Ramsgate 2-1 Woking - There's no feeling quite like winning a game of football of that magnitude, says Ramsgate goalkeeper Tom Hadler

Saturday 04th November 2023
Ramsgate 2 – 1 Woking
Location WW Martin Community Stadium, Prices Avenue, Ramsgate, Kent CT11 0AN
Kickoff 04/11/2023 15:00

The Emirates FA Cup First Round
Saturday 4 November 2023
Stephen McCartney reports on Ramsgate’s glorious maiden victory in The FA Cup First Round

RAMSGATE manager Ben Smith says this is a day that he will never forget after his club reached The FA Cup Second Round for the very first time after beating full-time Vanarama National League side Woking.

Darren Sarll’s side opened the scoring inside the opening 13 minutes through winger Dennon Lewis’ third goal of the season, before Ramsgate hit back through Tijan Jadama’s poked finish to score his fifth goal of the season.

It was bedlam inside a capacity 3,000 crowd when Ramsgate scored the winning goal with 17 minutes remaining through holding midfielder Lee Martin sweeping in a set-piece.

Woking arrived in Thanet sitting in 12th place in the Vanarama National League (fifth tier) with 22 points from 18 games and needed two games to beat Vanarama National League South side Hemel Hempstead Town in the Fourth Qualifying Round.

The Rams are in sixth-place in the eighth-tier Isthmian League South East Division table, with 15 points from six games and started their FA Cup journey in the Preliminary Round (the second hurdle) on Saturday 19 August, beating Sussex side Bexhill United 4-1.

The journey continued with wins over Isthmian League Premier Division pair, Chatham Town (5-1) and Cray Wanderers (3-2 after extra time at home after a 2-2 draw at Hayes Lane), before Joe Taylor scored the only goal of the game to claim a victory away to Southern League Premier Division South side AFC Totton in the last round.

However, Ramsgate – who reached the First Round under Jim Ward in 2005 – are now just a win away from playing a Premier League giant in The FA Cup Third Round in January.

“Look, they’re a good side but it’s about our players, our supporters, the staff – it's a day we’ll never forget, it really is,” said a delighted Smith, who is a head teacher during the working day.

“In the build-up there’s comparisons with the side from 2004-2005 and the First Round has not been in Thanet for 21 years (when Margate played Leyton Orient).

“It’s just incredible, incredible that we’ve done this for the club.  I said it to the players and I said it today, it’s not about individual players, it’s not about us as management, it’s about the football club and you want to leave a legacy, wherever you go you want to leave a legacy and those players in there have certainly done that.”

Smith, who was sprayed by an acholic drink by his celebrating squad, who stormed out of the dressing room, during his post-match television interview, added: “They gave me everything.  This guy here (Joe Ellul) was an absolute brick wall. That’s the player we signed.  He's had so much going on in his life, let alone football and fitness. He was a man-mountain today and his character was just phenomenal.

“Nothing beats a promotion because at the end of the season you’ve worked so hard to get there, it’s blood, sweat and tears for so long.  This feeling, I think, the best way to describe is, this is just pure excitement, pure excitement.

“To compare the two is difficult but in terms of excitement this gives you the excitement, the buzz that one-off game.

“We deserved it, we deserved that. We worked so hard to get to this stage and also balance a League competition as well.  These players have worked so hard.  Maybe we didn’t really put our stamp on the game today and we had to adapt and I think that’s a great sign of what we can do as a team.  Consistently we play great football and it’s an enjoyable place to be.”

Woking started the game on the front foot, creating their first opening inside the opening five minutes.

Attacking midfielder Zach Bradshaw rolled the ball out to winger Lewis, who played left-back Josh Casey on an overlapping run and his cut back fell to Bradshaw, who had a second bite of the cherry from just inside the box, which rolled into the hands of Ramsgate goalkeeper Tom Hadler for a comfortable save.

“We were having too many touches, two or three touches and they were on us and that’s the difference in the levels,” admitted Smith, who saw his side struggle to deal with Woking’s pressing.

“You watched it on TV last night (Sheppey United’s 4-1 defeat to Walsall), people getting caught on the ball because the opposition are a little bit fitter and they can get there a little bit quicker and I think after about 15 minutes we adjusted to that and we started seeing chinks in their armour and we started to smell blood.”

Woking seized control of the game and deserved their lead when it arrived with 12 minutes and 21 seconds on the clock.

Martin lost possession in the centre circle to Woking striker Rhys Brown before central midfielder Morgan Williams split open Jack Partner and Joe Ellul to play in Lewis, who dinked the ball over the advancing Hadler to score with a clinical 15-yard finish.

