Merstham 0-2 Sittingbourne - We're on cloud nine at the minute and enjoying what we're doing, says Sittingbourne boss Nick Davis

Tuesday 31st October 2017
Merstham 0 – 2 Sittingbourne
Location Moatside Stadium, Weldon Way, Merstham, Surrey RH1 3QB
Kickoff 31/10/2017 19:45

MERSTHAM  0-2  SITTINGBOURNE
The Buildbase FA Trophy First Qualifying Round Replay
Tuesday 31st October 2017
Stephen McCartney reports from Weldon Way

SITTINGBOURNE manager Nick Davis says he is on cloud nine after his outstanding players pulled off a FA Trophy upset by knocking out Merstham at the second attempt.

The Brickies were held to a 1-1 draw at Woodstock Park at the weekend and they were miles better than their Bostik Premier hosts in tonight’s replay.

Sittingbourne, who are in second-place in the Bostik South with 29 points from 14 games, proved tonight that they are serious promotion contenders as they came away from Weldon Way with a comfortable 2-0 win.

Sittingbourne created and missed numerous first half chances but they had to wait until six minutes into the second half to deservedly take the lead, courtesy of Ben Gorham’s downward header from a corner.

Gorham was outstanding beside John Coker at the heart of Sittingbourne defence and left-winger Kane Phillip smashed in a second in the final six minutes to send them through.

Sittingbourne have banked £6,250 in prize money after beating Ashford United and Merstham in The FA Trophy this season and can now look forward to a home tie against unbeaten Bostik North side Haringey Borough in the next round on 11 November.

“Absolutely delighted really, we knew it was going to be tough coming away from home, in a way it gives us a little bit more freedom,” said Davis, who's side are now 13 games unbeaten.

“We had to soak up the pressure for the first 20 minutes of the first half but other than that we’ve kept them to two pop shots, I think, the whole game.

“We were outstanding today. The game plan worked. I’m just delighted, absolutely delighted.

“It’s the furthest I’ve ever been in the Trophy. My record’s really poor as a player and as a manager, so the money will be a real helping hand.”

“Yes, we are second in the league and that is our bread and butter but this gives us a distraction from the league.  The money up for grabs is huge for us, it might mean now, I don’t know, I will have to speak to the chairman.”

Merstham’s main threat, Ryan Hall, played in a much more deeper position than he did at the weekend and Sittingbourne’s Tyrone Guthrie scooped the man-of-the-match award for keeping him in his pocket.

“We needed a bit more energy in there and I brought Guthrie in and I thought he was outstanding in the middle,” said Davis.

“That was his job to sit in there, sit on their dangerman wherever he goes, you go!  They played some lovely football, they had a lot of possession but he kept him quiet for long periods in the game and we nullified their main threat and we wore them down and that’s what we do.”

Hayden Bird’s side continued to play it around the park on the deck during the first half but they didn’t get anywhere with it!

Sittingbourne weathered the early-storm and with Chris Elliott suspended, Laurence Ball slotted in at left-back, while Gorham and Coker played at the heart of defence with Chris Webber on the right. It sometimes looked like three at the back with two wing-backs.

Ball ventured down the line to whip in a cross into the Merstham box with his right-foot, the ball wasn’t properly cleared out and central midfielder Mobolaji Dawodu lacked composure by dragging his first time shot past the post from 10-yards, inside the opening nine minutes.

“We had three very good chances and that was one of them and Bola’s had to hit the target there,” admitted Davis.

“Laurence Ball’s not a cultured left-back. He put it on his right and put it in a good area and we created that chance.”

David Smith, who struck the bar late in the game after coming off the bench at the weekend, worked tirelessly as the lone striker for Sittingbourne and after pressing the Merstham defence into giving the ball away, he cut onto his left foot before stroking his low shot past the far post from 22-yards.

“He hasn’t started too many games but he deserves it after scoring four in about six for us and coming off the bench and doing well,” explained Davis.

“We just changed it up and brought Kane Rowland in a 10 and he was unbelievable in there.”

Merstham were threatening down the left wing with Reece Hall, but he lasted 39 minutes before Bird substituted him through injury.

Merstham enjoyed a spell of slick passing inside the Sittingbourne half of the pitch and Sean Bonnett-Johnson hit a low shot which was destined to flash behind for a goal-kick, but visiting keeper Harry Brooks dived low to his left to gather comfortably.

Webber ran on the outside of Merstham’s left-back Ben Harrison, cut the ball back to Phillip, who whipped in a first time cross but Rowland’s header across goal was gathered by Merstham keeper Chris Haigh.

