Chatham Town 2-0 Hollands & Blair - We're in a good place at the moment but we haven't achieved anything yet, says treble-chasing Chatham Town boss James Collins

Saturday 09th February 2019
Chatham Town 2 – 0 Hollands & Blair
Location Maidstone Road Sports Ground, Bournville Avenue, Chatham, Kent ME4 6LR
Kickoff 09/02/2019 15:00

Kent Senior Trophy Semi-Final
Saturday 9 February 2019
Stephen McCartney reports from Maidstone Road

CHATHAM TOWN manager James Collins says his side have given a little back to chairman Kevin Hake by reaching the Kent Senior Trophy Final.

Chatham Town went into the game sitting in fifth-place in the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division table with 49 points on the board from 22 games.  They are now 10 points adrift of leaders Fisher but with four games in hand after today’s results.

Gillingham-based side Hollands & Blair are in the bottom three with 12 points on the board and remain six points clear of Croydon and Rusthall but they showed signs today of being capable of climbing up the table and closing the gap on Punjab United, who are eight points clear of them, having played four more games.

Chatham Town progressed through two goals from attackers Byron Walker and Paul Vines’ penalty but they had to wait until the 67th minute to make the breakthrough against a well-drilled organised Hollands & Blair outfit.

“I’m just so happy to get through,” said Collins after reaching his fifth cup final of his managerial career.

“I’ve been nervous all week about this because I’ve worked the players hard and they’ve been brilliant and they do deserve a final, the club deserves a final.

“Last season when I came in it was difficult and I talked a lot about how I wanted to do something.  It’s hard when you talk a lot and you don’t feel like you’re delivering but a lot we did last season put in place this year and I was desperate to get into the Final, to get the club in to the final for the chairman because he’s backed me, he’s been unbelievable so I’m just so pleased for him.”

Collins’ men have now beaten Hollands & Blair on all four occasions this season.

“I don’t know how they are where they are, maybe they raise their game for us, I don’t know,” said Collins.

“We’ve been in a couple of these games now where teams are trying to stop us playing and we have to come up with different ways of trying to get around that but full credit to them.  First half, they stopped us from playing.  I didn’t think there was anything in it first half.  I know we hit the bar but I thought it was fairly even.

“Second half, we tweaked a couple of things and I thought we were fully in control.”

Hollands & Blair manager Darren Blackburn said: “Difficult really. I thought defending the wind in the first half, I thought we did really well. The way we set our shape up in a particular way to try to frustrate them, force them wide and don’t let them play through the middle into Paul Vines or Bryon Walker’s feet and I thought for the first 45 minutes it worked quite well.

“We hit them on the counter a couple of times and if we made better decisions on the ball but all in all I was fairly happy for 60 minutes and then we stopped doing the things we were doing and players switched off and you can’t do against sides like this, against top sides. You have to do it from the first to the 90th and in all four games that’s what’s costs us against Chatham every single time.”

Despite their lowly league position, Hollands & Blair started the game on a front foot in a game that was watched by a crowd of 268 at Maidstone Road.

Left-back Reiss Crimmen hurled in seven long throws into the Chatham Town penalty area during the game and his first almost lead to a goal after exactly 60 seconds but Jacob Mensah glanced his free header past the far post from 10-yards.

Mensah was deployed as a holding midfielder and his tall frame ensured Walker and Vines were kept quiet during the first half but their class told in the end with two goals in a 10 minute spell.

Blackburn said: “Jason is a centre-half and he can play a little bit on the ball. He’s a ball playing centre-half. He’s usually good in the air.  He miss-timed quite a few of his jumps today, which invited a little bit of pressure on due to the conditions but he was superb at Beckenham the other week, which is part of the season why he got the result (a 1-1 draw) that we got up there.

“There were other options in there but I’ve gone with that one today and I have a reflect on that tonight when I get in and see what we do moving forward.”

Collins added: “We’re fortunate where if you keep Vinsey quiet and we can get Pilbeam on the ball and if you keep Pilbeam quiet we can get Bodkin on the ball.

