the second half to deny Taylor at close range, and at the other end the Brickies went just as close when Allan got on the end of a Parkinson corner but headed a great chance over from just a couple of yards out.
Soon after that Cray doubled their lead when a shot pinged off the far post and fell nicely for the following-up Mundele to score comfortably.
There was still time for Cray to hit the woodwork twice more, but it was end-to-end stuff and Sittingbourne were refusing to give up and kept plugging away.
And they were rewarded after 87 minutes when a corner was cleared to captain Chris Webber. He shrugged off one challenge, steadied himself, and hit a terrific shot over the keeper and into the net from all of 30 yards out.
As Sittingbourne’s fans immediately pointed out – and in song – Webber never scores when the team wins and this one goes alongside spectacular efforts at Ashford last season and Faversham recently that ended up purely as consolation efforts.
The drama wasn’t over as Taylor and Allan jostled each other for a 90th minute through ball, the referee, chasing to catch up with play, ruling that Allan was the offender and sending him off. That’s six red cards for Sittingbourne this season, but this was one was by far the harshest.
That’s a fifth successive away defeat for Sittingbourne, and although Cray deserved the win really, it was by no means a bad performance and one to take encouragement from when they’re next in action after the Christmas break.