Crowborough Athletic 2-0 Hollands & Blair - If you said to me now we'd lose in the FA Vase next week and win the league, I'll take that all day long, says Crowborough boss Sean Muggeridge
Crowborough Athletic 2 – 0 Hollands & Blair
|Location||Crowborough Community Stadium, Fermor Road, Crowborough, East Sussex TN6 3BU|
CROWBOROUGH ATHLETIC 2-0 HOLLANDS & BLAIR
Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division
Saturday 21st January 2017
Stephen McCartney reports from Fermor Road
CROWBOROUGH ATHLETIC manager Sean Muggeridge says the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division title race will go right down to the wire.
The Crows beat the frost to leapfrog over Ashford United to the summit on 54 points with 16 games remaining after extending their impressive unbeaten record to 32 games in all competitions – or losing only three in 39 outings in all competitions.
Two first half goals from strikers Sam Carrington and Zac Attwood – taking the scoring tallies to 15 and 23 for the season – was enough to beat sixth-placed Hollands & Blair.
Crowborough Athletic’s third highest crowd of the season of 323 flocked through the turnstiles to watch a game that was passed fit by match referee Jak Hill around 45 minutes before kick-off.
“I thought we were very good first half, probably could’ve taken a couple of chances, if not taken a little bit more,” said Muggeridge, following his side’s 17th league win of the season.
“They played well, they had a couple of chances, but I think we didn’t start particularly well but I think as the game went on we grew.
“In the second half it was keeping what we had really. We missed a penalty but the game got a little bit scrappy and there were a few bookings and it’s probably what we wanted just to drown the game out. The result was the main thing really.”
For Hollands & Blair manager Bryan Greenfield, the Scotsman rued his side’s missed opportunities.
“We’re obviously disappointed, in any game of football that you lose, you’re always disappointed,” he said, after Hollands & Blair lost to Crowborough Athletic for the first time.
“We knew the run that they were on going into the game and it was pretty much a new team from what they were last season. They’ve got a decent budget down here and quite rightly so, pushing for the league title with the players they’ve brought in.
“We had a game plan but I thought we conceded two very soft goals and really coming down to it that was the difference between the sides on the day. I thought the sides were evenly matched.
“They had the penalty, we didn’t create a heck of a lot in the second half – neither did they – but I thought we created enough chances in the first maybe 20 minutes I guess to go a couple of goals up and if we had taken them it puts a bit of pressure on them and changes the complex and outlook on the game.”
Hollands & Blair arrived in East Sussex with only three defeats to their name in 22 league games and they could have changed the script through striker Gary Lockyer after only 33 seconds.
He was played in behind Jack Turner (the centre of a three-man central defence) but lacked composure and allowed former Blair keeper to come outside his box to make a block with his legs.
Greenfield said: “I didn’t think it was as early as 33 seconds. It felt quick on the sideline. I didn’t know it was as quick as that! I guess maybe it’s one of those things when it comes too quick in a game and hasn’t settled down yet. People aren’t warm or ready. I don’t know what the excuse is.
“For me, personally, looking back at it, I was never a striker as you know so I can’t really say, but I thought he could’ve taken it around the keeper. I thought Dan came off his line very quickly, Gary could’ve taken it to the side and slotted it into the net. He didn’t and we didn’t take the opportunity.”
Muggeridge added: “They did cause us a few problems in the first half, which good sides do, they’ve only lost three (league) games all season and they had their full squad today.
“The problem you’re going to get chances with the way we play because we play quite attacking football. It was a good save from Dan and it’s against his old club.”
Hollands & Blair started the game on the front foot and Crowborough Athletic created their first chance inside 13 minutes.
Attwood swept a deep cross out to left-wing back Sam Crabb, who cut the ball back to Jason Barton, who was given time and space to float in a cross with his left foot and Ross Treleaven rose above Lewis Taylor to glance his header past the far post from 16-yards.
Crowborough’s right-wing back Wayne Clarke tripped Jack Simon but Lockyer’s right-footed free-kick dipped over the crossbar from 22-yards.
