Croydon 1-2 Sheppey United - They made it difficult for us and it was a lot tougher than perhaps we thought it was going to be, says Sheppey United boss Ernie Batten

Sunday 20th September 2020
Croydon 1 – 2 Sheppey United
Location Foxbury Avenue, off Perry Street, Chislehurst, Kent BR7 6SD
Kickoff 20/09/2020 15:00

CROYDON  1-2  SHEPPEY UNITED
The Buildbase FA Vase First Qualifying Round
Sunday 20 September 2020
Stephen McCartney reports from Foxbury Avenue

SHEPPEY UNITED manager Ernie Batten says Croydon made it difficult for his side at times during this FA Vase First Qualifying Round tie at Foxbury Avenue.

Sheppey United made it six wins out of six in all competitions this season with their 2-1 win over Croydon, a hard to break down and well-organised outfit that went into this game in fifth-place in the Southern Counties East Football League First Division table with four points from their first two outings.

Batten’s side were in fourth-place in the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division with maximum points from three league games and having scored 18 times in five games before today.

Sheppey United deservedly took the lead only 124 seconds into the second-half following a bundled half-volley from striker Junior Aikhionbare, who was one of four changes made by Batten.

His replacement, Warren Mfula doubled their lead with 17 minutes remaining and when Croydon’s big striker Andy Somo, 21, drilled in his fourth of the season with a couple of minutes remaining, both sides had chance to score after that and second-choice keeper Tommy Taylor made a last-gasp save to prevent the lottery of a penalty shoot-out.

“Pleased with the result. I thought Croydon tried extremely hard and they put a lot of effort into that game and they made it difficult for us at times,” said Batten.

“They made a great cup tie of it. It was a lot tougher than perhaps we thought it was going to be, not taking anything away from them because I think they came here and started off quite well in their league and these games are always tough because it’s like a cup final mentality sometimes and you have to be professional and get in a position to win the game.”

Croydon manager Liam Giles said: “I’m extremely proud. I thought we matched them in a lot of areas. Ultimately a mistake at the back cost us there but don’t get me wrong they had a chance to finish the game off.

“Ultimately we’ve matched a side who I feel will be in the top three of the Prem, so credit to our boys.

“The last kick of the game our full-back found himself in the six-yard box with space and he hits the keeper. If that goes in, we take it to penalties, so I’m really proud of what they’ve done today. We’ve matched a very good Step Five side and gave it their all really.”

Sheppey United mainly kept the ball on the deck, playing out from the back, while Croydon kept 10 men behind the ball and treated the ball like a hot potato as they kept giving the ball away during the first half.

The Ites created the opening chance of the game inside six minutes when right-winger Danny Leonard hit a right-footed dipping free-kick just over the top of the near post from 25-yards.

But they squandered a glorious chance to settle their nerves with everyone expecting striker Jack Midson to head in his sixth goal of the season in the 10th minute.

Leonard cut a short corner back to Richard Hamill – who was pinging some excellent passes with his left-foot from his holding midfield role during the first half.

Hamill floated in a deep cross towards the far post for Midson, who planted his free-header back across the goal and past the far post from eight-yards, as Croydon’s two left-sided defenders Zachery Powell and Daniel Vaughan switched off.

Batten said: “Jack Midson’s quality, you are expecting that to go in. We all miss chances on occasions. I think it was in the air for a long time and he probably had a bit too long to think about it.”

Giles added: “To be honest with you, I expect him to put that away. He’s a seasoned pro dropped down the leagues and like I said to my lads we can’t give them space because as you’ve seen through his career he’s a goalscorer so I was expecting him to score that so that let us off the hook a little.”

Referee Matthew Williams made a very strange decision in the 15th minute when Hamill swung in a corner from the right towards the near post and Croydon keeper Lee Allen punched the ball into his net, however, he was allegedly fouled by the invisible man.

“I didn’t actually see a foul there but I did look at it and I couldn’t see anybody around him, so the referee saw something and he gave (them a free-kick),”said Batten.

Giles said: “I think it’s a difficult one when it’s with the keeper. You’ve seen them given, you’ve seen them not given, so we rode our luck a little bit there.

“But I thought Andy Somo, when he rounded the keeper and hit the post, he was too honest and stayed on his feet. The keeper’s clipped him so he should’ve gone down and it would’ve been a penalty.”

Croydon failed to clear their lines and the ball came out to Leonard, who cut onto his left-boot and stroked his shot towards the bottom right-hand corner from 18-yards, which was held by Allen, low to his left.

Croydon weathered the first 20 minutes without conceding and created an opening following their first corner.

Left-winger John-Prince Rylah swung in a deep corner from the left which was knocked back across goal by the physically well-built Richard White and the outstanding centre-half Daniel Vaughan swept his shot looping up and dropping into Taylor’s gloves.

