Herne Bay 3-3 Haywards Heath Town - Our ambition is to get promoted so we're not going to go to Ashford and roll over. I also know it's a big ask in front of us but I back my boys, says proud Herne Bay boss Ben Smith

Tuesday 26th April 2022
Herne Bay 3 – 3 Haywards Heath Town
Location Winch's Field, Stanley Gardens, Herne Bay, Kent CT6 5SG
Kickoff 26/04/2022 19:45

(after extra time – Herne Bay win 6-5 on penalties)
Isthmian League South East Division Play-Off Semi-Final
Tuesday 26 April 2022
Stephen McCartney reports from Winch’s Field

HERNE BAY manager Ben Smith says his players gave him and the club everything after his 10 men beat Haywards Heath Town on penalties to reach the Isthmian League South East Division Play-Off Final for the first time.

Hastings United were crowned champions after completing their 38 match campaign on 85 points, while the four play-off places contained Ashford United (72 points), Herne Bay (70), Haywards Heath Town (67) and Cray Valley (Paper Mills) (66).

Herne Bay had kept five clean-sheets in their last five games and Haywards Heath Town had also maintained five clean-sheets before completing their campaign with a 2-1 home defeat to VCD Athletic so a six-goal thriller would not have been predicted by many.

Tommy Warrilow’s Ashford United booked their place in Saturday’s home final after Jay May’s tenth goal of the season saw them beat Cray Valley 1-0 at Homelands Stadium.

However, a crowd of 1,102 were threated to a six-goal thriller at Winch’s Field as Herne Bay’s promotion’s bid now goes down to the final day of the season.

Herne Bay drew first blood when striker Zak Ansah scored his 25th goal of the season but Martin Dynan’s side equalised within four minutes through Kieran Rowe’s strike after the winger had his penalty saved.

Herne Bay left-back Jack Parter scored his first goal of the season just 43 seconds into the second half to give the Kent side the lead.

However, they faced a mountain to climb when substitute winger Eddie Allsopp was sent off by referee Scott Rudd in the 88th minute for retaliation after a challenge on him left him with cuts down his left leg.

Herne Bay seemingly booked their place in the final when the outstanding winger Kerion Campbell clinically drove in their third, 47 seconds into injury time.

However, Haywards Heath Town showed character to score twice inside stoppage time to take the game the whole distance.

Substitute striker Harry Lafflin smashed in a second goal before right-back Hamish Morrison levelled with the last kick of normal time.

Despite being a man short, Herne Bay controlled extra time but no further goals were scored during a exhausting extra 30 minutes.

Haywards Heath Town’s left-back Tom Cadman hit the crossbar as Herne Bay prevailed after 14 penalties in the shoot-out, winning 6-5 on an epic night on the Kent coast.

“Madness, absolute madness, it had it all, didn’t it? I don’t think anyone can go home and say their ten pounds was wasted tonight. It had everything,” said Smith.

“We certainly don’t do it the easy way but we’re there and that’s all that matters.  We’re there and we’ve got a fighting chance. It’s fitting that it’s second-against-third. Bring on Saturday!

“They gave me something that I’ve questioned all season, character and some bo****ks, good old fashioned bo****ks!   To concede the way we conceded late on – I’ll get onto the added time in a minute – to concede then after the celebrations at 3-1, the momentum swing and then the red-card.  It was backs against the wall and I said in the dressing room at the end of normal time, we’ve questioned it all season, now go and show.”

Haywards Heath Town created the first chance of the game after 80 seconds when Oliver Allen’s free-kick from the left was cleared out to holding midfielder Byron Napper, who hit a first time right-footed drive flashing harmlessly wide of the goal from a central position from 22-yards.

Parter and Campbell linked up well down the left during the entire game and Campbell played in Ansah, but a poor first touch from inside the penalty area ensured visiting goalkeeper Billy Collings rushed out to smother the ball at the striker’s feet.

Herne Bay’s right-winger Rory Smith cut inside and stroked a low right-footed drive towards the bottom near corner from 30-yards, which was gathered at the second attempt by Collings at his near post.

Herne Bay kept knocking at the door and should have taken the lead with 13:41 on the clock.

Parter played the ball into Campbell, who split open the Haywards Heath defence to play in Ansah, who took two touches of the ball and with his third touch, his left-footed shot from 16-yards sailed over the crossbar.

