Hollands & Blair 1-1 Sheppey United - The club itself is geared up for the next level so it's extra pressure and Beckenham is a must-win for us, says Sheppey United boss Ernie Batten

Wednesday 19th February 2020
Hollands & Blair 1 – 1 Sheppey United
Location Star Meadow, Darland Avenue, Gillingham, Kent ME7 3AN
Kickoff 19/02/2020 19:45

Sea Pioneer Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division
Wednesday 19 February 2020
Stephen McCartney reports from Darland Avenue

SHEPPEY UNITED manager Ernie Batten says there’s pressure on him and his players to deliver promotion at the end of the season.

The Ites dropped two points during a dominant performance against their fellow promotion rivals Hollands & Blair.

The home side grabbed the lead on the stroke of half-time through Stuart West’s tap-in but Dan Bradshaw notched his 42nd goal of the season just 17 seconds into the second half to equalise, although the striker could and should have scored another four.

Hollands & Blair defended resiliently after losing central midfielder Chris Saunders to a second yellow card with 22 minutes remaining but Sheppey United couldn’t score the winner that they deserved on a wet night and sticky playing surface at Darland Avenue in Gillingham.

“Obviously I’m disappointed with that, we had enough chances. It was a game the conditions were difficult and it was very difficult to play our style of football,” said Batten, whose side were forced into playing a more direct style.

“We did ok in the first half, conceded a bit of a bizarre goal and we’ve come in at half-time 1-0 down. I probably would have been happy with 0-0.

“We had a few chances, just prior to them getting that goal Dan Bradshaw had an open goal with his left-foot so we could’ve come in 1-0.

“I thought it’s difficult. You’re waiting for those chances, we were inpatient at times playing long high balls into the box from wide areas when that is their strength, rather than relying on cutting some chances out, created more chances by keeping the ball, keeping the width.

“We did (play direct) a little bit. It’s so difficult to play. We want to play it (on the floor) It bores me watching it (direct football). I want to play football all the time. It’s very important to me that my team that I turn out pass the ball but they are exceptional circumstances. 

“The pitch itself, the opposition are very tough. They don’t make it easy for you. They close down very well. It’s a credit to them they do that and they’ve done that over the years and have been very successful with it and the pitch is all part of that style.

“I thought we played in bits and pieces. We got the ball wide and got crosses in but unfortunately we couldn’t relax because we couldn’t take one of our many chances.”

With Hollands & Blair manager Simon Halsey serving the third of his four-match stadium ban, assistant manager Luke Harvey fulfilled post-match media duties.

“I’ve just said to the boys, I’ve got mixed emotions at the moment,” said Harvey.

“First half, we set out to pin them in down the hill, which we know the hill can be like that and I thought we did the job well.

“We got our noses in front and we was looking good and looking confident and I thought we was going to go on and win the game.

“Everything we said at half-time about being switched on, being alert, communicating with each other, just the first 30 seconds of the second half was non-existent, so you feel you’re banging your head against the wall. 

“They go down and you know what Bradshaw is like, you can’t give him a sniff.  To be fair he missed two or three, he usually buries so we got lucky in that respect.

“Then going down to 10 men you start to feel the worse because a lot of teams in this league go on and lose that game three or four one.  There’s one thing to say about my lot, or mine and Si’s lot, they’ve got a lot of heart and a lot of passion and they don’t know when they’re a beaten side.

“I think we got our just deserts for our efforts. We might not have made as many chances as they did but we defended with our hearts and everything that we had and for me it was a good point in the end so it’s a bit of a mixed emotion.”

Sheppey United started the game on the front foot and in right-winger Danny Leonard a constant threat, causing problems for Mehmet Piro and Lewis Mingle.

Leonard cut inside both of them and was denied by a fine save from Adam Highsted, diving low to his left to push his shot from 16-yards around the post inside the opening five minutes.

“Danny’s a real threat at times. I thought he was the highlight of the first half for us with his pace and he was getting around the back and put several crosses in and yes he was unfortunate,” said Batten.

Harvey said: “Leonard was their outlet. When you look at the first half we wanted to pin them in down the corner.  Mehmet Piro is new to us and doesn’t know how we play. He probably cheated, not cheated but he took a couple more gambles than he would’ve liked and it was down to Lewis Mingle to pull him in.

“I thought we dealt with him slightly better after the initial period but he’s a lively player. You can see he’s good with his feet and probably on a better pitch he has a lot more joy.”

Hollands & Blair are a tough, physical outfit and relied on long throws from right-back Sam Welch.  Centre-half Calum McGeehan glanced a near post header across and through a crowded goal-mouth and the ball sailed just past the far post in the 11th minute.

Hollands & Blair missed a glorious chance to take the lead in the 15th minute when the impressive Jack Simon delivered a dee free-kick from the right by-line and Piro steered his towering header just over the crossbar from inside the six-yard box.

