Bexley 2-5 Faversham Strike Force - I think the SCEFL will be a bridge too far for us, admits title-winning Faversham Strike Force manager John Goodwin

Saturday 14th May 2016
Bexley 2 – 5 Faversham Strike Force
Location Wested Meadow, Eynsford Road, Crockenhill, Kent BR8 8EJ
Kickoff 14/05/2016 14:45

NRG Gym Kent County League Premier Division
Saturday 14th May 2016
Stephen McCartney reports from Wested Meadow

FAVERSHAM STRIKE FORCE manager John Goodwin says the club are not ready for promotion into the Southern Counties East Football League First Division despite winning back-to-back titles.

The Sittingbourne Community College based outfit celebrated winning the NRG Gym Kent County League Premier Division title last weekend and have progressed through three divisions in as many seasons but Goodwin admitted after their 19th league win of the season that playing in the artist formerly known as the Kent Invicta League will be a bridge too far for his side.

Bexley went into the final game of the season in second place but their tenth league defeat of the season saw them slip down to fifth-place below Stansfeld Oxford & Bermondsey club, Kennington and promoted Snodland Town.

Bexley opened the scoring after only 144 seconds through a lovely dinked finish by left-winger Ellis Saunders, but it soon went downhill for the club that share Crockenhill’s Wested Meadow.

Craig Preston tapped in an equaliser, before Sam Croucher capitalised on some shocking goalkeeping to slot into an empty net exactly 60 seconds later.

Faversham Strike Force extended their lead through Croucher’s 18th goal of the season from a tight angle.

Bexley left-back Sam Hellens smashed home a free-kick into the top corner with 20 minutes remaining but without a real substitute on the bench due to only having 11 players available they wilted and Faversham Strike Force added two goals through substitute Rob Beazleigh before Preston slotted in his 17th goal of the campaign to wrap up the victory to finish their campaign on 62 points from 28 games.

“It was a bit of an end-of-season feel about the game. I think they had a few players’ missing – so did we,” admitted Goodwin afterwards.

“The chances we created, I think we could’ve had 20 there. It was nice to finish with a win. We won the league last week, we’ve had a little blip stumbling over the line but we got there. It’s been a great achievement for us in our third season in senior level.”

Bexley manager Ricky Wilson said: “I thought today was sadly not our greatest day but overall the whole season, all of us have done really, really well bearing in mind we’ve only come up last year.

“It looks like we can finish in the top five. It’s a shame it’s gone that way but we had to drag in reserves today to fill teams but yes as a whole the season’s been very, very good.”

When asked about not having any subs on the bench, Wilson replied: “The squad and the whole club sort of came together today to fill the team but throughout the season that’s what we’ve had to do in games and that’s how we got to our position in the league.”

Bexley got off to a flying start, by taking the lead with the first chance of the game.

Striker Jack Stevens released Saunders down the left and the winger produced a superb left-footed dinked finish from 12-yards, which went across keeper Harry Barrow and nestled into the bottom far corner of the net.

“A very, very good finish, yes, very good finish. He took it well,” said Wilson, who added, “First come, first serve for the goal, very neat finish.”

Goodwin added: “A slow start for us. We’ve had that recently. It’s crept into our game but today we responded well didn’t we? We came back to 2-1. 

“We could’ve had ten by half-time.  If we had a finisher, we might’ve won the league a lot earlier because we created a hell of a lot of chances. Sticking the ball in the net is the hardest part of the game. I don’t care what anyone says!”

A poor goal-kick by Bexley keeper Sam Armfield went to Tom Axford, who flicked a pass through to Tyla Clements but the winger steered his left-footed shot past across the keeper and past the far post.

Bexley created a decent opening when Stevens turned his man in midfield and released his strike partner Mitchell Thurbin, who brushed past Lewis Pout and Alex Marinov but Harry Barrow came off his line and sat on the ball before collecting.

Faversham Strike Force equalised with nine minutes and 33 seconds on the clock.

Right-back Marinov fed winger Sam Reed down the right wing and he reached the by-line before cutting the ball along the face of goal for Preston to tap the ball into the middle of the goal from a couple of yards out.

Goodwin said: “Captain Craig Preston has played for me a long time. He had a bad injury earlier in the season, he missed about six games.

“We’ve had a little bet, there’s a few of them, Croucher and Preston, going for top scorer and I think there’s one goal between them so you could see them all up there trying to score today, it’s quite comical really.

“Preston’s got himself two. He can play up there. He can play up front, he can play in midfield, he can play wide. He’s a great lad to have. I’m lucky to have him really. I’m lucky he’s stayed with us.”

Wilson added: “Yes, it was a good finish but he couldn’t really miss it but yes not a bad finish.”

