Billericay Town 1-1 Sheppey United - We've got a great opportunity on Tuesday night to get through to The FA Cup First Round, says Sheppey United boss Ernie Batten
Billericay Town 1 – 1 Sheppey United
|Location||New Lodge, Blunts Wall Road, Billericay, Essex CM12 9SA|
BILLERICAY TOWN 1-1 SHEPPEY UNITED
The Emirates FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round
Saturday 14 October 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from New Lodge
SHEPPEY UNITED manager Ernie Batten says his side have got a great opportunity on Tuesday night to get through to The FA Cup First Round for the very first time after putting in an impressive performance at Billericay Town.
The Ites took an early lead through talisman striker Daniel Bradshaw’s sixth goal of the season – with a clinical finish with his only chance of the tie - which was watched by a crowd of 1,241 at New Lodge, with a large vocal backing from the Island.
Billericay Town grabbed an equaliser a couple of minutes before the break through central midfielder Frankie Merrifield’s third goal of the season following a set-piece.
Gary McCann’s side went into this final qualifying round tie sitting in fourth-place in the Isthmian League Premier Division table, having collected 16 points from their eight league outings.
The Essex side defeated Stowmarket Town (7-0), Brightlingsea Regent (3-1), St Albans City (1-0) and welcomed a Sheppey United side that were playing their tenth cup tie of the season, their ninth consecutive one.
Billericay Town reached The FA Cup First Round in 2017, 2018 and 2019, while Sheppey United were featuring at this stage of the competition for the first time.
Sheppey United – who put in an impressive first-half showing at Ramsgate in The FA Trophy Third Qualifying Round last weekend, before losing 4-1 to Ben Smith’s big hitters – have only played three league games, picking up five points and were sitting in fifteenth-place in the Isthmian League South East Division.
Sheppey United have beaten Midhurst & Easebourne (3-0), Kennington (3-1), Burgess Hill Town (3-0) and put in a very impressive performance in a 4-1 win in Wales against Merthyr Town two weeks ago.
“I’m very pleased with the performance. I thought we acquitted ourselves really well today,” said Batten.
“It was always going to be a difficult game up here, against a side from the league above but we matched them and towards the end of the game I thought we came on quite strong.
“They gave me everything, absolutely everything. I’ve just said to them (in the dressing room) their work-rate was absolutely outstanding and that was the catalyst for us to keep going and keep believing that we could get something out from the game.”
Billericay Town came out of the traps flying and created their first opening after only 94 seconds when pacey right-winger Richard Asamoah switched the play into central midfielder Bradley Stevenson, who cut onto his right-boot before lashing his shot over the crossbar from 25-yards.
Sheppey United’s attacking midfielder Jacob Lambert had his pocket pinched by a pressing Merrifield, who fed former Bromley striker Moses Emmanuel, who dragged his right-footed shot across the keeper and flashing past the foot of the far post from inside the D.
“We said they’re probably going to start quick and playing a side from a lower league to try to put us under pressure immediately and I think that’s what they tried to do,” said Batten.
“They were getting crosses in and corners, which largely we dealt with quite well.”
However, Sheppey United grabbed the lead, with eight minutes and 41 seconds on the clock.
The impressive Lambert was inside the Billericay half and threaded a fine pass along the artificial pitch into Bradshaw, who easily cut inside before clinically drilling his left-footed shot into the bottom right-hand corner from 25-yards.
“We took a bit of a chance on Dan today, he’s not 100% fit and he’s been out for a couple of weeks (with a hamstring injury) and prior to that he wasn’t able to train on a regular basis due to some small niggles and injuries.
“But you know, when the ball comes to Dan like that, he’s got such an eye for goal and it was a clinical finish.
“The magic was on! There was a long way to go, of course. That was the thing. If the game was only half-an-hour long we win it!”
