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!

Curtailed, but not the end

After much waiting and wondering but with little expectation the FA finally released details of the Step 3-6 season for 2020/21. As commonly thought the league season is over but the use of wording leaves a lot more debate and opinion to be had.

Null and void were the words used on the 2019/20 season as quickly as the pandemic struck and in hindsight which we all know is wonderful it can well be taken as hasty given the little number of games we managed to play this season.

Void of course means it never happened, those games those appearances those goals no longer exist in the record books. The wording this time around of curtailing a season to me and others puts a different slant on things going forward.

Still correct in the fact we won’t see another league fixture in 2020/21 but there is scope for the FA to be creative or imaginative if you will. Not a lot of credit is sent the way of the FA and opinion from me is rightly so, that’s not to tar some county FA’s with the same brush.

But, by not going down the full void route I feel they will look to see if they can make this season’s results count, maybe not at all levels but if we’re following the lead from the National League of no relegation from Step 2 for a second year running then that has to be applied throughout the pyramid.

Whether they can make it work is another question, do you also call in that famous word of integrity whereby a squad of players this season has achieved eight or nine results only for next seasons squad to be different players which in non-league circles is highly likely..

The second part of this action the FA could take is to complete their restructure of the perfect pyramid which was delayed last year and in all honesty may not happen until a full season is completed.

Project Non-League (@Projectnonleag1 on Twitter) have been campaigning for the FA to reward those who deserve from the course of two part played seasons to move up the pyramid but with no relegation occurring.

There are gaps right from the National League downwards and with the creation of an extra division at Step 4 it will allow for movement and progression for some from Steps 4-6 for those who have spent two seasons trying to do just that.

Steps 1-3 is maybe a little more complicated to agree on who and how they would promote, one or two gaps with possibly the ability of four or five clubs feeling they deserve to be promoted.

I’m sure some clubs if not a lot of them are frustrated at having to play the same sides in the same division for a third year running, if it comes to that it has to be a completed season this time around, no questions.

This morning, I’ve spoken to a club manager at each of the four levels to get their reaction to the decision and what their opinion is should the restructure go ahead.

Adam Hinshelwood, whose Worthing side led the Pitching In Isthmian League Premier Division on both occasions when the season stopped, agrees with the decision to curtail but isn’t convinced at the proposed restructure taking place:

‘I don’t think was any other option to finish the season now especially with spectators not allowed to attend until the end of March, it would mean disturbing the start of next season which we hope is going to be the shining light.’

‘That next season we can have spectators back in and no disruption hopefully, we can then get back to a bit or normality for everyone.’

‘The potential restructure is just another sign of the inconsistency throughout the FA decisions, I saw somewhere that a member of the EFL saying they wouldn’t relegate teams if the National League didn’t and they felt that whatever decisions were being made needed to be consistent at all levels.’

‘I feel that teams who have shown ambition are getting punished the most, it’s all become a bit of a shambles now. If they had kept with consistent decisions for all the levels then there might not have been as much upheaval as we are seeing in my opinion.’

Sevenoaks Town manager Micky Collins had his side in the Pitching In Isthmian South East Division play-offs places when the season was suspended late last year and admits this is the right decision being made:

‘I think it’s the correct decision to curtail the season as opposed to null and void. It leaves the option for the league to revisit the finished totals at a later date if required, null and void would have ended that scenario,’

‘With the on-going crisis who knows what could happen in the future (next season) I think in hindsight the leagues and the FA probably wished they had curtailed last season instead.’

Richard Styles’ Step 5 Tunbridge Wells team were in the top 5 of the Southern Counties East League when the season was suspended back in November, but he agrees there was little option but for things to end for second successive season:

‘It was pretty clear the FA were going to wait for the government roadmap announcement before making a decision. It seems in all honesty they have found a new word to use instead of “null and void”.’

‘I do think it strange to continue the FA Vase at our level though and slightly unfair on players and clubs to rush to get ready to play again with a lot at stake in these games.’

‘As for the restructure I don’t think there should be any promotion or relegation, purely on the fact that not enough games were played, had there been over 50% of games completed it’s a different situation, I can’t say it’s deserved for anyone after 12 or 13 games.’

‘Again, any decision that’s made will not please everyone but it’s about doing it the right way. I think had they decided to restart when we can or continue this season in August wouldn’t be correct either. Clubs, staff and players can all look to pre-season now to prepare for a fresh start.’

Simon Hull whose Step 6 Arundel side had a slow start to the season in the Southern Combination League Division One also felt there was no other option than to finish the season here and now:

‘All things considered namely where we are with the roadmap out of Covid and the time left to complete the season it was the logical thing to do. Clubs can’t survive without generating revenue and sustainability of a football club has to be the number one priority.’

‘I think everyone would like the restructure to be completed following the standard process of a season being completed. I would defer it again until the completion of a full set of games.’

There are a few points to come out as well in the past 24 hours too, as Richard alluded to above the FA Vase is to continue and it will be interesting to see which of the clubs want to carry that on or withdraw from the competition, would we assume that it’s going to be played on consecutive Saturdays until completed ready for a May final? We know this is driven by sponsorship money to continue; we can see that higher up in the game.

I’ve certainly seen more and more leagues starting to release details about possibly holding cup competitions for a month or two. Myself I feel this is needed because there are clubs, players and staff who want to be back involved and fans who want to watch. Absolutely there should be no pressure from anyone anywhere to play in these tournaments should they go ahead, personal choice at the forefront of it all.

For all of those four sections of people listed above, its that little bit of hope and relief that’s been in short supply for a majority of the last twelve months, a brief glimmer we enjoyed in September and October.

It’s the mental health for all that does need some addressing and that’s included in all categories, it’s your own personal opinion if you feel it’s right to get some football in or it’s a wait till pre-season.

Some players might see it as an audition for the new season, getting in the shop window early, some just want to kick a ball again after so much lost time. The same will go for club staff, wanting to get an early mark in front of others, fans will be happy to see the one thing a lot of them live for week to week.

If none of above come off then so be it, but out the box thinking and discussion right from the FA down to the County Leagues should be applauded, it’s not been for the want of trying. A beer and a burger sounds good though to me alongside some football on the pitch, it’s all we’re waiting for………….

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!