Croydon 1-4 AFC Croydon Athletic - I think we've lost the fight and we're lacking a bit of desire because we're losing games, says Croydon boss Craig Davies

Wednesday 22nd August 2018
Croydon 1 – 4 AFC Croydon Athletic
Location Croydon Sports Arena, Albert Road, South Norwood, London SE25 4QL
Kickoff 22/08/2018 19:45

Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division
Wednesday 22 August 2018
Stephen McCartney reports from Croydon Sports Arena

CROYDON manager Craig Davies admits his young side were naïve and lacked a bit of desire after losing to bitter-rivals AFC Croydon Athletic.

Croydon took the lead through striker Royce Greenidge’s third goal of the season before AFC Croydon Athletic extracted control with midfielder Liam Harwood heading home an equaliser just before the break.

There was only one side in it during the second half and The Rams rattled in three further goals from their three big front men, Nahum Green, Emmanuel Oloyede and Junior Kaffo.

“I’m disappointed with the result. We started off bright and got in front.  I don’t know if we were overawed a little bit in terms of the physicality.  There were a couple of incidents in the game when one or two started to drop their levels and we certainly backed off a little bit and gave them too much respect,” said Croydon boss Davies, 29.

“I’m quite a positive coach and manager but I think we lost the fight.  We need to realise with a young squad that in games the big thing is the fight and battling and football wise we’re good enough to play but it’s disappointing we lost.”

AFC Croydon Athletic boss Kevin Rayner said:  “I thought we started awful in the first half-an-hour and it was pretty poor, the worst we’ve been all season.

“Whether it was a bit of complacency or what, we weren’t working hard enough at all. We had a couple of chances to get back into it, thankfully we did, just on the break to come in level.

“I actually threw everything at them at half-time and lost my nut a little bit. It was embarrassing really. We just didn’t work hard enough, we’re all about work-rate and we’ve got some good players but if you don’t work, no matter what level you’re at, you’re not going to get a result.”

Rayner admitted his players forgot they were playing in the Croydon derby.

“We probably didn’t treat it that way early.  That’s what we reminded everyone at half-time, what it was all about and thankfully we were nice and strong in the second half as we have been previously. It was pleasing to be able to see us get back into it. We showed a little bit of character to get back to what we’ve been doing.”

A crowd of 116 watched the derby at the Croydon Sports Arena and AFC Croydon Athletic created the first chance after 80 seconds when Harwood’s left-footed 35-yard free-kick was comfortably gathered by goalkeeper Alex Hewitt, a late replacement for Max Ovenden, who suffered a hip problem during the warm-up.

“I’ll be honest, Liam’s got it in his locker but he didn’t really connect. It was a long way out. I’d rather he deliver it but he did hit the target,” said Rayner.

Davies added: “Alex is a good goalkeeper. I brought him in last minute due to the injury to Max but we know what he’s capable of. Max has got a problem with his hip but hopefully he’s fine for the FA Cup game on Saturday.”

Davies was forced into making six changes to the side that lost 3-2 to Hollands & Blair at the weekend and calls for more commitment from his young squad.

He said: “It’s tough.  We have a minimal budget compared to most. Sometimes people have to work and have to make money. We’re trying to do something here where we want to play and have people committed. At the same time I am human and understand but if you want to play football and have your chance to play some good football here, there has to be some give and take what your priorities are but players have let me down in the past on the day and the night before saying they can’t play.”

Green launched his first long throw into the Croydon box and Harwood flicked his header across goal and harmlessly past the far post from eight-yards.

Croydon’s weak link were their two full-backs, as they kept giving the ball away or finding touch but the Rams front three and Abbas Agoro were dominating, physically strong players and the home side couldn’t cope with them.

Croydon showed good feet in the final third and they should have scored with a slick move in the tenth minute.

Tre Daley nicked the ball off Harwood in Croydon’s half and played the ball to Anh-War Tran-West out on the left.  He cut into space and rolled a low pass inside to Bryan Akongo and Daley’s flicked pass played in an unmarked Akongo, who curled his shot past the post from 15-yards.

“We worked on a few patterns and went through it.  We do a match prep presentation 24-48 hours before the game so it was perfect to see that had come off,” revealed Davies.

“We were a threat for that best part of the game. Once we got in front weirdly we dropped off. We allowed them to play direct and we didn’t really manage the second ball well enough.”

