Phoenix Sports 1-2 Soham Town Rangers - If we are in the play-offs, we'll give it our best shot, says Phoenix Sports boss Steve O'Boyle

Saturday 08th April 2017
Phoenix Sports 1 – 2 Soham Town Rangers
Location Mayplace Ground, Mayplace Road East, Barnehurst, Kent DA7 6JT
Kickoff 08/04/2017 15:00

Ryman League Division One North
Saturday 8th April 2017
Stephen McCartney reports from Mayplace Road East

PHOENIX SPORTS manager Steve O’Boyle says his players’ will give it their best shot to qualify for the play-offs for the first time in the next two weeks.

O’Boyle was announced as the Ryman League Division One North manager-of-the-month after going into this game with five wins on the bounce and unbeaten in nine and sitting in the top five with 75 points. Typically, the curse struck and Phoenix Sports lost.

Rob Mason’s side arrived in Barnehurst sitting in the bottom five with 45 points from 42 games and this being their fourth win on the bounce has given the Cambridgeshire based outfit a good chance of avoiding relegation.

It proved to be a first half of frustration for profligate Phoenix Sports, who dominated the first half, before striker Theo Fairweather-Johnson, 27, drilled in his 20th goal of the season to make the breakthrough just before the hour-mark.

But Soham Town Rangers were galvanised after that and striker Luke Brown headed in from close range following their first of three corners, before his strike partner Sam Mulready was left in acres of space to drive in the winner, three minutes and 10 seconds into injury time at the end of the game.

“I think first half we should’ve put our chances away and won the game in the first half to be honest with you,” admitted a frustrated O’Boyle.

“I thought we were a lot better in the first half.  I think it was quite comfortable. Once they got their equaliser they dominated the game and we weren’t good enough.”

When asked whether his players felt nervous, O’Boyle replied: No, not at all.  We’ve got experienced players here, they’ve been here before, no nerves at all. We’ve got a lot of momentum behind us, which has been stopped today.

“I said to the players’ before the game we’ve got a very tough game ahead of you here, a team in form, a team fighting for their lives.  The game meant as much to them as it did to us and it was another game that we made sure we battled.”

Phoenix Sports wasted three glorious chances inside the opening 10 minutes of the game.

They hit Soham Town Rangers on the break when Christie Pattison released Fairweather-Johnson, who had started his run from inside the Phoenix half, sprinted in to the area and his right-footed drive from 15-yards was pushed around the post by Niall Conroy, diving low to his left.

“We had a lot of chances in the first half and we never done enough with them really.  I expected, with the forward line that we’ve got, to be putting a couple of chances away there,” said O’Boyle.

Ashley Probets then played the ball up to striker Michael Power, who dragged his shot wide of the near post from 25-yards, but O’Boyle was tearing his hair out in despair when two free headers were headed over the bar from six-yards out.

Probets took all of the home side’s nine corners today and Fairweather-Johnson, followed by Junior Baker both planted their free headers over the crossbar.

“Frustrating, I must say! We’ve got Ashley Probets taking set-plays and corners and he puts a fantastic delivery in to the box and we should be doing a lot better with our attacking headers, attacking corners,” said O’Boyle.

“It winds me up seeing a free header or a header from that close range not even hitting the target – so we just had to keep plugging away.”

Soham Town Rangers weathered the 10 minutes hurricane before Phoenix Sports actually got a header on target.

Probets swung in another corner from the left towards the near post and Fairweather-Johnson’s near post downward header was kept out by a combination of Conroy’s right hand and a man on the line beside the post.

O’Boyle called for patience from his side, before Soham Town Rangers created their first chance in the 24th minute.

Striker Brown cut the ball back to Jonathan Kaye, who hit a first time shot straight into Steve Phillips’ hands from 22-yards.

Phoenix Sports’ winger Dajon Golding burst down the right on a 50-yard run before cutting the ball back for Fairweather-Johnson to hook a low shot into the ground from just inside the box, which Conroy picked up beside his right leg.

Soham Town Rangers were a direct side, often bypassing their midfield and Adrian Cambridge (who launched three long throws into the Phoenix box) drank some water from a blue bottle before throwing the ball short to Ryan Horne, who floated in a cross towards the edge of the box which was headed into Phillips’ hands by Cemal Ramadan.