“It was a great finish. It was one of those that we’re going to concede goals like that during the season, that’s fine. We play how we play. We’ll create enough goals the other way,” said Smith.

“I think that was a prime example of certainly someone who knows better in terms of Marts (Lee Martin). A prime example of we think we’ve got a little bit more time than we have and I think once we got a grip of that in midfield, we then started to supply the balls out side to Jordan Green and Alfie Paxman.”

On a rain lashed afternoon, Ramsgate then started to strangle the game back in to their grasp around the half-hour mark.

Woking did their homework on Ramsgate and denied them chances to play out from the back, but Ramsgate started edging forward in front of their large home following, who started their vocal support 45 minutes before the start of the game.

Jack Paxman threw the ball to Martin, who was not pressed and he cracked a left-footed half-volley sailing over the crossbar, aiming for the top far corner from 30-yards.

Smith said: “Not bad from us, just a show of intent. When we’ve got a big crowd here you want to get shots off. You want to get them a little bit excited and give them something to fight after.  All the time you’re getting shots off etc, they’re starting to think ‘we’ve got a threat the other way as well.”

An even better chance fell Ramsgate’s way in the 35th minute, however.

Right-back Jack Paxman played the ball down the line and a deep Taylor flicked the ball inside with a first time pass from outside the Woking penalty area for Jordan Green to unleash a left-footed rasping drive from 25-yards, which was tipped over the crossbar by Finnish goalkeeper Will Jaaskelainen.

“I want Jordan to shoot more, he’s so electric at times. I want more shots out of him. It was a great save to be fair. It gives people a bit of hope doesn’t it and starts building,” added Smith.

Ramsgate grabbed an equaliser through route-one football with 39:01 on the clock – who needs playing out from the back when all it takes is for a big kick from your goalkeeper.

Hadler’s big kick straight down the heart of the pitch saw a foot race between Jadama and last defender Timi Odusina and Jadama shrugged off his man and a fine first touch gave him the chance to poke his right-footed shot into the bottom right-hand corner from a central position, 16-yards from goal.

“We never play long ball but they were struggling to deal with it,” admitted Smith.

“It was a good goal, good finish. I thought he was instrumental actually in that period, where we swung it a little bit and started getting into the game.  I thought he started driving us forward.”

Ramsgate were not without their scary defensive moments and Woking almost regained the lead on the stroke of half-time.

Left-back Josh Casey swung in their fourth corner (Woking won the corner-count 10-5) from the left, holding midfielder Rohan Ince flicked the ball on and fellow centre-half Scott Cuthbert tried to stab the ball into the bottom near corner (through a crowd of players) from inside the six-yard box at the back stick.

Smith said: “I said (at half-time), well done, keep going, let’s not get on each other’s backs. We were losing the ball more than we normally do but hang in there and start exploiting some of their weaknesses.

“We potentially were going to move to three at the back so we went through what we would do if we did change, what individual roles within that for the switch and we came out and started well so we didn’t change it.”

Ramsgate goalkeeper Hadler, 27, was called into making a string of fine saves during different parts of the second half.

Woking right-back Dan Moss played the ball into Bradshaw, who laid the ball off to Browne before Williams hit a left-footed drive towards goal from 18-yards, which forced Hadler to dive to his right and get a strong right hand to the 50th minute attempt.

“He made some very good saves but at no point did you think ‘oh my god, they’re getting too many chances now,”’ said Smith.

“They were throwing bodies forward, similar to Totton (in the last round).  Tom’s shown how good he is today to us.”

Ramsgate felt they had taken the lead in the 53rd minute but Jamie Jadvirsis’ offside flag saved Woking.

Green went down easily down the right touchline and Alfie Paxman’s left-footed free-kick was of high quality and was met by Taylor’s header on the six-yard line, which was beaten out by the Woking goalkeeper and the flag went up as soon as Green stabbed the ball over the line.

“I mean, I’m running down the touchline, again, there were some baffling decisions.   You think ‘oh, is that the moment, it’s gone?’ but we kept going,” added Smith.

Ramsgate now had the bit between their teeth and smelt blood – roared on by a fantastic home support.

However, Woking rode the storm and enjoyed a good five minute spell of dominance around the hour-mark.

Substitute Padraig Amond hit a great cross from the left which was bending towards the bottom far corner, only for Hadler to use a strong left hand to his left to ensure the ball didn’t nestle into the corner.

