Erith Town 1-5 Phoenix Sports - We're having a fantastic season, says unbeaten Steve O'Boyle

Saturday 21st March 2015

Southern Counties East Football League
Wednesday 21st January 2015
Stephen McCartney reports from Middle Park Avenue

PHOENIX SPORTS’ manager Steve O’Boyle says he’s feeling worried about a potential fixture back-log for his remarkable unbeaten team towards the end of the season.

UNBEATEN: Phoenix Sports manager Steve O'Boyle has seen his go extend their unbeaten run to 30 games.

The Barnehurst-based outfit extended their unbeaten run to 30 games after thrashing relegation threatened Erith Town to move four points clear at the top of the Southern Counties East Football League table with 51 points from 19 games.

Yacine Gnahore was unplayable during a brilliant first half performance and the Phoenix Sports striker took his personal goalscoring tally (with three clubs) to nineteen goals with a brace.

Ricky Freeman was gifted a third by the hapless Dan Clark, who put in the worst goalkeeping performance of the season, gifting Phoenix three of their five goals.

Erith Town enjoyed a good spell during the early stages of the second half and Marcus Cassius headed home, which was only the eighth league goal that Phoenix Sports have conceded this season.

But any chances of an unlikely fight-back vanished when Freeman swiftly headed home his second, before winger Harrison Carneige drilled in a fifth goal.

Erith Town’s fifteenth league defeat of the season keeps the Dockers second-from-bottom in the table on 15 points from 22 games, level on points with the team below them, Deal Town, who now have a game in hand.

“I thought we were brilliant first half,” hailed O’Boyle, following his side’s sixteenth league win of the season.

“I was a little bit worried about our frame of mind, obviously a good (FA Vase) win for the club on Saturday.

“Coming here tonight, it was a local derby, they need the points as well.  They got a win against Beckenham last time out and I had a few walking wounded as well.

“I was a little bit worried, was it going to be a hangover tonight?

“I thought first half we were outstanding. I thought 3-0 at half-time flattered them.

“We got them straight from kick-off and on a bad pitch I thought we played some really good football as well so it was a good first half.

“Second half, maybe they had 5-10 minutes of the game but after that I thought we bossed it from start to finish.”

Erith Town boss Ennio Gonnella blamed his goalkeeper for helping Phoenix on their way.

“Where do I start?  To be honest with you coming on the back of Beckenham I thought coming into the game really looking into it giving them hard work, making them press.

“I hate to pinpoint people but when your keeper’s made three bad mistakes and you’re 3-0 down to the top-of-the-league, unbeaten (it’s hard to come back).

“They’re a very, very drilled and skilled side. Manager Boyley knows exactly what he’s doing and it’s a system that pays off.

“Second half, first 15-20 minutes, we maybe panicked them a little bit, got back into it, but when you concede straight from kick-off it just takes the life out of you.

“They’re a good side but our fight for survival is not against teams like Phoenix. It wasn’t against Beckenham either.  We played exceptionally well against Beckenham and we got the result and tonight we looked poor all over the pitch.”

Phoenix Sports put in a performance which can be classed as championship winning material, especially after making a 533-mile round trip to beat Bodmin Town last weekend to reach the last sixteen of The FA Vase

Erith Town started the game with a 4-2-3-1 formation but switched that to a basic 4-4-2 for the second half.

The Dockers boss said: “You go up to the Premiership, that’s the sort of formation (that they play with). The fact remains we try to play a bit of football. Now, the pitch we play on, I’ve got a lot of footballers who have come down from the Ryman and Conference – Ellis Green and all the rest of them.

“They like to play football. They’re not direct so the formation suits them.  It worked against Beckenham. It solid things up at the back.

“I had a centre half that failed a late fitness test so I had to change the back four. I’ve never kept the same back four consecutively for two games since I’ve started here so injuries have been a part.  It’s a good formation. It works football wise.”

Phoenix Sports opened the floodgates through a stunning strike from Gnahore after only 175 seconds.

The former Deal Town and Beckenham Town striker cut inside before cracking a left-footed pile-driver from 25-yards, which left Clark rooted to the spot as the ball crashed in off the far post.

“He had a good first half,” said O’Boyle.

“I thought the two boys up front both played well, they had a brace each and I think the two boys up front were outstanding tonight.

“It was a great strike. It’s probably the hardest chance that he’s had all night and he’s put it away. He’s got it in his locker. He’s got us off to a really good start and it was a good finish.”

Boss Gonnella added: “It was a good strike but the fact remains that we should have closed him down better.  However, it’s gone across the keeper. It’s a good strike. There’s nothing you can do about it. If he did it again, he’ll probably miss but he’s got it on the net today.”