Phoenix Sports’ frustration continued when Russell Bedford launched his second of four long throws into the Soham box.  Power’s header rose high in the air and Jack Barry swept the ball forward and Fairweather-Johnson poked his shot past the foot of the right-hand post from six-yards.

Fairweather-Johnson strode past Soham Town Rangers’ right-back Callum Russell to cut into the box before cutting the ball back from the by-line and Power’s left-footed shot on the turn from 16-yards was beaten out by Conroy.

Soham Town Rangers went close to grabbing the lead in the 39th minute when Brown’s hooked pass played in Mulready, whose right-footed angled drive from 15-yards was aimed towards the bottom far corner, which forced Phillips to dive low to his right to make the save.

“I didn’t think they had anything really, first half.  I think we totally dominated the game and it was a game we should’ve took care of especially after going 1-0 up,” said O’Boyle.

Phoenix Sports missed another chance on the stroke of half-time as Probets’ left-footed free-kick from 25-yards dipped just over the crossbar as he aimed for the top near corner.

O’Boyle just couldn’t believe that his dominant side had failed to open the scoring during the first half.

“We’ve had a lot of chances and to be fair they’re hard to remember to be honest with you. That many chances and it just wasn’t to be wasn’t it?

“I don’t know how it was (0-0).  I said to them at half-time as long as we carry on doing the same thing, maybe put a bit of pace into our attacks. We do the same second half and take our chances, we’ll win the game.”

O’Boyle’s heartbeat was certainly racing throughout the game as his players’ wilted in 20 degree heat and were put under pressure of being involved in the club’s first promotion push in only their second season at this level.

They should have opened the scoring after only 17 seconds when Pattison raced down the right, cut around his man to reach the by-line to cut the ball back but Golding fluffed his big chance and his shot went out for a throw-in rather than call the visiting keeper into action.

Conroy was called into action in the 50th minute, raising his left hand to push over Probets’ left-footed free-kick from 30-yards over the bar.

“Maybe five yards either side of the keeper that would’ve gone in, a good save, a good free-kick,” came O’Boyle’s response.

Jonathan Kaye crossed from the right and Mulready’s header from the edge of the box was comfortably gathered by Phillips, who then plucked Cambridge’s whipped in free-kick from the left out of the air as it dipped.

Brown played the ball out to his right-back Russell, who floated in a cross and Kaye nipped in front of Baker but Phillips gathered the ball at his near post.

Phoenix Sports continued to frustrate when they missed another glorious chance to break the stalemate in the 55th minute.

Probets clipped a long ball over the top and Fairweather-Johnson shrugged off his marker to get in behind but the ball bounced up and he lashed his right-footed half-volley over the bar from 15-yards.

Phoenix Sports finally made the breakthrough with 13 minutes and 14 seconds into the half through Fairweather-Johnson’s 20th goal of the season - and his tenth goal from his last eight games.

Ryan Andrews threw the ball to Power, who played in Fairweather-Johnson, who rode a strong challenge from Joe Tennent before drilling his low right-footed shot into the bottom near corner from 10-yards.

O’Boyle said: “Good goal, good goal, good finish. Like I say, it means nothing now does it?

“He’s scored a lot of goals recently. He’s on a good run of form recently, scored another good goal today.

“You’ve got to go to the end. Football’s about 90 minutes, just because you go 1-0 up, you never think the game was won at that point.

“I think they were on the ropes and we should’ve gone for the kill, we sat back and we never.”

It should have been two when Probets played in a cross to Fairweather-Johnson at the near post and he cut the ball back to Golding, who dropped to his knees in agony after hitting a first time right-footed drive just over the crossbar from 20-yards.

Inevitably, Soham Town Rangers would score from their first corner of the game, in the 66th minute.

Cambridge delivered from the left and Kaye planted his free header towards goal and Brown flicked his header over the line from close range.

“Shocking goal. It’s come a long way, a long way in the box and we should’ve won the header. We lost the header, it’s gone over Junior Baker’s head and I think that’s a poor goal, a poor goal to give away,” said O’Boyle.

“They was on the front foot then, they sort of had an extra gear and we never, we died.”

