Sevenoaks stunned by Redhill comeback

Midweek football took me to Sevenoaks for an FA Cup replay against Redhill, perfect timing with needing a trip to Tonbridge to pick up the youngest daughter’s birthday cake sometimes these fixtures just fall into your lap!

Sevenoaks is my home town, growing up in villages around there and actually living a 5 minute walk from the Bourne Stadium (or Greatness Park) for some of my life.

I did make it there last season to watch Oaks take apart Three Bridges on a sunny Saturday afternoon, my first visit since moving to the South Coast some 15 years ago.

Two on their coaching staff in Jason Bourne and Julian Leigh, guys I know from Otford Utd and Tunbridge Wells days in the past always assure you get a friendly welcome and their boss Micky Collins has been kind enough to provide a few bits for blogs in the past, always grateful for that.

When it comes to blogging the first port of call is the team board, now I’m not sure if this is available at all clubs from Step 4 upwards but I was directed to a pile of team sheets to help my cause, the gentleman I believe was called Ray, possibly Ray Miles a former manager of the first team in years gone by, but very helpful this was for me.

After a 1-1 draw at the weekend, tonight was replay night and thrown in a little bit for me, a bit of scouting for East Preston this coming weekend, Redhill’s opponents in the FA Vase.

Sevenoaks would have hoped to hit the ground running and see the tie through and a place in the next round away to Phoenix Sports, but it took a little while for both sides to settle into the game despite some good movement from both sides across the pitch.

Redhill were the first to threaten, Nathan Hogan forcing a save from Ben Bridle-Card a couple of minutes in while on 10 minutes a surging run from Stefan Wright saw Jack Minchin get a hand to the ball, defenders scrambling the loose one away from the line.

It did threaten to spill over early on with one or two niggly tackles from both sides but the referee seemed to manage to calm the situation with a few yellow cards issued.

Just before the half hour Oaks went in front. On a quick counter attack Bradley Schafer shot’s was out of the reach of Minchin and went in the net via the inside of the post.

Sam King thought he had pulled Redhill level within a minute with a fine hit from distance but Bridle-Card was equal to it.

Six minutes later the Lobsters suffered again, another break at pace from the home side and the livewire Louis Collins skipped past two or three challenges before firing past Minchin. Collins spent last season at Dover Athletic until they finished for the season and looks a cut above at this level.

The home side were in cruise control three minutes later, Collins darting run down the right crossed for Jason Thompson to tap home, nine minutes, three goals and seemingly one foot in the next round before half time with the visitors unable to cope with the quick break football.

The two half time team talks must have been of complete contrasting words, for the early part of the second half it still didn’t look like Redhill were going to find their way back into the game but suddenly a lifeline appeared.

11 minutes into the half Aiden Brown poked the ball home after the ball pinged it’s way around and you could sense the Lobsters felt there was still a chance to get the game going their way, Sevenoaks just feeling they needed to find a way to close the game out.

Collins had that chance after the hour, his pace taking him clear of the defence but forced slightly wide by Minchin and hitting the post instead of opening up a three goal lead once again.

Brown would have felt he should have reduced the deficit minutes later but his shot went agonisingly wide of the post as momentum was starting to build for the visitors.

Thompson though had the chance to put the tie beyond Redhill with 17 minutes to play, forced to backheel the ball towards goal it didn’t quite have enough on it and was cleared away, Collins unable to get there quick enough to help it into the net.

Three minutes later and the Lobsters were finally back in the tie, Hogan’s cross from the left found an unmarked King in the penalty area and he scored to set up a nervy last 14 minutes for the home side, a case now of stick or twist?

Seven minutes from time the visitors got the equaliser, King put clean through to finish past Bridle-Card and complete what looked to be a remarkable comeback and send us all into extra time, at the very point of the game when the rain, thunder and lightning was at its height.

A minimum of five minutes of stoppage time went up on the board, but the visitors only needed two of those to complete one of the most unexpected comebacks, Hogan finding Brown who turned one way and then the other before unleashing his shot into the back of the net much to the delight of the visiting support whilst groans around me from Oaks fans.

