Still getting over the first encounter, KEVIN NOLAN watched the Cray Valley replay, which took place next to a roundabout where he used to attend Eltham Amateur Boxing Club’s outstanding boxing/dinner shows. It now houses a McDonald’s drive-through – and also a drive-thru.
Since their magnificent performance against Charlton on Bonfire Night, Cray Valley PM have been unusually restrained and classy in reacting to their achievement. Not for them any gloating or triumphalism. Just quiet satisfaction at a job well – if only half – done.
The template for their mature response was laid out by their manager Steve McKimm, who cut a relaxed, humorous figure in The Valley’s press room soon after the final whistle.
McKimm acknowledged that his gutsy, skilled side had faced Charlton’s reserves and would find it more difficult in the replay. His priorities had switched anyway to the Millers’ upcoming league game with Erith & Belvedere (which they won 3-0, by the way).
Shaken and humiliated, meanwhile, Charlton retired to lick their wounds. They rehabilitated themselves with an impressive show of resilience at league leaders Portsmouth and prepared for a second crack at Cray Valley in the rather more prosaic outskirts of Eltham.
A completely different side duly turned up at the Yorkshire Grey, a wounded but still functioning Goliath, better prepared to handle McKimm’s Davids. They had a point to prove and with a scorching second-half display, that point was ruthlessly made.
Not that McKimm’s men had anything for which either or apology or explanation was necessary. They soldiered through a one-way first half, fell behind to Alfie May’s brilliant opener but withdrew at the break on level terms. For that welcome state of affairs, they had their own goal machine, Kyrell Lisbie, to thank for calmly converting the penalty he’d earned when chopped down by Sam Walker in pursuit of Cam Tumkaya’s searching pass.
Walker was lucky to escape a red card for his clumsy foul – admittedly committed a foot or two outside his 18-yard area. For a game and a half, therefore, the outcome of this first-round Cup tie hung in the balance.
Charlton were practically and aesthetically the better side but had failed to make their clear superiority tell where it mattered. Scott Fraser’s classy goal in the first game and May’s polished finish ten minutes before the interval at the Artic Stadium proved of no more value than Lucas Ness’s own goal at The Valley and Lisbie Jr’s debatable penalty in the replay.
Roundly criticised for the wholesale changes he made before the home tie, Michael Appleton responded by naming arguably his strongest available team – missing rapidly improving Aussie goalkeeper Ashley Maynard-Brewer, on international duty with the Socceroos – to take care of business on a treacherous pitch not a stone’s throw from the cultured conditions normally provided in their own South London postcode.
An overwhelming advantage in possession was the result, if not the goals to show for it.
In the indefatigable May, fortunately, the Addicks held an unstoppable edge. The manager’s tactical imagination in deploying his top scorer in a withdrawn role – a lower-case harry kane so to speak – was richly vindicated by May’s indelible impact on this surprisingly difficult replay. His speed and skill in chasing down Lucas Ness’s long ball over the top were exemplary, as was the deft flick on the run which left Freeman helpless.
May’s opener failed to reassure the fraught visitors. They found themselves level again before the interval through Lisbie’s spotkick but re-emerged, following, no doubt, an uncomfortable few minutes spent with Appleton, in destructive mood. Within 15 minutes of the restart, the Millers were chewed up and spat out.
Miles Leaburn had been a disappointing, desultory influence on the game but came alive shortly after resumption. Timing his leap expertly, he was perfectly poised to cleverly nod Nathan Asiimwe’s nicely judged cross from the right beyond Freeman’s groping right hand.
The Millers had been set up for the kill by the lofty Leaburn and the diminutive May duly finished them off with his second -and Charlton’s third goal of a suddenly fruitful evening. Combining with Fraser on the right, he scored his 14th goal of the season from the tightest of byline angles. This Greenwich borough derby was at last following its script.
Skipper George Dobson had held his side together during their haphazard first half. His interceptions and accurate passing were reliable as usual but his 59th strike was as spectacular as it was unexpected. Combining with Fraser on the right, Dobson used the run of the ball to blast a sumptuous 25-yard drive into the top left corner. His wide grin neither confirmed nor denied his intent. He doesn’t score often, but he can certainly hammer a football.
Playmaker Fraser was, by now, enjoying himself and played a supporting role in the Addicks’ fifth and sixth goals. His pass to Conor McGrandles set up the unfairly maligned midfielder’s square delivery, which was swept home by half-time substitute Tyreece Campbell before the evening’s most romantic goal rounded off the rout.
Dobson’s lofted pass sent Fraser clear to dink gently over the advancing Freeman. Seizing on the rebound, Micah Mbick, a week on from his 17th birthday, nudged it over the line to make this an evening which neither he nor McKimm’s gallant squad will find easy to forget.
Cray Valley were scrupulously fair, law-abiding opponents, who added one or two more wrinkles to Appleton’s brow before they capitulated. They were given the respect they deserved – as was the dear old FA Cup itself. Now for Gillingham!
Cray Valley: Freeman, Wiliams, Tumkaya, Lee, Asiedu (Ekpiteta 66), Black, Ibrahiym (Oshilaja 62), Vigor (Anau 62), Admiluyi (Gayle 62), Parker, Lisbie (Chambers 62). Not used: Ovenden, Coombes Gilchrist, Turner. Booked: Williams.
Charlton: Walker, Asiimwe, Ness, Jones, Edun (Tennai Watson 67), Dobson, McGrandles (Mbick 80), Fraser, May (C Campbell 83). Blackett-Taylor (T Campbell 46), Leaburn (Kedwell 85). Not used: Molyneux, Tedic. Booked: Walker.
Referee: Charles Breakspear.. Attendance: 1,550.