“We’ve had a couple of headers tonight, I thought maybe we could’ve done better,” admitted Harvey.

“I thought he could’ve got that down. I thought he was leaning back too much. We had one in the first half as well, which just glanced across the back post, which I was screaming for someone to follow it on the back post, which no one did.

“Jack Simon was outstanding tonight, even when we went down to 10. I asked him to give me everything that he got for 10-15 minutes but he done it for the rest of the game and he done two men’s running.”

Sheppey United central midfielder Richard Hamill had two bites and putting in a cross, his first corner was cleared back out to him and his deep cross was met by Callum Emptage at the far post, the right-back’s header being plucked out of the air by Highsted underneath his crossbar.

Leonard raced down the right and cut the ball back for Conor Wilkins, who lacked composure and hit a first-time angled drive looping past the far post from 15-yards.

Dominant Sheppey United wasted a glorious chance to deservedly take the lead in the 25th minute.

Leonard whipped in a great cross from the right which flashed across the face of goal for talisman Bradshaw to slid in and put his first-time shot over the crossbar from inside the six-yard box.

Batten said: “Another chance, wasn’t it?  They come and go and you put your mortgage on Dan to convert that but the player has a fantastic record in front of goal so I’m loathe to criticise him for any misses.”

Hollands & Blair went close to grabbing the lead within three minutes when Mingle’s free-kick from the left 3was cleared out to Saunders, who lofted his shot against the top of the crossbar from 25-yards, the ball dropping over for a goal-kick.

“We had a good few long-range ones but probably didn’t test the keeper enough for my liking,” admitted Harvey.

“Our main threats came from the air tonight and in difficult conditions for the keeper tonight, we would’ve liked to make them work a little bit harder.”

Hollands & Blair created a decent opening in the 36th minute following a short-throw-in from Welch.

Louis Valencia then whipped in a cross from the right, the ball was cleared out to Simon, who hooked his right-footed volley straight down Josh Pelling’s throat from a central position 25-yards from goal.

“I remember that one clearly because I was screaming at my forwards for not switching on and not shutting down their full-backs straight after their keeper caught it,” said Harvey.

“It’s slippery in there, if that goes either side of him you don’t know what could happen. He scrambled to get it but it went straight to his hands, again.”

Batten added: “You expect your goalkeeper to save that from that distance, so yes a bit routine.”

Another Sheppey United chance went begging when Hamill played an intelligent free-kick along the deck to release Leonard down the right and he played the ball inside to debutant Chris Webber, who dragged his shot across the keeper from 16-yards and watched the ball trickle past the far post.

A poor back-pass from Mingle resulted in a sliced clearance from Highsted, which went straight to Bradshaw but the striker was having an off-night and he sliced his shot wide of the left-upright from 12-yards.

“I’ve played with Dan and he’s a fantastic player.  I know Ernie will be expecting him to bury that. Again, that’s come from us giving the ball away,” added Harvey.

“It’s very rare that he misses a couple in a game. He should’ve buried that!

Hollands & Blair grabbed the lead with 43 minutes and 32 seconds on the clock, as Sheppey United’s centre-half Jahmal Hewitt-Mundle switched off after his keeper made a great save.

The towering and physically strong Ben Brown turned and as the ball bounced up off the turf, smacked a right-footed half-volley from 35-yards goal which screamed towards the top left-hand corner.

Sheppey United goalkeeper Josh Pelling jumped up and used his outstretched right arm to prod the ball back down and Hewitt-Mundle failed to get back to help his team-mate and in came West to tap the ball into the back of the net from a couple of yards out.

Harvey said: “That’s our pitch! I said to our lads at half-time, our pitch will always throw-up something where you don’t anticipate to follow it in, hence our goal. The keeper’s slipped and it’s gone in and Westy’s followed it up. Nothing’s a lost cause on this pitch if you’re willing to work for it.

“I had a little joke with Westy after the game.  Brownie will hit them for fun. I don’t know where he gets it from but he will shoot from anywhere and Westy is older than me and for him to follow it in, it’s great energy and he spotted it. That’s a great bit of experience that.  He could see the goalkeeper scrambling and he’s picked it up and their centre-halves didn’t so he did really well and he deserved it and it did cross the line. I know they were appealing it but you could see the goalkeeper’s face.”

Batten added: “I was a little bit disappointed with the goal. The guy’s taken a chance and hit it from that distance and it’s caught in the wind and everything else that was going on here.

“I was a bit disappointed with our defenders because he had a couple bites of the cherry and we were nowhere to be seen on the follow-up, so if I was being critical you would expect your defenders to react and get back in there with the forward and make it awkward.”

