By Isaac Gleave.
Cray Wanderers produced a clinical display against the Hawks as they booked their place into the FA Trophy First Round Proper.
After exceptionally heavy rainfall, the pitch held up well as the game was given the all clear. The ‘Wands’ took an early lead after Rhys Murrell-Williamson slotted home from close-range, and they doubled their advantage just before through a Charlie Allen strike. The Hawks huffed and puffed but could find no way through, and Freddie Parker added a third deep into the match to give the visitors a deserved win.
Following Tuesday’s defeat, manager Jude Macdonald made two changes for the visit of Cray Wanderers, as Lewis Unwin slotted into the starting XI in place of Ronald Sobowale and, following his goal in midweek, Lloyd Cotton came in for Connor Tighe.
It was the hosts, however, who started proceedings on the front-foot, as they looked to pressurise the visitor’s defence. Henry Muggeridge showed early intensity as he intercepted the ball, before driving along the right-hand side of the box and sending in a dangerous cross, only for it to be cleared by the first man.
It was sloppy again from the Isthmian Premier side, as Lucas Rodrigues and Luke Emberson combined to close down the opposition, but the ball could not quite fall to a man in red, and the visitors cleared. Emberson came close to giving his side an early lead minutes later, as he delivered a fizzing, testing cross into the box, which almost deceived Lewis Carey in the Cray Wanderers goal, but he steadied himself at the right moment to palm it away for a corner.
The visitors started to grab a foothold in the game, and they had their first shot of the match eleven minutes in. Rhys Murrell-Williamson picked the ball up 30 yards from goal, drove towards the box, and fired a shot at goal. His shot was blocked, and the ball looped up and into the grateful arms of James Broadbent.
The warning signs were starting to appear for the Hawks, as Lee Lewis had another chance for the visitors, but his daisy-cutter like shot brushed the side-netting. The Wands were starting to get on top of the hosts, and were unlucky not to take the lead as prolific frontman Joe Taylor controlled the ball just outside the box but, as he got into a position to shoot, took a heavy touch and the ball dribbled into Broadbent’s hands.
Soon afterwards, Murrell-Williamson stood standing over a free-kick 25 yards from goal, and struck the ball well as it bounced in front of Broadbent, who parried it as far as Jason Banton who, with the angle against him, shot across goal, but the ‘keeper was able to block his effort.
After a sustained period of prolonged pressure, the visitors broke the deadlock twenty-minutes in. Charlie Allen was received the ball in space on the left-hand side of the box and, with the outside of his foot, played a delicate ball across to the onrushing Murrell-Williamson, who made no mistake from six-yards, as he calmly passed the ball into the bottom-corner.
The Hawks responded positively, but were unable to create any meaningful chances as the Wands’ physical backline continued to cause problems for the Hawks attack. Chances were few and far between for the hosts, and almost conceded another as Taylor held off his man, before firing across goal, but the flag was raised as the forward was deemed offside. Moments later, the resulting free-kick by Broadbent fell straight to Kyron Richards, but his first-time effort, although powerful, was harmlessly wide of the goal.
In the hope of finding an equaliser, Muggeridge found space on the right side of the box to whip in a vicious cross for Rodrigues, but it had just a bit too much power and it evaded the forwards’ foot by a matter of inches as the first-half dwindled to a close.
Deep into stoppage time, the visitors doubled their advantage through Charlie Allen. It was well worked, in fairness, as Banton played it into Taylor’s feet. The number nine did not hesitate, and quickly slipped Allen in on goal, who dispatched calmly from inside the box. A real sucker punch for the Hawks, who had looked positive on the ball, but were unable to create any clear openings as referee Daniel Austin blew his whistle to bring the first-half to an end.
Following the restart, the Hawks were hoping for an early goal to bring them back into the contest, and almost found a way as Ahmed Abdulla played it to Rodrigues inside the box. The forward spun his man beautifully, but his final ball lacked quality, as it was blocked for a corner.
Minutes later, Martin came within inches of finding the top-corner after the ball sat up perfectly for him 25 yards from goal. On the half-volley, he sent a fierce shot towards the top-left corner, but Carey was able to step across his line to brilliantly claw it away to safety.
That missed chance almost proved costly for the Hawks as Banton beat the offside trap to be clean-through with just Broadbent to beat, but the ‘keeper came out quickly to deny the Wanderer from just inside the box. With the game seemingly slipping away from the Hawks’ grasp, Macdonald opted for his first change of the match, as Ronald Sobowale came on to replace Lloyd Cotton in the hope of increasing his side’s attacking threat.
The game entered a rather scrappy period, with very little in the way of goalmouth action. The visitors were happy to take the sting out of the match, and they rarely looked under pressure. Murrell-Williamson, involved once more, delivered a cross-shot into the box which almost caught Broadbent out, but the Hawks’ shot-stopper was able to tip it away for a corner kick.
Cray Wanderers were then presented with the chance to further extend their advantage, after Taylor was brought down just outside the box by Frankie Chappell, who received a yellow card for his troubles. Murrell-Williamson stepped up, and fired his effort under the wall, but Broadbent was able to collect at the second attempt.
Within the space of two minutes, the Hawks made their second and third changes of the afternoon, as James Fraser and Tighe came on in place of Muggeridge and Abdulla respectively, in the hope of taking the game to at least a penalty-shootout, but any hopes of a comeback were quickly extinguished five minutes from time. Freddie Parker, who had been on the pitch a matter of minutes, shot at goal 20 yards from goal. His effort had power, too much of it for Broadbent as it crept underneath the ‘keeper to kill the game off.
With the contest now deep into stoppage time, the Hawks’ last throw of the dice saw a scramble inside the box, on which Sobowale and Rodrigues both saw goal-bound shots well-blocked, as the Wands’ defence held out for a clean-sheet, presenting Whitehawk with their second defeat in the space of four days.
A disappointing end to the Hawks’ FA Trophy run, who were let down by the final ball, albeit against tough opposition, who scored early on, and never looked back.
With a lockdown looming, it remains to be seen what is in store for English football but, as it stands, a trip to Broadbridge Heath for the Sussex Senior Challenge Cup on Tuesday night looks to be the last point of call for what will hopefully be a short period of time.
Hawks: Broadbent, Hamilton, Emberson, Cotton (Sobowale 66’), Chappell, El-Abd, Rodrigues, Unwin, Muggeridge (c) (Fraser 80’), Martin, Abdulla (Tighe 82’)
Not used: Blackmore, Wilson, Munt, Wright
Cray: Carey, Williams (c), Leader, Lewis (Phipps 53’), Taylor, Mundele, Banton (Carlse 65’), Murrell-Williamson (Parker 80’), Richards, Onoabagbe, Allen
Not used: Nelson, Federico, Hall, Odeguwa
Bookings: Chappell, Abdulla, Muggeridge, Martin (Hawks), Allen (Cray)