Erith & Belvedere 1-1 Chichester City - If I can keep this team in this division it will be my biggest success so far, says Erith & Belvedere boss Matt Longhurst, who meets with the board tomorrow to discuss his future amid budget cuts

Sunday 19th November 2023
Erith & Belvedere 1 – 1 Chichester City
Location Park View Road, Welling, Kent DA16 1SY
Kickoff 19/11/2023 15:00

Isthmian League South East Division
Sunday 19 November 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from Park View Road

ERITH & BELVEDERE manager Matt Longhurst says he will be sitting down with his newly-appointed husband and wife joint-chairs Paul and Amy Springett tomorrow to thrash out his future after experiencing a couple of budget cuts during the first 15 weeks of the season as the club could not afford their wage bill.

The Welling-based club have had to release non-contracted players Bailey Akehurst (Dover Athletic), Jamie Coyle (Glebe), Chris Dickson (Chatham Town), Billy Crook and Denzell Olopade recently to live within their means after over-stretching themselves financially.

Longhurst has brought in Cameron Andrews (Welling United), Jedidah Brown (Crawley Town), Kian Garlinge and Mack Reilly (both Chatham Town) on season long loan deals.

Such instability has affected results out on the pitch and they extended their winless run to nine games in all competitions today but it was a case of two points dropped against seventh-placed Chichester City at Park View Road.

Erith & Belvedere dominated proceedings for most of the game but they found Chichester City goalkeeper Keiran Magee in outstanding form.

However, Miles Rutherford’s side inevitably grabbed the lead with 16 minutes left through a set-piece, which was poked home by holding midfielder Joe Clarke, who notched his fourth goal of the season.

Striker Marcus Elliott, 32, meanwhile, came off the bench to score Erith & Belvedere’s sixth league goal of the season to salvage a point.

The Deres climbed up a couple of places to sixteenth in the Isthmian League South East Division table with nine points from 12 games and are embroiled in a relegation dog-fight with the side that came up with them from the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division, Steve O’Boyle’s Phoenix Sports, who suffered a 9-1 humiliation at leaders Ramsgate yesterday.

Beneath them are Littlehampton Town (eight points from nine games) and newly-promoted side Horndean (eight points from 11 games).

Phoenix Sports  are trapped in the drop zone on eight points from 13 games, while last season’s fourth-placed finishers Beckenham Town are rooted to the foot of the table on four points from 10 games.

“I thought they (Chichester) started better than us but I thought once we got a foothold in the game, I thought for large periods we were the better team,” said Longhurst.

“They’re a good team, I like what they do and we should have come away with three points, so it’s disappointing not to get the three points but I’m delighted for the players’ that we didn’t come away with nothing, which we were staring down the barrel off.

“I think with the couple of weeks that we’ve had off the pitch, I’m so pleased for the players because they deserved to make sure that they came away with something today.”

When asked what his players gave today – his starting 11 were all under the age of 24 - Longhurst replied: “They’ve given absolutely everything.  They came in yesterday and we trained and I can’t fault any of them.

“It’s been a difficult period for the football club over the last couple of weeks and these boys have stuck with it and they’ve listened to everything that we’ve asked of them.

“I was just praying for the players that they managed to come out with something. I’m delighted. I couldn’t be any more pleased with the players.”

Erith & Belvedere put in a very impressive performance that belied their league position and Magee made his first save after 160 seconds following the first of eight corners for the home side.

Central midfielder Andrews played it short to winger Josh Ajayi, who cut inside and hung over a cross from the left for Garlinge to loop a free header towards the roof of the net, only for Magee to use his outstretched right glove to push over the crossbar whilst standing in the centre of his goal.

“I don’t know how many saves he’s made but he’s made a lot and to be fair to their centre-halves they made quite a number of blocks as well in the middle of the goal.  I thought their goalkeeper was probably man-of-the-match,” said Longhurst.

Chichester City were a threat down the left during the first half with winger Ethan Prichard impressing, as Erith & Belvedere right-back James Taylor struggled, although he put in a much more dominant second half performance as Prichard was no longer a threat as the home side dominated.

Central midfielder Emmett Dunn played a 20-yard pass into the feet of big targetman Steve Hutchings, who fed Kaleem Haitham, who swept a first time pass out to Prichard, who easily cut inside Taylor before lashing his right-footed shot high and wide of the far post from 22-yards.

Chichester City’s left-back Rob Hutchings played the ball out to Prichard, who cut the ball onto his right foot and crossed from within the left-channel only for Steve Hutchings to send his towering header over the crossbar at the near post from eight-yards.