Croydon right-back Mohammed Dabo threw the ball to Daley, who turned Tony Martin on the by-line and the ball was cut back to Akongo, whose rasping drive was tipped over the bar by visiting keeper Nic Taylor.

Rayner admitted: “We just weren’t there, we weren’t picking up players, our shape was awful and we weren’t working hard enough and making them look extremely good, even though they did have some very good players.”

Croydon deservedly took the lead with 14 minutes and 46 seconds on the clock.

The busy Akongo was played in behind Chevan Xavier and Jamie Thoroughgood and reached the by-line before cutting the ball back for Greenidge to rifle his right-footed shot over the keeper’s left shoulder into the roof of the net from eight-yards.

Davies said: “We think Bryan’s better going forward in terms of breaking lines and effect it in the final third. We found somebody in Royce who will get goals for us so that’s the positive we take from that. There’s more to come from Royce and Akongo. 

“These young lads are trying to grow a lot, lot higher in their futures but we have to try to keep hold of them for as long as we can and do the best for us first.”

Rayner added: “It was a good goal.  For 10 minutes we weren’t working, we weren’t picking players up.  They’re a good, young side with good quality players but if you let them play, unfortunately we weren’t at the races in the first half!”

Green floated in the away side’s first corner of the night and Croydon failed to clear their lines and Taylor Maddock came up from the back to hook his volley towards goal, which was pushed around the post by an alert Croydon keeper Hewitt.

Croydon were playing it out from the back, while AFC Croydon adopted a more direct style in an attempt to hit their big three men up front.

Croydon winger Gus Lukini played left-back Otitololuwa Oja on the overlap and he whipped in a quality low cross, which forced Taylor to get down low to his left to flick past the foot of the far post.

Croydon were playing some delightful football but they really had to score a second to get their season up and running.

Daley and Akongo linked up well and the ball was played inside to Tran-West in space but his 25-yarder was comfortably saved by Taylor.

AFC Croydon Athletic weathered the storm and should have snatched a goal back on the half-hour mark.

Green launched a long throw into the Croydon box, the ball wasn’t cleared and Abbas Agoro leaned back and skied his shot over the crossbar from 12-yards.

“Should’ve scored! It was a nice easy chance. It might have got us into the game a little bit earlier and got us going but it was a good chance.  From that moment onwards, we started to really take the game over,” said Rayner.

AFC Croydon Athletic then equalised with 40 minutes and 53 seconds on the clock.

Green launched his fifth long throw into the box, which Croydon cleared back to Green, who lofted the ball back into the box from the right and Harwood directed his free header down and into the far corner from six-yards.

“Liam is a good player, he’s played at very good level, an ex-professional as well and we’re lucky that we’ve picked up a couple of good players fairly late which very little know about,” said Rayner.

“We’ve been adding to the squad and we’ve got quite a good strong squad.  We had quite a few players out as well, which allowed us to rotate and field a very strong squad.  You wouldn’t have thought that for the first 30 minutes but once we got going it showed, the strength and the power that we’ve got.

“Liam’s got the experience, he’s very good in the air. He’s getting fitter as well as the games go on. He’s joined us very late from (Vanarama National League South side) Eastbourne Borough and he can play in a number of positions and his experience will drive some of the youngsters on.”

Davies said: “Their equaliser killed the momentum and some of the boys heads mentally dropped, I think.

“If we maybe could’ve got 1-0 at half-time, it becomes a different game and we’d manage it a little bit better. Across the games we’ve had so far we’ve been quite naïve and we haven’t managed leads or been effective off the ball.

“They’ve got a great asset in terms of the long throw and it’s going to be difficult to defend against, but I think we’ve gone in the mentality that they’ll go direct and we can’t do anything about it but I thought we could’ve managed it better and competed a little bit more and had a little bit more desire to head and kick.  It’s just old school mentality maybe but we lack the fight at the moment to dig deep.”

AFC Croydon Athletic went close on the stroke of half-time when Oloyede cut into some space and flashed his right-footed drive just past the foot of the right-hand post from 30-yards.

Rayner revealed he gave his players the hairdryer treatment during the half-time interval – and it worked as AFC Croydon Athletic dominated the second half.

“I did lose it a little bit, I must admit.  I spent most of half-time ranting and raving!  We just didn’t work hard enough, it was embarrassing! I felt they couldn’t do any more but I felt we had an awful lot we needed to improve.”

Davies added: “I was positive and told them apart from their goal I think we were much the better side in terms of the way we played and we got in front deservedly so.