Merstham’s holding midfielder Jelan Jones played a ball up to Reece Hall, whose dinked through ball was smothered by Brooks at Richard Pingling’s feet.

Davis was alarmed when a firework was thrown over the fence and was appeared it was aimed towards the away dug-out, thankfully missing Davis’ head by a matter of feet.

He said: “It missed us by about five foot and that would’ve been a bit nasty.  I’m not sure if that was thrown towards us, it was a cracker.   It was a little bit frightening, it just missed my head, but it’s not good, that would’ve been nasty.”

Merstham’s only real chance arrived in the 23rd minute, courtesy of the Hall brothers linking up.

Ryan played the ball out to Reece on the left, he cut inside on to his right foot and stroked his 22-yard drive into Brooks’ gloves for a comfortable save.

Davis said: “We kept them to long distance pops and every time they’re doing that I’m pleased because it means our shape was good. It means their having pop shots from outside.  You can’t keep doing it from someone of Hall’s class but he didn’t have too much room today.”

Sittingbourne weathered the storm and realised that Merstham were there for the taking.

Rowland, who played behind Smith, rolled the ball out to Phillip on the right, who cut inside past Harrison but his left-footed shot rolled into Haigh’s hands for a comfortable save, after shooting from just a couple of yards inside the box.

Gorham then opened up Jones with a superb long diagonal pass to put left-winger Tom Loynes in on goal.  He skipped past the advancing keeper but from a tight angle drove his shot into the side netting, lacking composure to slot the ball into the bottom near corner of an open goal.

“I forgot all about that one!  Again, that was another great opportunity wasn’t it? He’s got a couple of opportunities Tom. We could’ve been three-nil up and no-one would’ve really battered an eyelid would they?”

Phillip cut the ball back to Webber, who whipped in an quality first-time cross from the right through the corridor of uncertainty and Smith rose with the Merstham keeper to glance his header wide.

Loynes pressed Merstham central defender Tutu Henriques, the last defender, made something out of nothing but his driven shot was blocked by the advancing Haigh, in a one-on-one situation on the half-hour mark.

“He’s one-on-one, I thought he’s taken it a little bit too early, I’m not sure, maybe it was a good save,” said Davis.

“I’m thinking it’s going to be one of those days. We’ve had quite
a lot of chances, it's going to come back and bite us on the backside!

“I said you’ve got to make sure if we do get another chance we’ve got to take it – and we did!

Bird lost Reece Hall and put substitute Michael Abnett wide on the right and both teams continued to pack the middle of the park until the second half but Sittingbourne should have been leading at the interval.

Davis said: “Very pleased.  I said let’s continue what we’re doing. It took us 15-20 minutes to get close to them, which we did. We addressed that. We rode a bit of a storm, possession storm. Our shape’s been fantastic all season and it showed today what a solid outfit we were.

“You’ve got to build from the back. We are very fit, we go all the way. We’ve got a bench that we can bring on and it changes games for us and I knew as long as the game went on, as long as we stayed in the game, we had a chance of winning this.”

Sittingbourne changed their formation to a 4-2-3-1 for the second half and this gave Ryan Hall a pocket of space but it proved to be a frustrating night for him.

Sittingbourne deserved their lead when it finally came with five minutes and 53 seconds on the clock.

Loynes delivered a deep corner from the left towards the far post and the outstanding Gorham planted his downward header across goal and Rowland tried to claim the goal by possibly flicking the ball over the line from close range.

“Well, he’s (Gorham) scored it but Kane Rowland reckons he’s got a touch on the line so I’m not sure,” said Davis, who was  then asked whom he wants to give the goal to.

“I’m not sure. I know I pay Kane Rowland a £10 goal bonus so (give the goal to) Gorham!  Ben Gorham, give it to him!

“He was spare back stick, he was someone I leave spare and we punished them.  It was a great ball by Tom Loynes, back stick.  We’ve scored enough from corners and we miss the long throw today as well, another string to our bow, great goal.”

Davis was delighted that no goalscoring incidents took place until the final 20 minutes, as their defending was outstanding.

“It’s important for me being a defender. We change the back four quite a lot. We’ve got four fantastic centre halves at the club, hence why I played Laurence Ball at left-back today,” explained Davis.

“Salvyn Kisitu was injured, Chris Elliott was suspended and away so we were a little bit short down that left-hand side.  Ollie Brown can do a job, he’s done that for us.  I’m delighted!”