Giles said: “On another day he gets a better connection on it.  I think Daniel Vaughan was our man-of-the-match today. He was a real warrior back there.”

Hamill played a free-kick in from the left and Midson found a pocket of space just inside the box but his flicked shot lacked power and Allen comfortably picked the ball up to prevent the ball rolling into the bottom-left-hand corner.

Sheppey United’s impressive left-winger Renford Tenyue charged down the left and played an overlapping pass to left-back Daniel Birch.  His cross was palmed away by Allen but Aikhionbare lashed his shot on the turn over the Croydon crossbar in the 25th minute.

Croydon squandered a glorious chance to snatch the lead inside the final five minutes of the half.

Right-back Johnny Akoto delivered a deep cross, which sailed over the head of Sheppey’s centre-half Jahmal Howlett-Mundle and Rylah collected the ball at his feet on the by-line and he cut the ball back for Somo to lash his first-time drive over the crossbar from 16-yards, whilst under pressure.

Giles said: “I’ve been telling Andy to shoot on sight because he does cut back in and cut back out and I told him to shoot on sight today, so maybe that was my fault because he should’ve took a touch and settled himself because Andy Somo in that position normally puts that away.”

Batten added: “I thought they had some attacking options there. They tried to play the ball in behind us, they had a couple of quick lads there and although they didn’t carve out any real clear-cut chances, they had lots of good possession and good opportunities to hurt us.”

Sheppey United immediately went up the other end and struck the post just 54 seconds later.

Leonard played the ball into Midson, who threaded the ball through Akoto’s legs to put Tenyue through on goal and he stroked his angled drive across the keeper and watched on in agony as his shot bounced off the foot of the far post before Croydon cleared their lines.

Batten said: “Renford’s had to be very patient this season. He’s a great, professional player in terms of the non-league game.  We’ve had Harrison Carnegie there and we’re in a position where somehow we’ve ended up with four games in eight days. 

“We’ve got to go all the way down to Steyning (in The FA Cup First Qualifying Round) on Tuesday evening. We’ve got Balham at home on Saturday and we follow it up 48 hours later at K Sports on Monday so somehow the league have given us four games in eight days and that’s just the way it goes sometimes.

“We’ve got a squad and although Renford hasn’t been in the squad, full credit to him. I thought he was very, very good today.”

Giles added: “They score a lot of goals so I expect them to create a lot of chances.  They had some good chances.  I do think we limited them.  I would’ve expected a bit more but that’s credit to us.  We sort of kept them at bay and our shape was very good today.”

Somehow it was goal-less at the break and both managers were asked their thoughts.

Giles said: “I just said ‘to keep going, we’re still in the game.’

“I believe whoever was going to score the first goal would set the tone.  Unfortunately, it was them, a very scrappy goal.  I think both goals were easily preventable.  I think we should’ve done better from both of their goals.

“I just said at half-time ‘keep it tight, take our chances’ and that was the difference in the levels, I feel, in front of goal.  We’ve got to be clinical and put the ball in the back of the net.”

Batten added: “I thought we done ok. I said to them we’re creating lots of chances. I thought their goal led a charmed life on a few occasions.  We put some nice crosses across the box and they were just going wide and we had a couple of chances and I thought the goal was coming but of course when it’s 0-0 anything can happen. Of course it’s straight to penalties if you don’t score so it comes down to a little bit of luck.”

Croydon went within inches of grabbing the lead after just 95 seconds when centre-half Rhys Coleman launched a long ball which split open the Sheppey defence to put Somo through on goal.

Somo skipped past the onrushing Taylor and flashed his shot towards the bottom far corner of the goal, only for the ball to kiss the base of the far post.

Sheppey United immediately went up the other end and deservedly took the lead.

Tenyue found space within the left-channel and put in a great cross into the middle and Aikhionbare brought the ball under control and prodded a right-footed half-volley across the keeper and watched the ball bounce into the bottom right-hand corner from six-yards.

“The game was a little bit too end-to-end for a managers liking but that’s what cup football is all about,” said Batten.

“I think teams throw caution to the wind a little bit and it was end-to-end. We did try to take the sting out of it a little bit and keep possession.  They were very motivated and they made it very difficult for us.

“I think when their guy has hit the post, we made a couple of changes today with the FA Cup in 48 hours so I left four key players out from the starting line-up and Tommy came in, the young goalkeeper. He’s our number two and I gave him a start today.

“I thought he done very well. He came out, took a chance coming out and I think the guy’s got their before him and he’s poked it and it’s come back off the post.

“These cup ties come down to chances taken.”