“I thought we started really well. I was really happy with the way we started,” said Smith.

“Mike West was robbing their best player (Ndozid) of the ball quite frequently and it looked like we were going to get a lot of joy and that was something we set out to do.  I thought Westy showed all of his experience and was just picking his pocket time after time.”

When asked about West’s withdrawal in the 24th minute, Smith revealed: “Westy pulled up. It sounds like it’s not anything serious but he weren’t going to get through tonight and Saturday so he made that call to come off and looked after his body.”

However, Herne Bay took a deserved lead with 14 minutes and 21 seconds on the clock.

Midfield general Michael West – who left Jordy Ndozid in his pocket for short time that he was on the pitch – fed Campbell, who cut inside and drilled a low right-footed drive towards goal from 30-yards.  However, the ball deflected off Ansah and flashed across the keeper and kissed the foot of the far post before nestling into the back of the net.

“It’s Zak Ansah’s goal. It hit Zak Ansah, it’s deflected off Zak Ansah, it’s hit his back,” said Smith, who revelled in a huge slice of lady luck.

“Time after time it just doesn’t go for us. It’s coming out (after hitting the post) and we’re not getting the rub of the green. At some point we’ve got to have some fortune and you’ve got to buy a ticket.

“I said that to the boys beforehand, just get shots off.  You never know what’s going to happen in a play-off game with the pressure etc.  You’ve got to give it a go and see if you get something.”

Smith, meanwhile, felt a challenge from his captain, centre-half Laurence Harvey was outside the penalty area, when he slid in to bring down Alahady Jalloh and referee Scott Rudd swiftly pointed to the spot to bring Haywards Heath back into the game.

The pacey Jalloh was only a threat during the first half and after he received treatment up stepped Rowe for the resulting penalty.

Rowe drilled his right-footed penalty straight down the middle and was kept out by keeper Jordan Perrin but Rowe drilled the rebound into the top left-hand corner to restore parity with 18:11 on the clock.

“We’ve got someone filming the game, they’ve shown us it’s outside the box,” claimed Smith.

“I personally think it’s a foul. I completely agree with the ref but after looking at the footage, it’s outside the box. It’s a yard outside the box.

“You’re thinking is it going to be our night? We started really well and that and Westy going off are two big blows in a game and you’re questioning do we have the character because Westy’s done an awful lot for us in that sense and he’s been a huge signing (on loan from Ebbsfleet United).”

Herne Bay called Collings into making a comfortable save into his midriff in the 28th minute, however.

Ansah played the ball into Bode Anidugbe, who was lurking inside the final third and he teed up Smith, who controlled the ball with his left foot before striking a right-footed shot towards goal from 20-yards from within a central position, which was comfortably held by the Haywards Heath goalkeeper.

Allen floated a free-kick into the Herne Bay box from the right and centre-half Tom Gilbert guided his towering header looping over the top of the right-post from 10-yards.

Haywards Heath Town handed a debut to striker Louie Theophanous – after scoring 18 goals for Combined Counties League Premier Division South champions Beckenham Town this season.

Herne Bay dealt with Allen’s initial right-wing corner and the ball came out to Morrison, who rolled the ball over to Allen, who took a touch before whipping in a cross towards the near post where Theophanous steered a towering free-header past the near post.

“I thought Laurence Harvey and Daniel Johnson were good again.  Those two have been great and I thought they did keep Louie Theophanous quiet because he is a quality striker, no doubting that,” added Smith.

West’s replacement, Allsopp, whipped in a teasing low free-kick from the left channel towards a crowded goal-mouth where Ansah’s near-post flicked shot was gathered by Collings on his goal-line.

Herne Bay should have taken the lead on the stroke of half time when Campbell and Parter linked up well down the left again and Parter was put through on goal but Collings stood tall at his near post and made a vital block with his legs.

“He’s got to score, the energy from those two, he’s got to go and score.  In the end I thought we were in the ascendancy,” added the Herne Bay manager.

“I told them at half-time just to keep going.  I don’t want these 10-15 minute periods where we just drop right off. I wanted them to stay in the game, mentally stay in the game and the chances will come for us.  We’ve already had chances. Just go and take a chance, get on the front foot and take one of the chances.”

Herne Bay regained momentum by taking the lead after only 43 seconds into the second half.

