AFC Croydon Athletic 3-1 Sutton Athletic - We're going to be seen as a big scalp, I don't mind that but our celebrity owners are not throwing silly money at it, insists AFC Croydon Athletic joint-manager Kevin Rayner

Sunday 06th August 2023
AFC Croydon Athletic 3 – 1 Sutton Athletic
Location Mayfield Stadium, off Mayfield Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey CR7 6DN
Kickoff 06/08/2023 15:00

The Emirates FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round
Sunday 6 August 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from Mayfield Stadium

AFC CROYDON ATHLETIC joint-manager Kevin Rayner insists the club's celebrity owners are not throwing money at players for their Combined Counties League Premier Division South campaign which gets underway next weekend.

The Rams were taken over by Crystal Palace footballer Wilfried Zaha, musician Stormzy and Danny Young at the end of June.

The club attracted a crowd of 542 to witness a dramatic finish to their FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round tie against Hextable-based minnows Sutton Athletic.

Winger and long-throw specialist Nahum Green, 31, smashed AFC Croydon Athletic’s goalscoring record with his 52nd goal for the club to ease the nerves with a clinical thirteenth minute strike.

However, the second half proved to be poor quality on show as both sides cancelled each other out on a warm Sunday afternoon in Thornton Heath.

Sutton Athletic grabbed an equaliser through Dan Gunner’s emphatic penalty with a couple of minutes of normal time remaining.

Referee Mark Jolley played a second short of 16 minutes of second half stoppage time and during this time Sutton Athletic lost the plot and squandered their chances of taking it to a Wednesday night replay at Lower Road.

Centre-half William Currie was sent off (48:44) for a reckless challenge on AFC Croydon Athletic’s right-back Ryan Styles, which resulted in both players requiring lengthy treatment.

The home side grabbed the lead with 52:55 on the clock through centre-half Daniel Vaughan, before they notched a flattering third goal, timed at 56:41 through substitute Shawniki Clement-Peters’ finish.

Rayner and Lee Roots’ side travel to Horley Town in the Preliminary Round on Saturday 19 August after they ended Gravesend-based side Punjab United’s interest with a 4-0 win at The New Defence yesterday.

But AFC Croydon Athletic will have to put in a vastly improved performance at Alton on the opening day of the Combined Counties League Premier Division South season if they are to be considered serious title challengers as they made hard work to beat Daniel Kelly’s side here today.

“I think we didn’t play particularly well. We started well, not as good as we potentially shown in pre-season,” admitted Rayner.

“I think after 20 minutes we dropped down and gave them a lot of the ball and we were very lucky to be 1-0 at half-time.

“I think we controlled the second half fairly well. It was never a pen in my view. We hit the post at 1-0 late and they’ve had a little bit of momentum but the guy’s ridiculous tackle, I mean, it gave us back the upper hand and we’ve gone on and duly punished them with the quality that we’ve got.

“But I think overall, we deserved, we just about shaded the game but Sutton feel a little bit unlucky. I think they were in the game for long periods, which really they shouldn’t have been with our quality.”

Kelly has decided to ditch the Pep Guardiola ploy of playing out from the back and played some direct balls out of defence with left-winger Jack Kirby a threat but lacking in finishing after cutting inside the home side’s weak link in defence, former Holmesdale man Ryan Styles, deployed at right-back today.

AFC Croydon Athletic went close to taking the lead inside the opening 10 minutes after Sutton Athletic centre-half Connor Check tripped Brandon Pierrick on the edge of the penalty area.

Khari Origun drilled his right-footed free-kick into the six-man wall and visiting goalkeeper Joe Hyde watched the ball flash just past the foot of his right-post.

Left-winger Pierrick was a threat for the home side for the opening 20 minutes but an injury to Cheek forced the centre-half off the pitch and the introduction of Mason Simms in his place put the former Dover Athletic winger in his shell.

AFC Croydon Athletic opened the scoring with 12 minutes and 16 seconds on the clock.