Horne whipped in a quality cross from the left into the Phoenix box, Mulready got the slightest of flicks to the ball and Phillips gathered as Soham Town’s equaliser galvanised them.

Pattison ran at the Soham defenders and cut the ball back towards the near post and Fairweather-Johnson nipped in front of two men to flick his shot just past the foot of the near post from a very tight angle.

Soham Town Rangers almost snatched victory in the 74th minute.

Cambridge swept his right-footed free-kick towards the bottom near corner from 25-yards, forcing Phillips to dance across his goal-line and dive low to his right to push the ball behind his post for a corner.

O’Boyle said: “We didn’t need to panic, even at one-all, even a draw would’ve been good enough today with the other results. It would’ve been a good point and I kept on saying to our defenders we were playing one-on-one back there. It was suicide football. We were attacking like the Alamo when we didn’t even have the ball. It was ridiculous. I can’t believe we were defending like that today!”

Ramadan skipped past Probets down the right and stung Phillips fingers with a powerful angled drive as Soham Town Rangers continued to press.

The pressure intensified on O’Boyle and his players and they couldn’t deal with it the longer the game went on.

Horne whipped in another quality cross from the left, Brown laid the ball off to substitute Peter Maina, who drilled his low right-footed shot towards the bottom corner from 14-yards, forcing Phillips to dive to his left to make the save.

Praising his goalkeeper, O’Boyle said: “He kept us in the game a little bit to be honest with you.  They had a couple of decent chances. He’s saved us a couple of times.”

Soham Town Rangers are now three points clear of the relegation zone after snatching the winning goal, timed at 47:10 on the second half clock.

William Gardner cleared the ball out of defence to hit the left-channel, but Barry missed his header as he jumped and this gave Brown the chance to unlock the door.  He swept the ball across the penalty area to an unmarked Mulready, who took a touch before drilling his right-footed shot into the bottom near corner from 10-yards to spark ecstatic scenes as they raced to their management team in their dug-out to celebrate their 13th league win.

A furious O’Boyle said: “Caught a free header that Jack Barry should’ve cleared his lines. We weren’t tucking round him.  The two full-backs were too wide and it was coming because you can’t defend like that and that’s how we defended.  I like my defenders to defend the width of the penalty area and that didn’t happen today!”

Not all is lost for Phoenix Sports tonight thought. Haringey Borough missed the chance to leapfrog over them into the play-offs after suffering a surprise 3-1 defeat at relegation threatened Brentwood Town.

But Phoenix Sports cannot afford to slip up away to third-placed AFC Hornchurch next Saturday, or at home to seventeenth-placed local rivals Thamesmead Town or at fifth-from-bottom Heybridge Swifts on the final day of the season.

“Listen, I can’t criticise the players’ too much,” said O’Boyle. 

“A lot of people probably thought at Christmas time we was dead and buried. We’ve got three games to go, we’re still in the play-offs and we have shown character in the second half of the season so I can’t really criticise them too much.  Today was an off game and we need to go again next week.

“A point would’ve been brilliant because our goal-difference is so bad. We lose next week it could all change. That point today would’ve been a brilliant point because Bowers & Pitsea drew (0-0 at home to Thamesmead Town today).

“We’ve got three hard teams as well. Hornchurch on Saturday, they’re third in the league, a tough nut to crack away from home especially. Thamesmead at home is a derby on Bank Holiday Monday, that’s not going to be easy. A local derby, a lot of the players know each other, that’s going to be tough. Away to Heybridge Swifts on the last day of the season, who are fighting for their lives as well.

“We’ve got three tough games. We’ve got to show the same form we’ve shown leading up to this game.”

When asked what it would mean to guide Phoenix Sports into the play-offs for the first time and make a fist of reaching the Isthmian Football League Premier Division for the first time, O’Boyle said: “What does it mean? I think it’s a fantastic achievement in only our second season in the league.

“We have had a good season no matter what people think.  I said to the players I wanted 75 points, that was our target at the start of the season. We’re on 75 points with three games to go so they’ve hit the target I wanted and we’re in the play-offs and we’ve got three massive games and if we are in the play-offs we’ll give it our best shot. That’s all I can do and that’s all they can do.  If they give me 100% until the end of the season that’s all I expect from them.

