the real fa cup

Last Ditch Laurent Sends Wanderers Through

One of the advantages of cup football is that sometimes, you come up against a team which plays several divisions below you and draw them at home, virtually guaranteeing your passage to the next round.

Part of the reason we all love the FA Cup is that the first sentence of this report is just not true – just ask Cray Wanderers who were drawn at home to Reigate side South Park who play in the Combined Counties League 1st Division, a whole three divisions below them.

Park have been one of the surprises of this year’s competition so far. Participating in the FA Cup for the first time in their history, they began by disposing of Greenwich Borough in the Extra Preliminary Round in a match which apparently culminated in a brawl between some of the fans at the final whistle. Having eliminated a team from the division above them, they went a step further and beat a side from two divisions up, demolishing Horsham YMCA by a 4 goal margin at home. Their next challenge was to move up another level and overcome Cray Wanderers of the Ryman Premier.

Cray are currently sharing with Blue Square South table-toppers Bromley – a short but hilly minute cycle ride from the home of The Real FA Cup – and we both arrived at the ground with minutes to spare, sweating profusely and wondering about getting the train home. After a few minutes search, I locked my bike up outside the bowling club next door whereas Damon managed to take his bike into the ground, locking it up at the back of the stand! Now there’s a first.

Bromley’s Hayes Lane ground is an excellent example of a proper old-fashioned stadium – decent terracing on three sides and a seated stand for those that prefer to relax between cycle rides. Walking round behind one of the goals and noting the unique sound of tinny music playing into an empty terrace, we took up our positions behind the dugouts on the terrace opposite the main stand and were very pleased to note the excellent views of the cricket match which was in progress next door.

The game begun at an excellent pace and soon got everyone going, Hamici and O’Sullivan swinging the handbags early on. Cray made the better start and substantial Park keeper, Wastell, was pressed into action right from the beginning, saving from Guest but following up with a poor clearance which didn’t give any hints as to the quality of the performance which was to follow.

Saunders gets his marching orders

South Park came with a reputation for playing the game in a rather physical fashion but it was Wanderers who felt the wrath of the referee after 17 minutes when Chris Saunders was sent off for a tough tackle on Kieran Lavery which may well have sounded worse than it was. It’s more than likely that referee Pickford was moved (see what I did there?) by the audible crack of studs on shinpad and, after a swift talking to, the red card was brandished, causing all hell to break loose on the home bench. Wanderer’s manager, Ian Jenkins was at boiling point, yelling at the linesman and assuring him that the referee’s decision was a “big call” which it certainly was.

Assistant manager Paul Blade later confusingly told Kentish Football

We’ll have a look at the video. If we see what we thought we saw and if it seems that way and it’s different to what the referee saw and then we’ll take it as far as we can.

which makes no sense to us.

The man in charge had certainly made things hard for himself and some interesting decisions later on caused one of the Cray coaches to wonder out loud whether his wife had “had a go at him cos he was out on a Sunday”.

Things did eventually calm down and the sending off appeared to have little effect on the home side, with Ross Lover pushing forward from right back at every opportunity and the decision to leave two up front keeping Park on the back foot. Chances came and went for Cray, including what was clearly a training ground free-kick routine which went horribly wrong – manager Jenkins reminding some of the protagonists what the procedure was before they all got in each other’s way and the ball was easily intercepted and cleared gleefully by the Park defence.

As the players left the pitch for some half-time encouragement, we were joined by fellow blogger The Ball Is Round who noted that the score was 279 for 1 – in the cricket match going on behind our stand, of course.

The second half saw South Park retreat further behind their defences, despite their extra man and at times it looked as if they had only come for the draw. On the hour, a superb run from McLeod led to Guest blazing a shot into the crowd, shortly followed by a cross from the right which was met by Sawyer whose free header went sailing over the bar.

Cray continued to create chances, none of which they could finish off, their frustration compounded by the heroic performance from Wastell in the Park goal who flung his considerable bulk at anything that came his way and it looked increasingly likely that Park had earned a replay later in the week. In actual fact, Park could well have snatched a winner when Karl Parker raced clear only to produce an air-kick at the vital moment, recovering to thrash his second effort whistling across the face of the goal for a goal kick.

Cray manager Jenkins had only just returned to the dug out (having leapt over the fence onto the terrace to watch with the fans once he had made all his substitutions) when a cross from the right found ex-Dulwich striker Laurent Hamici (he of the early October gloves). A sharp turn and low shot and at long last Wastell was beaten and Cray were into the next round. Barely two more minutes were played before the referee blew his whistle for the last time and sent South Park and their vociferous fans out of the competition after their giant-killing inauguration.

It was a deserved victory for the Kent side, celebrating their 150th anniversary this year and they will look forward to the next round at home to Ebbsfleet United. They must hope that they make things slightly easier on themselves next time as this game should have been wrapped up long before Hamici’s last minute winner.

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