Vocal Erith & Belvedere goalkeeper Jordan Perrin pulled off a fine save in the 12th minute, with Prichard the main threat.

This time he drove straight down the heart of the pitch before feeding Rob Hutchings down the left flank. A sublime first touch left Taylor in his wake and he whipped in a great cross towards the back post for Steve Hutchings to head towards the bottom right-hand corner, only for Perrin to get down low to his left to smother the shot.

“A good save. I think he should score, I think it’s a good save,” said Longhurst.

“Prichard is a really good player, I’ve liked him ever since I’ve been in this league. I’ve watched him loads of times.  He reminds me loads of Alfie May (who Longhurst managed at Erith & Belvedere and Corinthian and now playing for League One side Charlton Athletic).

“I thought James Taylor did well up against him.  We changed that purposely today to put him in at full-back to deal with him and I thought JT had a good game.”

With both sides passing the ball on the deck, Erith & Belvedere started to grow into the game after the 20 minute mark.

Winger Brown stabbed the ball to striker Reilly, who laid the ball back to the impressive Garlinge, who drilled a right-footed rasping angled drive from 30-yards, which was pushed over by Magee’s right-hand.

“I don’t know how many saves he made but it was a lot.  Fair play.  That’s why he’s there to do obviously but it was a lot of possession in and around their box,” added Longhurst.

“Very frustrating, it’s been a little bit of a tale.  We’ve scored six league goals all season, including the one today. It’s not enough but it’s not for the want of trying and you can’t really say ‘bad luck’.

“We played Herne Bay, Sevenoaks and we’ve played Chichester and their goalie’s got man-of-the-match, so it’s not even really bad luck. We’re actually coming up against some good goalkeepers and ultimately they’re there to do their job and we’re making them to have good games, which is a good thing. We’re not being totally wasteful in front of goal.”

The Deres then linked up well in the Chichester City half with Ajayi and Lee Lewis before left-back Ross Craig skipped past Dunn before dragging a shot past the foot of the left-hand post, before Magee made a comfortable save just 29 seconds later.

Chichester City gave the ball away from playing their trademark playing out from the back and Reilly stroked a low right-footed drive towards goal from 18-yards, which was comfortably gathered low down by the man-of-the-match.

Dominant Erith & Belvedere continued to knock on the door and Reilly played Brown in behind Chichester City centre-back Jamie Horncastle and the winger hung over a cross from close to the by-line towards the back post but Ajayi’s drilled hooked shot didn’t find the back of the net.

Brown then tried to score from the corner of the Chichester City penalty area and forced Magee into making a comfortable save beside his near post, low to his right.

Chichester City rode the storm and produced a sweeping counter-attacking raid in the 35th minute.

Centre-half Curtis Da Costa played the ball up to Steve Hutchings, who played the ball out to Prichard, who easily shifted the ball past Taylor before putting over a cross towards the unmarked attacking midfielder Haitham, who steered his header over the crossbar from eight-yards.

A long ball saw Erith & Belvedere centre-half Finn O’Mara jump up with Steve Hutchings and the ball was glanced over to Prichard, who once again cut inside Taylor and Dunn failed to score with a free header inside the box.

Lewis drilled a first time 30-yarder screaming past the flat-footed goalkeeper, only just missing the foot of the far post, after Ajayi held the ball up in the final third.

Chichester City somehow went down the steps into the away dressing room on level terms at the interval.

When asked what was the main conversation in the home dressing room during the interval, Longhurst replied: “Just some tactical stuff really, just stuff in terms of how to get out a couple of times. We just needed to find our number eight’s a little bit better and we just wanted some different movement, which is why we came in yesterday. We worked on some forward runs and some more forward passes.

“We spoke about that at half-time about how we could try and do that and I think that showed in the second half because we certainly had more chances in the second half than we did in the first.”

Erith & Belvedere missed a glorious chance to deservedly take the lead just 32 and 37 seconds into the second half.

The impressive Ajayi – Erith & Belvedere will do well to keep the former Ramsgate and Dover Athletic man at Park View Road with these budget cuts – played in Brown in between Ryan Davidson (right-back) and Horncastle but Brown went to pieces in the box.

Brown cut the ball onto his right foot and shot straight at Magee from 16-yards, before drilling his shot past the foot of the left-hand post with the second bite of the cherry.

“I think he’s got to score, I think he’s got to score, both chances, he’s got to score and that’s a little bit of our season because we could make some of those games a little bit easier and we’re not because we’re not taking our chances when we’re so on top,” admitted Longhurst.