Central defender Ben Brown then swept a ball forward into the Crowborough box, which was headed across goal by Lockyer and his strike partner James McDonald (who had a quiet game) saw his downward header bounce just past the far post from eight-yards.
Lockyer was Hollands & Blair’s main threat today and Greenfield was full of praise for the nine-goal striker.
“Gary’s a threat every week, one of the most unselfish strikers and the same with when Rob Denness was at the club (before his switch to Greenwich Borough). He does all the unselfish donkey work that he doesn’t get enough credit for. You only notice it when you’re in a team playing with him. You notice all the donkey work that he does for you and the link-up play and he brings others into games. It’s always like Macca that gets all the credit for all the goals (he’s scored 22 this season) but Rob was the same. He’s only score 20 goals a season but he’ll put so many on the plate for Macca over the years and it’s the same for Gary. He’s fitted in something similar. He’s a different player to Rob. Rob can turn and run with the ball and Gary’s not so much like that but his link-up play is very good. His first touch is one of the best we’ve seen.
Clinical Crowborough Athletic took the lead – against the run of play – with 17 minutes and 47 seconds on the clock.
Treleaven found himself in space down the left channel and he floated in a cross, which was flicked on by Attwood’s towering header and dropped down at Carrington’s feet, who slid in to poke his shot past Ronan Forde into the net from six-yards.
Muggeridge said: “Sam is one I retained from last year. He’s a Crowborough lad and he’s on fire. He’s a number 10 and he’s scored 15 goal already, 15 goals as a number 10 and assists. When he gets a chance, he just finishes.”
Greenfield added: “Disappointed from a defensive point of view. I’m sure from their point of view they’ll look at a nice ball in the box, a nice flick on and striker running in at the back post. From an attacking point of view if we do it we’re probably pleased with the goal.
“From a defensive point of view the boy had too much time to put it in the box, we haven’t reacted from the flick on and it’s just one of those things. That gets momentum that goes with the attacker running in on the ball. I think we’ve got to show a little bit more desire in the six-yard area. That’s what I told them at half-time. You’ve got to want to defend and do everything to keep the ball out of your goal, whatever it takes, even if you foul them. I’d rather have fouled him than do nothing. I thought it was against the run of play and that’s knocked the stuffing out of us a little bit.”
Both sides then created chances within seconds of each other as the game reached 20 minutes.
Hollands & Blair’s left-back Taylor clopped a free-kick down the left and Lockyer ran the channel and from a tight angle his shot was gobbled up by Ellis, who launched a big kick forward, which was cleared by his opposite number and Attwood’s right-footed chip from 30-yards sailed just past the top of the left-hand post.
Muggeridge said: “They did have a couple of chances in the first half. It was one of those things. If Hollands & Blair had scored it might’ve been a little bit more of a battle for us.
“I think the pitch was quite icy. I’m going to back Zac up with that because I think he slid when he hit it. It was an open goal. He chipped the keeper when the keeper went out. I think the conditions didn’t help him with that situation.
Greenfield added: “It was a bad clearance from Ronan wasn’t it and it’s gone straight to him and he’s tried it from 30-yards. He’s played at a decent level the boy Attwood so he knows where the back of the net is. I thought Ben Brown coming back for his first game in six week today at centre half did really well handling him. I thought he nullified a lot of the threat the boy has.”
But as the temperature started to drop, Crowborough Athletic’s 65th league goal of the season won them the game with 35 minutes and 56 seconds on the clock.
Blair switched off from a throw in on the right close in the middle third of the pitch as Dan Tear throw was flicked on by Treleaven and this gave Attwood the licence to stride forward. He won a foot race comfortably against Blair central defender Jack Healy, charged into the box before stroking his left-footed shot past the diving Forde from 16-yards.
Muggeridge said: “Zac Attwood just doesn’t leave defenders alone and that was just pure persistence. He got to that ball because he was two or three yards behind the defender. He just causes trouble for any defence in any league.