Saunders drove to the left by-line and wrapped his foot around the ball to cross for Brown at the near post but his header from six-yards was comfortably caught by Pelling, stretching and catching the ball above everybody’s heads.

Both managers were asked their thoughts at the interval.

Harvey said: “I said to the boys everything was spot on. I was really happy with the way they’ve played. They stuck to their game plan and I think the two big things I said to them was as soon as the ball goes dead, we need to stay switched on and when the keeper gets it we need to go wide and I thought first half their outlets were the full-backs and down the channels and that goes out of the window when you don’t start for 30 seconds.”

Batten added: “I said to them I’ve been here a lot of times and the slope has a lot to do with your performance and it’s quite brutal that slope, so I said you can play a bit more. We’ll have them pushed back in the second half and I think we did for long periods.”

Batten’s men came out with fires in their bellies as they deservedly equalised just 17 seconds into the second half.

Bradshaw scored from the hardest chance of the night as he was released down the left, ran and ran and ran with the ball, cut into the box and clinically swept his right-footed shot across Highsted to find the bottom far corner in a one-v-one situation.

“It was a great team talk then, wasn’t it,” said Batten.

“We came out of the traps, I said, listen we can go out and get three or four goals this half, it’s not a problem.  Stay calm, play with a bit of fire in your bellies but a bit of calmness in your minds and make the right decisions with the ball.

“It was a great finish. It’s strange with strikers, the easy ones you can miss and a much more difficult chance with the distance he had to follow, he ends up with a great finish.”

Harvey added: “You think you’ve cracked it and done everything right and you think you’ve nailed every point you need to make at half-time. It’s so frustrating, the boys have done so well.  You’ve still got a bit of disappointment with the way the goals been given away after 17 seconds in the second half.

“If the game goes on they might get more agitated, you might get a second or a third chance and you might got 2-0 up.”

Sheppey United hit Hollands & Blair with a wave of attacks and Highsted was called into action twice in the space of 10 seconds, diving to his right to deny Wilkins and then getting up to tip Leonard’s angled drive around the post.

Batten said: “We were on top at that point. We just needed to take one of those chances.”

Harvey added: “As the game went on, Adam did make a couple of good saves.  As the game went on the game was stretched, they had to win. They were really looking for the win tonight.

Sheppey United’s left-winger Jordan Wright – making his debut following his move from Folkestone Invicta – cut the ball onto his right-foot and cracked his shot straight into Highsted’s midriff from 22-yards.

It was only a matter of time when Sheppey United were going to score the winning goal but Highsted had an outstanding game in goal.

Webber’s shot from the edge of the box was blocked and the ball came out to Wright, whose curler forced Highsted into diving to his right to make another vital stop at his near post.

Hollands & Blair created an opening on the hour-mark when Highsted launched a big kick up field, the ball was flicked on by Simon and Brown cracked his speculative volley harmlessly wide from 35-yards.

Valencia floated in a free-kick into the Sheppey United box for West to steer his header past the left-hand post, before Brown launched another long ball into the Sheppey box and this time Piro’s downward header was comfortably gathered by Pelling in what were a couple of half-chances for the home side.

Hollands & Blair were forced to hang on to dear life as soon as referee Billy Woods pulled out a second yellow card and showed it to Saunders after his second challenge of the game on Hamill.

“When we went down to 10, we were obviously going to take the point, especially going up the hill and Adan had to stand up and make a few good saves,” said Harvey.

“Difficult one, I can see why he’s given it (the red card).  I think the first one is an arguable one and the second one they’re saying he’s come from behind. I felt he hooked his leg round but it’s all a matter of opinion.  I do think a bit of shouting and screaming and a bit of play acting might have assisted with both yellows but that’s for the referee to do his job and act how he sees it but I do think they got away with a couple in the first half that went unpunished.”

Batten added: “I think in this day and age they will do that for late tackles. I thought it was a second yellow.”

Highsted pulled off a stunning save in the 72nd minute, sticking out his left hand to ensure Hamill’s in-swinging left-footed free-kick from the right-channel didn’t sail into the top right-hand corner.

Hollands & Blair almost snatched the victory in the final 12 minutes when a poor throw from Pelling was intercepted by Piro and with the keeper out of his goal his left-footed chip from 30-yards sailed agonisingly over an empty goal.

“Mehmet’s come in, that’s his first start tonight. I thought he done well on a boggy pitch. He showed great desire and passion and he’s brought into everything that we’ve asked him to do and he done well,” said Harvey.

Hollands & Blair received more than a chunk of luck as their goal led a charmed life towards the closing stages of this one-sided second half.

Emptage whipped in a quality cross from the right and Bradshaw’s diving header flew just over the crossbar from six-yards out as the striker got in between Blair’s two centre-halves of Cameron Heffernan and Calum McGeehan.

