AFC Croydon Athletic 0-1 Herne Bay - Personally I think we've left them off the hook tonight, admits AFC Croydon Athletic boss Kevin Rayner

Tuesday 03rd September 2019
AFC Croydon Athletic 0 – 1 Herne Bay
Location Mayfield Stadium, off Mayfield Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey CR7 6DN
Kickoff 03/09/2019 19:45

The Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round Replay
Tuesday 3 September 2019
Stephen McCartney reports from Mayfield Stadium

HERNE BAY manager Ben Smith says he wants to give the fans better football after knocking AFC Croydon Athletic out of The FA Cup at the second attempt.

Herne Bay were held to a 2-2 draw by the Rams at Winch’s Field on 24 August and they suffered two 3-0 defeats to Whitstable Town and Cray Valley (Paper Mills) and arrived at Mayfield Stadium sitting in fourteenth-place in the Isthmian League South East Division, having collected four points from as many games.

AFC Croydon Athletic beat Fisher 3-1 and were knocked out of The Buildbase FA Vase at the first hurdle after losing 2-0 at Sheppey United during the same time frame and went into this FA Cup Preliminary Round Replay in ninth-place in the Southern Counties East Football League with seven points on the board from four league outings.

Herne Bay will travel to second-placed Isthmian League Premier Division side Haringey Borough on Saturday after their star striker Zak Ansah scored the only goal of the game, just 41 seconds into the second half.

Herne Bay used their fourth goalkeeper in six games tonight, having used Jake Batchelor (injured); Jack Delo (retired); Robert Budd (cup-tied) already this season but taking the gloves tonight was centre-half Laurence Harvey, and former Hythe Town goalkeeper George Kumrasi is expected to start on Saturday once the paperwork has gone through.

Smith said: “Delighted really. With the circumstances, it’s always a tough place to come here.  I know that from where I was in the SCEFL (with Canterbury City). It’s probably the worst place to come but they had excellent form at home in the season’s I was in the SCEFL, so you knew as soon as they got a replay they’re smelling a scalp.

“We shot ourselves in the foot at home so that’s the reason why the boys’ had to come up here tonight and put a shift in. It was a much easier game on our pitch at home than up here, that’s for sure!

AFC Croydon Athletic had only two shots on target during the entire game as they failed to test Harvey, who played under Smith at Canterbury City.

“What can you say? There’s some stat at the club where they’ve haven’t had a clean sheet in hell of a long time,” said Smith. 

Herne Bay kept three clean sheets in 45 games this season and this was their sixth game of this season.

Smith added: “We haven’t had a clean sheet since we’ve come in, even in pre-season, even when we’ve been scintillating going forward, we’ve not had a clean sheet.

“It’s funny how football works isn’t it? Laurence Harvey comes in, in our hour of need, goes in goal and absolutely pulled off some great stuff in there as well.”

AFC Croydon Athletic manager Kevin Rayner admitted: “I think it’s a wasted opportunity really. They’re in a bit of a state coming up tonight, no keeper, their centre-halves gone in goal and we didn’t really test him enough.

“It was a good opportunity, a lapse in concentration a minute at the start of the second half, poor clearance and we haven’t picked up properly and that’s it, you’re 1-0 down!

“We’ve got 45 minutes to do something and we didn’t really get going until the last 10 minutes when we threw the kitchen sink at them. We would’ve have scored if we stayed out there for another three hours or so. It was a waste!”

Herne Bay started the game like a house on fire and created their first opening after only 16 seconds.

AFC Croydon Athletic quickly lost possession from the kick-off and Ansah worked the left channel before cutting inside and hitting a cross towards the far post, which was smacked high over the bar on the volley by Kyron Lightfoot from a couple of yards inside the box.

Smith said: “Fantastic football! We didn’t manage to get in behind them at all at home and tonight from early on you could see we had the potential to unlock them.

“Zak’s going to be a problem for any back four and a fantastic hit from Kyron. He hit it well on the volley, a difficult strike and if it come off it’s a goal of the season contender!”

The first half was played at a frenetic pace and AFC Croydon Athletic created a decent opening in the fourteenth minute but like most of the game they fell apart in the final third.

Jordan Knight floated a free-kick into the Herne Bay box, Harvey sliced his punch and winger Nahum Green should have hit his shot first time, instead he took too many touches inside the box and Herne Bay cleared their lines.