The goal sparked a period of dominance from Phoenix Sports.

Alex Nelson tried to score against his former club with a speculative shot from 30-yards, which rolled into Clark’s gloves.

Freeman was released and he played the ball inside to his striker partner Gnahore, whose right-footed dink from 30-yards was well held by the Dockers’ keeper.

Freeman swung in a corner from the right and Scott Whibley came up from the back to send his towering header across goal and Russell Bedford’s header was cleared off the line by Antonio Gonnella.

Long-throw specialist Myles Keizer-Burrows then clipped a long ball over the top of a static Erith Town defence but Gnahore was denied by a smart save from Clark and he had central defender Cedric Abraham to thank for sweeping the ball off the line.

Carneige then cracked a right-footed angled drive straight at Clark from 25-yards as Phoenix should have been more than a goal in front inside the opening 15 minutes.

“We could have been 3-0 up in the first 10-15 minutes,” admitted former Erith Town boss O’Boyle.

“There was some chances that maybe we should have put away. We were just all over them but that’s just testament to the boys.  Their work-rate was (exceptional). We were trying to win the ball back within three passes. It was a fantastic first half performance.”

The Erith Town manager added: “They did (dominate us) indeed. We knew that was coming. We thought we’d sit down and absorb the pressure. It was working until those two mistakes came from the keeper. 

“If we’d have gone 1-0 down in the second half you take those three goals away, it’ll be 2-1 against the champions. I would’ve taken that. They’ve let in seven goals the whole season and we’ve managed to score against them.”

Louis Valencia played the ball into Gnahore, who was stopped in his tracks inside the box by a well-timed sliding tackle from Abraham and Clark used an outstretched left-arm to ensure Freeman’s resulting in-swinging corner from the left didn’t sail into the top far corner.

Phoenix Sports deservedly doubled their lead in the 32nd minute.

Clark’s clearance went straight to Freeman, who swept the ball inside to Gnahore.

The talented striker – who should be playing at a higher level – cut inside struggling keeper Clark and kept his composure to slam a low shot past three defenders into the net from 12-yards.

O’Boyle said: “We won the ball back first off before the goalkeeper got it back so they were on the attack and I felt we actually won the ball back first and two of our boys charged back and we’ve worked really hard to win it back and then the keeper gets the ball and Ricky Freeman unselfishly gives it to Yack and he’s put it in the back of the net.  It was a good goal really, all round.”

Ennio Gonnella added: “Clark’s a good boy, he’s a really good boy. It’s hard, you know. Grass roots is grass roots. The boy’s worked in the city from eight this morning. He’s come back down. He’s absolutely shattered. No excuses but you have bad games. It’s football and unfortunately when the keeper makes a mistake you pay for it.”

Phoenix skipper Bedford saw his right-footed free-kick from 30-yards dip narrowly past the far post.

But Phoenix Sports’ third goal in the 38th minute was more suited to Sunday League football and was simply embarrassing to witness.

Abraham played the ball back to his goalkeeper Clark, who kicked the ball straight at Freeman inside the box, who accepted the late Christmas present, slotting the ball into the bottom left-hand corner from eight-yards.

The shamed goalkeeper crashed to the ground in a combination of pain and shame and his manager confirmed afterwards that he sustained an ankle injury.

When asked about the goal, O’Boyle replied: “A striker’s dream! The goalkeeper’s messed up really and Ricky’s just rolled it in the back of the net.  You ain’t going to get an easier goal than that!”

Ennio Gonnella refused to blame his keeper for the blunder.

“I blame the centre back for that,” he said.

“Cedric Abraham – why he’s trying to play football at the back there when the boy has played pro for Bordeaux for seven years – so he’s been about.

“He’s played French Premier League football for seven years. He knows not to play football on a pitch like that, especially with your back four. I think he confused Clarky. He’s tried to kick it, he’s hurt his ankle and he’s played the rest of the game injured.”

When asked about his thoughts at the break, O’Boyle said: “I basically told them I was very impressed with their attitude tonight. We’ve came here, boggy pitch, most teams could actually not fancy it and I thought our boys have got that little winning mentality at the moment and we knew what we had to do tonight and I think we’ve gone out and done it.”

Ennio Gonnella added: “Do you know what? We went in there and said you’ve got to pull your socks up! You’ve done exactly what they expected you to do, being second-from-bottom in the league to sort of roll over and not give them a game.

“The reaction in the second half was fantastic. We got back into it. 3-1, I thought you know what with the talent we’ve got, maybe, but when you concede straight away it just killed us, it just absolutely killed us!