With the final few minutes played out without incident Redhill had completed what seemed pretty impossible at half time, outplayed and 3-0 down but great character to believe they could do it and to use the cliché it was most definitely a game of two halves.

The FA Cup has certainly pulled up some results for me, a 5-4 at the weekend and a 4-3 on Wednesday evening, the next game I go to has got to have something special to match that I feel!

Town come good despite windy battles

This weekend saw me head ‘home’ to Kent and to Greatness Park, home of Sevenoaks Town. I lived in Kent for nearly 31 years until I moved down to Sussex, Sevenoaks might be the hometown but Otford Utd were my club having lived in the nearby village for 18 years. However, going home to places from my childhood I really love but this was to be the first time I had watched Town in an enclosed ground scenario.

I saw many great games and battles between the two clubs and sadly while Otford went out the Premier Division via relegation, Oaks went the other way and won the title and with it promotion to the Kent League. Stabilisation in that competition eventually led them to another league title and into the the Ryman/Bostik/Pitching In Isthmian South East Division where they sit now. They were 10th in the table before Covid-19 struck in March and on Saturday it was a first return to competitive league action since then.

Of course this ‘new normal’ is quite different for each of level of grounds you go into. Pre-paid for ticket is now expected, easily done, face recognition for a temperature check is a new one in the first three weeks, luckily I passed and of course sanitising points as you enter the turnstiles and a one way system to enter and exit the ground, very well thought out. Also a word or two to say about the stewards/volunteers here, first class from the car park to inside the ground, happy to answer any query we had, even got a printed team-sheet without needing a picture of the written board!

What I wasn’t expecting when I got here was to see two very familiar faces to me, firstly Jason Bourne, the ex Tunbridge Wells player and manager, who knows my family very well and secondly Julian Leigh, a man I’ve known for the best part of 30 odd years through him playing for Otford and Sevenoaks as well, again well known to my family and nice to have a short catch up before the game began.

A game that wasn’t ever going to be for the purist with wind dominating the full 90 minutes, Bridges with three ex Worthing players in their ranks, Mason Doughty, Hayden Skerry and Brannon O’Neill were the brighter starters playing with the wind with the latter controlling the game from midfield in front of a good sized crowd of 137.

Oaks also included an ex Rebel in Joe Tennent who had a fine game at centre back alongside Thomas Ripley, but they struggled to created anything in the final third of the pitch and it was no surprise to see the visitors take the lead on 12 minutes through Alex Barbary.

The home side didn’t find any joy down the wings either and despite O’Neill probing and prompting Bridges couldn’t add to the scoreline and one of the few attacks on the visitors goal saw Oaks draw level on the stroke of half time. A corner headed back across goal landed on the head of striker Kyle Da Silva who nodded home from just a few yards out to send the sides in level at the break.

The goal certainly came at the right time for the home side who hadn’t offered much in the first 45 minutes but came out with a better game plan in the second half. Had Bridges continued to play in the same vain against the wind, there might have been a better outcome for them but it was Sevenoaks who played the better football with more joy down the flanks whilst Bridges struggled to get any joy from Tennent and Ripley.

Oaks took the lead on 71 minutes after Jason Thompson broke the offside trap, rounded the keeper and netted. Just four minutes later, Thompson added his second after great work from Tyrell Richardson-Brown down the right hand side who squared to the striker to slot home. Those two quickfire goals put the game out of Bridges’ reach and with James Bessey-Saldanha adding a fourth in stoppage time a comprehensive victory goes down in the record books before a trip to Corinthian in Tuesday’s FA Cup tie.

Manager Mickey Collins will certainly be pleased with the way his side responded in the second half but knows a stern test will await his team on Tuesday evening. For Bridges, a long way to go with this being only the first league game, the front two of Barbary and Tom Tolfrey will give a few sides problems this season and had they taken one or two of the chances that did come their way in the first half the game could have ended with a different complexion.

Tuesday night is FA Cup night again and my first look at Adam Hinshelwood’s Worthing who started the season with a good 2-1 victory at Folkestone Invicta, East Grinstead are their opponents and a new ground I’ve yet to visit, I’m certainly making the most of this season!