Picture: PA Images
By Hugo Varley
Chertsey Town capped off an extraordinary season with FA Vase glory at Wembley as a Jake Baxter penalty and a sublime Quincy Rowe strike in extra-time handed the Curfews victory over a spirited Cray Valley PM side.
in what was a hugely entertaining encounter. Both sides did themselves proud as they put on a superb show in the opening game of Non-League Final’s Day in a contest that was played at an extremely high tempo throughout.
Victory means that Chertsey Town will sign off from their stint in Step 5 with yet another trophy in their cabinet, however Kevin Watson’s Cray Valley side will also end today with their heads held high as they look forward to a season in the Bostik South East next year.
In a closely fought first half an hour, the two teams adapted well to their potentially overwhelming surroundings, quickly settling into the game.
Although early clear cut opportunities were few and far between, the first few openings fell to Chertsey as Lubomir Guentchev and Lewis Driver both found the ball at their feet in the box but failed to threaten 37-year-old Andy Walker in the Cray Valley goal.
The Curfew’s Jake Baxter fired a spectacular overhead kick just over the bar before the match suddenly kicked into life with 15 minutes left of the opening half.
As the weather took a sudden turn for the worse, goals began to rain down as both sides found the net in rapid succession.
Moments after Cray’s Danny Smith had seen his powerful strike cleared off the line, the South East London club broke the deadlock through former Southend United man Gavin Tomlin.
Tomlin, who represented the Shrimpers at Wembley back in 2013, did superbly well to beat his man out on the left before cutting in and expertly drilling the ball passed Chertsey keeper Nick Jupp.
However, the Millers’ lead instantly evaporated before their very eyes as Chertsey demonstrated their resolute character with a quick fire response.
Guentchev’s floated corner was crashed against the woodwork by Sam Flegg, only for the ball to rebound straight back into the defender’s path, who made absolutely no mistake second time round.
While the first 45 minutes were a relatively even affair, large portions of the second half were largely dominated by Dave Anderson’s side who came flying out of the blocks and almost went in front just moments after the restart as Driver got on the end of a corner, only to see his angled header fly agonizingly over the bar.
On the hour mark Baxter was then presented with a golden opportunity for the Curfews.
The former Hartley Wintney frontman did superbly well to take the ball round Liam Hickey and put himself clean through on goal but dragged his effort wide of the right hand post with the net at his mercy.
As the clock ticked towards full time Chertsey continued to pile forward as Dale Binns’ powerful effort was well blocked by Cem Tumkaya. However slowly but surely Cray began to work themselves back into the game, with a fizzed Denzel Gale effort signalling their re-emergence as a threat.
In the dying moments of normal time, both sides came within a whisker of getting their hands on the trophy.
The Millers thought they had nicked it as the towering Ashley Sains powered a header from close range, only to be denied by the fingertips of Jupp.
Before, at the other end, Guentchev presented Curfews’ defender Michael Peacock with a huge chance in the box but the centre back sliced his effort badly wide.
Then, in the final seconds before the final whistle, Cray’s Anthony Edgar brilliantly connected with a bouncing ball to rifle an effort passed Jupp but against the crossbar.
Following this frenetic ending to normal time, the first half of extra time was remarkably tepid in comparison as both sides reverted back into their shells.
That was until Guentchev suddenly raced into the danger zone moments before the half time whistle and was taken to the ground by Tumkaya, with the referee adjudging the foul to have been committed just inside the box.
Baxter then expertly found the corner of the net from the spot and ran the entire length of the pitch to celebrate with the delirious Curfew faithful.
Cray pressed forward in search of an elusive equalizer during the second period with Francis Babalola having an effort blocked.
However, as the Millers pushed up the pitch they left themselves exposed at the back, which allowed Rowe to find space on the edge of the box and expertly curl the ball into the far corner to confirm Wembley glory for the Surrey side.
Cray Valley: (3-2-3-2): Walker, Hickey, Sains (Willock 112), Tumkaya, Gale, Smith, Flack (James 73), Semakula, Edgar, Tomlin, Lisbie (Babalola 100)
Chertsey: (4-1-4-1): Jupp, Welch-Turner, Rowe, Peacock, Flegg, Maclaren (Taylor 78), Binns (Jackson 96), Driver, Murphy, Guentchev, Baxter (Pomroy 117).