Croucher’s first goal of the game, timed exactly 60 seconds later, will go down as the most comical goal of the season.

Keeper Armfield’s kick smacked against central defender Harry Morgan and Croucher pounced on the gift and slotted his right-footed shot from 20-yards towards the empty goal.

In an attempt to avoid using his hands outside his penalty area, Armfield dived over the ball and allowed it to roll apologetically into the back of the net.

“He’s scored one similar to that one last week,” laughed Goodwin.

“He’s scored a few goals recently but Sam’s a handful. He’s got so much pace. He creates chances and then he scores a simple goal like that, an easy, a gift really.”

Wilson admitted: “It wasn’t one of the greatest or the most stylish of goals but I thought Sam after that had one of his best games for us this season and Harry being out of position done very well throughout the game.”

But the 23-year-old goalkeeper made amends as Bexley’s poor back-four went missing for the rest of the first half as Faversham Strike Force cut threw them like knife to a tub of butter.

“I know! It’s the story of our season. The lads know it. We create chances,” added Goodwin, when reminded of his side’s wastefulness in front of goal when his players only had the keeper to beat.

He added: “If we hadn’t won the league, you’d probably have seen a different side to me! It’s just one of those. Putting the ball away is the hardest part of the game. If you miss a couple of chances their heads go down and they start snatching at a few.”

Faversham Strike Force central defender Lee Sayer clipped a ball over the top which Clements latched onto.  The winger outmuscled Billy Peck outside the box and once inside the box his left-footed shot from a tight angle was palmed around the near post by Armfield.

The away side’s second one-on-one chance arrived in the 21st minute when the impressive Reed was played in through on goal but we dwelled on the ball after cutting inside and Armfield made a comfortable save.

Preston played the ball into Croucher, who shrugged off Peck, but he couldn’t wrap his left-foot around the ball enough and swept his shot past the near post.

Bexley created an opening when Thurbin charged towards the edge of the penalty area and the ball was cleared out to Saunders, whose chip floated onto the roof of the net, behind for a goal-kick.

Good work by Thurbin saw him reach the by-line but Bexley striker Stevens appeared to be put off shooting as visiting keeper Barrow came off his line and got to the ball first and glanced the ball past the striker and towards safety.

Faversham Strike Force’s third one-on-one came on the half-hour mark.

Tom Axford’s diagonal pass released Reed through on goal but his right-footed chip sailed over Armfield’s head and just over the crossbar.

Bexley’s right-back Peck and right central defender Morgan were guilty of poor defensive play as Faversham Strike Force missed their fourth one-on-one.

Clements put Preston through on goal but the captain was denied by Armfield making a vital block with his outstretched right leg.

Bexley went agonisingly close to grabbing a 33rd minute equaliser.

Thurbin rode a strong challenge but still manage to play the ball inside to Dan Ash, who swept his left-footed shot agonisingly past the foot of the right-hand post from 22-yards.

Faversham Strike Force extended their lead with their third goal in the 38th minute.

Tom Axford, who was pulling the strings in their midfield, hooked the ball out wide to winger Reed, who played in Croucher, who drilled his right-footed angled drive into the bottom near corner from a tight angle.  At first no one celebrated as the ball appeared to go through the side netting but it was evident the ball did go in when Armfield bent down to pick the ball out of the back of his net.

Goodwin agreed, saying, “He deserved that! I didn’t think it had gone in for a minute. There wasn’t much of a celebration. I thought they were appealing for offside but the ref’s given the goal. We’ll take 3-1 at half-time, no less than what we deserved.”

Wilson added: “Very good goal again. We could’ve got tighter to our man but yes, a very good finish.”

Ash’s swept ball forward was cleared away by Chris Axford but Bexley central midfielder Chris Stiller looped shot was easily caught by Barrow.

Faversham Strike Force squandered yet another chance when Clements played in left-back Marc Scudder on the over-lap but in an attempt to find the bottom near corner, Armfield used his right leg to make another vital block.

Faversham Strike Force led 3-1 at the break but it should have been a lot more.

Goodwin admitted: “It should’ve been more but we’ll take 3-1 at half-time!

“I told them to just go out there. I’ve seen it happen so many times at this level. Players do tend to switch off, they think the games won. I felt if we got one early we would get seven or eight but they got a goal 70 minutes gone but as soon as they scored again we responded again by scoring another two goals.

“It’s like we need a kick up the backside to get us going at times. That’s the players at this level, that’s why they’re there.”

Wilson was full of praise for his 23-year-old goalkeeper, who basically kept the score respectable.

He said: “He’s my man-of-the-match today. He’s been very good all season and other than today I think he’s let in one goal, maybe two goals in our last previous 11 games so he’s a very good keeper, a very good asset. He’s captain today. It could’ve been a lot more without Sam today.”

