Beckenham Town 1-6 Littlehampton Town - We're working incredibly hard to try to turn things around, insists Beckenham Town's coach Sam Clark-Keen

Saturday 30th December 2023
Beckenham Town 1 – 6 Littlehampton Town
Location Eden Park Avenue, Beckenham, Kent BR3 3JL
Kickoff 30/12/2023 15:00

Isthmian League South East Division
Saturday 30 December 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from Eden Park Avenue

BECKENHAM TOWN coach Sam Clark-Keen insists they are working incredibly hard to try to turn things around after the club suffered one of its most humiliating league defeats at Eden Park Avenue.

Beckenham Town – fourth-placed finishers and play-off semi-finalists at the end of their maiden campaign in the eighth-tier last season – remain rooted to the foot of the Isthmian League South East Division table with eight points (two wins, two draws and 12 defeats) from their 16 league outings.

Since manager Jason Huntley appointed Darren Anslow (head coach) and Clark-Keen to join his management team towards the end of November – a management team that already contains Billy Walton, Phil Wilson and Jason Clews – player recruitment has been awful and the club has picked up four points in their last six games (since Anslow's arrival) and relegation seems inevitable going by this awful performance.

Huntley is still away on a family holiday but the dross that Anslow put on the pitch for the clubs first home game for four weeks was unacceptable and changes have to be made quickly.

Littlehampton Town arrived in seventeenth-place in the table with 12 points from 16 games and Anslow was in attendance at Park View Road 10 days ago to see Matt Longhurst’s struggling Erith & Belvedere claim a 2-1 win over Littlehampton Town.

Joint-managers Mitchell Hand and George Gaskin played a three-man central defence in that game but switched to a four-man defence and their attacking players cut through Beckenham Town’s shoddy defence like a knife through butter on several occasions during this horror show.

Littlehampton Town raced into a 2-0 lead inside the opening 28 minutes through striker Joshua Short and impressive winger Nodirbek Bobomurdov.

The home side created a couple of chances inside the first 15 minutes of the second half before the wheels came off for Anslow and his beleaguered team.

Ollie Starkey came off the bench to score a hat-trick, before another substitute Bradley Dolaghan finished off a sweeping move.

Beckenham Town’s attacker Steven Townsend made the score 3-1 with a volley with nine minutes remaining, before the home side capitulated by leaking three late goals.

Under-fire Anslow dodged the post-match press grilling and sent out Clark-Keen instead.

“How do I sum that up? A day to forget,” admitted Clark-Keen, who operated in the medical team under Simon Halsey at Hollands & Blair and Scott Porter at Whitstable Town and was  coach/sports analysist under Porter at Hollands & Blair before leaving the Gillingham based ninth-tier outfit with Anslow a couple of months ago.

“We were poor from the start and that just went through the whole game.  I mean I can go through it in fine details and we still come to the same conclusion – we just weren’t good enough!

“It was a huge, huge game today, a huge, huge game. A game that we simply didn’t turn up for and the desire wasn’t there.  The effort wasn’t there. We looked like we’ve had Christmas and we just looked like we haven’t trained for a period of time and quite simply put we just weren’t good enough. It’s as simple as that.

“It’s just not the defence. I think in terms of how we press from the front. It was just poor all round. We can reflect to actually say it just wasn’t good enough across the pitch.

“I don’t think you can put it down and isolate the four defenders or three at the back to begin with. I just think as a collective, we just wasn’t good enough!”

When asked if he had a message for the home fans that paid money over the Christmas period to watch such dross, Clark-Keen failed to issue an apology, but added: “Keep the faith!  As a management team we simply want to put things right and we are working as hard as we possibly can to make this right and we’re working effortlessly to try and do that.

“We’ll keep doing that until we’re told that we’re going to do that otherwise but our efforts are fully in and fully committed to turning this around.”

Beckenham Town were without centre-half Mudiaga Wanogho, who was attending a family function, rather than playing in a must-win relegation six-pointer and his replacement Donnell Anderson was completely out of his depth beside Robert Carter.

Anderson, who made five appearances for Porter’s Hollands & Blair in the Southern Counties East League Premier Division in August – should have been hooked off when everybody in the crowd of 285 knew that the number five was struggling to cope.

