FC Elmstead 4-1 Lewisham Borough - My heart is saying it’s a year too early but no one’s going to moan if we finish in that top four and we’ll celebrate like the day comes, says FC Elmstead boss Ennio Gonnella

Wednesday 11th September 2019
FC Elmstead 4 – 1 Lewisham Borough
Location Lower Road, Hextable, Kent BR8 7RZ
Kickoff 11/09/2019 19:45

Southern Counties East Football League First Division
Wednesday 11 September 2019
Stephen McCartney reports from Lower Road

FC ELMSTEAD manager Ennio Gonnella says his club cannot afford promotion into the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division should they become one of the four promoted sides at the end of the season.


The winners of tonight’s game would have climbed to the summit of the Southern Counties East Football League First Division table and Justin Fevrier’s side elevation lasted only 146 seconds after left-winger Bruce Muchenje scored but they remain in fourth-place in the table with nine points from five games after suffering their second league defeat of the season.

FC Elmstead swiftly equalised through 29-year-old Marcus Cassius, who played behind the front two.

FC Elmstead took the lead early in the second half through winger Jerome Walker, before talented winger Ashley Bertrand-Kesington capped off an impressive personal performance by scoring two quality goals, a dink from inside the box and a 35-yard screamer.

“I thought it was a good game.  I think from a neutrals point of view it was,” said Gonnella, after his side remain unbeaten in six league games and are two points clear of Rochester United with 14 points on the board.

“In terms of on the ball, I think we created quite a few chances – as did they to be fair - but we didn’t take control.  We had much the better experienced players and we just didn’t take control of the game.

“We should’ve walked in scoring at least three goals, some of the misses were a joke, so we said to the front boys ‘you owe us one’ and I thought second half was a lot better.

“We controlled the game a bit more. I can’t really remember them having a clear, clear-cut chance and some incredible goals were scored from us so we killed the game off early.”

No one from Lewisham Borough made themselves available for interview.

Lewisham Borough took only nine seconds to create their first opening when a long ball over the top released Muchenje down the left, he cut into the box but produced a weak shot that rolled into the hands of goalkeeper Alex Hyde.

Lewisham Borough won the corner count by seven-to-six and went close to scoring following their first flag kick in the 12th minute.

Lewis Miller swung the ball in towards the near post for Josh Owen to glance his header through a crowd of players before being cleared towards safety as the ball dropped.

Lewisham Borough keeper Kristupus Burba was called into making a flying save to his left to thwart FC Elmstead just 31 seconds later.

Antonio Gonnella played the ball out wide to left-back Alfie Young, who played a low cross back inside and Ahmed Deen hit a drive from 25-yards, which forced the former Bromley Academy keeper to fly to his left to grab hold of the ball.

“It was a good move, one of the first moves of the game. Alfie Young had a rocky 10 minutes in that first half but for a youngster he performed really, really well. The move was good, the finishing was terrible,” admitted Gonnella.

FC Elmstead switched off following a throw-in from Lewisham Borough’s right-back Tyrelle Thomas and Josh Owen – who started the game at left-back before moving back into his more natural position in the middle of the park – was given space to drill a right-footed drive screaming just past the post from 30-yards.

“I’ve got to give it to Lewisham, I thought they played some good football at times,” said Gonnella.

“I thought Owen was probably one of the best players on the pitch if I’m being honest, in the centre of the pitch.”

Lewisham Borough’s tactical move saw Jason Pinnock drop back into the centre of a three-man central defensive partnership alongside Kieran Hughes and Cairo Duhaney.

Bertrand-Kesington had a great game for FC Elmstead and on this performance should be playing one or two levels higher than the tenth-tier of English football and being watched by a crowd of 47 at Lower Road in Hextable.

He whipped in a cross from the right, which was headed away by Duhaney and the ball fell at Cassius, who hooked his volley across goal and just past the foot of the far post from eight-yards.

“He loves going through the ball if he doesn’t rocket the ball in the net, it’s not a great goal for Cass,” revealed Gonnella.

“He’s phenomenal for us. He scored again today, five in five. He’s one of the first names on my team sheet and I let him off with that one.”