Despite Chichester City dominating the corner count 11-8, Erith & Belvedere called Magee into making a comfortable save following the home side’s sixth flag kick in the 55th minute.

Andrews floated the ball in from the left towards an unmarked Garlinge at the back post but he lost his footing but still managed to nod the ball towards goal from 10-yards, which was straight at Magee.

“He managed to head it.  It actually hit him on his head. I don’t know how he’s managed to do that. It was another decent chance. If he doesn’t fall over, I think he side-foots it into the goal,” added Longhurst.

The introduction of the impressive Seok-Jae Lee in the 58th minute sparked Chichester City back into life and he added more energy in the middle of the park.

Faced with a two-man wall, Lee hit a right-footed free-kick towards goal from 28-yards, with Perrin getting down to his right to push the ball around the post for Chichester’s seventh corner of the game.

Ajayi spun Davidson in the final third before playing the ball to Andrews, before Ajayi’s deflected drilled shot was saved low down by Magee, before another chance went begging for the home side as Andrews played in Ajayi, whose shot was comfortably saved by Magee.

Magee was proving to be a one-man shield to thwart a dominant Erith & Belvedere side and he stuck out his left leg to prevent the home side being rewarded in the 70th minute.

Ajayi laid the ball off to Lewis, who played a first time pass out to Garlinge, who cut inside and drilled a shot towards goal, which was blocked inside the box, before Garlinge stroked a low shot towards goal, which was kept out by Magee, who stuck out his leg.

“I thought Josh Ajayi was totally a threat for most of the second half. He’s just desperate for a goal. You can see he gets so frustrated with himself and I thought he played well today. He was a constant threat. He just needs a goal and I think once he gets one, he’ll get a few,” said Longhurst on four-goal Ajayi.

You sensed that Chichester City would have a set-piece and snatch the lead – and that’s exactly what happened with 28:12 on the clock.

Left-back Rob Hutchings swung the ball in from the left, the ball was flicked on by Steve Hutchings at the near post and fell kindly for Clarke to poke the ball past the diving Perrin from inside the six-yard box.

“It’s a cr*p goal to give away to be honest and your hearts in your mouth a little bit,” admitted Longhurst.

“Disappointing to concede with what’s been going on. I thought are we going to end up on the end of another 1-0 (defeat).  Fortunately, it wasn’t the case.”

Erith & Belvedere showed great character to claim a point, with Elliott answering Longhurst’s SOS call, replacing Brown with 37:14 on the clock and scoring with 39:38 on the clock.

Andrews put in a cross from the right and Elliott had two bites of the cherry to score.  His first effort was blockedinside the box before Elliott steered his left-footed shot past Magee and the home fans in the Sunday crowd of 140 breathed a sigh of relief.

“I said to Marcus ‘go and get me a goal!’

“I’ve worked with Marcus for the last 8-10 years and he’s always scored me goals. 

“I brought him here last season to help me win the league and he scored goals down at Rusthall on his debut, I think he scored two and I think he scored on the last day of the season down at Canterbury.

“He’s just a great character. He came back pre-season and he wasn’t fit and he’s gone away and got himself really fit and gone down to Welling Town to get some games and with the changes in personnel in the club, with what’s happened over the last couple of weeks, it was important to bring him back.”

Magee saved his best for last as he flew to his left to deny substitute striker Marcel Barrington drilling a rasping drive into the right-hand corner from 25-yards with 41:18 on the clock.

“It was a really good save. I was right in line with it. It was a really good save. He's hit it so well. I think if he doesn’t hit it as well, it probably goes in. it’s a really, really good save. That’s flying in the near post, at pace,” added Longhurst.

Chichester City almost stole the three points with 42:28 on the clock, with Perrin diving to his left to prevent substitute Olly Munt scoring with a right-footed counter-attacking drive from 25-yards.

Longhurst said: “Jordan’s been good for us this year and he’s one of the real big characters in the dressing room. He’s really, really good. He’s only 23, so he’s another one we brought here last year to help us get over the line in the (Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division) and he’s been a big character for us with what’s happened here this year.”

Erith & Belvedere’s under 18s welcome their Charlton Athletic counterparts to Park View Road on Thursday night (19:45) to contest a high-profile FA Youth Cup Second Round tie, with the winners travelling to Huddersfield Town.

Many scouts will attend the game, including Premier League champions Manchester City, who are keeping tabs on Khemani Aiyanyo.

