Rusthall 2-2 Forest Hill Park - You have to go about your daily life. I'm not going to stop doing what I'm doing in terms of football. When they say you can play, we'll play. If they say you can't, we won't, says Forest Hill Park manager Darrell Queeley

Saturday 14th March 2020
Rusthall 2 – 2 Forest Hill Park
Location Jockey Farm Stadium, Nellington Road, Rusthall, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN4 8SH
Kickoff 14/03/2020 15:00

RUSTHALL  2-2  FOREST HILL PARK
Sea Pioneer Southern Counties East Football League First Division
Saturday 14 March 2020
Stephen McCartney reports from Jockey Farm Stadium

FOREST HILL Park manager Darrell Queeley insists football should continue in the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak.

The Premier League, English Football League and Isthmian League suspended their competitions yesterday, while the National League and Southern Counties East Football League made the decision to continue.

Statistics on the BBC News website have confirmed the outbreak has killed 21 people, 37,746 people have been tested for the virus, while there have been 1,140 cases, with a UK population of over 66 million people.

But in this quaint and peaceful village of Rusthall near Tunbridge Wells, the home club attracted their largest crowd of the season as 296 people flocked through the turnstiles, drank beer, shook hands with their mates, to enjoy a traditional British pastime of watching a football match at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon.

Rusthall came away from Ashford with a massive 2-1 win over their title-challengers Kennington last Saturday but they slipped up against 12th placed Forest Hill Park, who played their part in an enjoyable football match and they picked up their 32nd point of the season in their 26th league outing.

David Olayokun’s name was scrubbed out of the official team-sheet so Forest Hill Park came to Jockey Farm Stadium with a 13-man squad.

“Good game. Rusthall are a very strong side, obviously the table is very honest and they deserve to be where they are,” said visiting manager Queeley.

“They’re good on the ball, organised in defence and they can hit you on the counter and they can play through the thirds so they can have a little bit of everything.

“I thought my boys played really well today. It was a deserved draw.  I thought we worked hard, I thought we were honest and we earnt the point more than anything else.

“Lots of good play in midfield, the strikers were on form again today, Jefferson (Aibangbee) particularly getting the equaliser.

“I’m happy, I’m happy today because we often lose games through our own doing, not turning up, not giving it enough, so we probably got turned over three or four times this season.”

With four club’s promoted, Rusthall slipped down to second-place after losing top spot to Kennington today.

Kennington have 55 points on the board from their 26 (of 32) league games; Rusthall have 54 points with seven league games remaining, while Holmesdale are in third place with 51 points with eight league games remaining and Sporting Club Thamesmead have joined the party with 45 points on the board with six league games remaining.

Rochester United, FC Elmstead and Stansfeld are all waiting in the wings on 45 points each.

“I felt like we didn’t turn up as a team today, individuals might have played well but collectively we didn’t have the heart and desire like we’ve had in recent weeks and it showed today,” admitted Rusthall manager Jimmy Anderson.

“We could say the two goals were individual errors but collectively we made individual errors all across the pitch today for 90 minutes, so yes, disappointed.

“It’s a fantastic crowd by the way. It’s a great club because we’ve got good local people round here and it’s helped Tunbridge Wells and Crowborough didn’t have games today so they’ve come and supported and it’s fantastic for the club to get a gate like that through.”

Only naming two substitutes and crossing out a third player will also raise suspicion that one of Queeley’s players failed to turn up.

“A very funny reason, definitely not football related so everyone will enjoy this,” revealed Queeley.

“One of our players said he was available, his parents decided this morning due to the situation with the virus they can’t understand how the Premier League aren’t playing and we are. His mum and dad are working from home so why are we sending you to Rusthall to play football?

“I have no gripe with the family, I fully understand where they’re coming from.  My own issue was I found out this morning. Yes, you’ve let us down the lad, everyone else has turned up today.

“Two subs was solely because one of our players wasn’t allowed to come by his parents, who had concerns about Convid-19.”

Rusthall were without midfielder Tommy Lawrence through a football injury.

“He took a nasty injury last week away to Kennington so he was missed today,” added the Rusthall boss.

Forest Hill Park played on the front foot for the opening 20 minutes and took a lead through Stephen Camacho’s early own-goal.

Rusthall livened up during the second half of the first half and went into the half-time break with a 2-1 lead, courtesy of the impressive Reuel Powell-Downey and his strike partner Charlie Clover, who have now scored 20 and nine goals respectively.

The second half was a cagey affair, however, and the impressive Jefferson Aibangbee silenced the Rusthall crowd with his eighth goal of the season inside the final couple of minutes.

Forest Hill Park played on the front foot for the first 20 or so minutes of the first half and took the lead after only 148 seconds.

Visiting goalkeeper Matthew Bailey launched a right-footed free-kick from around 15 yards from the halfway line which sailed towards Rusthall goalkeeper Billy Johnson, who dropped the ball and watched the ball bounce off Camacho’s right shin and trickle across him before nestling into the bottom right-hand corner of his own goal.

“I thought we started with good intent.  We got the ball forward early and put them under a lot of pressure,” said Queeley.

“It’s an amazing place to come. I think they’ve had 296 here today, unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable, so we had to start well because you don’t want them singing too early.

“We started on the front foot. I’ve asked the boys if we get a free-kick to get the big men up and just cause a bit of chaos and that’s what’s happened.  We’ve got quite a few big lads in our team, stuck them up, a long ball from the keeper, ricochet and we’re celebrating.”