“Listen, I’m not hear to start pulling out individuals and saying actually who was and who wasn’t good enough today,” said Clark-Keen.

“I don’t think as a collective from 1-11, it wasn’t good enough.  I’m not going to start signalling out individuals. That’s not fair and we are a team.  Ultimately it’s about the group and how the group play and it wasn’t good enough.”

Wanagho still has a future at the club despite not making himself available for such a vital game.

“He had a family function today and wasn’t available, so it wasn’t a case of leaving him out for any reasons other than that,” explained Clark-Keen.

“The simple fact that he was unavailable but he’s a big player for us and an important player for us and he will make a big difference for us in the long-run and that’s really important for us.”

The writing was on the wall after only 180 seconds when Dion Jarvis laid the ball off to Bobomurdov, whose left-footed shot from 22-yards was comfortably held by goalkeeper Nick Blue beside the foot of his near-post.

“We didn’t come to terms with that in the first 15-20 minutes. We conceded not too long after that,” said Clark-Keen.

“We changed shape but again we were poor across the pitch from 1-11.”

However, Littlehampton Town took a deserved lead with seven minutes and 10 seconds on the clock, with Anderson showing a lack of awareness.

Central midfield pair Jordan Layton and David Herbert linked up in the final third and Herbert’s fine 20-yard pass split open centre-halves Carter and Anderson to play in Short, who took a touch on the edge of the box before clinically placing his shot past the exposed Blue to score from 15-yards.

“There’s nothing more to say, other than the fact that defensively we were incredibly poor and that goes across the pitch, it’s not just the defence,” admitted Clark-Keen.

“We did not defend well enough. We were poor defensively. We were poor in midfield. We didn’t get on the right side of the ball. We were just not good enough.”

Littlehampton Town were dominant and Beckenham Town lacked heart and desire all over the pitch – and Huntley must find players who have the fire in their bellies to perform in the high-pressure stakes of a relegation dog-fight – because it was clearly missing today.

“We said to the boys today that we can’t count on one hand how many actually came out and put their hand up and put the desired effort in – but the reality is we’re in a dog-fight and quite simply it wasn’t good enough, it wasn’t good enough,” admitted Clark-Keen.

Beckenham Town swiftly switched from three at the back to a back four and they did enjoy their best spell of the game for around five minutes with 35-year-old holding midfielder Ryan Hall having a couple of attempts on goal.

Hall played a short right-wing corner short to Tyrone Pink, who twisted and turned Littlehampton’s left-back Scott Packer, before playing the ball back to Hall, who cracked a left-footed drive towards the roof of the net from 35-yards, forcing goalkeeper James Binfield to raise his left arm to push the ball over the crossbar.

Hall whipped in an in swinging corner in from the right, aiming for the near corner, only for the ball to clip the crossbar before dropping behind for a goal-kick in the 23rd minute.

“We had small spells but those small spells are only great if you put the ball in the back of the net and unfortunately we didn’t do that,” said Clark-Keen.

“We’ve got enough attacking threat in our side to cause other teams problems and we did that today on numerous occasions but the reality is the scoreline reflects the game and we didn’t put the ball in the back of the net, simple as that.

“We can have all these all great attacking threats and we can have good periods of play but if we don’t score goals, goals win you matches, simple as that.”

Layton clipped a diagonal free-kick towards the edge of the Beckenham Town penalty area for Short, who turned a pressing Freddie Nyhus, but the ball clipped the wing-back and landed on top of the roof of the net.

Littlehampton Town deservedly doubled their lead with 27 minutes and 56 seconds on the clock.

Bobomurdov easily cut in from the right and easily danced past a half-hearted Anderson inside the box and the ball deflected off Carter and looped up and Bobomurdov gleefully nodded the ball over the line from a couple of yards out.

“Kind of summed up our performance today. It kind of summed it up defensively. It summed us up in terms of the ball that came into him and the way which we were defensively, it summed us up today,” said Clark-Keen.

“As I say, we can pick out all the goals and we can pick holes in it. Across the pitch, simply it wasn’t good enough.”

Clark-Keen was then asked what was missing from his players today.

“I think today it was all about desire and lack of effort and showing up and having that right mentality today. 