“It’s very hard to keep all four of them quiet so we know how to utilise them best.  We have to wait and see what teams do against us and adjust accordingly.

“They came and made it difficult for us and that was credit to them.  I said to the boys at half-time, I don’t think we’ve done too much wrong really and we need to improve in this area.”

Mensah played a crossfield ball out of defence for Ross Ibbertson, who cut inside Chatham right-back James Fray to drill his right-footed shot towards goal from 25-yards. The ball bounced right in front of keeper Dan Ellis, who used his chest to make the save, before striker Jason Frebene picked up a booking after colliding with the keeper.

Collins added: “It was a shot from outside the box and I expect Dan to deal with them.

“We always say if people shoot from outside the box, we’re locked in and we’re defending and we’re very good at defending so it’s hard for people to get through and it’s something that we work on – and that’s what you pay your keeper for isn’t it?”

Blackburn added: “Jason’s a big, strong lad.  I know Dan Ellis very well and I’m pretty sure if you speak to Dan he’s seen that coming and he was expecting it. 

“I was pleased, really pleased with the start.  The worrying thing for me with my players is we do always start quite well. What happens is we get to a point in a game, usually around 60 minutes whereby players start to switch off and they think they’ve cracked it. We might be 1-0 up or it might be 0-0.

“We’ve been in a lot of games this season. I don’t want to reflect too far back on the season because the squad we’ve got together over the last few weeks and the additions that we’ve made is a completely different squad.  I think we’ve got two or three players that started pre-season with us back in June and July so that shows me how far the squad’s come and how much it’s changed and these players have helped us improve as a unit.”

The return of Rob Denness from Sheppey United will play a key role in Hollands & Blair’s survival and he often found pockets of space in front of the Chatham Town back four.

In this instance, he played a 25-yard pass inside to Mensah, who struck his right-footed drive bouncing past the left-hand post from 30-yards.

Chatham Town created their first opening in the 13th minute when Fray and Walker linked up well down the right and the ball was played inside to an unmarked Reece Butler, who popped off a shot which bounced into the hands of Shannon Harris from 30-yards.

Collins simply added: “Both teams were sussing each other out at that stage with two long shots.”

Blackburn said: “Shannon’s done well today. I don’t think he’s had a great deal to do. In my head, I’m trying to think of clear-cut chances?  I look at how we defended in the first 60 minutes and focus on that and they’ve not really offered too much at our goal.”

Crimmen launched his second long throw which Denness rose at the near post to flick the ball towards the bottom far corner from 10-yards out, which was held by Ellis, getting down low to his right.

“It would’ve been a fairy tale return for him but I think it’s evident to see when the ball goes anywhere near him or up near him he’s a right handful. He’s going to create problems for a lot of teams,” said Blackburn, who has signed a quality player in their bid for survival.

Collins said: “We spoke about long throws. We knew that was going to happen and we knew we had to deal with it. 

“We’ve got two big centre-halves (Richard Avery and Corey Walters-Wright) and they defend well and we’ve got a big goalkeeper and I’ve got players who are brave in the box and they put their bodies on the line, so we knew there were questions they would pose and you’ve got to deal with everything that teams throw at you especially in cup competitions because it’s a one-off game and I felt we dealt with the long throw pretty well.”

You always sensed Chatham Town’s class and quality in the final third would tell and they almost snatched a 26th minute lead.

Ellis launched a big kick forward and found winger Matt Bodkin down the left channel and he cut into the box before curling a looping shot over the keeper’s head before watching the ball bounce off the crossbar.

“It was sort of a little bit out of nothing again. It was a lovely little deft touch and it deserved a goal,” said Collins.

“I thought it was a great effort. It was a bit of brilliance from him.  Instead of us opening Blair up, it was just a little bit of individual brilliance. It would’ve been nice to see that go in.”

Blackburn added: “I could see that coming! I could see exactly what he was going to do. I was standing right behind that and I think it’s just the wind. On another day that goes in. He’s a great player. I’ve got a lot of admiration for him, the things he does, his work-rate.  He’s not just great on the ball, he’s great off it as well.”