Phoenix Sports created an early second half chance when Valencia rode Cassius’ strong challenge on the half-way line, sprinted forward, cut inside but his shot flashed wide of the target.

Valencia then cut in from the left and curled his shot agonisingly around the far corner.

Gnahore was then released down the right before he played the ball inside to Carnegie, whose left-footed drive was spilt by Clark before the stricken keeper gathered at the second attempt.

Erith Town, now playing in a 4-4-2 formation, sparked into life with wingers Ellis Green and Stefan Cox (signed from Ryman League Division One South Merstham) becoming more of a threat in their natural positions.

The Erith Town boss said: “I’ve known Stefan since he was eight. He’s a terrific lad. He demands a bit too much money but I’ve managed to secure him permanently from Merstham now. He’s left Hayden Bird.”

O’Boyle said: “They were getting the ball to the lad out wide on the right hand side. They had a good 5-10 minute spell.

“We did give our boys a little warning saying they were on top of us for five or ten minutes and they finished it off with a goal but as soon as that’s gone in we’ve went straight down the other end and finished the game off.”

Green charged down the right and whipped in a cross but Cassius’ header from 12-yards looped into Steve Phillips’ gloves.

Cox then swept a sublime diagonal pass out to Green on the right who whipped in a cross but Cassius’ hooked volley was blocked by Ryan Andrews at the near post.

Erith Town were awarded a free-kick down the left channel, which was swung in by Green and the ball came out to Cassius, who steered his shot past the near post.

Meanwhile, at the other end, Freeman, who linked up well with Gnahore throughout the game, unleashed a right-footed drive from 30-yards, which was saved low down by Clark.

But Erith Town deservedly scored their only goal of the game with 62 minutes on the clock.

Cox once again swept a sublime diagonal pass to find Green down the right, who floated over a cross and the unmarked Cassius sent his downward header into the bottom left hand corner from eight-yards.

Gonnella said: “The smallest boy on the pitch! It was good. Momentum was with us. We had a spell for the first 15-20 minutes of the second half, had them rattled, they were scared. They were dropping off.

“Ellis and Coxy were really, really dominant. We changed formation, we went 4-4-2 and we went direct with wingers and it seemed to work but from kick-off when that happens it just kills you and 4-1 against the champions, it’s over.”

When asked why he thinks Phoenix Sports are so resilient at the back, Gonnella replied: “They know each other inside out. They can do blind passes on the pitch and know where they’re players are.  It’s a well skilled and well drilled team. Individually I would probably say they have one or two players that would stand out but as a team they’re absolutely unstoppable.”

When asked if his side have lost to the eventual league champions, Gonnella added: “I would like to see them win because I think the manager deserves it. The players deserve it and the club deserve it.”

Speaking about Cassius, O’Boyle added: “I didn’t think he did much tonight to be honest with you. We kept him quiet.  He’s scored. It’s one of them. Six-yard box, you should be looking to finish that off really. I know him well but I don’t think he’s done much against us tonight.”

When asked how it felt seeing Cassius score his ninth goal of the season against his side, O’Boyle admitted: “We’re obviously disappointed! I’m not going to lie to you. We’ve only let in eight goals in the league. We are going to concede goals. We’ve got to accept that but as long as we’re disappointed when we do concede then that’s not a bad thing to have.

“We have conceded eight goals this season and we want to keep that down to as little as possible really but it wasn’t a great goal to give away.”

However, their hopes of mounting an unlikely comeback didn’t last long as Phoenix Sports increased their lead only 41 seconds later.

And Dockers’ keeper Clark should have done better to prevent Freeman scoring his 18th goal of the season.

Talented winger Carneige whipped in a cross from the right and Freeman powered his downward header through the keeper’s legs from six-yards.

“Was it 41 seconds?” asked O’Boyle.

“Great breakaway. Harrison gives you that little bit of pace down the wing. He got in behind them and flicked it back to Ricky and Ricky put it back in the net. 

“They’ve just got back into the game. We shouldn’t be really be doing that but we did. I’m not going to argue.”

Gonnella added: “I was thinking the worst second half with an injured keeper. We saw his ankle at half-time. It’s black and blue and he shouldn’t have been carrying on.  The centre half had to take his goal-kicks.

“By then, I think I was in the dug-out hiding. Again for me, it was bad defensive errors. It’s one ball over the top. Harrison’s done fantastic to get onto it and he’s put a ball in and again centre halves marking their men and there’s only one to aim for and he’s got it.”

Phoenix Sports scored their fifth goal in the final twenty minutes.