“We’ve got some excellent players in our changing room and it’s not to say the quality’s not there at the moment. It was just that lack of desire, lack of effort today. Dare I say the old cliché, they wanted it more than us and it was as simple as that.”

Littlehampton’s right-back Matthew Astle drove into space before feeing the impressive Bobomurdov, who played Astle on the overlap and his cross fizzed across Blue before the ball was cleared towards safety.

Peter Wedgeworth – who started on the left of a three-man defence – hobbled off injured so on came 38-year-old Nathan Paul to slot in at right-back with Nyhus operating at left-back – but Anderson remained on the pitch despite his struggles.

Beckenham Town went close to scoring in the 41st minute when holding midfielder Lewis Allen (who offered very little to the game) played the ball along the deck into Pink, who released Townsend, who cracked a right-footed drive screaming just over the top of the right-hand post from 30-yards.

Anderson gifted the ball straight to Bobomurdov, who fed the ball into Freddie Chester and the attacking midfielder had his attempt on goal charged down by Carter and Blue comfortably gathered.

“We were still in the game at 2-0 at half-time. It’s not the first time we’ve been in a similar position,” said Clark-Keen.

“We’re in a position and we have the quality. We tried to tweak a couple of things. We actually started the second half well, if I remember rightly.

“It was a long second half by the end of it but we started with some bright spells but the third goal sucked the life out of us, sucked the life out of us.

“We said at half-time, we’ve got to come out and show a reaction and we showed at Broadbridge Heath two weeks ago (in a 3-3 draw) that we can come out and show a reaction and we have the quality to hurt teams and again today we had that. 

“We had decent little spells but the third goal sucked the life out of us and that was that.”

Littlehampton were to be denied inside the opening four minutes of the second half when Blue used his legs to deny the away side with a header from within a crowd of players after Astle floated a deep free-kick in from the right.

Beckenham Town showed a couple of glimpses of recovery when Littlehampton Town goalkeeper Binfield made a comfortable save in the 53rd minute.

Midfielder Funsho Sinai floated in a cross from within the right channel towards the back post for Townsend to chest before stroking a weak right-footed half-volley towards goal, which was comfortably saved by Binfield, low to his left.

“We got ourselves in to some good areas today. We just weren’t effective.  If you think about how we were in the two boxes, we put some very good balls into the boxes in the attacking third and weren’t on the end of them but at the opposite end, we just simply weren’t good enough,” added Clark-Keen, who by this point was sounding like a broken record and running out of answers to the grilling.

Binfield pulled off a superb save on the hour-mark, as Beckenham Town started to get back into the game.

Anderson played the ball out of defence into substitute central midfielder Finley Lovatt, who released Pink down the left and he cut onto his right-foot and cracked a rasping drive towards the roof of the net from 20-yards, forcing Binfield to dive high to his left and use his strong left hand to push the ball over the crossbar.

“As I say, we have those attacking threats in terms of how we attack and how we play and how effective we can be in the attacking third,” said Clark-Keen.

“We had moments in the game where we were in the ascendancy and we looked a threat but the reality is we’ve conceded six goals today, it’s as simple as that.

“If you don’t defend as a team well enough you get found out and you get punished at this level.”

Attacker Pink’s defensive play, however, was awful, he gave the ball away with a sloppy 20-yard forward pass and Littlehampton attacked at pace and the ball was worked up to unmarked substitute left-sided midfielder Gaskin, who was denied by Blue, smothering the ball low to his right to push the ball around his near-post.

However, one long ball straight down the middle in the air wasn’t cut out by Carter - who tried to head the ball away but missed it completely - and this mistake let in Bobomurdov, who put it on the plate for Starkey, who emphatically smashed his right-footed shot into the right-corner to give the away side a commanding three-goal lead with 27 minutes and 4 seconds on the clock.

“It was just a long straight ball.  If you think about what they did in the first half, they were effective with the overload they create in midfield with their rotations.

“We argue that’s partly down to us and how poor we were defensively in terms of shape but it sucked the life out of us because it’s a long straight ball.

“They were effective in what they did.  Ultimately in the second half they played the situation and they played the situation particularly well.  They knew we had to chase the game. They kept the ball well in their defensive third and put balls into areas where they had pace to challenge us defensively and they were very effective at it.”

