Rebels too strong for lacklustre Angels

This season I think I’ve watched more pre-season friendlies than the last few years put together. Maybe it’s the lure of missing the game being played on the pitch in front of me instead of the television for most of the last seven months and the quality I’ve seen so far hasn’t disappointed me.

Worthing vs Tonbridge was on my radar from the time it was announced a while ago, two managers in Adam Hinshelwood and Steve McKimm who have been very helpful to me when it comes to blogs and indeed Steve took me around the London lights back in December in his black cab, a birthday treat to myself.

Tonbridge is also around the area I originally come from as well so always a glance towards their results, I grew up watching some fantastic players go through their club, the likes of the late Ray Tumbridge, Mark Gilham, Neil and Paul Emblen, Roly Graham and many more that I’m sure readers will remind me of.

Rather than the wet weather predicted to fall all afternoon, the South Coast was bathed in beautiful sunshine before the sides took to the pitch and despite the Angels missing four or five likely starters, McKimm was still expecting a performance to match his opponents and once again named his own son 16 year old keeper Toby and Bobby Moore, 16 year old son to assistant manager Barry amongst the substitutes.

The opening exchanges were fairly even, the experience of Doug Loft and Ricky Modeste in the Angels midfield were matched by Danny Barker and the returning Marvin Armstrong in the middle of the park, almost trading sparring punches with neither side committing too much.

Worthing, renowned for their passing game from back to front, began to move the ball about a bit quicker and were rewarded with a penalty when a ball whipped into the box was handled by Harry Hudson, Ollie Pearce making no mistake from the spot putting the Rebels into the lead on 16 minutes.

Minutes later the Rebels were almost two goals in front, Reece Meekums put clean through lifting the ball over Angels keeper Jonny Henly only for Hudson to recover and clear the ball for a corner before it could end up in the net.

Worthing’s sole trialist should also have extended the lead on 37 minutes, heading over the bar when unmarked in the six yard box. As it was the home side didn’t have to wait long for their second goal.

Joel Colbran was allowed to stroll forward from the back line and unleashed a fierce drive from all of 25 yards past the hapless Henly to double the Rebels lead.

Tonbridge though were back in the game just before half time, Tommy Wood pouncing on a rare error from keeper Harrison Male to reduce the arrears and giving the visitors hope as they headed for the dressing rooms.

The good fortune lasted for all of three minutes in the second half as the home side’s trialist took advantage of the visitors hesitant defending and slotted home a third goal for Worthing.

Five minutes later, the scoreline was put beyond doubt with Pearce scoring his second and Worthing’s fourth from the spot once again after Pattenden was fouled inside the box whilst in full flight.

The next ten minutes allowed Hinshelwood to rest some of his starters and as per all the friendlies I’ve seen so far at all levels the quality of the game didn’t drop at all and although McKimm had just the four substitutes at his disposal they all made a decent contribution when they arrived on the pitch.

The Angels matched Worthing for chances in the final half hour, Ibrahim Olutade forcing Male into a point blank save and Sonny Miles heading over while Shaq Gwengwe’s overhead kick and Ty Mthunzi’s effort were both wide of the target and Worthing coming off comfortable winners.

For some reason it just didn’t happen for Tonbridge all afternoon, second best all over the park to a Worthing side who seem to have the knack of producing a performance whichever eleven players Hinshelwood selects.

What’s to be commended is the amount of young players on the pitch at the final whistle and having seen both McKimm and Moore being blooded during this pre-season for Tonbridge, neither looked out of place. McKimm dealt with all coming his way in the Angels goal whilst Moore looked tidy up against the experienced Darren Budd in midfield.

Worthing’s policy of youth getting it’s chance is well known, ‘providing the pathway’ is their motto and with two 14 year old’s getting their chance earlier this week, a chance they will get under Hinshelwood if you are good enough.

Speaking to both managers after game, neither was getting carried away with the result and both conceded there was plenty to take from the 90 minutes. Hinshelwood was happy with the performance one he felt wouldn’t have happened a few years ago:

‘I felt we looked fit and strong against a physically imposing Tonbridge team, maybe a game that we would have lost out on the battles individually across the pitch so that was pleasing to see.’

‘I’ve been quite pleased with the squad of players we have at the moment; I feel it allows us to play a variety of formations and also the emergence of some of our younger players who have come in and done well in recent weeks has been an added bonus for me.’