Chatham Town finished the first half on the front foot with Evans bossing the middle of the park.  He went close when he hit a right-footed half-volley from 30-yards, which dropped just wide of the far post with the keeper scrambling across his line.

Hollands & Blair’s centre-halves Calvin Sedenu and Kieran Sharp and Mensah sitting in front of them, kept Walker and Vines in their pockets but all that was about to change.

“I said you’re going to get this. We tend to come good after 60 minutes when the game opens up a little bit,” revealed Collins at the break.

“We speak a lot about staying in games and sometimes when teams allow us to play we have to work out what the best style is and sometimes it takes us until half-time to figure it out and it was quite evident in the first half how we were going to play in the second half.

“We changed a couple of bits and we had to be better on the ball. We need to be a bit more patient and get Bodkin on the ball more and I was really confident that we’d score in the game and not concede.”

When asked about his thoughts at the break, the Hollands & Blair manager replied: “Just keep doing what you’re doing! We were in the game, they weren’t playing through us. We kept Vinsey and their better players to a minimum. They’ve got some great attacking players and they didn’t cause us that many problems so it tells me the way we set up was right.

“It’s just frustrating. I told them to believe in themselves and they will get a chance and we will create something and we did two or three times.”

Blackburn’s men should have fallen behind in the 10th minute of the second half.

Centre-half Richard Avery hit a long diagonal ball out of defence from the half-way line and pinged the ball over Crimmen’s head, which let in Jon Pilbeam down the right channel. He delivered a great low cross but great defending from Sedenu ensured Walker flicked his shot over the crossbar from three-yards out at the near post.

Collins added: “Richard Avery drilled the ball into Pilbeam and it was literally what we spoke about at half-time. It was a case of being a bit braver at the back from a throw-on at 0-0.

“Byron usually eats them up but I don’t know what happened there! I would say both goal-mouths do look very boggy and the ball was bouncing up but he probably expect to score then, so I can’t really dig him out too much!”

Blackburn was full of praise for his centre-half Sedenu for slamming the door shut.

“I thought Calvin was superb today,” he said.

“A little bit of combination play down their right-hand side caught us out a little bit.  I know how it’s happened, our shape wasn’t set, players were switching off and they played a little one-two around Reiss (Crimmen) and Pilbeam’s always going to get away from you. They put good deliveries into the box, into areas that are difficult to defend against but I thought Calvin was superb today. He did brilliant to try to get something onto that or at least try to put Byron off. On another day that goes in. Sometimes you think is it going to be our day but unfortunately, not to be.”

Chatham Town deservedly broke the stalemate through Walker’s sixteenth goal of the season, timed at 21 minutes and 20 seconds on the clock.

Hollands & Blair’s right-back Eddie Morrant limited Matt Parson’s attacking threat during the first half but he allowed the left-back to get down the channel before whipping in a great low cross.  Walker nipped in front of a sliding Sedenu at the near post to guide the ball nestling into the bottom left-hand corner.

Byron Walker (red) gives Chatham Town the lead against Hollands & Blair.
Photo: Alan Coomes

“Byron will definitely be claiming it, I would’ve thought,” said Collins.

“It was a good ball in. We worked a good passage of play there and I thought they stopped Matt from playing so we were asking him to take a bit more of a gamble and stay a little bit higher because where he was a little bit deep and they cut out the space. Bodkin was getting dragged in so we’re trying to push Matt a little bit higher to free Bodkin up a little bit more.

“It was exactly what we spoke about at half-time and they executed the plan perfectly.  It’s easy having an idea and saying it but to go out and implement it was pretty good!”

Walker was relatively quiet up in the game up until then.

“He does score goals and his work-rate is phenomenal and he’s just a massive player for us.  He’s a lovely lad, brilliant in the changing room, been there and done it and he’s popped up with a goal today. He works so hard. Sometimes he flits in and out of games but he’s got the knack of scoring goals and when he’s not in it, he works harder than anyone else.”

