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Cray Wanderers aim to reach the FA Cup First Round for the first time in their history

By Joe Harbert

Tony Russell says guiding Cray Wanderers into the First Round of the FA Cup and making history for the club is a prospect he is relishing this weekend.

The Wands travel to Essex on Saturday to face Step 4 side Canvey Island in what will be just their second ever Fourth Qualifying Round tie in the competition.

Cray Wanderers manager Tony Russell. Picture: Barry Goodwin (42830464)
Cray Wanderers manager Tony Russell. Picture: Barry Goodwin (42830464)

With a sizeable £9,375 in prize money also on the cards for the Isthmian Premier outfit should they emerge victorious, boss Russell says he expects both sets of players to still feel a ‘little nervous’ in the build-up to the match.

“The game will already be the equal furthest we’ve reached in our history since we lost to Grays Athletic back in 2005 - a game I remember playing for the team,” he said.

“With the amount of fans we’re taking there, it should be a really good atmosphere for the players, though.

“The formation they play will force us to work on some things, and I think both teams will look at it as a really good opportunity for their club to qualify for the first round of the FA Cup - I know we certainly are.

“Any carnage can happen in cup football, so I think both sides will still be a little nervous, and that’s why whoever handles that pressure best will win the game and go through.

”We know they’re a good side - they’ve only lost one match this season and that was to Maldon & Tiptree when they went down to 10 men and there’s no shame in that, so it’s going to be a hard game, especially at their place.

“But in all honesty, we didn’t actually know the game was definitely going ahead until Sunday.

“They announced not long beforehand that they had a number of players experiencing Covid symptoms, so it’s been a tough one to plan for, but I feel I’ve done all I can.”

Russell, who last week celebrated 250 games in charge of Cray, has acknowledged his team still need to address the number of goals they are conceding.

They are yet to keep a clean sheet so far this season, however with big wins over the likes of Moneyfields and Kingstonian already secured even before Saturday’s 3-1 win at Haringey Borough, the 42-year-old admits the potency of his forward line is mightily impressive.

Russell explained: “We went away from home on Saturday and scored three goals, but most importantly we controlled possession.

“The one negative was that they were a little bit dangerous on the counter attack, but I think that actually shows how professional, on the front foot and in control of the game we were.

“We went 1-0 down but never panicked - we wore them down and were worthy winners in the end.

“It’s still disappointing we haven’t kept a clean sheet so far and in pre-season too, but the way we play we open up the game and when you lose the ball we can be exposed.

“We’ve brought Freddie (Parker) back in and converted him into midfield, and now we’ve got him seven goals playing behind Joe Taylor, who himself can score 35 goals, and that’s alongside Jason Banton and Rhys Murrell-Williamson.

“So we’ve got goal threats all over the pitch, but what we do need to tighten up on is conceding less goals, and that’s why we’re desperate for a clean sheet - just to get that first one and then we’ll be fine.”

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