Giles said: “We’ve come out and started sharp. Andy’s gone around the keeper, latched onto it and I feel he should’ve gone down. He was too honest and he’s hit the post and we had no one following up and they’ve broken down the other end and maybe we were a little bit excited because  the lads probably thought we had scored a goal.

“I still feel it went in in slow motion. It sort of bobbled about and he poked it in.

“We’ve got to learn from that. How do you go from hitting the post attacking to literally one counter straight away and conceding a goal? I was disappointed with that but we’ve got to move on from that now and take the positives out of the game.”

Croydon wasted a chance in the 20th minute of the second-half when Rylah floated a deep cross in from within the right-channel to the unmarked Martin Smith, who cracked his speculative hooked volley wide from 15-yards.

“I think Smithy could’ve taken a touch and set it back and we had midfield runners coming in,” added Giles.

“He is a goalscorer in and around the box. He will do what he does to get the ball in the back of the net. It’s frustrating.”

Croydon should have equalised in the final 20 minutes as they started to show more attacking intent than they did during the first half.

Substitute John Leavy fed the ball into Smit’s feet and he held off the attentions of Corey Holder outside the box.  A clever reverse pass to Rylah, who whipped in a great cross from the right but Somo’s diving header (nipping in front of Howlett-Mundle) whistled past the far post from six-yards.

“Andy Somo is our talisman and he gets in good areas. He’s strong, he’s quick and on another day we get a bit of luck there and it goes in,” added Giles.

“He was a little bit unlucky today. I feel that Andy Somo done all the right things but it just wasn’t his day.  He did get the goal but I feel there was a couple more on his day he puts them away.”

Sheppey United seemingly sealed the deal by scoring their second goal of the game with 27 minutes and 57 seconds on the clock.

A handball from Leahy went unpunished by the referee but Midson pounced on the loose ball and roamed to the by-line before cutting the ball back and Mfula got the better of Nathaneal Howe to cut the ball onto his left-foot before finishing past Allen from 16-yards.

Batten said: “Jack’s been tremendous since he’s come to us. I can’t speak highly enough of him.  His whole attitude, he’s been a professional footballer all of his career and he’s brought his professional attitude and his preparation and the way he conducts himself. He’s brought that into non-league football with us at Sheppey.

“He does things that he makes it look easy sometimes and with his background sometimes you take it for granted when you watch it but he’s been tremendous so far this season.”

Batten added: “Warren’s got his goal. We’ve brought Warren in. He’s got a proven record in this league.  I’ve always looked to bring him into this club but he’s been out of our reach but this season we’ve been able to sign him.”

Giles said: “It’s frustrating that we gave the ball away. Our stand-in centre-half, rather clearing his lines, he’s turned to take a touch and play which we encourage but there is a time and a place.  I think he should’ve cleared his lines there.

“We’ve been caught in possession and they’ve punished us again.  Like I said to the boys, give them a chance and they punished us.  They could’ve got a few more but they took more chances than us. Ultimately, that’s why they’ve won the game.”

Giles rallied his troops one last time and they made it an enthralling ending to the game.

Smith’s long run-up to the ball saw him drilled his right-footed free-kick towards the bottom right-hand corner from 30-yards, but Taylor dived to his left to push the ball around the post in the 80th minute.

Giles said: “I felt we had more than enough chances to win the game, the same with them.

“I think it was a very good advert for Step Five and Step Six football and I feel it was a good attacking game and we’re good going forward and they’re good going forward so I knew there would be chances but I’m just disappointed that we didn’t take our chances.  On another day we do and maybe we’re in the hat for the next round.”

Hamill split open Powell to release substitute right-winger Sammi Meziane charging down the line and he cut into the box and flashed his angled drive across the keeper and just past the far post.

Giles made a tactical change by switching White to play at centre-half alongside Vaughan and pushing Leavy into midfield.

It immediately had the desired effect as Croydon pulled a goal back with 42 minutes and 17 seconds on the clock, following a sweeping move.

Leavy fed the ball into substitute Kierron Dias, who split the defence with a low 20-yard pass to put Somo through on goal.  The powerfully built striker drilled his right-footed shot across Taylor and the ball kissed the far post before nestling into the back of the net.

Giles said: “It was a great goal.  Kierron’s been out of the game for seven years, he’s an ex-team mate of mine. He’s a very good player.  I got him back training this year so I’m encouraging him at the moment.

“He’s come off the bench in every game so far and set up a goal so he’s got three assists in three games but he’s not quite ready to start.  But he’s a problem, he’s got a very good brain, very good with the ball at his feet.

“Andy’s held off the centre-half, rolled him and slotted it. That’s classic Andy Somo. That’s what I expect from him really, he’s a real handful.

“If he can find that consistency then he’s going to move up the leagues so he's still very young, he’s 21 and he’s back enjoying his football. He had some time out and he’s got himself fit and sharp and he’s going to be a thorn for sides at Step Six especially.”