Woking then produced a slick move in and around the Ramsgate penalty area involving Ince, Bradshaw and Lewis, whose deflected shot was pushed around Hadler at his near-post.

There was bedlam as soon as Ramsgate scored the winning goal with 27 minutes and 9 seconds on the clock, following a well-rehearsed set-piece, their fourth corner of the game.

Alfie Paxman cut the ball back from the right corner flag and Martin swept a first-time right-footed shot through a crowd of players to find the bottom right-hand corner from 10-yards, to score his third goal of the season.

Smith said: “I told the players before the game we’ve been brave today, there’s no tightening up and doing things we don’t normally do (in front of) 3,000. Let’s go and score that goal today – we did!

“I just went mental because we’ve been so close scoring that corner all season but never.  I’ve realised we won’t be doing it again now we’ve scored it. We’ve got something else to do.”

Ramsgate centre-half Joe Ellul, 35, was outstanding at the heart of their defence, as Woking started to throw the kitchen sink at Ramsgate.

The former Maidstone United and Sittingbourne man played the entire game in Tuesday night’s 3-1 defeat away to Hythe Town in The FA Trophy First Round and put in a man-of-the-match performance here today.

“I pestered the life out of Ben because I wanted him to give me a game (at Hythe on Tuesday night) because I wanted to come back off a game and not off a training session,” said Ellul.

“What a monumental day, what a feeling for us. It was unreal for the fans, unbelievable.  They deserved every part of that win and I’m proud of the boys, for the gaffer, for James (Lawson, the chairman).  It’s just a great day all round.

“When you come into games like this today, for everyone but mainly for the younger boys that haven’t played in a game of that magnitude and in front of a crowd like that, you start to change your game a little bit and start doing things that you wouldn’t usually do.

“I think we came away from the game plan that Ben put in place for us and I think second half was when we started to really show how good a side we really are and how well we can actually take care of the ball.

“Lee Martin and Michael West ran the show for us in there and they made the game look easy for us and they opened the pitch up for us to get ourselves forward a lot more, instead of being sat on the edge of our box.

“In the last 10-15 minutes, after we scored, it became a game of how far can Joe Ellul head the ball.  In my mind, it’s a game of football. It doesn’t change in my mind. It’s a man against another man and I didn’t want to lose any battles to any man,”

Ellul confirmed his job status as being a professional footballer.

“I feel like I’m a leader, obviously we’ve got club captain Westy and we’ve got all players that who are experienced enough to be leaders, so I just feel I expect myself to put in a solid performance every week and that’s just the way I am.”

On Woking’s last-gasp chance to grab a replay, Ellul replied: “I sort of saw the ball spinning and I didn’t think Tom was going to get there and go-go gadget arm and once I saw him tip it around and I saw Bode (Anidugbe) there I was just like asking the referee to blow the full-time whistle.

“It’s an unreal feeling. It’s a magical day for the club and they deserve everything’s that going to come their way now.  It’s another milestone (playing in The FA Cup Second Round for the first time) in my long career that there isn’t much left of it.

“Ben deserves a lot of the plaudits. I think we’re looking upon as a star studied team in the Isthmian League and he does so much.  Ben, Seb Tidey and Rion-Noel McFarlane do so much for us, they put out a plan for us to follow, they give us everything that we need week-in-week-out and I think they deserve big, big plaudits for what this club has achieved.”

Williams floated a deep cross from the left and Amond’s free downward header was comfortably gathered by Hadler (49:51).

Another substitute, Sam Habergham delivered a deep cross towards Lewis, who had two bites of the cherry, his first was blocked, his second gobbled up by Hadler.

Woking packed the Ramsgate boss for one last throw of the dice and Hadler dived to his right to push away the last kick of the game from within a crowded penalty area.

“It’s always a collective. I was very happy to make lots of saves and be a big part in the victory but we grafted so hard as a team,” said Hadler.

“We’ve done well in the League so far and we’ve had a good run to get here but as a team to grind out a result, against a good team, a very well established National League team, so for us, it’s incredible.

“The wind in the first half helped, so we knew if we could get to half-time within reach of it, whether that was 1-0 down or one-all, whatever, we’d have a chance.  It’s a big factor the wind up here, so we were very happy to get through one-all at half-time.

“Tijan and I joked because that’s another assist for me – I’ll try to get an assist bonus. It (the equaliser) was very good and I think we knew then coming out second half that we had a bit of confidence that we could compose ourselves more on the game, where we had to sit off because they were very sharp in the first half.