“I said if we can win this battle, which it will all be at this level, you need to fight every week to get three points. This is what the boys will need to understand. If we can do that we walk away with three points but they were by far the better team in the second half, you have to hold your hands up that they were better than we were.”

The Rams took the lead exactly 120 seconds into the second half when Maddock launched a big kick out of defence for Green to burst through the defence before clipping his shot over the keeper’s head and into the top left-hand corner.

“We’re a big side, we can do it both ways. We can try to get the ball forward quickly but we can play as well.  Unfortunately, the pitch wasn’t the best so there’s no point trying to play but give fair due to Croydon in the first half for 20 minutes they did knock it about fairly well,” said Rayner.

“I mean, that’s what Nahum’s been doing for a couple of seasons. We were actually alive for once.  We’ve come out on the front foot and got what we deserved for the start.”

Davies said: “We were too open, too open on transition and I thought he missed it actually, I thought he miss-kicked it. They’ve got a good side, they’ve got some good players and they were effective going direct, winning long balls and seconds.”

AFC Croydon Athletic then missed a glorious chance through another set-piece.

Maddock’s big kick was flicked on by Kaffo down the right-channel and the ball sailed over to an unmarked Green on the other side of the box, unmarked.  He controlled the ball and drove his angled drive across the keeper and past the far post.

Rayner admitted: “He should’ve scored! It was a good chance. He should’ve taken the pace of it a little bit but he just slashed at it and he should’ve scored but he didn’t.”

“I thought that goes in, that’s game over, so I think it’s a massive let-off,” admitted Davies, who wanted more from his players, especially with it being the Croydon derby.

“We never took that to our advantage. For me as a player those chances they clearly should’ve scored motivate you and rally you again. It seemed to have no effect if I’m honest.”

AFC Croydon Athletic sealed the points with 16 minutes and 16 seconds on the clock.

Oloyede picked the ball up some 30-yards from goal, rode the challenge of James Fotheringham (who was booked by referee Nick Dunn before play restarted for kicking out), skipped past Jordan Eeles and once inside the box, slotted the ball past Hewitt from 15-yards.

Rayner said: “It was a good finish. He showed his strength as well, got away and slotted it nicely.

“For our top three and nine out of 11 players in the first half they were awful for 30 minutes, thankfully we woke up and got going in the second half.”

Croydon have a young, naïve bunch of players, who will struggle unless they can bring some players with experience in this league.

“There’s two sides of it,” explained Davies.

“Financially, we don’t have the power to compete, which is a shame. I wouldn’t really look to play 30-35 year-olds to play at this level. I’m looking to give young players a chance to showcase and learn about means football.

“We’re unique, we have an 18s programme which we want to push and there will be no issue or reason why we have these full-time academies if we’re not going to give them a pathway so it’s one of them really, our hands are tied at times.”

Reflecting on the goal, Davies said: “Again, similar to the second one, we’re too open.  Again, transitions were not good enough, recovery runs inside the pitch were not good enough. They started off like a house on fire so if you’ve give good players opportunities they’ll punish you and that’s what happened there.”

Croydon played a couple of lovely through balls (by Tran-West and Princewill Ogunmekan) but Greenidge and Tran-West couldn’t control the ball and test Taylor in the goal.

Green’s long throw was collected by left-wing-back Ibrahim Kallon, who showed desire to get to the ball first and from inside the D, drilled his shot past the left-hand post.

AFC Croydon Athletic wrapped the points up with their fourth goal, timed at 29 minutes and 8 seconds on the clock.

It came from Green’s 12th and final long throw, which Hewitt failed to deal with and could only watch the ball bounce off Kaffo’s head and sail into the top far corner.

“It causes panic doesn’t it in the defence and if you’ve got that one, use it,” Rayner said of Green’s handy weapon.

“We’ve got quite a big, strong side and we can do it both ways. It’s there and it works.  If you can get things out of it, headers, second balls, to create chances, why not?”

Davies refused to blame his goalkeeper for not gathering the ball as it sailed into his penalty area.

He said: “I don’t know whether Alex’s positioning was too high or maybe if he was a little bit deeper he may have got it?  I can’t pin-point it on him as a mistake.

“I played with Junior a long time ago at Leatherhead and I know what he’s good at. You can come up with a plan to stop it and it just didn’t work on the night.”

A long ball played in Greenidge and after beating the last defender, the Croydon striker lashed his shot over.