“We knew the quality that we were bringing in. He has stepped down a level but he’s a cracking lad as well. He doesn’t think he’s a super-star, he works tirelessly, tirelessly for the team. He’s always at training and he’s just a dream player to manage.”
Greenfield slammed his side’s sleepy defending for the breakaway goal.
“Lazy again from our point of view. It was too easy from a throw in. You’ve got to switch on when the ball goes dead. You’ve got to be ready. I don’t think we were switched on and beware and they punished us. It’s as simple as that!
“As I said to the boys at full-time, it’s come down to taking your chances. In open play it was an even game of football but it’s come down to taking your chances. We’ve got two of the best strikers in the league. I wouldn’t swap them for any two.”
Carrington’s angled drive from the left flashed across Forde and past the far post, before Hollands & Blair squandered an excellent opportunity to score from a lifeline in the 41st minute.
Winger Louis Valencia cut in from the left and whipped in an excellent cross which was headed over by an unmarked Simon from eight-yards.
Greenfield revealed: “I just shouted at Simmo at the start of that move because he was sloppy. We want him to release him from midfield to go and make up the late runs into the box and he was struggling to get up and I shouted at him and he took off and he went for it. It was a great run. He does times his runs very well he’s very energetic. It was a great ball in that picked him out and Jack’s come in, dead centre of the goal, hit either corner and it’s a goal. I don’t know how he’s managed to put it over the bar. He’s got to do better, he’s got to score from that!”
The Crows boss added: “I remember that well because we switched off a little bit just before half-time. He had a free header, ran in and he wasn’t picked up. It’s a chance but with Dan in goal we’re so solid. I didn’t bank him to score that.”
Crowborough Athletic central midfielder Tom Vickers hit a right-footed drive from 25-yards, which was initially spilt by Forde, who gathered at the second attempt.
Vickers played the pass of the game on the stroke of half-time to send Attwood charging through on goal, but Ford’s outstretched right-leg came to Blair’s rescue before the keeper grabbed hold of the loose ball.
Muggeridge said: “Again, Zac was causing them all sorts of problems. I didn’t think the icy pitch helped the centre halves so we did encourage our players to put it in behind them and the conditions didn’t help Zac either. He slipped as he shot and it’s really slippery under foot so the keeper got down to it. That would’ve been game, set and match really if he could’ve scored that.”
Greenfield knew it was a vital save from his goalkeeper.
He said: “That would’ve been the ultimate blow from the half without a doubt. I’ve seen him run through on goal and my heart sunk because I’m going in at 3-0 down. What do I say to them because I didn’t think they deserved it at all and it’s hard to turn that around and motivate the boys to come out for the second half at 3-0 down.
“I expected him to score if the truth be told. I thought Ronan done well to react but I don’t think the boy caught it clean. It’s one of those scuffed goals that end up being harder for goalkeeper’s and I thought Ronan did very well to stick out a leg to stop it.”
It would have been harsh on Hollands & Blair if they had gone in at the break more than two goals down – but Crowborough Athletic have players who have played at a much higher level in key areas of the pitch and are ruthless.
Both managers were asked their thoughts at the interval.
Muggeridge said: “I just said ‘you can’t switch off against this side because they’re going to keep going and going’ and they’ve got some good players so we can’t switch off.
“All I said to them just kill it. You don’t have to win by five or six, just be nice and strong, let’s play in the right areas, clear our lines when we need to and that’s exactly what they’ve done.”
Greenfield added: “I just said ‘you’ve got to believe in yourselves!’ I thought we’ve created enough chances to be level at half-time, 2-2, 0-0, whatever. We didn’t take our chances. I just thought the goals were too easy for them. If the guy’s going to get the ball out of his feet and from 30-yards smash one into the top corner you’ll probably ask why nobody’s closed him down but that happens in football.
“The goals we gave away, I thought were very soft. If you score those type of goals I think ‘we’ve had that easy there, we’ve been given that one.’
“I said just create chances and get back in to the game and believe in yourselves.”