Sheppey United put 10 men behind the ball when Billericay Town attacked. The home side played with a narrow formation, with their high full-backs providing the width and in 29-year-old former Fisher holding midfielder Richard Hamill OUTSTANDING in midfield. Sheppey United were a threat on the counter-attacks, especially in behind the full-backs with Danny Leonard down the right wing a threat.
“Richie has been immense this season, I’m really pleased for the lad because he’s been with the club a good few seasons now. He’s come from another level and he’s stepped up a level and he was outstanding today,” hailed Batten.
Billericay Town went long out from centre-back Matt Johnson and the outstanding Olamilekan Majoyegbe – who had Ade Azeez in his pocket for the whole game – tussled with Azeez just outside the Sheppey United penalty area and the ball was flicked into Merrifield, who dragged his left-footed drive past the left-hand post from 25-yards.
With the Billericay fans growing even more frustrated as the first half ticked on, Sheppey United grew into the game and started creating some openings of their own.
Hamill pressed Merrifield in the final third and played a one-two with Bradshaw before hitting a left-footed angle drive, which flashed past the goalkeeper and just past the foot of the far post from 17-yards.
“I thought when we could get hold of the ball and we passed it well, those spaces opened up for us and Richie, as well, has got a good left-foot on him and it was quite close,” added Batten.
Billericay Town produced a good move in the 35th minute when right-back George Wind released Azeez, who reached the by-line before cutting the ball back for Emmanuel, who took a touch and turned before hitting a shot towards goal from eight-yards, only for it to be blocked by versatile centre-half Wilkins, something that didn’t go unnoticed by Batten.
“That was an outstanding block! I thought because the striker was twisting and turning, he’s got his shot away and Connor comes in. I know Aiden was there but we’ve all seen them go in from that distance – it was a great block.”
Johnson launched a long ball forward out of defence, which was cushioned headed down by Emmanuel and Stevenson’s driven shot was blocked by Majoyegbe and the ball bounced behind for a corner, only for referee Emily Heaslip to award the Kent side a goal-kick.
Billericay Town grabbed an equaliser with 42 minutes and 8 seconds on the clock, following their third of eight corners. Sheppey United had seven corners and put in an impressive performance.
Stevenson cut the ball back to an unpressed Wind, who took a touch before whipping in a cross into a crowded penalty area.
Emmanuel’s shot bounced off the base of the right-hand post and Merrifield was on hand to stab the ball over the line from a couple of yards.
Batten said: “I think there was a period when they had a number of corners just prior to half-time and we were saying try not to give two much away, stop the crosses but it’s of course easier said than done against the good sides and they force you into doing these things.
“But a goal’s a goal. I think it’s a percentage game sometimes. A number of crosses, a number of corners that come in, something dropped for them and I think as it hit the post it kind of threw one of our defenders off balance as he tried to reach out but it’s came back and guy was there to finish it.”
Sheppey United created the last chance of the first half when Leonard cut in from the right, there was pin-ball inside the box and Hamill’s left-footed angled drive from 25-yards, was comfortably held by Daniel Wilks, low to his left.
When asked if the goal changed his half-time team-talk, Batten replied: “Not really no. I thought we did well overall. We just had to make sure we came out for the second half. I thought they would come out and start quickly, put us under pressure.
“We grew into the game in the second half after initially they had some good play and we got ourselves firmly in an even-Steven’s parallel with them.”
McCann certainly had motivational words during the half-time interval as Billericay Town came out with all guns blazing at the start of the second half.
Merrifield cut inside Josh Wisson before lashing his right-footed drive from 25-yards over the Sheppey United crossbar before the away side rode their luck after 118 seconds after switching off at the back – after Aiden Prall’s goal-kick – for the very first time.
Emmanuel wriggled into the box – with Sheppey United’s defence behind him – sweeping his shot which bounced off the base of the right-hand post and the ball rolled out to Azeez, but great desire from Sheppey United’s right-back Mamadou Diallo ensured the ball was cleared away.