“Hornchurch will be a tough game. They’re very direct, they’re very powerful. They’re a very strong side.  We’ve got to go and have to make sure that we’re totally up for it and don’t get bullied. It’s going to be a tough game. We have to make sure our big players turn up and we get a result over there.”

Fairweather-Johnson, a PE teacher, admitted this was a game that Phoenix Sports should have won.

“Disappointed, frustrating but the season ain’t over, three games left, we go again,” said the striker.

“Soham are fifth-from-bottom but they’re in good form. They’re coming here, they’re going to scrap but I thought being fifth we would’ve had a bit more quality but unfortunately we didn’t and we lost 2-1.

“I should’ve scored, I know that,” he said of his early chances.  “We had a few more chances to be two or three up going into half-time but we took the lead to go 1-0 up. We should’ve seen the game out to be honest.

“We’ve had nine corners today, we’ve got to score. We’ve got to start converting some of these chances because Ashley (Probets) puts in an absolutely peach of a delivery nine times out of ten and we’ve got quality players to head some of them in but it wasn’t to be today.”

Fairweather-Johnson wants to score five more goals this season to ensure Phoenix Sports are experiencing play-offs for the first time in their history.

“Boylie gave me a target. He wanted eight more goals before the end of the season. I’ve scored 10 goals in my last eight games so I’m not doing too bad at the moment. I’m just trying to do it for the team, goals win games, as they say.

“If I can get 25 before the Heybridge game, then I’ll see.  When I get to 20 I look at it and I’m doing my bit and trying to push on.  I like to score goals for the team. Goals win games and I’m a goalscorer, I like to score goals.

“At 1-0, in hindsight, the quality that we’ve got we should be seeing the game out at 1-0.  I don’t think personally they had too much to trouble us. I don’t think they’ve troubled us but they got the goal and they got their tails up.”

When asked about Mulready’s late sucker punch, Fairweather-Johnson said: “You could say lots of things, can’t you. He’s there, he’s scored and they’ve won the game. You can’t do nothing about it! Do we get those chances in the 93rd minute? A free man in the box. Do we? No. But it’s happened. We’ve got to live with it and go again next week.”

Looking ahead to their make-or-break last three games of their regular league season, the striker said: “Massive but should we be relying on other teams to do us a favour?

“If we won today we’d go six points clear of Bowers & Pitsea and Haringey Borough.  We go to the Hornchurch game next week thinking there’s no pressure on us, just play our game.  Now we’ve got to go there next week, the aim is to go there not to lose. They won 1-0 (at Waltham Abbey).  We’ve got to go there draw or win.

“I fancy us. It’s my team, I fancy us to see it out. Hornchurch on Saturday, we go there and do a job. Back here on Monday against Thamesmead. If we put in a similar performance I don’t think they can trouble us and I think we’ll win the game and we go to Heybridge. We either need a point or we need to win or we’re comfortable enough and we can go there and get a rest before the big play-offs.

“We’ve got three games left, two weeks of the season left and it’s all to play for, it really is all to play for.  Play-offs? It will be massive for the club.”

Phoenix Sports: Steve Phillips, Ryan Andrews, Ashley Probets, Russell Bedford, Jack Barry, Junior Baker, Dajon Golding, Zak Bryon (Jack Hopkins 84), Michael Power, Theo Fairweather-Johnson, Christie Pattison (Kweku Ansah 89).
Subs: James Fitchett, JJ Goncalves Da Cruz, Owen Price

Goal: Theo Fairweather-Johnson 59

Booked: Dajon Golding 60, Ryan Andrews 73

Soham Town Rangers: Niall Conroy, Callum Russell, William Gardner, Adrian Cambridge, Joe Tennent, Jack Mochalski, Jonathan Kaye, Cemal Ramadan (Peter Maina 84), Luke Brown, Sam Mulready, Ryan Horne.
Subs: Lloyd Groves, Daniel Hobbs, Ashley Bankole, Rob Mason

Goals: Luke Brown 66, Sam Mulready 90

Booked: Jack Mochalski 49, Callum Russell 83

Attendance: 96
Referee: Mr Steven Scott (Balham, London SW12)
Assistants: Mr Ollie Davies (Balham, London SW12) & Mr Adam Donaldson (Streatham, London SW16)

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