Cray Wanderers stand in the way of Fleet and another cup run this season, with the Isthmian Premier club hosting Dennis Kutrieb’s side at Bromley FC’s Hayes Lane this weekend.
The Wands, one of the oldest clubs in world football, will seek to reach Round 3 of the Buildbase FA Trophy for the first time and go one better than last season when they went out against St Albans City.
The Fleet will be more than familiar with the 3G surface at Hayes Lane, having played two friendlies there earlier this summer (pictured above). Having named an unchanged eleven against Maidstone United in midweek, Dennis Kutrieb will likely ring a few changes for this one with a number of players back on the list and eyeing a return.
Sefa Kahraman has sat on the bench for the last two matches with illness while Jack Paxman and Will Wood are over their suspensions, Paxman getting minutes against his former club on Tuesday. Throw in the likes of Kieran Monlouis and players returning to training including Adam Mekki and Christian N’Guessan and once more there are opportunities to mix things up in the Fleet side.
And Michael West has good cause to remember Cray as he’s the only survivor from the clubs’ last meeting in the 2010/11 FA Cup, when the Wands took Fleet to a replay. They led in the original tie with nine minutes to go before Fleet equalised and then missed a penalty in the final minutes. And in the replay at Stonebridge Road, West scored and missed a penalty as Fleet won 4-2, Cray having fought back to 2-2 from 2-0 down.
Such drama this weekend may be diluted by the fact there is no replay, the tie going straight to penalties if the scores are level on 90 minutes. Progress in the Trophy is the goal for the visitors this Saturday and Kutrieb will field another strong side as he did throughout the FA Cup’s early rounds.
Cray, of course, take to the field with numerous familiar faces in their side, the four ex-Fleet men in their ranks part of our previous promotion squad. Anthony Cook and Marvin McCoy will likely start, while assistant manager Andy Drury could well join them having been rested in Cray’s league game in midweek. The fourth, Danny Kedwell, will call the shots from the sidelines with his playing time this season restricted to a handful of cameos from the bench.
Elsewhere, the Wands have plenty of experience with regular Fleet foe Jai Reason (Braintree, Maidstone, Eastleigh) having been added to their midfield and they can also call on Dean Beckwith (Eastleigh, Sutton), Chris Dickson (Chelmsford, Dartford, Hampton, Charlton), Adam Coombes (Welling) and goalkeeper Jack Turner (Staines Town, Slough Town).
Loanee Kassim Aidoo has already played against the Fleet this season for Eastbourne Borough, while Cray have also just taken attacking midfielder Sam Skeffington on a temporary deal from Bromley – though it remains to be seen if he has permission to play in the Trophy.
Cray’s season got off to an excellent start with impressive wins over Lewes and Hornchurch but injuries have taken their toll on Kedwell’s squad as the campaign has unfolded and the Wands find themselves in the bottom three. Nevertheless, they picked up a useful point in midweek at home to promotion contenders Folkestone, denied all three only by a late goal, and like Fleet have tasted victory at Carshalton Athletic.
In the previous rounds of the Trophy, Cray have despatched Kings Langley 4-1 and Bedfont Sports 2-1, with top scorer so far in 2021/22 being Cook with eight goals, a couple of those from the penalty spot. They have been averaging 190 crowds this season but with local interest and Fleet’s travelling numbers, the tie is expected to exceed their highest gate of 305.
Aside from the aforementioned FA Cup clash, Cray and the Fleet haven’t shared many competitive exchanges, the others being a 1968 FA Cup tie that Fleet lost and the 2008 Kent Senior Cup Final that was won 4-0 in the same year we lifted the Trophy at Wembley.
Cray have spent much of this century between the Isthmian Premier and First divisions, their most recent finish being as champions of the South-East division in 2018/19. Since then, two seasons have been lost to Covid, the first of those with Cray in second place when the campaign was abandoned.
• Advance tickets costing £10/£5 for Saturday’s game can be purchased online here, or buy on the day. U16s are free with a paying adult.
• The winners of the tie will be in Monday’s draw for the Third Round, to be played on Saturday December 18th.