Right-winger Smith whipped in a deep cross from the right which was retrieved by Campbell, who played a lovely reverse pass into Parter, who dribbled past three defenders into the box and produced a composed left-footed finish, across the keeper to place the ball into the bottom far corner.

“It’s the one he didn’t score in the first-half. He’s kicking himself for that. He hasn’t scored all season. He’s had some good chances. He’s so good going forward. If he can add those extra goals to his game, he’s a classy full-back at this level,” said Smith.

Just past the hour mark, Haywards Heath Town’s centre-half Sinn Christie gave the ball away to Campbell, who drove forward but Christie pressed the winger and took the sting out of the shot and Collings collected the ball as it was heading wide of the far post.

With 20 minutes of normal time remaining, Allsopp’s left-wing corner was met by centre-half Daniel Johnson’s towering header, which flashed across goal and sailed past the far post.

Haywards Heath Town created a headed chance shortly afterwards.

Morrison, Lafflin and substitute winger Dadigildo Cravid linked up well down the right and Cravid’s deep cross was recycled by Jalloh and Lafflin jumped above his marker from inside the six-yard box to head straight into Jordan Perrin’s hands for a comfortable catch.

“We just dropped, from nowhere we literally died and dropped,” admitted Smith.

“I thought Jordan was good tonight, really good. He was strong at crosses. He was really strong coming out claiming everything. 

“This is the keeper we’ve signed. He had a tough start. I think he came to a big club, no disrespect to Sittingbourne but he came into a bigger club with bigger expectations, bigger personalities in the dressing room and to begin with it swallowed him up but throughout the season he’s absolutely grown.”

Perrin was called into action with 42:01 on the clock when Cravid rolled a free-kick from the left into Ndozid, who unleashed a rasping right-footed drive towards goal from 25-yards, which forced a back-peddling Perrin to tip the ball over his crossbar.

Herne Bay dealt with the resulting corner, however, Allsopp lost his cool for retaliation after a challenge on him just outside the Herne Bay penalty area and the home side were down to 10 men with 42:58 on the clock.

Smith claimed: “We will be reviewing it because if you see the state of Eddie’s leg where he’s been stamped on….He’s a young lad, he shouldn’t retaliate. Eddie’s got to go. I can’t argue that. He retaliated.  It just seems we are jumping over hoops with decisions after decisions completely going against us.  I think he will miss the Final, yes.”

Fourth official Daniel Blade put up the board for seven additional minutes, which clearly left Smith concerned.

Herne Bay thought they had one foot in the final when the outstanding Campbell seemingly killed off Haywards Heath Town, scoring the third goal with 45:47 on the clock.

Ansah was inside the Haywards Heath half and he released Campbell, who got in front of his marker and clinically placed his right-footed drive across the keeper to find the bottom far corner to spark wild celebrations and a blue flare was lit behind the goal (which is a criminal offence).

When asked about Campbell’s impressive performance, Smith replied: “How good has he been every game? He gets zero plaudits but if there’s a better winger in this league, I’d like to see who it is? He’s unplayable!

“We were down to 10 men, we were tired and but looked fitter than them. We’ve seen that all season. We might have had a bad start but we looked fitter than the opposition. We’ve got plenty of athletes in there. Keiron’s just a handful.”

However, Dynan’s men showed character and snatched a goal back, timed at 48:03.

Substitute centre-half Ben Holder joined an attack and put the ball into the box from the right-hand side, Theophanous brought the ball under control inside the box and his shot was blocked and the ball fell for Lafflin to smash a first-time drive through a crowd of players and past Perrin.

“It’s got to be game, set and match,” admitted Smith.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen enough of Haywards Heath to know they’re never dead and buried. They will keep going because they are a good side. If we were 3-1 down we wouldn’t stop but when I start hearing seven minutes (of injury time), it’s just laughable!

“When he said seven minutes, it’s comical. It’s like are we playing until they score – and they did!

“Lafflin’s a good player, he scores a lot of goals so we knew when he came on he was a danger and they had to throw bodies forward and as soon as they scored that goal suddenly their tails were up and we got through and we’re right deep into seven minutes.”

There was to be more late drama, as Haywards Heath Town snatched a last-gasp equaliser, timed at 53 minutes and 29 seconds on the clock.

Dynan sent up goalkeeper Collings, who went to head Cravid’s right-wing corner at the near post and Herne Bay failed to clear their lines and Morrison rifled the loose ball into the right-hand corner from close range to score his first goal of the season.

