Phoenix Sports 0-0 Erith & Belvedere - We need a little bit of time to get the team gelling together, which takes time, says under-pressure Erith & Belvedere boss Matt Longhurst, who takes a phone call from his chairman after game

Wednesday 11th October 2023
Phoenix Sports 0 – 0 Erith & Belvedere
Location Mayplace Ground, Mayplace Road East, Barnehurst, Kent DA7 6JT
Kickoff 11/10/2023 19:45

Isthmian League South East Division
Wednesday 11 October 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from Mayplace Road East

ERITH & BELVEDERE manager Matt Longhurst says his chairman Adrian Deane demands better from him and his players after being held to a goal-less stalemate at Phoenix Sports, a result that takes their local rivals out of the relegation zone.

Phoenix Sports suffered a 6-2 home defeat at the hands of surprise league leaders Three Bridges at the weekend, while Erith & Belvedere suffered a 6-0 defeat at Sittingbourne.

Both club’s won promotion from the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division last season, with champions Erith & Belvedere finishing a point clear of play-off winners Phoenix Sports, who relegated their neighbours VCD Athletic, courtesy of Ryan Hayes’ last-gasp penalty.

Phoenix Sports were without Lee Bird (holiday), Andy Pugh (away) and Mikey Dalton (unavailable), so in came winger Hayes and Jack Hopkins made a return to the Phoenix Sports midfield after coming out of retirement due to family commitments.

This local derby was a hard-fought affair but lacked quality and both sides had to settle for a point in front of a crowd of 143 at Mayplace Road East.

Phoenix Sports boss Steve O’Boyle said: “I thought we’ve done really well.  We’ve been on the back end of some really bad results and conceded a lot of goals and to keep a clean sheet tonight against a very, very good side, I’m really pleased.”

When asked if he got a reaction from his side, the 46-year-old replied: “Of course, a massive reaction tonight. That side tonight, the goalkeeper and the back four was the team that won promotion last season, best defensive record in the league.  Albeit we’ve stepped up a level.

“But I’ll be honest with you, I thought Henry Douglas at right-back, Josh Ajayi never took him on once. I’d say Josh Ajayi is probably the best winger in the league and never went past Henry once. Henry had him in his pocket.

“What did they give me?  I’m not allowed to swear but they gave me b*****ks tonight and that’s what I asked for and they gave me it.

“We’ve conceded a lot of goals (26 in seven league games before tonight) and it’s not really what I do as a manager.  I’ve always pride myself on clean sheets and defensive records and it had hurt to concede the goals we’ve conceded.

“But do you know what, we can’t change that now, that’s over and I’m hoping we’ve gained a bit of confidence from that draw and we can maybe start looking up the table.”

Erith & Belvedere boss Longhurst said: “I thought it was a tough watch but I thought it was two teams who were on the back of two difficult defeats last weekend and I felt that we had quite a lot of final ball entries in the second half and didn’t make the most of it and I thought they had a little bit of quality with the likes of Ryan Hayes as well.

“It looked like two teams who probably didn’t want to lose. It weren’t a great deal of quality. The pitch is quite difficult to play on but I thought that they sat quite deep and they wanted to make sure they didn’t get beat.  They were probably happier with a point than us, which probably shows where we want to be.

“It’s a point away from home for us, in the league above that we were in last year.”

When asked whether he felt he got a reaction from his players after their thrashing at the weekend, Longhurst replied: “Yes, I think so. We came in on Monday and we had a meeting but it’s not like we’ve lost 6-0 and it’s a clear the air meeting.

“It’s a good group of boys, they care and they’re disappointed and they’re playing a little bit frustrated because they give a s**t.  They do care about the results and they do want to do better and we need to be better in the final third.

“We’ve taken four points from our last three games, which is not quite where we want to be but it’s a starting point and we’re starting to get a foot hold in the league table and we’ve got seven points from six games, which is ok, but it’s not where we want to be.”

Longhurst took a phone call from his chairman Deane after the game and is on a run of one win from their last nine games in all competitions.

Longhurst was asked about the context of the call.

“They want more, they want more and there’s no hiding place. We know what the club demands, they demanded it last year and now they’re going to carry on demanding it,” revealed the former Ramsgate boss.

“I don’t think there’s really pressure. I think that they watched tonight and they feel there’s certain areas that need to be better.

“Ultimately, they’re the chairman and the board and they’re perfectly within their rights to have an opinion on the game and the thing is with it they’ve (Deane, James Lyons and Paul Springett) all played the game, so they’re sitting there watching it probably with the same eyes that we’re sitting there watching it if we were sitting in the stands and that weren’t pretty tonight, so they’re certainly within their rights to say what they think.