“Shooting with his first touch probably would’ve done it,” admitted Rayner.

“I think that happened quite a few times this evening. We had chances to put things in and haven’t.  We’ve taken the extra touch but we haven’t put enough on the keeper.  For some reason we just seem to be lacking tempo and everything this evening, particularly after we went behind. For a good 30 minutes it took us to really have a go at them and then we put them under a lot of pressure for the last 10 minutes, which you expect to.”

AFC Croydon Athletic’s holding midfielder, player-coach Liam Harwood, 31, talked his team-mates through the game and he started a move when he played the ball out to right-back Ibrahim Kallon, who played the ball inside to Green, who strode forward, cut inside before flashing his left-footed drive flashing across Harvey and past the right-hand post from 30-yards.

The Rams switched off following a short corner in the 21st minute as Lightfoot played the ball short to Jordan Johnson-Palmer, and Ansah played a short pass in behind Kallon to feed Lightfoot towards the by-line and he hung in a cross for Ricky Freeman, who flicked his shot towards goal from 15-yards and Nic Taylor caught the ball at head height.

The best chance of the first half fell to Herne Bay in the 38th minute.

Johnson-Palmer chipped the ball in behind Kallon who switched off and let in Freeman down the left channel and the striker drilled his left-footed drive towards the near corner from 10-yards, forcing Taylor to swiftly dive to his right to push the ball towards safety.

“The longer the game went on we started to threaten more and you through we can compose ourselves here,” said Smith.

“They may come out and throw the kitchen sink at you early doors and a lot of times we’ve been here they do score a lot of goals early here so you have to be wary of that.”

Rayner added: “I think Nic’s done ok tonight and made a couple of good saves.  I think they had one other shot from Zak and then one at the end while were pushing but it’s disappointing because I think we haven’t given them too much. We’ve done well on that side of it but we haven’t really caused them enough problems when we should’ve done.”

Herne Bay linked up well inside the AFC Croydon Athletic half when Danny Lawrence rolled the ball to Joe Nelder, who played the ball into Lightfoot, who fed Ansah, who shrugged off the attentions of Rams’ right-sided centre-half Janichell Fernandes Santos before unleashing a right-footed drive from 25-yards towards the top right-hand corner, which forced Taylor to palm the ball towards safety, high to his left.

“Again, fantastic football leading up with neat build-up play into Zak and Zak showed a different side to his game tonight,” said Smith.

“A lot of people think he’s just a penalty box finisher and offers very little other than that. Tonight, he held the ball up, he brought people into play. He held off the big man (Santos) and spun him a couple of times and then opened the shot off, really unlucky.”

Lightfoot swung in a high, hanging corner from the right and George Crimmen came up from the back to glance his header through a crowd of players and past the far post.

Centre-halves Crimmen and Stuart West offered resilient protection in front of their stand-in goalkeeper for 80 minutes of the game.

“We’ve struggled at the back,” admitted Smith, who has seen his side concede six goals in their previous two league games.

“Going forward, we’ve looked class at times this season, through pre-season you can see there’s such potential in this squad we’ve got yet we’ve given away soft goals and we look easy to score against but tonight the organisation, the strength, solidity at the back was top notch.”

At half-time, Rayner said: “It was a wasted opportunity wasn’t it? A couple of times Harvey looked all over the place but we didn’t really do enough. We didn’t put him under enough pressure. They got away with it tonight. They had a couple of very technical players but we didn’t really do enough. I think we gave the game away this evening.

“I thought at half-time it was going to be a little bit better. The one thing we did say we’ll try to get their back four turning a little bit but the first ball of the half was under-hit at the start of the half and we went out of shape and that was it. It was the opposite what we said we shouldn’t do basically.”

At half-time, Smith said: “Keep doing what you’re doing, the game will open up, they’ll start to tire. They’ll throw everything at you, high octane, high energy early doors and we can weather that. As soon as the games open up you can pick them off and early on in that half we looked like we could pick them off for fun.”

Herne Bay sealed the victory after only 41 seconds on the clock but AFC Croydon Athletic striker Umaro Alpha was at fault for the goal as he failed to make the ball stick inside the Herne Bay half and right-back Nelder played the ball forward.