“I was waiting for a response (from Merstham). They made a couple of changes, we’re expecting a bit of an onslaught and they’re going to go forward. It’s a Cup game, they’re going to throw caution to the wind, throw players up front so yes I was pleased it went quiet for a bit.  I thought we’d slow it down, stay solid, keep our shape and it worked!”

Webber got in by hugging the right touch-line and whipped in a deep cross to find Smith in the middle and he played the ball out wide to substitute Gil Carvaho, but a sliding challenge from Abnett ensured the ball flew harmlessly into the trees.

“We had a couple of those, we could see a break and it was two-on-two or three-on-three a couple of times. It was just the final ball let us down. There were a couple of those when we needed a second goal just to wrap it up,” said Davis.

Merstham pressed and raised their energy and desire levels as they went in search of grabbing an equaliser.

Merstham substitute winger Alex Addai, who passed a pre-match fitness test, ran with the ball on the outside of Ball to play a low pass inside to Pingling, who drilled his shot past the near post from a tight angle.

Ball allowed the ball to bounce over his head and this mistake let in Addai down the right but all he could do was drill his shot past the near post.

Sittingbourne needed a goal to kill the game off once and for all and it duly arrived with 38 minutes and 53 seconds on the clock.

Webber made progress into the final third down the right and he delivered a deep cross which was flicked on by Rowland and Phillip cracked a beautiful left-footed volley around the keeper’s dive into the far corner from 15-yards.

Davis said: “He’s got one in five now, I think, when he connects with one. He should score more, it’s his third goal of the season.  You were probably behind that and saw it go in.  I was relieved to get that second goal with only about five minutes to go, absolutely ecstatic.”

Sittingbourne survived a late scare, Ryan Hall’s left-footed free-kick from 22-yards dipped over the top of the far post with 42:57 on the clock.

Davis added: “One of their supporters’ said ‘here we go, this is going in,’ and you’re thinking if they score with a couple of minutes to go, it’s then squeaky bum time isn’t it but thankfully I’m pleased the free-kick went over the bar.”

Backed by excellent vocal support, Sittingbourne’s players and management walked up to their brilliant fans after the final whistle to take the acclaim after a good night’s work.

Praising the fans, Davis said: “We get that amount travelling everywhere with us, that’s what so unique about this club. We get that support everywhere, they’re absolutely brilliant, one of the selling points really, it’s a proper non-league feel to the club, it’s an affectious club.”

Looking ahead to meeting Haringey Borough – who needed a replay to beat Bostik Premier side Harrow Borough 1-0 on Monday night – the Sittingbourne boss said: “They haven’t lost in the league.  I watched the highlights against Heybridge Swifts in The FA Cup and they looked a good side. They’re used to winning games of football and so are we. We’re playing a team that’s the same level as us and we’re at home. We’ve got a home draw, we’ve got a chance.  I’ll go and watch them, get as much homework on them as possible because if we do win that, fantastic.

“To pull in some money it keeps the wolves away from the door.  We’re on cloud nine at the moment and we’re enjoying everything that we’re doing. It’s a lot more fun being at the top of the table and winning games than it is being midtable or lower table looking over your shoulder.  It can turn on a six-pence, it’s just consistency and how solid we are and it gives you a platform.  I couldn’t dream how solid we’ve been.”

Before their FA Trophy date, Sittingbourne play a couple of Kent derbies at Woodstock Park, playing Phoenix Sports on Saturday and Faversham Town next Tuesday night.

Merstham: Chris Haigh, Simon Cooper, Ben Harrison, Stephan Hamilton-Forbes, Tutu Henriques, Jelan Jones (Alex Addai 57), Dan Bennett, Ryan Hall, Richard Pingling, Sean Bonnett-Johnson (Kershaney Samuels 72), Reece Hall (Michael Abnett 39).
Subs: Adam Healy, Sonny Black

Booked: Dan Bennett 42, Ryan Hall 45

Sittingbourne: Harry Brooks, Chris Webber, Laurence Ball, Tyrone Guthrie, Ben Gorham, John Coker, Kane Phillip, Mobolaji Dawodu, David Smith (Miles Cornwell 71), Kane Rowland, Tom Loynes (Gil Carvaho 68).
Subs: Lex Allan, Ollie Brown, Salvyn Kisitu

Goals: Ben Gorham 51, Kane Phillip 84

Attendance: 126
Referee: Mr John Pike (Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex)
Assistants: Mr Alex Taylor-Rose (Guildford, Surrey) & Mr Jack Oxenham (Egham, Surrey)

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