Bearsted 0-0 Chatham Town - They were all immense to a man, says Bearsted boss Kevin Stevens

Tuesday 25th January 2022
Bearsted 0 – 0 Chatham Town
Location Otham Sports Ground, Honey Lane, Otham, Maidstone, Kent ME15 8RG
Kickoff 25/01/2022 19:30

Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division
Tuesday 25 January 2022
Stephen McCartney reports from Honey Lane

BEARSTED manager Kevin Stevens says his side were immense to a man after holding league leaders Chatham Town to a goal-less draw on a freezing cold Tuesday night in Otham.

The Bears reached the magical safety figure of 30 points (from 22 games), while Chatham Town extended their lead over Sheppey United to five points (having played 22 games, a game more than Ernie Batten’s side) at the summit of the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division table.

But this was an unconvincing performance from Kevin Hake’s side, who were only a threat from set-pieces as they found this resilient Bearsted side hard to break down.

Chatham Town arrived at Honey Lane with an impressive goalscoring record of 32 goals in their last seven games but eight wins on the bounce was ended at the weekend when Hake made 10 changes to his side and suffered a 2-1 defeat at First Division side Larkfield & New Hythe in the Kent Senior Trophy Quarter-Finals.

Stevens recalled five players to the side that last took to the field on Saturday 8 January, losing 3-0 at promotion-chasing side Sheppey United, who went down to a 2-0 defeat away to third-placed side Glebe seven days ago.

“I’m over the moon, over the moon,” said Stevens.  “Obviously, they’re top of the league.  Our boys are capable of getting a result against anybody.

“I’m a little bit disappointed actually, a few decisions went against us but having said that their set-plays into the area were very good.  I’m over the moon, absolutely brilliant from the boys.

“We’ve been working on it (being hard to break down) in the last six weeks about being harder, not conceding goals against.  I think anyone who’s watched tonight saw that, not just because it was nil-nil but we’re a lot, lot harder to break down. 

“We’ll always score goals, even though we didn’t tonight. We’re getting a lot better shape wise out of possession so that was really pleasing against a good side.”

Chatham Town created their first opening after only 136 corners, following their first of 12 corners.

Right-winger Ryan Hayes swung the ball in from the right and goalkeeper Harley Earle stretched at his near post to flick the ball away and centre-half Dean Beckwith skied a shot on the turn from eight-yards.

Referee Chris Bowdery waved away strong appeals for a Bearsted penalty in the eighth-minute when Chatham Town right-back Ikechukwa Orji got away with pulling down Bearsted’s 11-goal left-winger Sam Stace inside the penalty area.

“Penalty all day long.  He (Stace) said he was pulled. Listen, it’s one of many decisions that went against us tonight but that’s the way it goes sometimes,” added Stevens.

Scott Whibley was excellent in the heart of Bearsted’s defence and he was booked shortly afterwards for a cynical challenge on Jack Evans, who was breaking towards the Bearsted penalty area.

Bearsted’s left-back Giorgio Russo kicked the ball behind for a corner and Hayes whipped in another excellent delivery from the right and with Earle flapping, Beckwith flicked his header bouncing past the near post.

Bearsted took nearly 24 minutes to create an opening, a half-chance.

Centre-half Daniel Melvin clipped a long ball out of defence with his left-foot, the ball was headed away by Orji and Russo pounced on the loose ball, played it inside to Flavius Petrisor, who fed Jonathon Rogers.

The Bearsted skipper drove straight down the heart of the pitch and from the edge of the box his right-footed shot rolled harmlessly wide of Andy Walker’s goal.

“Jon’s got that, he makes lovely runs off the shoulder, sometimes he puts them top corner, sometimes what you saw tonight, but he always makes clever runs like that,” said Stevens.

Chatham Town’s holding midfielder Jordan Robins suffered similar fate, as he rode a challenge in the middle of the park and the referee waved play-on but his speculative left-footed drive from 30-yard screamed past the left-post.

Most of the first-half was played at a slow tempo and Chatham Town couldn’t trouble a resilient back four well-marshalled by Whibley.