King released Ansah in behind Dammy Badda and Santos and as soon as he reached the penalty area there was only going to be one outcome, the striker slotting his right-footed shot past Taylor into the back of the net from 15-yards.

“Excellent finish! We take it for granted, when he goes in the box like that you take it for granted. He took it early.  He could’ve taken it in, it would’ve been easier. It was a really polished finish and that’s what he does,” said Smith.

“He doesn’t need many sniffs, he’s a predator in there, he’s calm.  When he got his goal I thought he was a bit unselfish at times in the box later on, maybe if he did not get his goal he maybe would’ve been a bit more ruthless himself on a few occasions.”

Rayner admitted: “That’s one player you don’t want it to fall to!  Without him they’ll be buried anyhow over the last two games. He took his two chances well in the first game and he had one chance later on as we were pushing. As soon as he got that opportunity, he put it away.”

Herne Bay were on the front foot during the early exchanges of the second half and Taylor was called into action in the seventh minute, using his legs to block Lightfoot’s low shot after the Herne Bay winger cut into the box and sped past two defenders.

AFC Croydon Athletic took exactly eight minutes and 18 seconds into the second half to create their first shot on target.

Green launched a long throw into the penalty area from the right hand side, the ball was cleared back out to him and he drilled a low angled drive towards the bottom near corner, forcing Harvey to get down on to his knees and smother at his near post.

Smith added: “Good save! He had Rob Budd whose cup-tied. He had him doing his goalkeeping warm-up and was doing a bit of coaching in the 25 minutes that he had for the warm-up. He got him settled and Laurence is a calm character anyway, so he wasn’t going to get flustered in there.  If they beat him with a great strike, fair enough, but he’s a calm, calculated man and he showed his experience there.”

Ansah, who often dropped deep to collect the ball, received a squad pass from Lawrence before feeding Freeman, who was left in space some 30-yards from goal and his angled drive flashed past the diving Taylor and just past the foot of the far post.

AFC Croydon Athletic were off target with 13:05 on the clock when Taylor’s big kick was met by Abbas Agoro’s glancing header, which sailed past the right-hand post, leaving Harvey untroubled.

Despite being just a goal in front, it was a comfortable evening for Herne Bay, as AFC Croydon Athletic offered very little in an attacking sense.

Herne Bay squandered an excellent chance to kill the game off in the 74th minute after Freeman won his side a free-kick after his driving run was stopped by Santos.

Lightfoot delivered a free-kick 30-yards from goal by chipping the ball into the penalty area and an unmarked Ansah ghosted in and swept his first-time shot past the foot of the near post from within the six-yard box.

Smith said: “It’s a collectors item really because that’s bread and butter for him.  I think that’s a really good chance. His movement is class. People talk about his finishing, it’s his movement that gets him the chances and he should score though and I’ll be telling him that in a minute.”

Rayner threw on substitutes David Duro and Bankole Koroma but it would be fair to say their introductions came too late as they started to threw the kitchen sink at Herne Bay during the final 10 minutes.

The Rams’ second on-target chance should have resulted in an equaliser with 38:01 on the clock but Green fluffed his big chance to force extra-time.

Koroma’s fine pass put Green through on goal and he only had Harvey to beat but the wingers left-footed shot lacked power and placement and Harvey stood up and made a comfortable save in the end.

Rayner said: “I don’t think we’ve tested him enough there. Nahum’s gone in one-on-one and a fairly week shot at him that was the opportunity really. A good opportunity to get us level that we didn’t quite take it.”

Smith added: “I think most goalkeepers would probably go down but where Laurence is a defender he stood up and read what he was going to do so at that point you are thinking they are going to score here.

“We’ve had a real hot spell when we really should’ve been two or three-nil up. We didn’t take our chances and there’s always a sting in the tail if you don’t take your chances.”

Both sides went 4-2-4 late on as AFC Croydon Athletic pressed for a dramatic late equaliser.

“I thought we had a go last 10.  You’ve got to score a goal to stay in it so we pretty much went 4-2-4. I think we ended up 3-2-5 trying to get something. It nearly worked but it just wasn’t to be. 

“We had a couple of good scrambles in the box. It could’ve gone anywhere but unfortunately Herne Bay had the luck with them tonight.”

But it was Herne Bay that wasted a glorious chance to wrap up the victory, five minutes and 11 seconds into time added on.