FC Elmstead striker Steve Karkari went on a mazy 30-yard run and steered his left-footed drive from the edge of the Lewisham Borough box, which bounced comfortably into the hands of the visiting keeper.

Lewisham Borough missed a glorious chance to take a 26th minute lead when Miller played a short through ball for winger Ijah Currie-Wilson, who skipped past Hyde but lost all composure when it mattered and drilled his shot over the top of an empty goal from eight-yards.

Half-an-hour in, FC Elmstead failed to keep their shots down as Cassius hooked the ball forward to release Walker into the box.  Karkari got involved and cut the ball back to Young, who took a touch before whipping in a deep cross.  Gonnella took one touch to tee up Deen, who lashed his left-footed shot over the crossbar from a central position 20-yards from goal.

“We had a lot go over! I said at half-time we can’t keep saying ‘unlucky’ to chances that are clear-cut.  I think our boys know that they can score if they find a back-four relatively easy, they’ll try the impossible but they woke up second half,” said Gonnella.

Bertrand-Kesington fed Karkari and Duhaney slid in and did enough to ensure Cassius lashed his left-footed drive over the crossbar, when he wanted to pull the trigger ten-yards from goal.

FC Elmstead missed another glorious chance when Gonnella pinged a long ball from midfield which released Karkari, who held the ball up, cut into the box and crossed low for Bertrand-Kesington to take a touch before flashing his shot across the keeper and past the far post.

Gonnella said: “I thought Steve Karkari had a great game. He was just missing a goal today.  I thought he had a battle between two very strong centre-halves. He held them very, very well.

“Ashley, again, I knew the goals were coming. They were coming. If they weren’t creating then I’d be worried but we created so much in the first half it was bound to come. If they created it was bound to come for us.”

A clearance from Lewisham keeper Burba was headed forward by Young and this released Walker, who shrugged off Jabbie but went to pieces inside the box and drilled his shot past the left-hand post.

Inevitably, despite all of FC Elmstead’s pressure and chances, it was Lewisham Borough that grabbed the lead, timed at 39 minutes and 52 seconds, which sent them leapfrogging over Rochester United, FC Elmstead and Kennington to the summit for the second time this season.

A mistake from Deen some 35-yards from goal let in former Gillingham and Millwall striker Basir Savage, 37, who played in Muchenje, who cut into the box and stroked a deflected drive, which deceived Hyde and nestled into the back of the net.

“Ahmed put his hands up at half-time,” Gonnella said of the 34-year-old.

“He’s a very experienced player, an ex-pro. He knew he didn’t need to be told. He just came in and apologised.  I think when you’ve played at Ahmed’s level and you’re finishing off your career at this level, sometimes you think you can take the extra bit of time but credit to Lewisham they done really well and nicking the ball and they’ve gone in front.”

However, FC Elmstead rose to the summit as soon as they equalised with 42 minutes and 18 seconds on the clock, following their second corner of the night.

Antonio Gonnella delivered a deep corner from the right, which was knocked back across goal by towering centre-half Jordan Anderson at the far stick and the diminutive Cassius had more desire than Lewisham’s flat-footed defenders to pounce and nod the ball over the line from inside the six-yard box.

Gonnella said: “I’ve got to say, our reaction though was brilliant. I don’t think they lasted very long in front, that’s the reaction was want, that’s winners!  They didn’t sulk, the goal for me was against-the-run-of-play but they got their goal and Marcus Cassius has scored five in five, absolutely brilliant!

“He done well, he finds himself in great positions. We played him in a 10 tonight and he’s not normally in the hole. He’s normally the last man.  I must say his work-rate, forget his goals and the link-up play, his work-rate was phenomenal in there and he deserved that.”

Highly-rated FC Elmstead keeper Hyde pulled off a fine save to deny Lewisham Borough the lead going into half-time.

Owen and Jabbie linked up inside FC Elmstead’s half with crisp passing, the ball was played into Currie-Wilson’s feet, who teed up Jabbie, who drove a first time right-footed drive towards the bottom right-hand corner, which Hyde got down low to ensure the ball flashed just past the foot of the far post, rather than nestling into the back of his net.