Good wing play from Pierrick saw him play the ball in from the left and Green easily spun Sutton Athletic’s left-back Mustafa Hashemi inside the box before clinically placing his right-footed shot into the bottom right-hand corner from 16-yards.

“That’s what he’s there for, to score.  He does score. He misses a few as well,” said Rayner.

“I think we deserved to be in front at that time. It looked like we might have gone on and got a second fairly quickly but fair play to Sutton, we didn’t.

“They had a couple of good chances. Oshane Brown made some good saves.”

When asked why Green was taken off in the 64th minute, Rayner revealed: “He wasn’t quite fit today, so we had to take him off.  We had to look after him a bit but he’s always got the ability to score a goal and his throw is an absolute weapon.”

Attacking midfielder Origun swung in the home side’s second of nine corners and holding midfielder Darryl Siaw rose above Cheek before sending his header just over the top of the far post.

The Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division visitors’ deployed hitting long diagonal balls out of defence and Styles was certainly the home side’s weak link in their back four as he was often beaten by Kirby’s pace.

Currie launched a long free-kick into the Rams’ penalty area, Kirby knocked the ball down for striker Louis Lovell to crack a half-volley screaming across the goalkeeper and past the far post from 15-yards.

AFC Croydon Athletic’s left-back James Teodorescu played the ball down the line for Pierrick to race into the penalty area but he lacked composure and from a tight angle his shot was comfortably gobbled up by Hyde at his near post at the halfway point.

Rayner said: I think they had two or three every time Brendon got the ball, they were very quickly around him.  We didn’t really utilise the space that was created by that but I think once we got going we got a bit sloppy.   I think we controlled the game and I don’t think they had much second half.”

Sutton Athletic then started to enjoy a good spell of attacks with Kirby their main threat. The only thing that was missing was a clinical finish from the winger.

AFC Croydon Athletic goalkeeper Oshane Brown played the ball to Styles, who had his pocket robbed by Lovell, who cut on to his right-foot and unleashed a rasping drive which was plucked out of the air by the home goalkeeper’s outstretched two arms.

Sutton Athletic’s right-winger Neil Spencer drove into the penalty area, waited for support from right-back George Sibley, who floated in a great cross towards the middle for Lovell to rise unmarked and guide his header across the keeper towards the far corner.

Brown made a brilliant save, diving low to his right and using a strong right-hand to push towards safety.

“Oshane’s a good keeper. He’s made two or three good saves today. When it’s a tight game like that, that’s when you need your goalkeeper. He’s a good, quality keeper and he’s done really, really well again today,” added Rayner.

Kalonda sprayed the ball out to Kirby in the 40th minute, easily cut inside Styles and went to pieces inside the box, dragging a weak right-footed shot past the foot of the near post.

The same thing happened just 59 seconds later, but this time it was to be a long diagonal ball out of defence from Simms, who put in a dominant defensive performance.

Rayner said: “On another day, if he could hit the target he might’ve scored a couple of goals but thankfully he didn’t.  He did give Lenny (Styles) a tough time but I thought second half they made an error switching him to the other side.”

Rayner revealed his thoughts during the half-time interval.

“It wasn’t very nice because I thought we hadn’t really played well. We’re better than that!  We started well but it wasn’t a good watch for the last 20 minutes of the half. We didn’t really pass it well, we didn’t keep it well.”

Both sides cancelled each other out between minute 45 and minute 70, with a lack of quality on show.

Hashemi drove forward for Sutton Athletic and went on a 40-yard run before spraying the ball out to Spencer, who found Sibley in a pocket of space but he lacked composure and hit a first time drive over the crossbar from 16-yards.

AFC Croydon Athletic then went close following their fifth corner of the game just before the hour-mark.

Origun’s delivery from the left went a long way and no one in a green-and-white striped shirt tracked Emiliano Lika’s late dash towards the far post, hitting a volley screaming just past the foot of the near post.

Styles opened the gate once again in the 65th minute, failing to cut out Spencer’s cross from the right but all that Kirby could do when he got in behind was flick his shot past the near post from 12-yards as the away side lacked composure inside the box when it mattered.