Crowborough Athletic were awarded a penalty, which they missed in the 50th minute, after Crabb cut into the area to reach the by-line and showed more desire than his opponent to win the ball on the line before he was impeded by Blair right-back Jack West, before Jack Healy came over to support his team-mate.
Referee Hill pointed to the spot but Attwood’s left-footed penalty was held well by Forde, diving low to his left.
Greenfield said: “He gave it against Jack West. I spoke to Jack West after the game. I said from the dug-out it didn’t look like a pen. It looked like a cut-back and slipped and he said 100% that’s what’s happened. He’s so adamant he didn’t touch him. Look, Jack’s an honest bloke. I believe him on that. It didn’t look like a penalty from where I was.
“The guy made a good run down the left-hand side. Again, a little bit too easy getting to the by-line. I thought we could’ve dealt with it before it got that far and for me the boy slipped. As far away as I was it looked like he slipped but it’s been given.
“Fortunately for us Ronan’s stepped up to the plate and he’s made a great save down his left. He’s a good goalkeeper. It could’ve been 3-0 right on half-time and it could’ve been 3-0 right after half-time if they had taken that penalty. I just felt we didn’t deserve that scoreline at the time, I really didn’t. I thought we had a couple of opportunities to score a couple of goals ourselves in the first half.”
Muggeridge simply added: “It’s hard to have any encouragement with that penalty really because it was easy for the keeper but he does so much for us Zac. A missed penalty here and there, I’m not going to worry about because he’s just doing it on the pitch all over. I’m not too bothered about it to be honest, we won the game.”
George Blake delivered a cross into the Crows box, which was headed away by Jason Barton and striker McDonald went for the spectacular with his back to goal, hitting an overhead kick which sailed across Ellis and harmlessly past the far post.
Greenfield said: “Macca hit a spectacular effort. I’m just glad he didn’t get injured doing it to be perfectly honest with you. That was a bonus. He came down and picked himself up from the overhead kick.”
Crowborough’s other central midfielder Jack Walder clipped the ball forward and Treleaven got in behind but drilled his low shot past the left-hand post from 20-yards.
Muggeridge said: “Second half, I thought was a little bit stop-start. There were a few fouls. I think we had four bookings in the end and it was that sort of game. I think it was us just stamping out the game. Sometimes you have to play like that.
“I did sort of sit them back a little bit and just to hit them on the break and just to protect what we had really because I knew this side can hurt you. If you start throwing three or four men up we’re going to leave our back three exposed. It worked. You have to give them credit, they never stopped but they didn’t really create anything second half.”
Treleaven turned provider in the 64th minute when a nice pass on the outside played in Crabb and with only Forde to beat, the Blair keeper dived to his left to catch the ball as the wing-back’s shot was heading towards the far corner.
Muggeridge added: “We could’ve made it easier for ourselves second half with the penalty and Sam Crabb and a couple of other chances we had.”
Vickers’ hooked a ball over the top to put Attwood through on goal but Forde came out of his box but could only slice his clearance and Attwood turned to see the keeper off his line and his chip from 35-yards sailed just over the top of the far post, nestling on top of the roof of the net.
The Crows boss added: “I was right behind that. It was an unbelievable chip really. The only thing it didn’t have was the goal because of the direction and power. It just sums up the quality of the striker.”
Greenfield added: “Ronan’s got the best left-foot in the league goalkeeper wise with a ball at his feet. He’s got a great kick on him. He’s very capable on the ball. He shanks one and nearly gets punished for it. That’s just typical and sums up the day if that drops in the net as well but luckily didn’t take it.”
Hollands & Blair threw bodies forward as they went in search of making a late comeback.
Substitute Justin Ascheri wasn’t pleased with Dan Perry’s challenge in midfield as he sent Lockyer chasing the ball down the right channel and his shot flashed across goal and past the far post.
It wasn’t falling for Hollands & Blair inside the box as Taylor’s injury-time cross skimmed off Vickers’ head and was caught by Ellis, who kept his 11th clean sheet of the season and the club’s 13th.
Muggeridge was full of praise for Ellis and the three men in front of him in defence (Barton, Turner and Tear).