The Trams deserved their goal for their spirited display.

Sheppey United should have derailed Croydon with a third goal with 44:14 on the clock but Midson missed his second glorious chance.

Substitute central midfielder Billy Bennett released Hamill (who sprung the offside trap) down the right wing and he put in another great cross, which flashed across the face of goal for Midson to slide in and lash his left-footed shot over the crossbar in front of an open goal just from four-yards out.

“We were looking to kill off the game at that point,” said Batten.

“You’re going to get chances because they were throwing players forward. It just takes one good pass out of defence into the forward position and we’re creating chances but if you don’t take them, you’re still in with a shout.”

Croydon should have forced a penalty shoot-out when their final chance fell to the wrong man – with 46:50 on the clock.

Dias launched a long throw in from the right which wasn’t cleared by Sheppey and the ball fell to right-back Akoto in space inside the box. He took a touch, which gave Taylor enough time to rush off his line and smother the shot to his right with the ball rolling agonisingly behind for a corner.

Batten said: “It was a great save. I mean if that’s gone in we’re down to penalties then and on the balance we had the chances to win by a couple more but take nothing away from them, they kept going and they forced it very close to a penalty kick.

“Anything can happen with penalties and you don’t want to end up in that position but we got there in the end.”

Giles added: “Midson there, I thought that’s it when the ball came across the box but at that point we were chasing the game so I knew we’ll either score or they’ll score and I expect him to put that one away.

“It fell to our right-back, he’s been out, this is his first game of the season and he’s been out with a quad injury. He’s either got to put it in the corner, he’s had a touch in the six-yard box. He’s got to score!  He does, we tighten up and we take it to penalties and it’s a lottery then.

“I’m disappointed but I can’t fault the boys, they were superb today.”

There was still time for one final chance, this time for Sheppey United.

Right-back Fraser Walker got into the bottom channel and cut the ball back for Mfula, who nipped in front of the keeper, whose attempted clearance ricochet off the striker and rolled past the foot of the far post.

Croydon return to Foxbury Avenue on Tuesday 29 September but this time as the away side as they play Stansfeld in the First Division.

Giles said: “This will feel like a home ground at the moment.  We know what Stansfeld are about. I think they work hard, they’re a very honest, hardworking side so it’s going to be tough.

“I expect them to be up there this year so we need to be at the races really. If we put in that sort of performance week-in-week-out, I feel that we’re going to be real challengers so we just need to do our job really.”

Batten, meanwhile, takes his side to Sussex to play Steyning Town Community in The FA Cup First Qualifying Round on Tuesday night.

Sheppey United then welcome Balham to Holm Park next Saturday, before making the trip to Aylesford to play K Sports on Monday, 28 September.

In The FA Vase, Molesey are the visitors to Holm Park in the next round on Saturday 10 October and Batten admits his side can go far in the competition this season.

“I said to the boys today after the game, I said, ‘look, we’ve got an opportunity now because we play a home game in the next round.’

“This is the competition where the SCEFL sides in the last few seasons have done extremely well and there’s no reason why – we know we’re not going to win The FA Cup – we can’t have an extended run in the Vase and if we get to the latter stages, you never know, you could go all the way.

“Molesey have got to come to us so a home tie is very important.  I think teams that have done well in the Vase, the luck of the draw has been able to give them home games and bringing teams down to travel is key to sometimes getting to the latter stages of the competition.”

Croydon: Lee Allen, Johnny Akoto, Zachery Powell, Nathaneal Howe, Rhys Coleman (John Leavy 50), Daniel Vaughan, John-Prince Rylah (kierron Dias 79), Richard White, Andy Somo, Martin Smith, Jack Sims (Levi Shango 68).
Subs: Jubril Adamson, Kieran Rufus, Omarr Belhaj-Fahsi, Archie Todd

Goal: Andy Somo 88

Booked: Johnny Akoto 21, Daniel Vaughan 34, Andy Somo 76

Sheppey United: Tommy Taylor, Fraser Walker, Daniel Birch, Richard Hamill, Corey Holder, Jahmal Howlett-Mundle, Renford Tenyue, Connor Wilkins (Billy Bennett 60), Junior Aikhionbare (Warren Mfula 68), Jack Midson, Danny Leonard (Sammi Meziane 75).
Subs: Harrison Carnegie, Emmanuel N’Daw, Alfie Bates, Adam Molloy

Goals: Junior Aikhionbare 48, Warren Mfula 73

Booked: Jahmal Howlett-Mundle 62, Tommy Taylor 71

Attendance: 167
Referee: Mr Matthew Williams
Assistants: Ms Alison Wade & Mr Jeffrey Lengthorn







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