It appeared that Bexley’s back four had never played together before today.

“The defence were struggling today but the defence was put together pretty much sort of last minute,” confirmed Wilson.

“You look at the league throughout the whole season, I think we’re the fourth best in the league defensively (conceding before today 34 league goals in 27 league games) so it’s unfortunate today we didn’t come and deliver with that record.”

Bexley stayed out on the pitch during the half-time interval, while Faversham Strike Force went back in to their squalid dressing room, with water still on the floor of the shower room before the game and wires hanging down from underneath the wash basin.  Touch that with wet hands and you’re in for a shock!

Wilson said: “We tried to get our shape better. We changed formation at half-time to try to keep their shape.  It obviously worked for the first 15-20 minutes of the second half and we nicked the goal.

“We could’ve worked chances, sure they had a lot more chances than us but in terms of football we tried to play the right way. Just our shape let us down today.”

Faversham Strike Force created the first opening of the second half but Morgan charged down Preston’s 25-yard drive and Armfield easily gathered.

Bexley went close through Stevens first time dipping drive that narrowly just went over the bar from 30-yards after two and a half minutes.

Bexley were to be denied when Stevens played in Thurbin, who skipped past advancing keeper Barrow but his shot was cleared off the line by Sayer.

Wilson said: “It was a well-worked chance. It’s unfortunate it didn’t go in for us. It could’ve changed the game.”

Goodwin added: “Lee’s a good defender. He’s been a new signing this year from Park Regis. A lot of people probably doubted me when he came but he’s a leader. He’s a centre half, a stopper and you need players like that in your side and he’s got quality as well. He can split the play and he’s committed 100%.”

Man-of-the-match Armfield capped off a great display when he dived to his left to prevent Clements’ deflected drive from 25-yards sailing into the right-hand corner of the net.

The keeper then stretched to tip over Scudder’s chip from 16-yards after cutting into the Bexley penalty area with ease.

More poor defending from Bexley’s poor defence gave Faversham Strike Force yet another chance in the 65th minute.

Armfield’s poor kick was poorly headed away from the corner of the box by Morgan and Clements played the ball inside to Reed, who was denied by a fine save from the keeper, making amends for setting up the chance.

Another chance fell the visitors’ way and Armfield made the save low to his left after Croucher only had him to beat.

Inevitably, Bexley needed just one kick of the ball to score a second goal with 70 minutes on the clock.

Sayers’ lunge brought down central midfielder Steve Leach and Hellens stepped up and drilled his left-footed free-kick straight into the top right-hand corner from 28-yards.

“That’s Sam’s speciality. He’s done it a few times for us. I think that every goal he's scored this year has come from a set-piece,” revealed Wilson.

“It eased the pressure from us. If the other chances would’ve gone in, the game would’ve bene different – they had chances as well!”

Goodwin hailed the stunning strike, by saying, “It was a great goal, a great free-kick!

“To our credit they’ve scored and we’ve responded, like the first goal they scored and we responded as soon as they got the second goal we upped it a level and you could see the difference between the two sides.”

A comeback was never on the cards, however, as Faversham Strike Force killed off Bexley by scoring their fourth goal in the 75th minute.

Sayer clipped a sublime ball out of defence to release Reed down the right.  The talented winger was hacked down by keeper Armfield (who was booked) but the ball was played along the goal-line and substitute Beazleigh had the simply task of tapping the ball over the line from two-yards.

Wilson blamed tiredness took its toll on his struggling players late in the game.

“Again, at that time the 11 men took its toll, tired legs, it’s one of those things,” he added.

Goodwin added: “Rob’s played for Faversham, Folkestone and Ashford, he’s been around a lot. He’s 38 now, he’s been around a long time. He’s great to have in the changing room.  I’m so pleased he scored. I’d like Ashley (Bolton) to score as well because he’s been a sub for most of the season.

“We opened them up, a couple of quick passes, we got it out wide. A great ball across from Reedy and Rob couldn’t really miss!

“I was pleased for him to score. He’s a great lad. He’s played a lot higher than this. He’s great to have in the changing room. He deserved that today, I’m pleased for him.”

Clements linked up well with Scudder, the left-back being played through on goal again but slipping his shot across goal.

Reed then turned Saunders and cut inside but his left-footed shot from the edge of the penalty area rolled into Armfield’s hands for a comfortable save.

Faversham Strike Force completed the scoring with their fifth goal in the final eight minutes.

Tom Axford played the ball into Preston, who brought the ball down under control with his right-foot before slotting his right-footed shot into the bottom right-hand corner.