McKimm said before the kick-off he was expecting a good workout and despite missing a few players he did think it’s served as a little wake-up call:

‘I definitely learnt more from that game than from the good run we have been on so far this pre-season, there were a couple of positives to take from the game but also some negatives that we need to get to work on.’

‘It was excellent to see so many youngsters on the pitch to finish the game and if they’re good enough then they should be given a chance.’

McKimm: Bradford were excellent on the day

This week I caught up with Tonbridge Angels boss Steve McKimm after his side’s FA Cup exit to League Two Bradford City at the weekend:

TK: Looking back to the FA Cup tie on Saturday, were you a little disappointed or frustrated maybe that the boys couldn’t quite get to grips with Bradford?

SM: No, not really. I knew it would be a tough game and they would have had to have 4 or 5 players having an off day and we would have needed everyone to have a stormer. Bradford were excellent on the day but my lads never gave up.

TK: Did you see it as a compliment to yourselves that they felt they needed to field a full strength team to ensure they progressed to the next round?

SM: Most definitely, they made a host of changes against Oldham on Tuesday night and lost so maybe if they hadn’t had gone so strong on Saturday we may have had a better chance. That will always be a question that can’t be answered unfortunately.

TK: It certainly wasn’t as if Tonbridge didn’t have their chances to score at crucial times in the game, did you feel you had to go for it a bit at times which opened you up at the back?

SM: We had a couple yeah. The free kick which led to their 3rd goal, if that was given to us as it should have been right on the stroke of half time we’d have loaded the penalty area and possibly had a decent chance from that.

That was the goal which really killed off the tie for us and it seemed from then every time we went forward we left ourselves exposed and they punished us for it.

TK: A great occasion for the club, yourself and the players live on TV, but unable to have spectators inside Longmead to watch first-hand, are you hoping that after lockdown we see some progress towards their return?

SM: I hope so for everyone’s sake, supporters need their football. The players and the clubs need them back too, we want to see this happen.

TK: A mention for Bantams fan Jonnie Carrington, a fantastic gesture to set up a JustGiving page which has raised in excess of £6000 at the time of writing for your club, it just goes to show the strength of the football family.

SM: It’s something we didn’t ask for or were expecting to happen, but an unbelievable thing to do that we are grateful for. I’ve spoken to Jonnie a couple of times, he’s an absolute diamond and welcome to Longmead Stadium any time.

TK: How pleased were you to go to Chelmsford 48 hours later and return to Kent with three points give the short turnaround between games?

SM: It was great to get a positive result on Monday night and pleasing that we had a game straight away so the lads didn’t have any time to dwell on Saturday’s result, very pleased.

TK: With a lot of football still to be played this season especially midweek, do you think it’ll be a while until the league table settles down a bit?

SM: After the first ten games are done it starts to give you a bit of reflection in the way things might turn out, but with squads being stretched with a lot of games on top of each other it might take a little longer this time around.

McKimm: Let’s just say we’ll be doing our homework on them

This week I caught up with Tonbridge Angels boss Steve McKimm ahead of the visit of Bradford City this coming weekend in the FA Cup:

TK: A bit of a mixed bag of results so far this season, are you reasonably satisfied with how things have gone so far?

SM: Yes I think so, 1st Round of the FA Cup and more points out of our first three league games than last season so it’s an improvement for sure.

TK: How have you and the players found not having fun inside to watch games?

SM: Different. I’m pleased to be playing obviously but you always love the banter, grief, and support you get from the terraces, so it does seem very strange at times. #LetFansIn

TK: I managed to get to watch you and the team in action at Chichester in one of the earlier rounds where there were fans, was that a bit surreal in a way?

SM: Most definitely it was a bit, it’s what we all love though, watching a game and we want fans back close to the action ASAP as it’s not the same without them there.

TK: How pleased were you to get the club through to the 1st Round for the first time since 1972, a long time to wait?

SM: Very proud! It’s something that myself and other managers/players have tried to do in the past and it’s finally happened. I’m so pleased for everyone involved in the club from the chairman to the board members, supporters, volunteers, absolutely everyone.

TK: And now selected for the BBC live game as well announced as we chat, do you hope the players rise to the occasion and show the watching public what Tonbridge Angels are all about?

SM: I do, but it’s all on the day. I hope and believe the players will not freeze on the occasion but we will be right up for it.

