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Ramsgate manager Ben Smith congratulates new Isthmian South East champions Cray Valley | Key winger Jordan Green set to miss play-offs with hamstring injury

Ramsgate boss Ben Smith has congratulated Cray Valley on their Isthmian South East title success.

The Rams finished runners-up to a relentless Millers side who ended the campaign with a record 95 points.

Ramsgate manager Ben Smith. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Ramsgate manager Ben Smith. Picture: Barry Goodwin

Steve McKimm’s team lost just once in 38 league games and dropped only two points away, clinching the title with a 2-0 win at Horndean on Saturday.

Pre-season favourites Rams - beaten 2-1 at home by Three Bridges on the final day - go into the play-offs after finishing six points back on 89. Both sides scored over 100 goals.

Ramsgate host Chichester, who finished fifth, on Tuesday night, with Sittingbourne home to Three Bridges in the other semi-final.

“Cray Valley have been the best team,” said Smith.

“You have to take it and congratulate Steve and his players. All credit to them.

“It takes two to tango and we’ve pushed each other to levels that have not been seen in this league before and that’s a fact.

“You look at the sides who’ve won this league and they’ve not done what we’ve done.

“Maybe some of them might have got to those levels if they’d had someone pushing them, like we’ve done with each other.

“I’ve seen the internet trolls talking about Ramsgate bottling it but you don’t get 89 points by bottling it.

“You get 89 points and come up short. That’s what’s happened.

“I’m proud of the players for the season they’ve had.

“It’s just been a freak season where Cray Valley have been relentless.

“Sometimes you have to take your hat off and say well done. Fair play to them.”

Ramsgate needed to beat Three Bridges - a side they could meet again in the play-off final - and hope Cray Valley lost at Horndean to have any chance of winning the title.

It was always a long shot, with the Millers firm favourites to win the championship since a 2-2 draw at Ramsgate a fortnight ago left them needing seven points from three games.

They duly took maximum points, including a 4-0 win in their game in hand at Hythe on Tuesday, to reach the Isthmian Premier for the first time in their history.

With the title virtually gone, Smith considered resting players against Three Bridges.

Ramsgate winger Jordan Green is set to miss the play-offs. Picture: Stuart Watson
Ramsgate winger Jordan Green is set to miss the play-offs. Picture: Stuart Watson

In the end, he named the same side who won 4-2 at Chichester last weekend minus former Gills winger Jordan Green, who pulled his hamstring in the warm-up and is set to miss the play-offs.

They trailed Three Bridges 2-0 at half-time, with Joe Taylor replying from the penalty spot before the hour mark.

“It was a dilemma what to do,” said Smith.

“Do you go full-strength knowing it was likely Cray would win anyway? Do you rest players? Do you do a bit of both?

“It’s a tough one. We owed it to the supporters to field a more settled side.

“Everyone in the squad should be good enough to play but, no disrespect, we didn’t just put the 23s out.

“We’ve been talking about the integrity of the league, so if we did that it’s double standards.

“We looked at a few things today. We played 3-5-2 again which we played for the first time last week.

“Last week everyone was saying it was the making of us, it was the new coming, but this week we’ve seen it doesn’t actually work all the time.

“These last two games have given us a look at sides who are in the play-offs with us.

“Did we want to lose today? Absolutely not but it’s also about the bigger picture.

“We lost Jordan Green in the warm-up, so he’s out and when you know that, we were always going to take off Joe Taylor, TJ Jadama and Lee Martin around that hour mark, unless Cray Valley were losing or drawing.

“Jordan’s a huge miss to us. It’s his hamstring. He can’t run, he can’t walk.”

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