Green latched onto Kaffo’s flick and his shot from 14-yards was tipped around the near post by Hewitt.

“Alex is a good shot-stopper. We wanted to play a little bit more when we got the ball back but similar on Saturday against Hollands & Blair, we were a little bit slow, lacked tempo and intensity to do things quick. We have a tendency to let teams get back in to shape and get set, which I don’t understand but we’ll try to address it moving forward.”

“It opened up a little bit. We were giving them space and chances and we were creating chances as well. The game was dead at 3-1, I was quite happy,” added Rayner.

Croydon wasted a glorious chance to pull a second goal back inside the final eight minutes.

Ogunmekan drove through the heart of the pitch before playing the ball out to substitute Antwon McKenzie, who let the ball run across his body before sweeping his left-footed shot across the keeper and rolling agonisingly past the foot of the far post.

“We changed the shape at the start of the game in terms of what we have been playing and I will keep that private in terms of giving that away,” said the Croydon manager.

“We went back to that second half for the last 20-25 minutes. We had chances. I don’t think we had the desire to get on the end of them.

“Antwon’s one was across the goal. I was a centre forward so for me that’s bread and butter getting on the end of those but we’re lacking a little bit of desire because we’re losing games. Maybe players are not buying into it but we’ll keep going.”

Rayner added: “We just weren’t concentrating. The game was dead and we’re not doing what we should be doing in the last few minutes. It was quite a good chance and he put it wide, thankfully.”

Another substitute Olugbenga Jubrill cut into the penalty area and dragged his shot past the far post when he only had Taylor to beat.

AFC Croydon Athletic’s right-wing-back Xavier then tried his luck from 35-yards, but Hewitt danced to his left to gather.

Both teams play FA Cup Preliminary Round ties at the weekend with Croydon travelling to newly-promoted Bostik Premier side Corinthian-Casuals, while AFC Croydon Athletic have home advantage over Hanworth Villa.

AFC Croydon Athletic are in second-place in the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division table, unbeaten in four games and with 10 points on the board. Chatham Town remain top with the same record.

Croydon, meanwhile, wait for their first point of the season and slumped into the bottom two after their four league outings.

“We want to beat our local team, I don’t want them struggling. Hopefully they’ll improve a little bit and get some results.  I’m sure Craig can get some experience in and they’ll do well,” said Rayner.

“We’ve set our own targets.  We’ve got a target for the next three and that’s how we approach the season. If we can get through the month without getting beat, that’s fantastic.

“The sort of targets that we’ve set and the squad that we’ve got and the strength of it, that’s where we should be basically so hopefully we can keep at the top end of the table and enjoy the season.  I think there’s a lot of club’s saying they’re going to win things and do this. We’re just doing our best and seeing what we can do.”

Bearsted, Croydon and Tunbridge Wells are all sitting in the bottom three without any points and Davies is taking stock of his situation during his first month in charge.

“We’re young, we’re realistic. We know that we weren’t going to win the league or compete.  I try to get in the top half but we have to be realistic and staying up is a definite.”

Croydon: Alex Hewitt, Mohammed Dabo, Otitolouwa Oja (Antwon McKenzie 82), Princewill Ogunmekan, James Fotheringham, Jordan Eels, Tre Daley, Bryan Akongo, Royce Greenidge, Anh-War Tran-West (Olugbenga Jubrill 80), Gus Lukini (Jacob Skelley 63).
Subs: Ross Obazee, Cairo Duhaney-Burton

Goal: Royce Greenidge 15

Booked: Gus Lukini 26, Otitololuwa Oja 55, James Fotheringham 62

AFC Croydon Athletic: Nic Taylor, Chevan Xavier, Ibrahim Kallon, Liam Harwood (Joe Nwoko 70), Taylor Maddock, Jamie Thoroughgood, Abbas Agoro, Tony Martin (Bankole Koroma 77) Junior Kaffo, Emmanuel Oloyede (Rob Carter 66), Nahum Green.
Subs: Mickandress Mickangou, Kazzeem Richards

Goals: Liam Harwood 41, Nahum Green 48, Emmanuel Oloyede 62, Junior Kaffo 75

Booked: Chevan Xavier 26, Nic Taylor 27

Attendance: 116
Referee: Mr Nick Dunn (Deal)
Assistants: Mr James Black (Orpington) & Mr Peter Crichlow (Carshalton, Surrey)