Batten said: “I mean, it’s a FA Cup game, they’re the favourites, they’re going to come out. They’re at home, crowd behind them – although I thought our fans were absolutely amazing today!
“We came under a bit of pressure and a result of build-up play and balls into the box.”
Asamoah cut the ball onto his right-foot out on the right and whipped in a cross towards the back post for Emmanuel to guide his towering header just past the post from inside the six-yard box.
However, Sheppey United rode the early storm and Billericay’s fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth corner all came within a couple of minutes just past the hour mark but the Kent side stood firm.
Billericay Town produced their best move of the game in the 66th minute.
Holding midfielder Adam Leathers played the ball into Stevenson on the edge of the Sheppey United box and his fine reverse pass put Leathers in behind the Sheppey defence and he cut the ball back for Emmanuel, who turned Wisson inside the box and his rasping left-footed drive was comfortably plucked out of the air by Prall’s outstretched two arms.
Batten said: “They were all outstanding. The whole back four. I thought they were incredible today, really stood up to them. They’ve got some big players in there, six foot odd players and I thought we stood up really well to them.”
Sheppey United created a couple of counter-attacking chances in the space of three minutes, with left-back Frankie Del Morgan now getting in behind Wind.
James Bessey-Saldanha started to influence the game and he smacked a first time right-footed 18-yard drive, which was straight down the throat of the former Dartford goalkeeper.
“I thought as the half went on, we started to grow into it a lot more. The game panned out a little bit and we were able to get hold of the ball and pass it and we were able to get James Bessey on the ball and Danny Leonard on the ball a lot more and we’ve got Frankie on the overlap and I thought during a period of about 15 minutes we looked like we could score another goal,” added Batten.
Bessey-Saldanha’s driving run took him through the heart of the pitch and his skill took him past three Billericay players, before the ball was worked to an unmarked Leonard down the right hand side of the penalty area but his driven shot was beaten away by Wilks.
The home side’s main threat were from set-pieces rather than in open play, and Prall had to be alert in the 72nd minute.
Diallo was penalised for a foul on Leathers and out came the spray so that referee Emily Heaslip could position Sheppey United’s four-man wall in the right position.
Stevenson drilled his right-footed free-kick into the corridor of uncertainty and the ball clipped Azeez’s boot (while being closely marked) and Prall made a comfortably save, holding the ball low to his right.
“Aiden was incredibly safe today, a safe pair of hands in there. He was confident and every team is going to concede crosses and are going to concede free-kicks. It’s just limiting the amount you do but when called upon, Aiden today was very safe,” added Batten.
Sheppey United’s seventh and final corner arrived in the 80th minute. Hamill’s corner from the left was cleared away and Lambert recycled the ball back in from the right towards the back post for Majoyegbe to steer his free-header wide.
Billericay Town were cursing their luck when they struck the woodwork for the third time, with 39:14 on the clock.
Wilkins bundled over Emmanuel and Prall lined up a four-man wall for Stevenson’s 26-yard free-kick, which he stroked right-footed over the wall only for the ball to kiss the top of the left-hand post before dropping over for a goal-kick.
“From my angle, I never thought it was going in – I would say that!
“It always seemed it was going a bit high. I’m actually surprised it hit the bar, the top of the bar, but also very relieved,” admitted Batten.
The final exchanges were like a basketball game – both teams going for the victory within the four minutes and 5 seconds of stoppage time.
Bessey-Saldanha picked Stevenson’s pocket before driving forward down the middle, before drawing a sliding challenge from Leathers. The ball rolled some five-yards inside to substitute Maliq Morris, who drilled a speculative 35-yarder high and wide of the target.
Bessey-Saldanha and Morris linked up well in the middle inside the Billericay half before the ball was worked out to Del Morgan on the left and he whipped in a cross from within the left-channel, which agonisingly hit the Billericay crossbar in with 47:40 on the clock.