“I don’t feel pressure in this game – I’ve been in it too long to worry about it.

“We’re training once a week, it’s difficult.  We haven’t trained loads because there’s so many games, so many midweek games, so many cup games. We just need a little bit of a run and we need a little bit of time to get the team gelling together, which takes time. It’s a new group but we’re moving forward, which is good.”

Erith & Belvedere created their first opening after only 37 seconds when left-winger Josh Ajayi cut into the box and his initial low cross was blocked before the ball was laid off to left-wing-back Craig Ross, who lashed his left-footed drive over the crossbar, which was the theme for most of the game.

Hayes’ first of six corners was cleared back out to him and his ball back into the box was comfortably gathered by visiting goalkeeper Jordan Perrin in his midriff with two minutes and 39 seconds on the clock.

Holding midfielder Denzelle Olopade clipped a long ball into the Phoenix Sports penalty area but Ross lacked composure in the box and stabbed the ball behind for a goal-kick.

Hayes’ left-footed deliveries were on the money – his former Dartford manager Tony Burman was in the stand – and Phoenix striker Ashdown Day glanced his header sailing past the far post in the 12th minute.

Phoenix Sports’ centre-half Matthew Bourne hit a long right-footed free-kick from close to the half-way line and the away side had a couple of touches inside the penalty area before another Day header, which was comfortably caught by Perrin.

Erith & Belvedere winger Josh Ajayi linked up well with Jerson Dos Santos down the right but Phoenix Sports goalkeeper Andy Walker comfortably picked up the rolling ball as Ajayi tried to score from 35-yards.

The ball was like a hot potato for both sides, often giving the ball away and often the ball went out of play.

“I’ll be honest with you, if we go toe-to-toe with Erith & Belvedere tonight and play them at football, I think we lose,” admitted O’Boyle.

“I think we wanted the game to be a little bit ugly and it’s a local derby and we got amongst them and hit a few tackles and made sure we won our personal battles.  I didn’t want it to be an open football match.”

O’Boyle heaped praise on Hopkins, who has answered an SOS call from the manager to add more steel in the middle of the park.

“I spoke to Hoppo on Sunday.  He said ‘do you want me to come and play? And I went ‘I can’t turn him away’, the way things are going,” revealed O’Boyle.

“He’s an absolute legend here, played for us in real good times and tonight he played as if he’s never been away.  A fantastic performance by him. Got booked (for a late tackle on Kian Garlinge), back to the norm, fantastic performance.”

Erith & Belvedere missed another headed chance following a set-piece, when they won a free-kick just outside the penalty area on the right-hand side.

Jerson Dos Santos floated the ball into the box and centre-half Rob Strachan sent a free-header over the crossbar.

“Look, chances were few and far between from both teams and it wasn’t really that type of game. It wasn’t fluid from either team. It looked like two teams that wanted to make sure they came away from the game with a point, which we both have,” said Longhurst.

Erith & Belvedere missed a glorious chance to smash the deadlock just 48 seconds later, with 25:06 on the clock.

Phoenix Sports’ centre-half Ryan Sawyer rolled the ball back towards Walker – with eight-goal striker Chris Dickson charging towards him.

Walker’s poor clearance was hit straight at the 38-year-old, who went to pieces inside the box and Walker rushed off his line and smothered the shot close to the edge of his penalty area to make amends.

Longhurst admitted he is now feeling concerned that his side have scored only three goals in their first six league games this season.

“I think he should go round him, if I’m honest.  I think he should’ve realised the goalkeeper was going to come flying out to sort of recover his mistake. If he takes a touch either side and rolls it into an open goal,” said Longhurst.

“Dicko has scored eight goals already. He’s been good for us. He’s a good ambassador for the club in terms of the youth section etc.

“I’m not going to start pointing fingers. We haven’t really made enough chances for the front players tonight, as much as they probably haven’t done enough. I don’t think we’ve created a great deal.

“It was one of those games where it’s going back-to-front from both teams. It’s not the way I necessarily want to play but I thought the game lent itself to tonight.

“We need to do better in the final third.  We’re not scoring enough goals. It’s a concern.  I don’t like criticising players too much because there’s lots of variables to football matches and we’re at a new level, we’re a new team and there’s lots of different combinations that we’re trying to get all over the pitch.