Anderson was caught out of position again when Littlehampton Town produced a three-man sweeping move involving Jarvis, Gaskin and Starkey, who placed his shot past the left-hand post.

Beckenham Town produced a well-worked impressive move to score a consolation goal with 35:25 on the clock.

An opportunity crafted by diminutive dynamo Nyhus from close to the half-way line saw him play a diagonal along the deck to Townsend, who fed Pink, who scooped the ball up from the edge of the box into the box back to Townsend, who buried his right-footed volley past the diving Binfield into the bottom right-hand corner to score from 10-yards.

“I thought it was a really well-worked goal actually in terms of our perspective,” said Clark-Keen.

“The way Freddie received the ball and clipped that into Tyrone was intelligent and that scoop and Steve’s finish. It was a fantastic goal but you can’t play like that when you’re 3-0 down.  You’ve got to play like that from the start and you’ve got to do the right things and get into the right areas and be effective either side of the ball and we weren’t like that for 90 minutes.

“We did that for a very brief, very, very brief spell and that’s why the result is what it is.”

The outstanding Bobomurdov played a low cross in from the right towards the near-post for Dolaghan to flick his shot towards the bottom near corner, only for Blue to make the save.

However, Beckenham Town’s defence started parting like the red sea, as Littlehampton Town’s counter-attacking raids cut them open at will and they scored their fourth goal with 39 minutes and 41 seconds on the clock.

Bobomurdov reached the right by-line before cutting the ball back for Starkey to stroke his left-footed shot into the right-hand corner.

“The goals we’ve conceded today from our perspective were incredibly poor.  From their perspective they’re well-worked goals but from our perspective they’re poor, defensively poor,” said Clark-Keen.

“I come back to it, it’s not about just the desire, it’s about our whole system today. We weren’t good enough, it’s as simple as that.”

This was part of the game where Beckenham Town lacked leadership and they Blue was well-beaten to Littlehampton’s fifth goal (42:46), which saw Starkey notch his hat-trick with a right-footed shot that found the bottom left-hand corner.

At this point of the game you think to yourself that wholesale changes have to be made if Beckenham Town are to fight off relegation.  This performance was not acceptable and one of the worst league games at home in the club’s entire history.

Clark-Keen said: “We’ve (Darren Anslow and I) have worked together, we’ve spent a period of time and we’re reflective enough to know that actually today’s result isn’t going to be the making of us but we know we’ve got a lot of work to do.

“We’ve been very frank. We’ve been very honest with the players what our minimum expectations are and they weren’t there today.

“I think the players are old enough and experienced enough to know that as well and we have an opportunity to put that right on Monday and that’s our expectation now is to get something from the game at Phoenix on Monday because at 5-1 at home, simply put, it’s simply not good enough and we know that.”

Littlehampton Town scored their sixth goal with 44:45 on the clock when the impressive striker Starkey fed Dolaghan, who planted his right-footed shot past the Beckenham Town goalkeeper.

“If we were to analyse it, we would say from our perspective it was incredibly poor. From their perspective they will say it’s a well-worked goal because they played the situation and they were far more effective at us today and I think that ultimately is why the result and the outcome was as it was.”

Peter Palmer - Beckenham Town’s secretary - who has been at the club for the last 44 years - shouted out “f*****g embarrassing!” from the clubhouse end of the ground.  He was right. It was!

Beckenham Town have never put in a such a shambolic performance at home in recent years. They have never had so many awful, heartless footballers on the pitch at the same time and a similar performance away to Phoenix Sports on Monday 1 January 2024 (15:00) will surely see the end of Anslow and Clark-Keen’s tenure at Eden Park Avenue.

If Beckenham Town want to maintain their current league status then Huntley has to return to the dug-out – alongside Walton and Wilson – and dig themselves out of this hole by bringing in better players who can perform at this level.

The club have not replaced the likes of Harvey Brand (Ashford United), Archie Johnson (Margate), Louie Theophanous (AFC Croydon Athletic) and Danny Waldren (Cray Valley).

Anslow’s recent recruits have not been good enough and Clark-Keen was asked why Bradley Ryan has departed the club to sign for league rivals Ashford United.