“This is the resilience of this side. I wanted a clean sheet today. I would’ve taken 2-0 all day long than 4-1 or 3-1. It was just a clean sheet we needed today because we go into two important games now with a clean sheet, which is good.”
Muggeridge has promised changes for Tuesday night’s home semi-final against Newhaven in the Sussex FA Principal RUR Charity Cup, which has come at the wrong time ahead of next Saturday’s Buildbase FA Vase Last 16 home clash against Coleshill Town.
“It’s an amazing run. It keeps going on. The more and more you do it the more and more you want to keep that amazing record but if you said to me now we’d lose next week and win the league, I’ll take that all day long,” said Muggeridge.
“The priority is The FA Vase, the league is number one, obviously. I said that to the players today but three important games. This is the most important one because it’s a league game but on Tuesday you’ll probably see a lot of changes although it’s a semi-final. It is one of our least priorities so you may see a lot of changes. We want to get into the final, obviously, but if you said to me lose that on Tuesday and win on Saturday, I’ll take that all day long.”
But Muggeridge has got the budget and players in place to win the league title and win promotion into the Isthmian League.
The league title at the moment is between Crowborough Athletic (54 points from 22 games), Ashford United (52 points from 22 games), Sevenoaks Town (49 points from 21 games) and Sheppey United (48 points from 23 games).
Muggeridge said: “I said to the players, this title is never, never going to be won until the end of the season because Ashford, Sevenoaks and even teams like Sheppey win every week. They’re not going to give us the title. We’re going to have to win it, as simple as that.
“The thing is with this league, I’m so glad we came over to this league, because it's an absolutely fantastic league in the fact that it’s so competitive. It’s like a Ryman South League and it’s good for the players because they realise – even the players that have come from a higher level – how good this standard is.”
Hollands & Blair games are coming a bit sparse this year and their next game is in two Saturday’s time at home to Cray Valley.
“We’ve come a long way from home and picked up nothing and it’s not always going to go for you and it’s how you dust yourself down and get on with it and pick yourselves up,” said Greenfield.
“I’ve said to the boys continually all season it’s pretty much a new squad and it’s new management and there’s a lot of players that have left and a lot of new players brought in and a lot of young players coming in from the under 18s as well. It’s a learning curve for us all.”
When asked about Crowborough’s unbeaten run, Greenfield replied: “I’ve played in a lot of very successful Blair sides and my Sunday side’s and Quested as well over the years. That’s a hell of a run you’ve got to take your hat off to them. They’ve done great in the Vase. I said to their manager ‘good luck next week’ because after all they’re representing the league. I hope they go on and do well in that.
“It will come to an end, it always does, these runs do. It would’ve been nice if we could’ve done it today but once you build up that momentum, it’s amazing how quickly it can start. Just a bit of momentum when things start to go for you, you believe more and more and every week you turn up and you get more confidence and I have no doubt that’s what is happening with them.”
Crowborough Athletic: Dan Ellis, Wayne Clarke, Sam Crabb, Jason Barton, Jack Turner, Dan Tear (Tom Boddy 63), Tom Vickers, Jack Walder (Phillip Appiah 75), Zac Attwood, Sam Carrington, Ross Treleaven (Dan Perry 83).
Subs: Lee Carey, Kristupas Burba
Goals: Sam Carrington 18, Zac Attwood 36
Booked: Jack Walder 53, Tom Vickers 66, Sam Carrington 71, Wayne Clarke 74
Hollands & Blair: Ronan Forde, Jack West, Lewis Taylor, Jack Simon, Ben Brown, Jack Healy (Justin Ascheri 66), George Hadley (Bailey Pearce 74), George Blake (Bradley Webb 82), James McDonald, Gary Lockyer, Louis Valencia.
Subs: Jack A’Court, Sam Adgie
Booked: Jack Simon 38, Ben Brown 51, George Hadley 67
Referee: Mr Jak Hill (Folkestone)
Assistants: Mr Jeremy Annandale (Tonbridge) & Mr Steven Tunnicliffe (Maidstone)
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