“Ben said to us in the changing room, he said if we score that double over, that (winning goal) is going viral, so I can’t wait to see it.  It’s one we worked on and we’ve done it a few times and it hasn’t quite come off, so for it to come off today is a hell of a thing.

“Joe Ellul was superb. He’s a real class player and we’ve got a real good understanding how we work together.

“It was a proper professional performance from us, considering we’re a team that aren’t full-time and still we did play some really good football and done well.

“There was no feeling like winning a game of football of that magnitude, I think, especially like everyone being on the pitch  and taking photos and the whole club is such a positive place to be and the good energy around the place is so infectious, so if can be the pinnacle of that and really push ourselves on and give everyone else good experiences, that’s what we’re about and that’s what we try to do.”

Hadler, who has never played in the Second Round of The FA Cup before, has this warning to their next opponents.

“We’ll take on anyone, we’re more than happy if we get a good League draw, brilliant. It’s a good day and we’ll do our best and if we get a lower down team then we’ll fancy ourselves to get into round three, for sure.

Hadler – who manages a football centre and coaches football in his life outside of playing in the eighth-tier of English football – rates this victory as one of his career highs.

“It is incredibly high. I would put it up there with winning the league (while at Maidstone United).  I think a League win is incredible because it’s a whole season’s work but in terms of one-off’s this is up there, up the top.”

Referee Stephen Parkinson blew his final whistle (52:19) and Ramsgate’s fans scaled the perimeter fencing to run onto the artificial turf to celebrate and can now look forward to tomorrow’s Second Round Draw at 14:30.

“Of course, we want a Football League side,” said Smith, who has enjoyed managerial success at Canterbury City (FA Vase Semi-Finalists) and Herne Bay (Isthmian League South East Division Play-Off Final Winners).

“Come on, be lucky. Give us a Football League side away so it saves the logistics, although look at what that’s done for the community today, it’s incredible!

“Let’s enjoy today, enjoy that, hope tomorrow we’re not as disappointed like we were last time with the draw and Good Luck to Cray Valley tomorrow (away to League One side Charlton Athletic at The Valley).

Ramsgate return to the bread and butter of tier-eight football with two games against the bottom two.

They head to Surrey to play second-from-bottom side Merstham (seven points from eight games) on Tuesday night before Jason Huntley brings his Beckenham Town side here next Saturday (four points from eight).

Beating Woking proves Ramsgate are title-favourites for the Isthmian League South East Division title this season.

“This shows where we can go.  Next week here against Beckenham, that attendance will be over a thousand and we can maintain that here at the club,” said Smith.

“Merstham have picked up players, it’s a tough game away. We’ve got a great home record but away, that’s where promotions are built. We’ve got to get back on the horse again and we’re up for it.

“It’s going to be a long old season. Every point matter’s, every win matters.

Smith has unveiled the arrival of former Hastings United centre-half Craig Stone, 34.

“A great signing for us, just adds more experience, more quality and another person who knows how to win, so it gives us more options.

“We’ve got Daniel Johnson out for a little while, it’s a big loss for us. He had to have an operation on his throat, so he’s been out for a while.

“We’re playing Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday now for ever. We’ve got to be ready for it. Hopefully we bring one more in from a higher league and then we’re ready and capable of dealing with the congestion that we have.”

Ramsgate: Tom Hadler, Jack Paxman (Bode Anidugbe 70), Jack Parter, Lee Martin, Sinn’kaye Christie, Joe Ellul, Alfie Paxman, Michael West (Medy Elito 76, Joe Taylor, Jordan Green (Benedict Bioletti 74), Tijan Jadama.
Subs: Alfie Young, Louie Procopi, Archie Simmons, Freddie Oliver, Wes Hennessey, Tristan Holden

Goals: Tijan Jadama 40, Lee Martin 73

Booked: Alfie Paxman 64, Benedict Bioletti 80

Woking: Will Jaaskelainen, Dan Moss (Greg Taylor 78), Josh Casey, Rohan Ince (Sam Habergham 81), Timi Odusina (Tunji Akinola 78), Scott Cuthbert, Dennon Lewis, Morgan Williams, Rhys Browne, Zach Bradshaw, Charlie Wakefield (Padraig Amond 55).
Subs: Alexis Andre, Jamie Hilton

Goal:  Dennon Lewis 13

Booked: Rhys Browne 11, Timi Odusina 58

Attendance: 3,000
Referee: Mr Stephen Parkinson
Assistants: Mr Jamie Jadvirsis & Mr Marcus Carmichael
Fourth Official: Mr Robert Claussen
Observer:  Mr Phillip Knight