The introduction of Jack Marney kick-started the home side into life as the game livened up after the 70 minutes.

Marney switched the play from right-to-left finding Pierrick in space and he cut into the penalty area but Hyde rushed off his line and narrowed the angle and used a strong hand to turn the ball behind his near post.

“It was a very good save,” said Rayner.

“It was the first time in the half we really put Brendon away because that’s what we were speaking about at half-time about getting him away a little bit more. He’s got bundles of ability as you’ve seen and he’ll get better and better.”

Styles launched a deep free-kick into the Sutton Athletic penalty area from the halfway line, the ball was knocked across goal by Vaughan’s forehead but Origun hit a half-volley crashing against the top of the near post from a tight angle in the 29th minute.

A sloppy pass from Sutton Athletic substitute attacking midfielder England Kurti (intended for Kirby) was intercepted by Teodorescu, who sent Pierrick on his way down the left.  The winger cut inside and teed up Origun, who took a touch before unleashing a 25-yard drive screaming just past the top of the right-hand post.

But this Sutton Athletic side were to be a hard nut to crack and Kelly’s men should have grabbed the winner with 40:35 on the clock, with Brown pulling off an impressive double save.

Kirby, who was the away side’s best player, stroked a half-volley down the middle of the pitch to play in Kalonda, but his first time shot was blocked by the advancing Brown’s chest and the ball rolled out to Kurti, who rolled a weak shot towards goal, which was comfortably gathered by Brown, low to his left.

“It was poor. If you watch just before it, we gave the ball away.  JT (Teodorescu), who had a good game at left-back, should’ve seen it out and didn’t and got caught and it ended up with a chance but up until that point I don’t think they created too much second half,” added Rayner.

Sutton Athletic grabbed an equaliser with 42:48 on the clock after referee Mark Jolley pointed to the spot after Vaughan was adjudged to have fouled Lovell close to the goal after Brown had dived to his right to prevent Kirby sweeping home the winner.

Brown stuck out his right arm pointing to his right but Gunner emphatically placed his left-footed penalty into the bottom right-hand corner to bring Sutton Athletic back from the dead and grabbing a second bite of the cherry on Wednesday night.

“I’d like to say the pen was ridiculous, absolutely never a pen. I think the ref enjoyed his day here. God knows why he’s given a pen,” added Rayner.

“We had enough time to win the game anyhow, seriously, I think we were still in the game.”

Fingers of blame will be pointing to centre-half Currie as his wild and reckless sliding challenge on Styles resulted in both players receiving treatment following a nasty tackle and referee Jolley had no option but to brandish a red-card as Currie hobbled off in shame.

When asked what made his players turn it on in dramatic late fashion, Rayner replied: “Probably the ref’s pen, which was an injustice and secondly the ridiculous tackle from Currie. He got what he deserved in my book and it changes the game.  In my view, he’s lost the game for Sutton.”

Marney’s resulting dipping free-kick from 30-yards was superbly pushed over two-handed by Hyde (49:41).

AFC Croydon Athletic upped their desire levels as they went in search for a dramatic late winner.

Striker Emiliano Lika – who didn’t win much in the air – cut inside and from 20-yards, forced Hyde into making a diving save to his right.

AFC Croydon Athletic’s persistence paid off as they took the lead with 52:55 on the clock, with a penalty box full of bodies ready for a set-piece.

Pierrick floated a right-footed cross into the penalty area, substitue Leighton Francis hooked his shot against the top of the near post at the far post and Vaughan guided his diving header past Hyde.

“They’re a threat in the air those two.  Any set-plays, Vaughan and Michael Kamara are always a threat. I’m pleased he tucked it away and I thought there was only going to be, I thought we could get another one, with the time added on,” said Rayner.

The Rams added a flattering third goal with 56:41 on the clock.

Substitutes Clement-Peters and Marney linked up well outside the box and Francis played a right-footed ball into the box and found an unmarked Clement-Peters, who took a touch before flicking his shot past Hyde, in a one-v-one situation.