The home side gave the ball away and Freeman (who played down the left during the second half) planted his header forward to put Ansah through on goal, cutting into the box.  He put it on a plate for substitute right-winger Tushaun Tyreese-Walters but he was denied by a fine save from Taylor, who used his legs to make the save.

Smith said: “We broke, TT’s just come on, so it’s like one of those. Maybe if he would’ve been in the game a little bit longer it would’ve been nice and comfortable for him.

“We didn’t have a lot of opportunity to see a lot of TT tonight.  He’s another one that’s got bags and bags of ability and we’re always a threat on the break when they come on.”

Rayner added: “It was a good save but we’re pushing but it’s going to happen, you’ve got to have a go. We pushed a lot of players forward trying to get ourselves back in it but they had a break and Nic saved it well.”

Nelder’s throw put Ansah in on goal down the right-hand side but his flicked shot with the outside of his right-boot flashed across the keeper and past the far post.

AFC Croydon Athletic return to league action with a home game against fifth-placed Hollands & Blair on Saturday.

Simon Halsey’s side have picked up nine points from six games and are three points adrift of leaders Tunbridge Wells.

Haringey Borough are in second-place in the Isthmian League Premier Division table, having collected 15 points from six games, a point behind Folkestone Invicta.

Including beating Virginia Water 1-0 in the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round, AFC Croydon Athletic have banked £3,210 in prize money, while Herne Bay bank £2,890 tonight.

“Had we had a bit of quality there, if you put Zak in our side we win the game. I think that’s probably the only difference,” admitted Rayner.

“They’re in a poor way at the moment. Ben was under a lot of pressure. He desperately needed that result tonight. The vibes weren’t good coming out their camp and we’ve let them get away with it.

“They’ve got some good players’, they had a couple of very technical players but to me there was nothing in the game. We didn’t quite have the tempo and passion. I personally think we’ve left them off the hook tonight!”

On the money side, Rayner said: “I think we’ve probably earned closer to four grand with the sharing the money at Herne Bay as well.  They had quite a good crowd for that game so that’s one bit of compensation for us, one thing to be happy about but it’s a waste of five grand really. The opportunity was there to win £2,890 tonight and have some money from the Haringey game, so we’ve blown that.

Looking ahead to their next game, Rayner added: “Hollands & Blair have started quite well. It’s good to be at home and get back into a league game but I’d rather it be at Haringey obviously. But we’re not so we’ve got to re-group and just get on with it and see what we can do on Saturday.”

Smith, meanwhile, wants his Herne Bay side to go on a run to make the fans’ happy again.

He said: “We’ve had a rough week or so at the club. It’s early stages so when you’re losing games that we’re not really turning up to and showing your true potential it hurts and the players’ have been hurting because we expect better and the fans’ expect better and we want to give the fans better. 

“It’s fantastic the fans travelled up here tonight and they’ve gone home with a 1-0 win, a clean-sheet that the club haven’t had for a long time, with a smile on their face and that’s what it’s about. It’s trying to make the club enjoy things for a change.”

AFC Croydon Athletic: Nic Taylor, Ibrahim Kallon, Dammy Bada, Liam Harwood, Jamie Thoroughgood, Janichell Fernandes Santos, Jordan Knight (David Duro 79), Abbas Agoro, Umaro Alpha, Kazzeem Richards (Bankole Koroma 81), Nahum Green.
Subs: Christian Knuckles, Jack Clark, James Smith, Khalid Babikir, Daniel Carpanini

Booked: Umaro Alpha 71

Herne Bay: Laurence Harvey, Joe Nelder, Gary Sayer, Danny Lawrence (Chris Saunders 90), Stuart West, George Crimmen, Ryan King (Tushaun Tyreese-Walters 82), Jordan Johnson-Palmer, Zak Ansah, Ricky Freeman, Kyron Lightfoot (Keiron Campbell 79).
Subs: Malachi Robinson, Mobalaji Dawodu, Luke Griffiths, Simon Kabamba

Goal: Zak Ansah 46

Booked: Danny Lawrence 14, Zak Ansah 58, Jordan Johnson-Palmer 66

Attendance: 131
Referee: Mr Neil Morrison (Shepherd’s Bush, London W12)
Assistants: Mr Daniel Sanchez (Camberwell, London SE17) & Mr Emmanuel Lubeto-Makola (Herne Hill, London SE24)