“Scott is unreal. He’s had a few niggles lately so he’s missed a few games, but he's been around. He’s brilliant around the dressing room, he’s brilliant on the pitch, he reads the game so, so well still.  I thought he was immense there tonight,” added Stevens.

Bearsted goalkeeper Harley Earle, 19, who is on loan from National League South neighbours Maidstone United, was called into action in the 44th minute.

Beckwith slotted the ball into Hayes’ feet (who had found space in the middle) and he played a one-two with Evans before unleashing a left-footed drive towards the bottom left-hand corner from 30-yards, but Earle dived low to his right and used a strong hand to push the ball around the post for the away side’s third corner of the night.

Stevens said: “I thought it was a half-chance really.  I didn’t expect him to score.  I expect Harley to do that, he’s a terrific goalkeeper, especially he’s a young lad and he’s been good since he’s come in on loan (from Maidstone United).  I expected him to do that, he’s good, he’s a good goalkeeper Harley.”

When asked what he said to his players at the break, Stevens said: “We were compact, we didn’t give them an awful lot, well we didn’t give anything at all, I don’t think.

“We had a habit of switching off 10-15 minutes into second halves so we said ‘listen, all, that hard work, don’t do that again, keep on it, keep your shape right and we will get chances, which we did in the second half.”

Bearsted started the second half on the front foot very briefly before Earle was called into action inside the opening 10 minutes.

Russo was penalised for a foul on Hayes, who whipped in a quality free-kick from the right flank with his left-foot and Earle caught the ball at knee height on his goal-line in the centre of his goal.

“I thought Harley was really good in the second half.  I thought their deliveries into the box was top drawer, put him under a lot of pressure but I thought he dealt with it really, really well,” praised the Bearsted manager.

Hayes got to the by-line and hung over a cross towards the far post which was met by left-winger Rhys Bartlett on a hooked left-footed volley, which was blocked by Bearsted’s right-back Jason Dawson and went behind for Chatham’s sixth corner of the night in the 21st minute.

Chatham Town were guilty of missing a glorious chance from the resulting left-wing delivery.

Evans floated the ball in towards the back post and Beckwith rose like a salmon and buried his downward header through a crowd of players but it was straight at Earle who stooped down to make a vital save.

Stevens admitted: “To be fair, when he rose, I thought the worst actually but was that good positioning by Harley or was that a bad header? I’m not sure but I’m glad Harley was there.”

Despite scoring 40 goals already this season, Chatham Town striker Dan Bradshaw suffered a frustrating night, not getting much change out of the outstanding Wibley and Melvin.

Chatham Town started to up their tempo thanks to Evans’ desire levels but their play was too predictable and over-relied on set-pieces, despite dominating possession.

“I thought for the last 15 minutes we was holding on for a tiny bit.  I thought we started panicking a little bit, which was the only negative we spoke about (after the game),” said Stevens.

“Listen, Jack Evans is a good player isn’t he? We talked about that before the start of the game. He’s always going to find a bit of space and does later on in games and he got free a few times and we got away with it.”

Bradshaw met Hayes’ cross from the right but his weak downward header was comfortably dealt with by the Bearsted goalkeeper.

Hake called for the calvary, bringing on left-winger Matt Bodkin and Danny Kedwell came on in a central midfield position but Bearsted were not going to lie down and die.

With less then 15 minutes remaining and from the away side’s ninth corner, Hayes floated the ball in from the right and the angle was too tight for Bradshaw at the far post, the striker steering his headed past the near post.

Stevens brought on striker Andy Irvine for the final seven minutes and he almost scored with his first touch just 25 seconds after coming onto the pitch.

Evans put in the away side’s penultimate corner of the game from the left and Irvine was relieved when his own goalkeeper prevented him scoring an own goal at the back post.

“One of the coaches said ‘it could’ve been a great substitution.” I had my hand in my mouth when that happened but Harley got down well to it didn’t he?” admitted Stevens.

Bearsted created just the one goalscoring chance on the night and almost snatched the victory in the final five minutes.