“They’ve done brilliant, hat’s off to Peter Springett and Marlon Button.  They’ve done great and it’s a great opportunity for our young players to come out here on Thursday night and play against Charlton and see where we are in terms of young players,” said Longhurst.

“If you look at the group that we’ve got, we’ve got a lot of players who were at the likes of the Charlton’s, the Gillingham’s, the Palace’s and Stoke, Leicester’s etc, etc.

“Mac Reilly was playing for Charlton this time last year in the under 23s and he’s now playing at Erith & Belvedere, so it just shows for our players in our under 18s where they need to be because a lot of them boys who are playing against us on Thursday could end up in the Isthmian League next year because they’re all not going to get professional contracts.

“Football’s tough, it’s a tough environment. It’s a tough job and it’s tough to play even at this level (the eighth-tier) and you can’t disrespect it.  I think sometimes young players disrespect these levels and it’s a tough league and it’s a good grounding for the young players.

“I’m looking forward to Thursday. It’s actually my birthday (43) on Thursday, so hopefully they can get a win.”

Companies House confirmed several directors – including chairman Adrian Deane – resigned on 7 November and the Springett’s have taken over and will sit down with Longhurst tomorrow to discuss the direction of travel moving forward.

“I enjoy being at the football club, it’s local to me and we’ve got a really top group of young players but ultimately it comes down to where the club can go and what it can do.

“Paul and Amy have got a massive job on their hands because we can do the stuff on the pitch but they’ve got to do their job off the pitch to make sure it’s sustainable and become a club at Isthmian League level,” said Greenhithe based Longhurst.

When asked if he’s considered walking away, Longhurst replied: “No, I haven’t thought about it, no. 

“Geordie (Paul Springett) and Amy only took over a week-10 days ago and he’s had a lot to digest and look after so we haven’t purposely had that conversation.

“I’ve known Geordie 20 years’ so we know each other and how to be able to be honest with each other and we’ll sit down and have that conversation tomorrow and an honest conversation will be had.

“Now it’s down to the club and the club needs to have to step up and has got to do something.  It’s a tough job that they’ve got on their hands but they’ve got a task no different to the rest of us (on the pitch).

“Success will be staying in this division. If I can keep this team in this division, it will be my biggest success so far because of what’s happened. It’s been a real test but is it going to make me a better manager? Yes.

“We need some stability don’t we? That’s what we need.  We need to be able to keep a stable group together and I think if the club can provide that – you saw today that we’re capable.  That’s not a fluke result. We are more than capable of getting a result so if you can see a team like that with a way of playing, an understanding and togetherness and they’ve run for each other today.

“I think it’s imperative the club does everything they can to keep them together. If they can, then great. If they can’t, that’s obviously when the conversations take place.”

Erith & Belvedere, meanwhile, travel to second-placed Three Bridges next Saturday – and Longhurst hinted that he will be in the away dug out at Jubilee Field at three o'clock.

Jamie Crellin’s side have picked up 24 points from 12 games, three points behind big-spending leaders Ramsgate, who have a couple of games in hand.

“Looking forward to going there. I like it there. It’s a good pitch and Jamie’s done a great job there,” said Longhurst.

“They’ve started the season absolutely on fire.  They’ve had a little bit of a wobble of late but that’s football – you’re never going to carry on that type of form but they’re there for a reason after this amount of games and I think it will be a decent game down there.

“If we can field the team that I’ve got at the moment, I think we’ll be competitive but that remains to be seen.”

Erith & Belvedere: Jordan Perrin, James Taylor, Ross Craig, Kian Garlinge, Rob Strachan, Finn O’Mara, Jedidah Brown (Marcus Elliott 83), Cameron Andrews, Mack Reilly (Marcel Barrington 65), Lee Lewis, Josh Ajayi.
Subs: Leo Vowles, Jack Palmby, Makhosini Ryan-Khanye

Goal: Marcus Elliott 85

Chichester City: Kieran Magee, Ryan Davidson, Rob Hutchings, Joe Clarke, Curtis Da Costa, Jamie Horncastle, Ethan Prichard (Olly Munt 58), Emmett Dunn, Steve Hutchings (Isaac Bello 90), Kaleem Haitham (Seok-jae Lee 58), Josh Clack.
Subs: Joe Moore, Ahmed Mohammed

Goal:  Joe Clarke 74

Booked: Ethan Prichard 41, Rob Hutchings 78

Attendance: 140
Referee:  Mr Samuel Everett
Assistants: Mr Richard Airey & Mr Mohammed Uddin