“At half-time we just said finish your chances!  Keep creating your chances but we were quite happy with our defence,” said Gonnella.

“I’m missing three players today, Alimm Sesay (holiday); Michael Sarpong (holiday) and Mark Axell (getting married).  I know it’s a weird time to have hoidays but we put Antonio Gonnella and Ahmed Deen in midfield and the experience between them, we weren’t worried at all.”

Fevrier certainly had words at his men as they came out of the traps on the front foot and created a couple of chances inside the opening 58 seconds.

Muchenje sprinted down the left, played the ball into Currie-Wilson who set up Miller, who swept his shot on the turn towards the bottom corner, which was tipped around the box by Hyde after only 24 seconds.

Miller swung in the resulting corner from the left, the ball came out to Currie-Wilson, who cracked a right-footed drive towards the roof of the net from 18-yards, which was tipped over the bar by Hyde’s outstretched fingertips.

“We know Ijah, he’s played for me before, he’s a very good talent and I was expecting him to put that in the net,” admitted Gonnella.

“Hydie is a phenomenal keeper. I think if I had him two or three seasons ago, I probably would’ve won the league. As much as the goalscorers today, Hydie is a keeper who will get you 10 points a season easily.”

They proved to be a couple of vital saves as clinical FC Elmstead took the lead just 189 seconds into the second half.

Hyde launched a big kick upfield, which released Bertrand-Kesington charging down the left channel and he picked out his team-mate Walker, lurking on the other side of the box and Walker hit a first time left-footed drive sweetly into the bottom right-hand corner.

Gonnella said: “It was a great move. First of all, the pass out of his hands was phenomenal, an absolutely bullet towards Ash, a good first touch, driven it low.

“We said to Jerome at half-time if you can get across your man and get inside him you’re going to get yourself a goal.  Everyone said it at half-time, ‘Jerome you’re going to get a goal here’ and he did and thanks to Ashley he put it on a plate for him and he done really well.”

FC Elmstead’s right-back Russell Carter-Thompson threw the ball to Walker, who put Cassius in behind centre-half Hughes. He drove in a deep cross towards the far post and Bertrand-Kesington had two bites of the cherry but on both occasions he was thwarted by Burba.

“I think if you ask Ash, he’ll be honest he didn’t take it first time very well. It was a great cross from Cass, a great move all round and then the secondary header, it was a good save in the end so credit to the keeper,” added Gonnella.

FC Elmstead killed the game off by scoring their third goal, which was timed at nine minutes and 14 seconds.

Young hit a long ball out from his left-back position and was controlled by Karkari, a mistake from Jabbie let in Bertrand-Kesington, who proved tonight he should be playing higher, racing through and dinking his shot past the advancing Burba from a central position 12-yards from goal.

“Ashley is probably one of the most natural finishes that I’ve come across. If we can get him in front of goal, he’s scoring,” said Gonnella.

“I’m probably promoting him a bit too much with other club’s reading this, but he’s a hidden gem that I don’t think a lot of people know about in terms of this level.

“If he gets in front of goal, he’s going to score.  A player has made a mistake, we were there to capitalise on that and Ashley’s finish was phenomenal.”

Anderson and Lindsey Prescott-Kerr were outstanding at the heart of FC Elmstead’s back four and they mainly kept Savage quiet.

“They partnered throughout the whole of pre-season.  Jordan has got a lot of experience of higher leagues and so has Macca (Prescott-Kerr) and in my eyes they are the best pairing in the league,” said Gonnella.

After Prescott-Kerr kept Savage in his pocket, Anderson punted a long ball out of defence to put Karkari through on goal but his drive shot was held by Burba, grasping hold of the ball as he dived low to his left.

Gonnella said: “It was a good ball from Jordan. Steve’s hold up play has been phenomenal all game. He just needed that goal. He did have better options either side of him but you can’t blame a striker for shooting when he’s by the six-yard box. He wanted his goal. If he was to replay that back, I think he probably would’ve passed it or got a better connection.”

With fifteen minutes left, Bertrand-Kesington took a touch before crossing into the box, Gonnella cut the ball back for Walker, who took a touch before driving his shot across the goal and just past the foot of the far post.