Blackburn recalled: “We lost the ball, they had a throw-in on the right-hand side but if you go back about 10 seconds before the goal goes in – I always look back and think how we could’ve stopped it.

“There were four of our players standing in a straight line down our left-hand side. Two or three had been sucked out of the middle, who shouldn’t have been sucked out the middle and Jack Simon had to come across to try to do someone’s job on the edge of the box and help him out.

“Unfortunately we lost possession of the ball again and it gets transferred out in the space that Jack had to vacate and the guy’s free and if you give somebody one chance like that to whip the ball in, it’s a quality ball in and he’s put it on a plate and it’s difficult to defend against. 

“It doesn’t matter how it’s gone in, it’s gone in and that changed the complexion of the game then.  Our lads heads went down a little bit – but we’ve got to learn to be stronger than that.”

Butler picked out Parsons down the left-channel again and he whipped in another great low cross, this time towards the far post but Vines’ diving header flashed just past the foot of the post from four-yards.

Collins added: “Again, it’s another Byron one (miss).  He usually eats them up. It did bounce up, that’s all I can say. He’s scored goals for fun this season so you’re not going to get me saying anything bad about him because he’s missing a chance because he’s been unbelievable for us.”

Blackburn read his players the riot act when it came to not marking strikers.

“We changed our shape a little bit after that point. We put a few bodies up front, tried to tweak it a little bit and it’s a case of players not getting tight enough.

“I watch players, they think if you’re standing 10 yards away from someone they’re marking somebody!  I told them after the game if I see a player mark the wrong side of anyone in the future games, I will take them off. I’m sick of it now.  I’m watching it week-in-week-out. If you don’t do the basics against any team in this league, you will get beat!”

Hollands & Blair went close to scoring inside the final 20 minutes but Avery just did enough to prevent an equaliser.

Substitute Callum Peck, who replaced Jordan Gallagher - who was nursing an injury to his thigh – played the ball out to Ibbertson, who swung in a cross from the left and Frebene rose with Avery on the corner of the six-yard box and steered his header just wide.

“I thought Jason did well to get there.  We didn’t create as much in the second half as I’d have hoped,” admitted Blackburn.

“The wind dropped a little bit which probably had a bit of an impact on it. Jason done quite well to get his head on it. It was good defending.  Avery did enough to just put him off and put the ball wide. If that goes in, it changes the complexion of the game.”

Vines’ grabbed his 30th goal of the season to seal Chatham Town’s passage to the Maidstone final on Sunday 14 April with the clincher, timed at 31 minutes and 24 seconds on the clock.

Chatham Town kept the ball in and around the Hollands & Blair penalty area and Bodkin and Walker exchanged passes and referee Nick Dunn deemed Mensah’s block challenge to be a foul just inside the penalty area in a central position.

Vines stepped up and placed his left-footed penalty straight down the middle as Harris dived to his right.

Paul Vines has scored at least 20 goals in each of his campaigns and here he nets his 30th goal of the season, from the penalty spot, to send Chatham Town through to their first final in 20 years where they will meet either Beckenham Town or Jersey based St Peter in April's showpiece Final.
Photo: Alan Coomes

Collins heaped praise on model-pro Vines.

“He’s missed a couple this season so I’m pleased he’s scored, for him.

“You can talk about his goals, the things that people don’t see, him and Richard Avery kind of run that changing room and they are brilliant.  They’ve been such good signings, good people, good in the changing room.  I wish I had 10 years with him. I love him.  I think he’s brilliant.”

Blackburn added: “People were a lot closer than I was, I’ve got to say.  There were a few players slightly obstructing my view so for me he went to shoot, pulled his leg back and it was his leg that he was lifting up to shoot with that clipped my player. Whether he clipped him or if it was the other way round, you could probably tell me but the decision was given.

“Rather ironically, we had a blatant one like that – if not more blatant at Deal – waved away by the same referee, which is a little bit frustrating.”