“He tried to dink the keeper just before that and I’m b******ing him! About 30 seconds later he’s been put through and he’s finished.

“Craig’s second top scorer, he’s our captain. He was out for six or seven weeks with a bad ankle. We play him as a striker or a midfield player, he’s one hell of a player. To get the goals that he’s got this year and missing so many games he’s been vital to winning the title.”

Wilson added: “Same reason. The shape was gone, the legs were gone.  It’s been a long, tough season for us having so many games in quick succession. It’s taken a toll on everybody. It’s one of those things. I’m glad the season’s over!”

Faversham Strike Force created a couple more chances but Beazleigh curled his shot around the far post before Reed almost capped off a great performance with a goal, his right-footed shot on the turn from 30-yards dipped just over the bar.

Bexley have completed their debut season in the Kent County League top-flight in fifth-place on 52 points from 28 games.

A proud Wilson said: “This is our first season in this division.  We were only expecting to survive. Halstead won the league, looks like they were going down so in terms of our season we’ve hopefully got our name on the map.

“We’ve proved that we’re more than capable of holding our own in the league. The recent run other than today has been amazing, three losses in 12 games, one of them being a semi-final is just amazing for us. To be in that position especially after going up last season.”

Crockenhill have retained their Step Six status alongside Orpington and Eltham Palace who were all expected to drop out after seemingly failing ground grading criteria.

If the Kent County League Premier champions cannot go up then any one of the top five clubs can gain promotion – if their grounds meet criteria.

Bexley play at Crockenhill so when asked about promotion, Wilson replied: “We have applied to go up. It’s depending whether we play here next year. It’s still got to be discussed with the chairmen of both clubs but we have applied to go up.

“I think we’re more than capable of holding our own in the league. If it doesn’t happen we’ll get another season in the Prem and we’ve got to be going for automatic promotion or if not win the league.”

Goodwin explained why the club will be playing Kent County League Premier football again next season – despite finishing nine points clear of Stansfeld, although Kennington will finish second on 56 points if they beat Halstead United on Tuesday night.

He said: “We’ve gone from the Second Division, we came second in that. We won Division One last year and we’ve come straight into the Premier and won it!

“There must be teams that are sick this year that have been trying to win if for years and a team that comes up with no reserve side, pays £5 subs a week and a couple of quid to train and we’ve got no reserve side, no under 18s to back us up.

“We can’t go up next year, it’ll be too soon for us. If we go up to the SCEFL First Division I think it will be a bridge too far for us.  We’ve got no reserve side, we’ll be playing Saturday-Tuesday. I think we’ll struggle at the moment. We’ve got an under 18 side that’s in its second year, next year they’ll be 21s.  Maybe if we earn the right to go up.

“We’ve got a deal with another club that will hopefully come to fruition. My chairman’s had a meeting with them and things have been positive but we’ve missed the deadline this year.

“We’re not ready, we’re a season too early. We’ve over-achieved, not over-achieved, we’ve deserved it, don’t get me wrong but it’s too early for us to go up yet.

“If three, four or five players are missing I’ve got to bring a side in who have probably not played at that level and results breed confidence don’t they?

“We’ve won the league this year, it will be nice to go up. I don’t want players come in and not be quite good enough for it.

“I don’t want to take the gloss of a fantastic achievement what we’ve done in our first year – what teams done that?

“It is a little bit disappointing but I don’t think we’re ready, I honestly don’t think we’re ready, from the bottom of my heart.

“I’ve got 16-17 players here, that’s all we’ve got. I can’t go up to the SCEFL with some with work commitments. We’re not paying, we pay subs, we’re not ready, not yet.

“I don’t want that to take the gloss of anything that we’ve achieved. Let’s enjoy it for six or seven weeks then pre-season starts.”

Bexley: Sam Armfield, Billy Peck, Sam Hellens, Chris Stiller, Charlie Livett, Harry Morgan, Ellis Saunders, Steve Leach, Mitchell Thurbin, Jack Stevens, Dan Ash.
Sub: Terry Peck

Goals: Ellis Saunders 3, Sam Hellens 70

Booked: Sam Armfield 77

Faversham Strike Force: Harry Barrow, Alex Marinov (Matt Turner 69), Marc Scudder, Chris Axford, Lee Sayer, Lewis Pout, Sam Reed, Tom Axford, Sam Croucher (Rob Beazleigh 69), Craig Preston (Ashley Bolton 83), Tyla Clements.
Subs: Ryan Thomas, John Goodwin

Goals: Craig Preston 10, 82, Sam Croucher 11, 38, Rob Beazleigh 75

Attendance: 29
Referee: Mr Harry Phillips (Dartford)
Assistants: Mr Vince Kennedy (Welling) & Mr Ian Cowell (Dartford)