“We’ve got to put some more points on the board and score some more goals but that’s what you need to work on. If it was perfect we’d all be sitting there and something would go wrong at some point so we’re building into the season and that’s what we’re here to do.

“Look, was it pretty tonight? Absolutely not. Do the players, are the players trying to do their best? Absolutely.”

O’Boyle admitted: “They’ve been going in. A lot of our mistakes have been punished with goals and they’ve been going in, so we rode our luck a little bit, but do you know what, they’ve all been going in, so for once, it never.”

Dickson squandered another chance when he initially released Dos Santos on the left with a low 40-yard diagonal pass.  Dos Santos cut into the box and his shot was blocked by a resilient Phoenix defence and came back out to Dickson, who drilled a right-footed shot sailing just past the top of the far post from 22-yards.

An unimpressed Longhurst added: “I don’t think I can remember any real brilliant passages of play. I don’t think I can remember any great chances when you’re off your seat thinking ‘what a great little move that was.’

Both managers were asked their thoughts at the break.

O’Boyle revealed he left the speech to newly-appointed assistant manager Keith McMahon and Anthony Gradley.

He said: “By me? Not much. Well played. Sometimes it’s not all about what I say at half-time.  I’ve got two boys in there in Keith and Gradders, who are really good with the players and I said my bit before the game and I just said to the boys ‘well done first half’ and past the baton on.  Those two had their say at half-time.

“I was really happy with the first half and I let those two crack on.”

When asked the reasons behind bringing former Thamesmead Town, VCD Athletic and Whitstable Town manager McMahon to the club, O’Boyle replied: “I need help mate, it’s been hard.  I need help. People don’t realise what football management is all about and it has been constant from the start of the season and I need help and he’s come in and one thing Keith’s got, he’s got contacts, he knows players and managers and that’s why I reached out to him.”

Longhurst added: “I just think we needed to stay a little bit calmer. I think we need to be aggressive out of possession because you need to win your headers and your tackles here but I felt we just needed to try to calm down a little bit and be a little bit more relaxed in possession so we had a bit more quality in the game and I don’t think we did that in the second half.”

Erith & Belvedere came out with all guns blazing, creating their first opening after only 26 seconds.

Strachan launched a long ball out of defence over the top for Dickson, who dragged his right-footed half-volley past the left-hand post from 20-yards.

Dickson then hit a 25-yard drive from a central position which Walker comfortably pushed around the post, to maintain only Phoenix Sports’ second clean sheet in 12 games this season.

“We had a little bit more of the ball in the final third but I don’t think we did too much with it,” admitted Longhurst.

“There’s aint loads of talking points, if we’re honest. You’re trying to pick things out that are not really there.”

Phoenix Sports were only going to score from Hayes’ quality set-piece deliveries and Kieran King lacked composure in the 51st minute.

Hayes whipped in the home side’s fifth corner of the night from the left, the away side made two contacts with the ball before the ball came out to Kieran King, who smacked a right-footed half-volley screaming just over the crossbar from 20-yards.

“He was just leaning back wasn’t he? If he could’ve been leaning forward, we would’ve seen what would’ve happened but it was always going over, wasn’t it,” added O’Boyle.

Hopkins unleashed a right-footed drive sailing over the crossbar – aiming for the top far corner with a speculative effort from 35-yards.

Walker made his second save of the second half in the 28th minute.

A diagonal pass released Dickson down the left and he played a low cross into the penalty area for substitute striker Marcel Barrington but his right-footed shot was smothered by Walker, low to his left, to prevent the ball nestling into the bottom right-hand corner from 16-yards.

“The stuff that we need to do better in is in the final third,” admitted Longhurst.

“We’ve got to make better choices, we’ve got to ask more questions of the opposition, got to put more balls in the box and I think once we start doing that we’ll cause more teams a little bit more of a problem.”

O’Boyle added: “If that goes in, you’ve got to ask Walks. It was a comfortable save from Walks.”

Hayes put in another quality delivery from open play to whip in a decent cross from the right but the diminutive Alfie Evans glanced his header just past the far post.

O’Boyle said: “I’ve got to say one thing about Ryan Hayes, his deliveries have always been top drawer and when he’s got that ball shifted onto his left pin, nine times out of 10 you know they’re in a bit of trouble and that’s been the case tonight. He’s put in some absolute fantastic balls in the box.”

Both sides then had long range efforts sail just over the crossbar.  Barrington’s deflected drive dipped and only just cleared Walker’s crossbar before a poor kick from Perrin was hit first time by Hayes, which just sailed over the crossbar from 35-yards out but it was evident from very early on that this game would not produce any goals.

