Thursday 31st March 2005

Please credit this article to Stephen McCartney - www.kentishfootball.co.uk

Who can handle the pressure?

EXPECTING to equal or better Poland's tally of eight goals against Azerbaijan, England missed a hat-full of chances and had to settle for a 2-0 win over the lesser lights at St James' Park four days later.

However, Sven Goran Eriksson will acknowledge the fact that there are no longer any easy games in football and at the end of the day you still collect three points for victory, no matter how many times the ball ends up in the opposition's net, writes Stephen McCartney.

Football is all about how you handle the pressure.  Take the Go Travel Kent League for instance.

A two-horse race with only six games to play, all eyes are on Ramsgate and Herne Bay to see which side can handle the pressure and clinch the crown - and of course there's the "kept under wraps" play-off's at the end of the campaign for the side that keeps cool and wins the championship.

With England against Azerbaijan a home win and many goals were anticipated, but did you think the score would be goal-less at half time?

The problem with these teams is you don't know what to expect.  The same could be said about Kent League sides Greenwich Borough and Sporting Bengal United.  Both good sides in their own right, but they could spring a surprise on Saturday.

Advantage Ramsgate.  They have a three point lead on their rivals Herne Bay at the summit.  But both sides had a mix Easter period - the real business end of the season.

Herne Bay secured their place in the Kent League Cup final on Good Friday when Wes Hammond scored the only goal of the game at Hythe Town in their second leg at Reachfields Stadium, winning 2-0 on aggregate.

The following day, Ramsgate booked their place in the final, drawing 1-1 at Thamesmead Town, going through 2-1 on aggregate.

However, the final, at Folkestone Invicta's Westbourne Stadium in Cheriton Road on Saturday 30th April, takes a back burner for both clubs with the Kent League title race taking priority.

But did both sides freeze on Easter Monday in front of big crowds?

VCD Athletic came away from Southwood Stadium with a 1-0 win to enhance their chances of finishing third - watched by 203.  However, 683 fans witnessed Whitstable Town turn over Herne Bay by two goals to one at the Belmont.

Both Ramsgate and Herne Bay dust themselves down ready for their next challenge on Saturday.

"The positive thing about Greenwich is they would be in the top six in the form guide at the moment.  They are the only team to take points of Maidstone since we beat them," said Ramsgate boss Jim Ward.

"So that in itself will be a difficult game on Saturday.  You don't know what you are going to get with Greenwich.  It depends on what frame of mind they turn up with - it will not be an easy game."

Greenwich turned round a poor start to the season and as their record suggests, eleven wins and eleven defeats from 26 games, that is evidence that proves they are an unpredictable team.

But Ward breathed a sigh of relief when he found out Herne Bay also lost on Easter Monday.

"It's a funny situation," said the Scot.  "We didn't win a game over Easter, we drew on Saturday in the cup and lost to VCD on Monday.  

"But we find ourselves in a cup final and still three points clear at the top of the league due to other results."

An opportunity missed by Herne Bay?  But Ward revealed he is allowing his players the opportunity to relax as the heat at the top intensifies.

"We deserved to get something out of the VCD game, they didn't get out our half in the second half," reflected Ward.

"Obviously disappointed but baring in mind we won ten league games on the spin, I will be honest with you, what I done Monday was I told the lads it was a fantastic opportunity winning ten games on the spin.  Instead of having a go at all the players on Monday I bought them all a drink.

"What we are trying to do is get everyone to relax.  Herne Bay are in the same situation as us.  I saw them at Hythe on Friday and they were all a bit fraught.  

"What we are trying to do is get the players in the right frame of mind."

Ward appreciates the Kent League for allocating both title challengers games on the same day -  but he is taking one game at a time.

"I am only interested in beating Greenwich on Saturday and that's all," he said.

"Then we go again on Tuesday - taking one game at a time.

"Like I say, we don't have a big squad so we'll get Saturday's game out of the way, hopefully get three points, do a head count and see whose fit for Tuesday, which is another difficult game at Hythe.  But you have to be positive."

Jason Lillis' feels their are further twists in the title race.

The Herne Bay manager added: "At the moment no game is an easy game.  It's a matter we need to get our performance back on track after a disappointing Easter Monday."

The former Gillingham star admitted his side failed to captalise on the Rams losing to VCD.

"I just think we should have captalise on Ramsgate losing but the pleasing stuff is we are no worse off,"

Hythe Town could hold the key as they entertain both Ramsgate and Herne Bay at Reachfields Stadium in the run-in, but as your table below shows both title challengers have difficult games coming up.

"Going to Hythe isn't going to be easy for both sides and Tunbridge Wells and Thamesmead aren't going to be easy games for us," said Lillis.

Like Greenwich Borough, Sporting Bengal United are a side that are unpredictable.

Lillis said: "You don't know what you are going to get with them.  They are unpredictable but we just have to perform to our best ability and get three points - which is a must for both sides."

Lillis is enjoying his first season at Winch's Field and admitted no-one expected them to be challenging for honours, but he is loving every minute of it.

"I am having a nice time.  Everyone's having a nice time.  No one expected us to be second.  There's no pressure on anybody, we've gone this far we just want to go that final furlong."

And everyone at the club will enjoy their day out at the Kent League Cup final at the end of the season.

"That's nice for the players, supporters and committee.  A day out where everyone is going to have a really nice time."

Priorities?  "We'll, obviously the league title is now.  The cup final is the last game but our priority is to get three points on the board game by game."

Both Ramsgate and Herne Bay appear to be at full strength.

Let the battle commence!


RAMSGATE M Jim Ward HERNE BAY M Jason Lillis
Sat 2 April H Greenwich Borough Sat 2 April H Sporting Bengal United
Tue 5 April A Hythe Town Tue 5 April A Thamesmead Town
Sat 9 April H Beckenham Town Sat 9 April H Slade Green
Tue 12 April A Herne Bay Tue 12 April H Ramsgate
Sat 16 April A Lordswood Sat 16 April A Hythe Town
Sat 23 April H Maidstone United Sat 23 April A Tunbridge Wells

Go Travel Kent League Premier Division Table (top 6)

Pos Team PLD W D L F A PTS
1 Ramsgate 24 17 4 3 53 20 55
2 Herne Bay 24 16 4 4 57 29 52
3 Whitstable Town 29 15 6 8 68 43 51
4 VCD Athletic 27 15 4 8 62 47 49
5 Maidstone United 26 14 5 7 51 33 47
6 Tunbridge Wells 26 10 8 8 39 44 40