Visiting players ran towards the dug-outs to celebrate with their management team and emotions also boiled over in the crowd.

“Que wild celebrations, which I expect. A couple of their players came up to our dug-out saying ‘you thought it was done.’  I heard comments saying ‘they’re gone, they’re gone’, added Smith.

“I thought in extra time we were outstanding. Yes they had the extra body but we looked like we were the side that was going to go on and win it.”

Smith revealed he demanded his troops to “show character.  Let’s see what we’ve got.  I said to the lads ‘look anything for me is a bonus. We’ve come this far. Let’s give it everything.’

“We set up with a game plan with how we were going to break on them and first half (of extra-time) they rarely got out of their half did they? I thought we controlled the territory.

“I thought Aaron Millbank did a great job in extra-time.  He’s come on today, it’s looking like he’s coming into form that I expect from him.  He was very unlucky not to start today. The script is written for Aaron Millbank for this football club.”

Despite Haywards Heath Town having the numerical advantage, it was Herne Bay who looked the more likely team to score the winning goal during extra-time.

Campbell broke down the heart of the pitch before playing the ball on his outside to Ansah, who took a touch and dragged his right-footed shot across the keeper and past the far post from 25-yards inside the opening five minutes.

Substitute attacker Aaron Millbank drew a free-kick out of the left and Anidugbe’s right-footed angled free-kick from 30-yards flashed past the foot of the near post.

Early in the second period, Lafflin took one for the team as he showed desire to put his body on the line to made a vital block on the edge of the box to deny the brilliant Campbell, who had cut in from the left and gave Morrison a torrid time with his pace during the entire game.

With players on both sides suffering from tiredness as the second period came to a close, Parter threw the ball to Campbell, who hit an angled drive towards goal from 30-yards, which was gathered by Collings.

“It was falling into our hands really because the game was just getting stretched and we’ve got our weaknesses but you don’t really want a stretched game against us,” warned Smith.

“Keiron Campbell was causing them all sort of problems on the break.”

Haywards Heath Town created one chance during extra-time and they almost snatched the winner with 14:07 on the clock at the end of the second period.

Cravid’s deep cross from the left was knocked down by Theophanous next to Napper, who steered his header towards the roof of the net, only for Perrin to stick out both of his arms and pluck the ball out of the air.

“I thought Jordan had a good game. He didn’t have an awful lot to do. He couldn’t do anything with the goals. He saved a penalty and he’s been a hero in the penalty shoot-out,” added Smith, who revealed he felt Haywards Heath Town would win the shoot-out.

“I just came and sat down and whatever will be will be. I went to shake their managers hand and just said ‘look, whatever happens I’ve got massive respect for them as a side.’ 

Herne Bay took the first penalty in the shoot-out with Millbank sending the keeper the wrong way with a right-footed penalty which nestled into the bottom left-hand corner.

Haywards Heath Town captain Napper lead by example with a clinical right-footed penalty, rifled into the top left-hand corner, despite Perrin guessing the right way.

Herne Bay central midfielder Hamilton Antonio also produced a clinical penalty, smashing it into the top left-hand corner, sending keeper Collings the wrong way.

Haywards Heath Town levelled at 2-2 with central midfielder Ndozid clinically finding the top left-hand corner with his right-foot.

Herne Bay held their neve as Anidugbe found the bottom left-hand corner with his right-footed penalty, despite Collings diving the same way.

Lafflin drilled his right-footed penalty into the bottom left-hand corner, with Perrin well beaten to make it 3-3.

Parter placed his right-footed penalty into the bottom left-hand corner, despite the keeper guessing the right way.

However, Jalloh, who impressed in the first half but disappeared for the second half and in extra-time, not helped by picking up a knock, had to put the ball back on the spot after it had moved, went on a funny run up before stroking a weak right-footed penalty straight down the middle which was smothered low down by Perrin.

Ansah had a chance to win it with the ninth penalty of the shoot-out but lost all composure and lashed his right-footed penalty high over the crossbar to give Haywards Heath Town a chance to level it at 4-4.

Smith said: “The momentum turns again and then suddenly they score the next one and the pressure is heaved back on us.

“But if we get a penalty at Ashford on Saturday, I know who I want to take it and that’s Zak Ansah!

“Since he’s come here I’ve given him one million percent belief and one million percent trust and he’s repaid that time and time again for me. You miss penalties and you score them bit every time I’m putting my money on him.”