Vines had another chance just 126 seconds later when he met Bodkin’s corner from the left and from the penalty spot he rose to plant his header over the crossbar.

Chatham Town hit Hollands & Blair on the break when Pilbeam hit a long ball forward to Walker and Bodkin took the ball off his team-mate down the right, cut into the box and was denied by a fine block from Harris, low to his left.

Collins said:  “I love watching Matt Bodkin play.  I think he’s fantastic, lovely fella.  He works his socks off. I just like him to score a few more goals. If Vinsey scores 30 goals a season, Bodkin will probably give you 30 assists so I can’t be too hard on him if he doesn’t score.

“I thought we controlled the whole of the second half.  I think they had a shot from long range.  You never know. They were launching balls into the box and if one drops, all off a sudden you’re in the ascendancy and the rhythm of the game goes so it was just about doing the right things.”

Blackburn added: “It was a good save, he stood up well and made himself big and again it’s come from our mistake. We’ve given the ball away in our last third. At times I thought we tried to play in the wrong areas and we didn’t play when we got the ball in the right areas.”

Hollands & Blair went close with the last piece of action of the game when Crimmen floated in a cross from the left which dropped nicely for Sharp, who hooked his left-footed effort flashing past the right-hand post from 20-yards.

Blackman said:  “Good effort from the big man. He’s good at that. We can push him up front in the last 10 minutes of a game and he can compete up there as well. He’s a technically very good player and I thought he defended very well today.”

Chatham Town will play Beckenham Town or St Peter from Jersey in the Final in Maidstone on Sunday 14 April.

Collins said: “We’re in a good place at the moment but we haven’t achieved anything yet.  Today was the first thing we could give a little back to get to a cup final and say we’re in a cup final. We haven’t won it, of course, but it’s just nice.

“It’s a massive thing for the club to get there.  The cups are about the players having a day out and they deserve it for the amount of hard work but I’m so happy with the chairman. He’s put his faith in me. He’s never doubted me. He’s let me get on with it and he’s let me manage freely. We speak to each other every day and he helps me immensely and I’m pleased we’ve got to a cup final for him and I’m pleased for the players.”

Chatham Town travel to Faversham to play Canterbury City in the Quarter-Finals of the Challenge Cup on Wednesday night, while Lordswood host Hollands & Blair in the League 24 hours earlier.

“I think there’s more positives than negatives to take out of the game but we’ve got to transfer these positives against the likes of Chatham into the likes of Lordswood coming up on Tuesday night,” said Blackburn.

On FA Vase Quarter-Finalists Canterbury City, Collins added: “We’ve played them a couple of times and I think they’re a good side that on their day they can beat anyone.  You know you’re going to have a hard game against them. They’re a big, physical side but they do like to play as well. They work hard so it’s going to be another tough game.”

Chatham Town: Dan Ellis, James Fray (Danny Grant 88), Matt Parsons, Reece Butler, Richard Avery, Corey Walters-Wright, Jon Pilbeam, Jack Evans, Paul Vines, Byron Walker, Matt Bodkin.
Subs:  Ben Davisson, Tom Fitzgerald, Michael Hagan, Ben Nourse

Goals: Byron Walker 67, Paul Vines 77 (penalty)

Booked: Jack Evans 82

Hollands & Blair: Shannon Harris, Eddie Morant, Reiss Crimmen, Jacob Mensah (Harrison Pont 80), Calvin Sedenu, Kieran Sharp, Jack Simon, Ross Ibbertson (Charlie Plummer 90), Rob Denness, Jason Frebene, Jordan Gallagher (Callum Peck 39).
Subs: Tayo Ajayi, Caleb Bearman-Dyce

Booked: Jason Frebene 10, Reiss Crimmen 77

Attendance: 268
Referee: Mr Nick Dunn (Deal)
Assistants: Mr Michael Butcher (Eastchurch, Isle of Sheppey) & Mr Dan Blades (Wrotham)
Fourth Official: Ms Louise Saunders (Rochester)