“Brad has decided to move on and we give him our best wishes in the situation,” said Clark-Keen, who forget that Kevin Watson’s side play at the same level as Beckenham Town, for the next four months, at least.

“He has ambitions to play at a higher level and he feels this is the best move for him at this time.  I don’t really know what else to say about that really. Ultimately, he has decided to play at a higher level and he sees Ashford as the best opportunity for him, so he goes with our best wishes.”

Anslow takes his side to Phoenix Sports on Monday – knowing he is just one more awful performance away from getting the sack.

Phoenix Sports have clawed themselves out of relegation trouble and sit in thirteenth-place in the table with 18 points from 20 games.

Steve O’Boyle’s side have claimed three wins from their last four games, beating Chichester City 3-1 away from home today.

However, hope is not all lost for Beckenham Town going into the New Year and their seven league games in January.

They are only three points adrift of Broadbridge Heath and Erith & Belvedere (12 points from 17 games) are outside the drop zone, followed by Littlehampton Town (15 points from 17 games).

“It’s another huge game.  I think they’ve had a couple of good results recently and it’s going to be a difficult game but it’s one where we have to go into with the right mentality and the right attitude. If we do that there’s every chance we get a result but it’s got to change quickly,” admitted Clark-Keen.

“It’s a huge, huge game and one we have to come away with something. If we turn up like we did today, we’ll get nothing from the game. It’s as simple as that.

“Today is a reality check for us, that’s us as a management team, individually as well and I think the reality is it can’t get any worse than today, it can’t get any worse than today and so Monday is huge, it’s absolutely huge.

“It’s also huge for the club and for us as well. It’s an opportunity to play against a team who are in and around that area and it’s going to be a tough game.  We have to turn up.”

The question is does this group of players have the fight for a relegation scrap?

Are the current management team looking to bring in better players who can get out of this mess?

Clark-Keen said: “We will continue to work incredibly hard to put things right.  We’ve got a talented group of individuals. We just have to make sure that gets better as team. There are signs there that we can do well but also we know that we can massively improve on and it’s about addressing those issues and making sure we rectify those as quickly as possible.

“It’s about us continuing to work hard on and off the pitch, both us as the management team and the playing staff as well and doing everything we can to get ourselves out of it.

“Listen, it’s non-league football, it’s non-league football, so you can never say never.  I don’t think it’s a case of threatening players and trying to get rid of players. 

“We’ve got a talented group and they are some fantastic players in there. We just got to be better and we’ll keep plugging away and work on things both on and off the pitch with the group we’ve got.

“Should the opportunity arise to add even more talent to the group, absolutely, we would look to do that. At the moment we’re working with a group of players who are extremely talented. We’ve just got to get he best out of them now.

“We’re working incredibly hard to try to turn things around.  Yes, we’re not winning games, yes the table doesn’t lie but we are where we are for a reason at this point in time. Performances haven’t been there. We’re doing everything that we can do to try to turn it around.”

Beckenham Town: Nick Blue, Funsho Sinai, Freddie Nyhus, Donnell Anderson, Robert Carter, Peter Wedgeworth (Nathan Paul 40), Ryan Hall (Finley Lovatt 49), Lewis Allen, Dieko Falade (Henry Griffin 74), Tyrone Pink, Steven Townsend.
Subs: Harry Gamble, Olysanya Aina

Goal: Steven Townsend 81

Booked: Dieko Falade 33, Steven Townsend 53

Littlehampton Town: James Binfield, Matthew Astle, Scott Packer (George Gaskin 51), David Herbert, Tom Butler, Samuel Pidgeon, Dion Jarvis, Jordan Layton (Bradley Dolaghan 71), Joshua Short, Freddie Chester (Ollie Starkey 55), Nodirbek Bobomurdov.
Subs: Fraser Middleton-Tozer, Jamie Smith

Goals: Joshua Short 8, Nodirbek Bobomurdov 28, Ollie Starkey 73, 85, 88, Bradley Dolaghan 90

Booked: Joshua Short 77

Attendance: 285
Referee: Mr Joshua Evans
Assistants: Mr Gary Baker & Mr Charles Nicholls