Currie-Wilson suffered similar fate for Lewisham Borough, dragging his low shot across the keeper and past the far post, too.

FC Elmstead scored their fourth goal, with 35 minutes and 14 seconds on the clock when no one in a Lewisham shirt picked up Bertrand-Kesington, who picked up a loose ball, cut onto his left-foot to drill a sublime screamer into the back of the net with Burba well-beaten.

“The boys said he actually shouted out ‘GOAL!’ before he hit it, which means that he meant it and if that’s correct, what a strike and what a finish! Very clever from him, he’s a talent,” said Gonnella, who faces a fight to keep him at the club.

“We’ve got that all round the pitch if I’m honest, not necessarily the older boys. Although they still get a call up or two.  We’ve got young Russell Carter-Thompson at right-back and various other players I’m sure will show an interest but yes you’re right, there will be club’s sniffing about but actually he’s happy and he’s scoring like that because he’s enjoying his football.”

Walker drove at the Lewisham defence before playing the ball across to substitute striker Luke Markey, but his shot was gathered at the second attempt by Burba at his near post.

Owen showed quick feet as he danced past a couple of FC Elmstead defenders at the other end of the pitch, before curling his left-footed shot just past the top of the far post from 25-yards at the end.

FC Elmstead return to action next Tuesday 17 September when they travel to Foxbury Avenue in Chislehurst to play ninth-placed Stansfeld, whom have picked up seven points from their five league outings.

“Tough game. I know Stansfeld are having little ups and downs with their managers at the moment but they’ve still got the same managers so it will be a tough game,” said Gonnella.

“They’ve had an alright start. I’m looking forward to the weekend off if I’m honest so I can spend a bit of time with the family, re-coup. These guys have got the weekend off as well so we’re raring to go, on a nice pitch like Glebe, so there shouldn’t be any excuses.”

Gonnella admitted his side are dark horses in the title race at this early stage.

“Listen, it’s a great start. I won’t take anything away from the boys but it’s so early.  I don’t think we’ve seen a true reflection of the top sides in this league yet. We’ve been lucky we’ve come out of The FA Vase after the first game, we weren’t part of The FA Cup so we were able to concentrate on the league.

“It will get a lot more difficult when the bigger teams with a bigger budget come in and start playing football but having said that if we continue playing the way we are, I don’t see no reason why we can’t be in the mix.

“I said to you before the season started, for me, I think it’s a year too early. I’m not taking away anything, we’re still winners, we still want to win.

“I’ve managed at Step Five (Erith Town) and I know the difference in levels, not just on the pitch but off the pitch. The hospitality in Step Five, the professionalism in that league is 10 times better than in this league and I think you need to be ready as a club. You need to be financially stable to even survive nowadays in Step Five because there’s so much money in that top half of that league.

“My heart is saying it’s a year too early but no one’s going to moan if we finish in that top four and we’ll celebrate like the day comes and it will be up to Fabio Rossi and Paul Brook to get the pressure on and get it ready and I’m sure they will.”

FC Elmstead: Alex Hyde, Russell Carter-Thompson, Alfie Young, Ahmed Deen, Jordan Anderson, Lindsey Prescott-Kerr, Jerome Walker, Antonio Gonnella, Steve Karkari (Kieron Burrell 76), Marcus Cassius (Dominic Weston 82), Ashley Bertrand-Kesington (Luke Markey 83).
Subs: Kevin Musinskas, Perrie Rose

Goals: Marcus Cassius 43, Jerome Walker 49, Ashley Bertrand-Kesington 55, 81

Lewisham Borough: Kristupas Burba, Tyrelle Thomas, Josh Owen, Jason Pinnock, Kieran Hughes, Cairo Duhaney, Bruce Muchenje (Rymel Samms 77), Khalifa Jabbie (Archie Todd 57), Basir Savage, Lewis Miller (Charles Oroku 65), Ijah Currie-Wilson.
Subs: O’Neal Rowe, Jerome Cole

Goal: Bruce Muchenje 40

Attendance: 47
Referee: Mr James Beadle (Meopham)
Assistants: Mr Mark Joy (Rochester) & Daniel Payton (Sheppey)