Harlow Town missed the chance to draw level on points with promotion rivals Needham Market as they fell to just to their second league defeat at the Harlow Arena. Harlow were well off their normal attacking standards and found it hard to breakdown a resolute Cray Wanderers side. Cray were thankful to Tom Aytomiwa who provided the difference on the day with a goal and assist to push Cray to only 4 points from safety at the bottom of the Ryman North.
Harlow who moved to within two points of League leaders Needham last week, knew a win would put pressure on Needham who traveled to fifth placed Wroxham. The home side made 2 changes with Craig Pope coming in at right back for Ben Glasgow and Fabian Simms coming in for Leon Antoine.
Cray who had won their previous 4 matches in the league made 3 changes from their 3-1 home win in midweek: Tom Aytomiwa, Max Fitzgerald and Carl Rook all started with Warren Whitely, James Pass and Cesc Fakinos all dropping to the bench.
It was an end to end start with both sides pushing for an early goal to settle their nerves as Junior Appiah saw a header flick wide for the home side while Tom Aytomiwa flashed a shot just wide for the away side. Both sides were in good form but it was Cray who were dominating the early exchanges as the front 2 in Carl Rook and Adrian Stone were winning a lot of aerial ball for the away side.
Cray were playing a 3-5-2 system which could have been dangerous with the pace that Harlow had in their attacking 3 of Dadson, Appiah and Guy. Harlow nearly punished Cray when Layne Eadie nipped in on the left after some indecision at the back but dragged his shot wide of the far post. Andy Walker had to be on guard in the home goal moments later as Tom Aytomiwa played in Orlando Smith; good work from the winger saw Smith played in but his shot was well saved by Walker.
The home side were finding it difficult to keep the ball on the floor with aerial ball consistently being played up to Jamie Guy, who was struggling to keep possession. Appiah and Dadson both saw efforts go wide as the game simmered down slightly. Smith went close to giving Cray the lead after a ball wasn’t cleared by Harlow, Walker had to get down well to stop his volley.
As the half filtered down Stone and Rook continued to provide a test for the Harlow defense who were struggling winning the aerial ball. That nearly gave Cray the lead as Rook and James Hill combined, Rook headed down for the on rushing Hill but he saw his effort saved by Walker. Harlow were not reading the warning signs with boss Danny Chapman becoming a frustrated man on the sidelines.
Harlow could and should have taken the lead just on half time, a teasing cross from the left by Layne Eadie fell to Junior Appiah at the back post but the winger managed to volley high and wide from 4 yards. As half time sounded, one goal could provide the difference and with Needham drawing at Wroxham, a win for the Hawks would strengthen their title bid.
Much like the first half, Harlow failed to heed the warnings and Cray took a deserved 48th minute lead. Great work on the right by Tom Aytomiwa saw him trick past Eadie and fire a shot across goal into the far post. Credit must have to go down to Cray who had seen off the threat of Harlow and frustrated them for much of the afternoon. Chapman urged his men to get the ball forward quicker but Jamie Guy was having a torrid afternoon in a red shirt.
Cray could have doubled their lead just 2 minutes after the opener, after a corner wasn’t cleared, Eadie had to clear off the line as Harlow continued to be off of the pace. Chapman introduced Shane Stamp from the bench for Junior Appiah but the winger himself struggled to make an impact.
Harlow were limited to chances from set pieces as Cray defended well at the back with the front 3 marshaled well by the back 3 of Cray. The Harlow Town faithful continue their ongoing hatred of the referee for allowing Cray to time waste in the second half and poor decision making from the man in the middle. But referee Christopher Bodell was bad for both sides with neither of his officials giving him much support as they appeared only to be able to give throw-ins and communicate substitutions.
Stamp only lasted 19 minutes as he rolled his ankle on the left flank leaving Leon Antoine to replace the wide man. Captain Dave Cowley pushed up to left of the front 3 with Billy Jones dropping alongside Fabian Simms as Antoine played at the top of the midfield 3. Harlow first real chance of the second period came after Antoine kept a ball alive crossing for Billy Jones, but his header was deflected for a corner.
Chapman’s frustration continued on the touchline as the home side continue to pump the ball long but with little joy in their quest for an equalizer. Cray made 3 changes and it was the last of them in Alex Teniola that grabbed the vital second. It was that man again on the right wing in Tom Aytomiwa who had provided a threat all game for the away side. His run down the left saw him get to the byline, his pull back found an unmarked Teniola who had the easy task of touching the ball home.
A fifth win in a row for Cray as they continue their ongoing survival bid and on today’s evidence they have a real chance. The front two provided a real threat going forward and Tom Aytomiwa gave Layne Eadie the run around for the majority of the 90 minutes. Harlow looked short of a side who had 6 consecutive wins prior to today’s defeat and increasing the importance of the must win game against Needham on 18th April.
3 points off of Needham but with an inferior goal difference which could be key in the end of season run in. Harlow can put the defeat behind them as they travel to neighbours Ware on Monday, knowing no less than a win can be achieved. Cray play Chatham Town on Monday, being the from side in the division Cray have no need to fear anyone after today’s victory. With Redbridge in free fall in 20th losing their last 5 matches, Can Cray create the great escape again?