“He’s a very good player, he’s not quite fit but once he gets fit, he’s been at a good level, he’s a good footballer and he’ll add to what we’ve got,” added Rayner.

Referee Mark Jolley confirmed post-match that he had rescinded Kalonda’s original yellow card  for his part in a half-way line melee, which resulted in Kalonda being sent-off (59:08) and Vaughan being cautioned.

“It’s one of those things, something out of nothing. It’s not for me to comment on him but he should’ve dealt with that situation better really,” added Rayner, who admitted he wouldn’t be happy if his players ‘were in a game and then you just throw it away,’ through ill-discipline.

There was still time for AFC Croydon Athletic goalkeeper Brown being called into action, saving low to his right to hold Kirby’s last-gasp shot on goal.

“How was it won? We have got quality all over the place but we didn’t show it at times but we’ve got it there.  We produced it right at the death,” said Rayner.

“Every team we play are going to give it a little bit more as you come into it, we’re going to be seen as a big scalp. I don’t mind that. When we were coming off we were getting comments ‘you’re not going to do this, we’re not going to do that’.  Fine, no worries at all. We’ve progressed a little bit further than Sutton (Athletic) in The FA Cup.”

Rayner has seen it all in seven years in charge at Mayfield Road and with new celebrity owners at the helm, he was asked whether his budget has increased.

“Not particularly. It’s slightly but we’ve turned players down. They’re asking for ridiculous money. We’ve had two or three good players come in but we’re not throwing silly money at it. It’s about the infrastructure more than money for the players.

“They’ve been really supportive so there’s no pressure from them but we’ve got some good players through them. They’re really supportive in what they’re trying to do here.  They’re not throwing silly money at players. They’re really just trying to support the infrastructure that’s being built etc.  They’re trying to do things the right way.”

The FA Cup brings plenty of interest to part-time football clubs and Rayner is enjoying the interest being shown in his club at present.

“It’s important. I felt (we had) to win the game today, it’s good for every club at this level. We do get enough media attention at present but we want to keep that going and help us retain that media spotlight and also it improves all of the finances and all of our players are in the spotlight as well, which is good on them.”

Looking ahead to their league opener at Alton next Saturday, Rayner said: “We go there and we'll be positive and we’ve got to go there and get a result.  They’re not a bad side so we have to be on it. We have to be a little bit better than we were today at times but looking forward to it.”

Then it’s the double header with Horley Town, at home in the League on Tuesday 15 August, then the away trip in The FA Cup Preliminary Round.

“I know all of their players and the manager (Tyler Chambers) used to play for me so I know them fairly well. They’re a good side so it will be a tough game,” added Rayner, whose side finished in the bottom six last season.

AFC Croydon Athletic: Oshane Brown, Ryan Styles, James Teodorescu, Darryl Siaw, Daniel Vaughan, Michael Kamara, Brandon Pierrick, Cian McCarthy (Shawniki Clement-Peters 70), Emiliano Lika, Khari Origun (Leighton Francis 85), Nahum Green (Jack Marney 64).
Subs: Alfie Young, Tyrone Pink, John Burtonshaw

Goals: Nahum Green 13, Daniel Vaughan 90, Shawniki Clement-Peters 90

Booked: Nahum Green 60, Daniel Vaughan 90


Sutton Athletic: Joe Hyde, George Sibley, Mustafa Hashemi, Dan Gunner, Connor Cheek (Mason Simms 25), William Currie, Jack Kirby, Connor Watson (England Kurti 76), Louis Lovell, Jacob Kalonda, Neil Spencer (Jude Watts 72).
Subs: Marcel Brown, Harry Beech, Daniel Watson, Harry Bradford

Goal: Dan Gunner 88 (penalty)

Booked: Connor Watson 73, Jack Kirby 90, England Kurti 90

Sent Off:  William Currie 90, Jacob Kalonda 90

Attendance: 542
Referee: Mr Mark Jolley
Assistants: Mr Joshua Marshall & Mr John Caunt