TK: Has there been a ban on any FA Cup talk until league games are out of the way?

SM: The game is actually our next one as because of less numbers in the National League South this Saturday falls as our week off so it’s worked out quite nicely.

TK: With the current restrictions have you managed to get out and scout Bradford City?

SM: Let’s just say we’ll be doing our homework on them.

TK: As a club have you felt having to play in empty stadiums that’s it’s brought you, your staff, and the players closer together?

SM: Not really, I always make sure we have a changing room that sticks together, hopefully you will see that this coming weekend. With our recruitment of new players they have to fit in with what we’re about on and off the pitch.

TK: Has the chairman promised a trip to anywhere not on the government’s quarantine list should you win?

SM: Haha! No he hasn’t, but a mate of mine, Paul, who sponsored a board around our ground this season (tables or businesses) said he’d take all the players and staff to Vegas if we get to the semi-finals!

Angels take cup plaudits

FA Cup football once again took over midweek action, and for me the first time ever that I’ve managed to watch a game in every round so far, however depending on how kind the draw is on Thursday for the 4th qualifying round, that might be it for me this season given the inclusion of the National League Premier clubs and still no fans allowed in at that level.

My Tuesday night game saw me take in Chichester vs Tonbridge Angels, my first ever visit to Oaklands Park despite living down here in West Sussex for fourteen years, but also a chance to catch up briefly with Angels manager Steve McKimm who was kind enough to give me a blog interview over the lockdown period and as we are unable to enter Longmead Stadium currently with the restrictions this was the next best thing.

I used to live a five minute drive from that stadium before moving here and even played on the pitch in a cup semi final for my school a long time ago and also spent some junior years watching a very good Angels team smash their way through the Winstonlead Kent League.

The FA giant-killers of last season were a team McKimm was wary of when the draw was made despite Tonbridge hailing from two levels higher, Chi having also started their season a few weeks earlier than their visitors that might have given them the edge.

The game began on a damp pitch from the afternoon rain but both sides were set on passing the ball and not resorting to long channel balls which was pleasing to see, wing backs from Chi and wingers from Tonbridge were the name of the game.

The early chances fell the way of the hosts but were unable to find the target and as the visitors began to get a foothold in the game, they took the lead. Panic in the Chi defence after allowing a ball to bounce caught the home keeper Steve Mowthorpe in no-mans-land and Joe Turner nipped in between the keeper and defender to slot home the opening goal.

The goal however didn’t knock the home side out of their stride and they were level just five minutes later, a ball from Josh Clack squared across the box to Kaleem Haitham found it’s way into the back of the net to give the capacity 400 crowd something to cheer.

The remainder of the half was a trade off of chances but neither side were able to make the breakthrough to go in front before the half time break.

The first chance of the second half came immediately for the visitors, the impressive Khale Da Costa forcing Mowthorpe to tip the ball round the post within two minutes of the re-start. Both sides certainly appeared more intent in an open game this half as play swung from end to end, and the midfield area seemed a lot more stretched.

The Angels once again took the lead on 65 minutes, Da Costa appearing to score straight from the corner with no Chi player on the front post to attack the ball. The hosts did have the ball in the net four minutes later but Scott Jones comfortably fouled the keeper at the same time.

Chi made a couple of substitutions to try and change the nature of the game, the young impressive Ethan Pritchard arrived just before the goal and was involved after trying to get his back into the game down the left wing, with Lewis Hyde replacing Matt Axell to drive the team forward.

Tonbridge had their chances on the counter attack to add a third, but seemed unable to hold onto the ball when they attacked the final third of the pitch which gave their hosts the chance to put pressure immediately back on the visitors defence and goal for the final fifteen minutes.

McKimm’s defenders dealt with everything thrown at them including stoppage time, Sonny Miles marshalling the back line alongside Rian Bray headed, kicked and put their bodies in front of everything to give the Angels victory and a place in Thursday’s draw.

Very impressed with Chi and the way they played throughout the game, will definitely be making another visit there this season, facilities look pretty good for this level.

I caught up with the Angels boss on Wednesday morning and here are his thoughts:

‘It was a tough game as I expected, a proper game of cup football. Despite all the pressure towards the end I was comfortable with my defence dealing with all the crosses coming in and with a touch more quality we could have had another goal.’

‘It was really nice to hear other voices than just the players shouting at each other, good to see a crowd watching football again.’