O’Boyle was delighted with the heart and desire from his players to gain a point, which saw them claw themselves out of the Isthmian League South East Division relegation zone.

Beckenham Town are at the foot of the table with three points from six games, while Merstham are also in the drop zone with four points from six games.

O’Boyle’s side are now in 17th place in the table with five points from eight games and travel to the side immediately beneath them in the table, Littlehampton Town (four points from four games).

“Yes, can we do that every week? That’s football for me, defend that goal with your life and I think we did tonight and I thought we had some good chances second half, it wasn’t all one-way traffic,” said O’Boyle.

“As long as we stay out of that (relegation zone).  Look don’t get me wrong, it’s not been a great start. It’s not a start I expected, I ain’t going to lie to you.

“We don’t have the resources that some of these other clubs, the money in non-league football at the moment is an absolute joke and we’re little old Phoenix and we can’t compete with the big spenders in this league and the league below (Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division) and the league below that (Southern Counties East Football League First Division).

“We do our best and that’s all we can do.  Win, lose or draw, if they give me that effort every week, I can’t argue with them.  That week-in-week-out is a given and if we do that, then I think we’ll be fine.”

Looking ahead to a long trip to West Sussex on Saturday, O’Boyle demands a similar performance.

“My thoughts are, we go there and do the same again as we’ve done tonight and see where it takes us.”

When asked what success is for Phoenix Sports this season, O’Boyle replied: “Being in the Isthmian League next season!  I don’t want to go back in to the SCEFL.  The club deserves to be in the Isthmian League and we’ll do our best as a football club.  I want a bit of stability at the football club. The last couple of years has been a little bit up and down.

“I’ll be a fool to turn round and say ‘play-offs’.  This season is all about making sure the next season we’re in the Isthmian League and we’re looking up and that’s what we’ve got to be doing.

“I like it at the top, obviously.  There is pressure at the top but it’s pressure you enjoy. Pressure down the bottom is the pressure that you don’t enjoy and I’d rather be up the other end but maybe we need to find a millionaire to come in and help us along the way but that’s not going to happen.

“We do the best we can and hopefully if we can carry on doing what we’ve done tonight, hopefully we can look for a boring midtable finish. That will be lovely.”

Erith & Belvedere are under-performing in eleventh-place in the table with the seven points from their six games.

“It’s pleasing that we kept a clean sheet.  Pleasing that we’ve looked a little bit more robust then we did on Saturday,” said Longhurst.

“Pleasing that we’ve competed away from home and took a point, that’s the pleasing side of it.”

Erith & Belvedere welcome fellow newly-promoted side Broadbridge Heath to Park View Road on Saturday.

The Horsham based outfit are in thirteenth-place in the table with one win and three draws from their first seven league outings at this level.

“They’ve got some decent pace in the wide areas and I think it will be a tough game but it will be on a decent pitch at home, which will allow us to play slightly differently to which we did tonight,” said Longhurst.

“We’ve got Finn O’Mara (who plays on the right of a three-man defence) suspended, which is a difficult one and we’ll look at what we can do in the final third to try to conjure up something more than what we did tonight but overall it’s another tough game but it’s one that we’re looking forward to.”

Longhurst then makes a return to his old club Ramsgate on Wednesday 18 October.

“We need to be slightly better than what we have been over the last two or three games when we go down there.  With the team that they’ve got and how they’re flying at the moment in all the cup competitions…

“But look, every game is winnable as far as I’m concerned and we’ll go into every game trying to win it and that will be no different.”

Phoenix Sports: Andy Walker, Henry Douglas, Lewis Clark, Jack Hopkins, Ryan Sawyer, Matthew Bourne, Kieran King (Bertie Valler 65), Michael Sarpong, Ashdon Day, Alfie Evans, Ryan Hayes.
Subs: Finley Burchatt, Alfie Eldridge, Isaac Long

Booked: Jack Hopkins 18, Alfie Evans 44, Ashdon Day 86

Erith & Belvedere: Jordan Perrin, James Taylor, Craig Ross, Jamie Coyle, Rob Strachan, Finn O’Mara (Billy Crook 64), Josh Ajayi, Denzelle Olopade, Chris Dickson, Kian Garlinge, Jerson Dos Santos (Marcel Barrington 70).
Subs:  Marley St Louis, Sahid Nallo, Toby Waller

Booked: Finn O’Mara 14, Josh Ajayi 67

Attendance: 143
Referee: Mr Tommy Breen
Assistants: Mr Bruno Marques & Mr Mohammed Uddin