Cravid did exactly that, accepting the lifeline by sending Perrin the wrong way to find the left-corner with his right-foot.

Now into sudden-death and man-of-the-match Campbell capped off an excellent night’s work for Herne Bay, sending Collings the wrong way with a right-footed spot-kick into the left-hand corner.

Holden held his nerve, rifling his right-footed penalty into the roof of the net, leaving Perrin well-beaten to make it 5-5.

Johnson, a left-footed centre-half, held his nerve to use his right-foot to send the keeper the wrong way as the ball nestled into the popular left-corner.

Smith added: “Dan’s left-footed and he’s taken it right-footed and I’m like ‘what on earth are you doing!’ – it was written really.”

It was probably best to avoid using his left-foot as left-footed players usually miss in shoot-outs covered by this website and this fell on Cadman’s head as he struck the crossbar with his effort, sparking a pitch invasion at the end.

Smith said: “It’s a lottery. I’m sat here telling my assistant Ben Brown ‘we’re done’, we never get any rub of the green that goes our way. It never seems to fall for us. I was gearing myself up on the bench to go and congratulate them.

“I think you’ve got to conduct yourself in the right way. It’s a tight game, whoever wins you have to have respect and there’s a lot of respect between these two clubs in terms of the footballing side of things, so I was gearing myself up to when it goes in to go and wish them all the best.

“When they missed I still thought we had to score. I saw everyone run onto the pitch and I’m sat there not even celebrating and there it was.”

Smith is relishing the winner-takes-all clash against Ashford United at Homelands Stadium on Saturday, despite losing twice to their Kent rivals in the league this season.

“They’re the favourites, they’re at home, they’re a good side, a really good side,” said Smith.

“We’ve got to work out how we can change our fortunes against them. It’s fine margins and we’ve got to do something. Is it insanity or madness doing something over and over again?

“There’s zero pressure on us. Our supporters go home happy tonight and they’re going to have their big day out in the final and not so long ago when I was at this club as a coach I once had one person who was running the club say the ideal situation ‘would be to get to the play-off final and lose’.

“That is one million percent not our ambition.  This club has changed and is going forward.

“I’m going to enjoy the day, there’s a lot of excitement, let’s go and enjoy it. No one picked us to be there. We were dead and buried a month or so ago and I was the worst manager in the world so let’s go and enjoy that.

“Let’s give it a shot. We’re not going to go there just to give them they’re good day at home, absolutely not.  We’ll probably have more supporters ourselves, we’ll travel in numbers and we’ll go there and our ambition is to get promoted so we’re just not going to go there and roll over.  They’ll know that. I also know it’s a big ask in front of us but I back my boys, as Tommy will back his.

“To lose that game tonight would’ve been a travesty.  You find something in a group in the strangest moments.  The moment when you’re at your weakest and you find something and the lads found that today.

“I can only be so proud or the boys. It has been a long season for everyone and they’ve given me and the club everything! They can take the plaudits.  Who knows Saturday, who knows.”

Herne Bay: Jordan Perrin, Troy Williams, Jack Parter, Bode Anidugbe, Daniel Johnson, Laurence Harvey, Keiron Campbell, Hamilton Antonio, Zak Ansah, Michael West (Eddie Allsopp 24), Rory Smith (Aaron Millbank 78).
Subs: Daniel Carrington, Kane Phillip, Joe Denny

Goals: Zak Ansah 15, Jack Parter 46, Keiron Campbell 90

Sent Off:  Eddie Allsopp 88

Haywards Heath Town: Billy Collings, Hamish Morrison, Tom Cadman, Byron Napper, Tom Gilbert (Ben Holder 58), Sinn Christie, Alahady Jalloh, Jordy Ndozid, Louie Theophanous, Oliver Allen (Davigildo Cravid 61), Kieran Rowe (Harry Lafflin 70).
Subs: Kesna Clarke, Adonal Dacruz

Goals: Kieran Rowe 19, Harry Lafflin 90, Hamish Morrison 90

Booked: Jordy Ndozid 10, Hamish Morrison 41, Oliver Allen 53, Ben Holder 92, Byron Napper 97, Louie Theophanous 108

Attendance: 1,102
Referee: Mr Scott Rudd
Assistants: Mr Ryan Chantrill-Smith & Mr Simon Cutler
Fourth Official: Mr Daniel Blades