Sheppey United were inches away from a famous victory and they would have deserved it on today’s impressive performance.
Batten said: “That’s what dreams are made off! You come here and that last second and he goes down the left-hand side and he drills it across and I’m thinking that top corner is going to burst any minute and it hits the bar.
“That’s The FA Cup and we’ve got a great opportunity on Tuesday night to get through and we go again.”
Billericay Town had a chance to snatch the victory with 48:44 on the clock, Stevenson countering down the right before cutting inside before drilling a low right-footed drive, which Prall held comfortably to his left.
Sheppey United’s FA Cup run has seen them bring in much-needed funds. A victory on Tuesday night will take their total prize money to £22,069, or it will be £15,819 if they lose.
Add to the £4,375 prize money from three FA Trophy ties, Batten knows the money will come in handy.
“Very much so! All non-league clubs it’s very welcome. Running a non-league club is a very difficult proposition, unless you’ve got benefactors that are putting money in season-after-season. To be self-sufficient and actually make a profit is a very difficult thing. You have to be commercially right and not set your budget too high. It’s got to be realistic and you’ve got to work within those parameters and if you do that, you’ve got a chance.”
Batten’s side last played a League game on Bank Holiday Monday, 28, August, when they held Sittingbourne to a 2-2 draw at Woodstock Park and Tuesday night’s 185-mile round trip to play Littlehampton Town has been postponed and will have to re-arranged.
Sheppey United can look upon today’s performance with pride and they should not fear Billericay Town going into Tuesday night’s replay at Holm Park.
“Well, I think our pitch is slightly wider. I think it will help us to play our football a bit better. We’ve been good at home this season and I think we’ve got a very good chance to progress,” insisted Batten, who is feeling proud that the club will be included in The FA Cup First Round Draw on Sunday afternoon.
“Well, who would’ve said that a few years ago, from 2015 when we had a pitch with a string around it, to the little stadium we’ve got now and where we’ve come with the (Isthmian) League status and playing in The FA Cup, in the First Round proper draw – it’s just absolutely unbelievable,” said Batten.
“You think they’ll still be slight favourites, being in a higher division but we’ve shown today that we can compete and The FA Cup is the stuff that fairytales are made off, so we’ve got a great chance. We can go there and we can win that game.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have to travel down to Littlehampton. That means we’ve only played three league games still and we’ll be in November soon.
“Our fans were outstanding today. One of the players, James Bessey just said the atmosphere was incredible over on his side on the left where most of them congregated in that stand. I think they will re-create that on Tuesday night and they’ll be a few hundred more joining them. It’s very exciting, I can’t wait.”
Billericay Town: Daniel Wilks, George Wind, Matt Dench, Adam Leathers, Matt Johnson, Ben Wells, Ade Azeez (Louis Ramsay 84), Frankie Merrifield, Moses Emmanuel, Bradley Stevenson, Richard Asamoah (Alfie Cerulli 73).
Subs: Aron Pollok, Charlie Waller, Stefan Lamacq, Jayden Robinson, Lisandro Cassandra
Goals: Frankie Merrifield 43
Booked: Frankie Merrifield 7
Sheppey United: Aiden Prall, Mamadou Diallo, Frankie Del Morgan, Richard Hamill, Olamilekan Majoyegbe, Connor Wilkins, James Bessey-Saldanha, Josh Wisson, Daniel Bradshaw (Oscar Housego 64), Jacob Lambert (Maliq Morris 90), Danny Leonard.
Subs: Daniel Birch, Hadley Glock, Alexander Willis, Oladipo Durowojo, D’Jean Spencer
Goal: Daniel Bradshaw 9
Booked: Richard Hamill 68, Danny Leonard 89
Referee: Ms Emily Heaslip
Assistants: Mr Stuart Smith & Mr Daniel Doyle
Fourth Official: Mr Bruno Marques