Cray Valley Paper Mills dare to live FA Cup upset dream... before Charlton cut minnows down

Cray Valley Paper Mills dare to live FA Cup upset dream... before Charlton cut minnows down

It is always the hope that kills you - just ask Cray Valley Paper Mills.

After 10 games, their FA Cup journey ended in painful fashion as ultimately the 116 league places between them and Charlton proved too great.

But for 45 minutes of this first-round replay, the dream of pulling off arguably the greatest cup upset of all time was on the cards.

Just like at the end of the original tie, the two sides were locked 1-1 at half-time and suddenly the impossible seemed possible.

The dream died in the space of nine second-half minutes, though, when Charlton scored three goals to book a trip to Gillingham in the next round.

From that point on the game was gone and, by the time Charlton added a fifth and sixth at the end, the hope that had filled the ground before kick-off had evaporated into the freezing night air.

This was everything you’d expect an FA Cup tie at non-league ground to be. The Artic Stadium normally draws crowds of around 150 for their Isthmian South East games, but over 1,000 crammed in here tonight.

The fans were like commuters hurrying for a rush-hour tube, with the PA announcer shouting at them to move round the ground so more could get in.

The pitch was just what you’d expect and plenty of times in the opening 15 minutes players spooned a pass straight out or miscontrolled the ball. Even on the dodgy surface, Charlton still had over 70 per cent possession in the first half and they always looked the most likely to score.

For the original tie, Addicks boss Michael Appleton made 11 changes, but after that 1-1 draw he made just five this time.

One of those to keep his place from their last League One game was top scorer Alfie May, and it came as no surprise when he opened the scoring in the 35th minute.

Cray Valley had done well to hold out until then, with Barney Williams hacking Lucas Ness’ header off the line from corner. It was Ness who set up May’s goal, which was his 13th of the season, as a long ball forward from the centre-back found the striker and he finished well.

There was a hint of offside about it, and in the VAR age we now live in, the lines would have been promptly drawn at Stockley Park if this were a Premier League game.

VAR would have certainly been in action for Cray Valley’s equaliser nine minutes later. Kyrell Lisbie raced through on goal when Charlton keeper Sam Walker missed the ball and connected with his thigh. It was outside the box - but the referee pointed to the spot and Walker escaped with a yellow card.

Charlton did not escape going behind, however, as Lisbie made no mistake from the spot.

His dad Kevin, who played 176 times for Charlton before finishing his career at Cray Valley, was in attendance doing punditry for the BBC, but he couldn’t watch. Instead, he turned his back and listened for the roar of the crowd.

That joy was short lived, though, as 13 minutes into the second half it was game over.

First, Miles Leaburn restored Charlton’s lead by heading home Nathan Asiimwe’s cross, and then May made it three with a brilliant goal, which demonstrated his quality by racing clear and rounding the goalkeeper to score.

That may have been special, but George Dobson’s strike to make it 4-1 was even better. The midfielder picked up the ball up 25 yards out and lashed it into the top corner with his left foot.

The goal sucked what little life was left out of the Artic Stadium and you feared Cray Valley could collapse in front of the cameras.

In the end, Charlton only added two more, with Tyrese Campbell slotting home from the edge of the box and Micah Mbick marking his debut with a goal.