Although Deal were denied the “quick revenge” victory over Cray that they were looking for manager Derek Hares was still satisfied with the outcome of Saturday’s re-match with the Millers.
After watching Kane Smith’s first-half goal earn the Hoops a point Hares said: “Considering that the disappointment of Tuesday’s semi-final defeat (by Cray) on penalties was still fresh in the lads’ minds I was pleased with their response today, especially as we lost two players at half-time through injury.”
Dean Hill (hamstring) and Harry Alexander (knee) were both unable to resume in the second period as the Hoops looked to regain the initiative after being denied an interval lead by Aaron Rhule’s equaliser a minute before the break.
But, despite having to re-shuffle his line-up, it was Hares’ team who created nearly all of the meaningful second-half chances against a Cray side who looked to be suffering the most from the effects of Tuesday’s fiercely-fought 120-minute cup clash.
Yet the Hoops had to settle for just a point because they were unable to convert any of those second-half opportunities, and for Ryan Philpott in particular it turned into one of those afternoons where nothing would fall quite right for him in the penalty box.
And the striker’s frustration was compounded further in the dying minutes when he looked to be the victim of a clear push by Cray keeper Jordan Carey only for Deal’s appeals for a penalty to be waved away by referee Kane Dempster.
Philpott had also been unlucky much earlier on in the game when his 20th-minute drive clipped the top of the Cray crossbar, but six minutes later the Hoops did take the lead when Kane Smith scored his first goal for the club with a far-post header from Andy Miller’s corner.
And the solid central defensive partnership of Smith, nearing the end of his one-month loan spell from Ramsgate, and skipper Hill meant that Cray rarely troubled the Hoops’ goal in the opening half only for the Millers to suddenly carve out an opening for Rhule which accepted with a precise left-foot finish.
To then lose Hill and Alexander could easily have disrupted Deal’s rhythm, but with the ever-reliable Lee Scott dropping into the back four alongside Smith and Charlie Walsh replacing Alexander, the Hoops remained on the front foot without being able to find the goal which would have secured a third successive league victory although they came very close when Walsh saw his 55th-minute brilliantly turned away from the top corner by Carey.
Hares added: “I felt that with a little bit of luck we could have nicked it and overall I was pleased with the performance, which I have been for a number of weeks now.
“We’ve now got 12 league games left and although we are still not out of trouble, we are certainly in a much stronger position than we were after we lost at home to Erith Town (last month).
“The main thing is that it’s now in our hands, and we are also hopeful that Ramsgate will agree to extend Kane’s loan-spell because he wants to stay.”
Deal: Waymark, Paxman, K Smith, Hill (D Smith 45), O’Brien, Miller, Scott, Anderson, Coyne, Alexander (Walsh 45), Philpott.