Irvine (now going the right way) fed lone striker Jordon Ababio inside the final third and he laid the ball off to substitute left-winger Bradley Jeffrey, who cut the ball onto his right-foot and his low shot was blocked by Walker’s legs, as the 40-year-old goalkeeper moved to his left.

“I thought if the ball would’ve gone a bit quicker but Jordon was stretching and then Bradley had a slight dodgy touch.  Do you know what, I thought we might nick it actually, just a bad touch,” added Stevens.

“Listen, Jordan’s up there on his own. It’s hard work for him. I thought he done a good job tonight. He’s been playing out wide for weeks and weeks. He had to go back in their tonight and I thought he done a good job.”

Chatham Town kept knocking on the door and inevitably almost grabbed the winner from a set-piece.

Hayes floated their last corner in from the right and the ball dipped towards the far corner of the net, only for the ball to kiss the top of the crossbar and bounce behind for a goal-kick.

“Listen, those corners were top drawer.  We said it all night.  They were hard to deal with but the boys stuck to it and deserved to get that clean-sheet at the end,” said Stevens.

Visiting goalkeeper Walker came out of his box and blocked off Ababio and was booked for his challenge (which was the right decision).

Whibley called over to his bench to ask for tactical advice before Russo played the ball inside to Rogers, who ran towards the corner-flag rather than whip in a cross into the Chatham Town penalty area in a bid to snatch the victory, before the referee blew for full-time seconds afterwards.

Bearsted remain in 12th place in the pecking order and welcome second-from-bottom side Tower Hamlets to Honey Lane on Saturday.

Tower Hamlets have 12 points from 24 games, three points clear of basement boys Lordswood, who have two games in hand.  Tower Hamlets are three points behind Punjab United, who have three games in hand.

Stevens has challenged his side to put a struggling side to the sword at the weekend after putting in a resilient performance against a high-budget outfit tonight.

“Do you know what, we’re capable of doing that week-in-week-pout and we’ve done that at Chatham where we should’ve nicked the game and they’ve done it again tonight and we keep saying to them against the better teams they tend to turn up and they’ve got to do that week-in-week-out, they’re capable of doing it but they’ve got to do it here Saturday against Tower Hamlets but they were all immense to a man,” said Stevens.

Now that the club have retained their league status for another season, Stevens has challenged his side to finish in the top half and improve on their previous personal best of 47 points.

“We’ve set our own targets, which we’re a little bit behind and we haven’t performed at times as well as we should do. We’ve had a bit of bad luck with Covid and injuries but every team’s probably had that,” said Stevens.

“The boys have got to come out on Saturday and do what they’ve done tonight and if they do that we’ll win a damn sight more games of football than we lose, so you’ve got to put a team out on Saturday and we’ve got to put them right under the cosh right from the word go and we’re capable of doing that so hopefully we’ll see more of the same on Saturday.

“We want to climb the league and finish the highest we’ve ever finished, which is 12th.  I’ll be disappointed if we don’t finish higher than 12th.

“Points wise, we want to beat our points by quite a bit.  We’re trying to hit a side capable of competing at the top end of the table next season, which we’re starting building and I think anyone here would have seen a bit of that tonight.”

Bearsted: Harley Earle, Jason Dawson, Giorgio Russo, Josh Ladlow, Daniel Melvin, Scott Whibley, Sam Stace (Bradley Jeffrey 73), Jonathon Rogers, Jordon Ababio, Flavius Petrisor, Jordan Tingley (Andy Irvine 83).
Subs: Adesina Luqman, Joel Wakefield, Vincent Follea

Booked: Scott Whibley 10, Flavius Petrisor 85

Chatham Town: Andy Walker, Ikechukwa Orji, Ryan Gill (Danny Kedwell 82), Jordan Robins, Reece Butler, Dean Beckwith (Matt Bodkin 73), Rhys Bartlett, Jack Evans, Dan Bradshaw, Michael Dalton, Ryan Hayes.
Subs: Danny Smith, Danny Uchechi, Jack Palmby

Booked: Andy Walker 90

Attendance: 170
Referee: Mr Chris Bowdery
Assistants: Mr Stephen Roots & Mr Rhys Jeffery