Freeman swung in a corner from the left, which was half-cleared to Carneige, who wriggled his way past three defenders before drilling his left-footed shot into the bottom left-hand corner from sixteen-yards.

O’Boyle said: “I actually thought no-one attacked the first ball. I was just about to have a moan up. It’s come back to Harrison and he’s actually put it in the bottom corner. In the end, it worked out quite well.”

Gonnella added: “It was a good strike. He shouldn’t have been beaten at his near post but when you’re injured there’s nothing you can do about that.”

Freeman set up chances for Gnahore and Valencia, whose shots flashed just wide, before Erith Town were to be denied by a world-class save from Phillips inside the final three minutes.

The Dockers forced their first corner of the game, which was taken short by substitute Gerry Gonnella, who cut the ball back to left-back Jamie Mascoll, who played the ball inside to Nick Gonsalves, who was given time and space to unleash a right-footed drive from 25-yards, which was sailing towards the top far corner of the net, but Phillips pulled off a great save high to his left, pushing the ball over the top.

O’Boyle said: “He’s been fantastic for us. Our boys know how good he is. He’s a good goalkeeper. He’s come in and he’s been brilliant for us. 

“The other thing I will say he’s kicking tonight wasn’t fantastic. I’ll let him off really because he was fantastic – and again on Saturday.

“He’s pulled that one off at the end, which I think was going in the top corner. It was a fantastic save and it just shows how good a goalkeeper that we’ve got.”

Gonnella added: “I thought it was goal number nine (that Phoenix have conceded).  I would have definitely taken that. He pulled off a good save. He really didn’t need to do much the keeper and he’s stayed focused on 88 minutes.”

Phoenix Sports’ remarkable campaign sees them in every competition apart from The FA Cup.

“We’re four points clear. I’ve said to the boys that was our incentive tonight.  It’s a little bit of breathing space. We’ve got a game in hand (over second-placed Erith & Belvedere) so we’ve got to keep on.

“When we turn up we’ve got to beat the teams near the bottom end of the table and the middle teams and just keep that winning mentality going.

“It’s a good run that we’re on and we’ve got to keep it going.”

O’Boyle, meanwhile, admits to facing a headache when it comes to a potential fixture back-log.

“It’s a worry, I’m not going to lie to you.  We are worried about it. I think we’re having a fantastic season in all competitions and I am a little bit worried about the backlog of fixtures.  We just have to deal with it.

“I may have to boost the squad up a little bit but we’ll deal with it. One game at a time they say and that’s what we’ve got to do (against) Greenwich Borough (in the Kent Senior Trophy Quarter-Final) on Saturday and then Tunbridge Wells next Wednesday.”

Gonnella hopes his former Dulwich Hamlet players can keep Erith Town out of relegation trouble.

“We’ve got to stay positive, stay focused, win the games you need to and my aim is by the end of March to be out of it.

“The boys I’ve got on paper are probably the best in the league with Ellis Green and everyone. It’s all Dulwich Hamlet and you think with that team you go on and win. Put that team in the Ryman, we’ll probably do alright.

“It’s the pace of the league that we’re finding a little bit difficult at the moment. I think that’s what we’re suffering from.

“I’m not very much of a stat man. The way I look at it is if we can win our games that we need to, we’ll be ok.

“Listen, I never expected to come here today and turn them over. I came here to expect to survive. Unfortunately it just wasn’t the keeper’s day.”

Erith Town: Dan Clark, Brandon Hobbs, Jamie Mascoll, Nick Gonsalves, Cedric Abraham, Aziz Kanu, Ellis Green (Tayler Thomas 75), Alim Sesay, Marcus Cassius, Daniel Morris (Gerry Gonnella 77), Antonio Gonnella (Stefan Cox 46).
Subs: Dominic Weston, Rob Carter

Goal: Marcus Cassius 62

Phoenix Sports: Steve Phillips, Ryan Andrews (James Brown 75), Myles Keizer-Burrows, Russell Bedford, Scott Whibley, Chris Hill, Harrison Carnegie (Steadman Callender 77), Alex Nelson (Jack Perryman 78), Ricky Freeman, Yacine Gnahore, Louis Valencia.
Subs: Danny Moore, Danny Kemp

Goals:  Yacine Gnahore 3, 32, Ricky Freeman 38, 63, Harrison Carnegie 70

Booked:  Yacine Gnahore 86

Attendance: 95
Referee: Mr Paul Greenfield (Eltham, London SE9)
Assistants: Mr Steve Tunnicliffe (Maidstone) & Mr Graham Scott (Gillingham)