“I think that’s a goal. As it came to Dan he had to arch a little bit to one side but I was expecting him to score,” added Batten.

A poor touch from Piro let in Leonard down the right and from just inside the corner of the penalty area his right-footed shot sailed over Highsted and crashed against the Hollands & Blair crossbar with 38 minutes and 43 seconds on the clock.

Batten said: “I don’t know whether that was the right choice. He had Bradshaw square of hm so maybe cut the ball back would’ve resulted in a tap-in there but he’s hit the bar.

“I give the players licence to make their own decisions and in that distance I thought he thought he could score from there.”

Harvey added: “As soon as we went down to 10, I said to Roger, whose helping us out tonight, we need to get a point now.

“That goal led a bit of a charmed life that last 15-20 minutes but that was always going to happen with 10 men on the pitch and the way they moved the ball on that pitch, you’re always going to give chances away.”

Sheppey United kept knocking on the door.  Webber floated in a deep cross which was met by Bradshaw’s downward header, which only just missed the foot of the near post.

Bradshaw was guilty of a glaring miss with 48 minutes and 46 seconds on the clock, as Hollands & Blair got away with it again.

Leonard skipped past Liam Stone on the by-line down the right and cut the ball onto his left-foot before whipping in a great cross towards the centre of the goal but somehow Bradshaw planted his free header past the far post from a couple of yards out.

Batten said: “You’re then thinking it’s not going to go tonight.  Dan’s very frustrated with himself. He’s very low in there, very angry. I played up front a little bit myself, it doesn’t matter if you get three, you go away thinking about the ones you missed, especially if you didn’t get a result.”

Harvey added: “I think Ernie won’t be, not having a word with him, but how he’s not scored three or four tonight.  Bradshaw usually puts them away and that’s bread and butter for Dan and he’ll be frustrated with himself – but I’m happy!

“The boys gave me heart, first half they gave me discipline, they gave me a lot of discipline and they brought into what I wanted them to do. Second half, after the first minute, they gave me a lot of desire and a lot of passion and commitment and I’m very proud of them.”

Beckenham Town – who were knocked out of the Kent Senior Trophy last night after losing 3-1 at Corinthian – remain at the top of the Sea Pioneer Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division table with 48 points with 14 games left.

Corinthian are in second-place just two points behind; Chatham Town are third with 43 points; Sheppey United remain in fourth-place with 41 points, Hollands & Blair are in fifth-place on 41 points but having played a couple of games more and Tunbridge Wells have 40 points having played 20 league games.

Sheppey United welcome Beckenham Town to Holm Park on Saturday, while Hollands & Blair are at home to Tunbridge Wells.

“I feel total frustration because it was a big game tonight. We really needed to get the three points tonight so like any other manager I’m feeling disappointed,” said Batten.

“As it’s going on you’re thinking will it come, will it come and as the chances come and go you think we will get one more and we will get this goal – but it just didn’t come.”

Batten admits Saturday’s mouth-watering clash against leaders Beckenham Town is a must-win game and one where both sides will play carpet football on the Holm Park carpet.

“Without cranking up the pressure on us, it’s a must-win for us because we’ve dropped points against the teams around us and we haven’t been able to beat those sides and Beckenham are the last side in the top six in our run-in so we need to go and win that game,” said Batten.

“It’s very much two points dropped and if you’ve got designs to go up you’ve got to come here and win.

“Corinthian came here and they won 1-0, I’m sure they would’ve faced the same pressure with the directness of the opposition but if you’ve got designs of promotion you have to get the points.

“The club itself is geared up for the next level so it’s extra pressure really so it’s pressure we try to deal with but it’s important for me we do it in the right style in the right way and play the right type of football.”

Hollands & Blair: Adam Highsted, Sam Welch, Lewis Mingle, Chris Saunders, Cameron Heffernan, Calum McGeehan, Jack Simon (Connor Heffernan 90), Louis Valencia, Stuart West, Ben Brown (Caleb Bearman-Dyce 89), Mehmet Piro (Liam Stone 86).
Subs: Sam Jones, Luke Harvey

Goal: Stuart West 44

Booked: Chris Saunders 40, Ben Brown 60, Mehmet Piro 72, Jack Simon 90

Sent Off: Chris Saunders 68

Sheppey United: Josh Pelling, Callum Emptage, Greg Benbow (Miles Cornwell 82), Chris Webber, George Crimmen, Jahmal Hewitt-Mundle, Jordan Wright (Chris Edwards 67), Richard Hamill, Dan Bradshaw, Connor Wilkins (Billy Bennett 75), Danny Leonard.
Subs: Ian Batten, Samson Alalade

Goal: Dan Bradshaw 46

Booked: Jahmal Hewitt-Mundle 27

Attendance: 228
Referee: Mr Billy Woods
Assistants: Mr James Beadle & Mr Dave Rowland