Rusthall manager Anderson added: “We didn’t start off well. Billy Johnson makes an error in the first three minutes and we just didn’t play our game today. 

“They did a bit of a job on us in the first 20 minutes. You could say we looked a little bit nervous , maybe a little bit like we were going to turn up and get a result before even kicking a ball after getting a fantastic result at Kennington last week but now that result doesn’t mean anything because we’ve dropped points today and the others around us have won.

“Bill’s been superb since he’s come in from Crowborough and he’s entitled to make mistakes. It’s just when a goalkeeper makes mistakes it usually means they’ll score a goal and it wasn’t the greatest start from us at all.”

Forest Hill Park could have doubled their lead in the tenth minute when wideman Donnell Anderson played the ball into Aibangbee, whose right-footed driven shot on the turn from 25-yards was gathered by Johnson down on his knees.

“We started on the front foot and we did really well,” said the Forest Hill Park boss. 

“We wanted to be direct because I think one of our strongest points are our attackers. We’ve got Joji Phillips, we’ve got Jefferson Aibangbee, they haven’t been here the whole season. If you check their record it’s a goal every other game so they’ve done really well since coming in.  They’ve both been out injured so we’ve missed them at certain points of the season, now they’re both back we’re starting to look a little bit more dangerous going forward.”

Anderson added: “I thought they pressed really well, they pressed in the right areas and boxed us into our own half and unfortunately we wasn’t able to get out and we were trying to look for an opportunity.

“For the first 20 minutes they started really well and we didn’t but in a way that was similar to when we played Kennington last week.”

Rusthall created an opening in the 16th minute when central midfielder James Miles played the ball out to the impressive Powell-Downey, who shifted the ball past Forest Hill Park’s left-back Onandi Shepherd before cutting the ball back to Louis Anderson, who struck his right-footed drive over the crossbar from 25-yards.

Forest Hill Park were winning plenty of second balls inside the Rusthall half of the field and Donell Anderson hounded Miles, won the ball off him before slopping the ball in behind Robbie Bissett for Aibangbee, who drove his left-footed shot straight into Johnson’s midriff at the near post from a tight angle on the by-line.

Rusthall then started to fight their way back into the game with a good opening in the 21st minute.

Powell-Downey, who was a constant threat, played the ball in from the right-flank to Clover, who cut inside and stroked a left-footed drive from 16-yards, which was comfortably held in Bailey’s midriff.

Anderson said: “It took us a while to get into the game. I probably think it might’ve taken us 30 minutes to actually get a foothold into the game.

“I felt like we didn’t get on the ball much as much as we wanted, if I’m being truthfully honest. I didn’t feel like collectively as a ream we turned up today and it took us a long time to get started.”

Queeley said: “They’re dangerous! You keep them quiet for 20 minutes, as soon as you’re not standing in the right places, particularly on the counter, they’ve got players who are intelligent, want the ball, get on the turn and before you know it, they’re in your box so we limited them as much as we could.

“But against a team like Rusthall it’s 90 minutes of concentration. We probably weren’t focused at that time.

“Reuel is finding pockets of space and I’m screaming at them ‘just pick him up!’ Every time we’re on the attack, we lose it, he’s on the ball so it’s hard to be consistent for 90 minutes and stop them.

“I thought we started really well and once they got back into it they were on top for the remainder of that half for about 20 odd minutes, I would say they were on top, definitely.

“Even when we were on top there were certain things I was screaming, that’s why my throat was hurting, because it wasn’t right. Even thought we were winning and we were playing well, it wasn’t right. We looked vulnerable on the counter-attack and low and behold that’s how they caught us out!”

Rusthall’s attacking play was rewarded when they deservedly equalised with 26 minutes and 54 seconds on the clock, following an attractive sweeping move.

Miles played the ball from the midfield engine room out to wing-back Camacho, who played the ball inside to striker Luke Adams, who swept a left-footed pass over to Clover on the right and he flashed a cross across the face of goal into the corridor of uncertainly for Powell-Downey to place his right-footed shot into the bottom right-hand corner, despite centre-half Michael Garrick sliding in.

Anderson was quick to heap praise on the impressive Powell-Downey, who relished performing in front of a large crowd for the tenth-tier of English football.

“He’s had a really good season. It was a lovely goal. It was what we were pushing for,” said Anderson.

“Their goalkeeper made two or three good saves and you could kind of see us knocking on the door for a goal and it was a well-worked goal.”

Queeley added: “It’s a sweeping counter-attack.  That’s every player doing the right thing, finding the next man and we haven’t touched the ball.

“We were on the attack and it’s gone one end to the other and the only thing we can do is be in the right positions to close them down to slow the attack.  Once they have that sort of space they’ve got some intelligent players and it sounds amazing on paper, it was hard to stop.”

The goal was the kick-start that Rusthall required and they called Bailey into making a fine one-handed save on the half-hour mark.

Adams cut back their second corner, in from the left, and two Forest Hill Park players rushed out to press Miles, who was given space to unleash a right-footed rasping drive towards the roof of the net from 25-yards, which was pushed over by Bailey’s outstretched right-hand.

“As you can see, the pitch is a bit boggy so we’ve been working on short corners and stuff like that and playing the ball early and trying to cut teams out and I thought their goalkeeper was probably man-of-the-match. He pulled off some wonderful saves,” added Anderson.

Queeley said: “A great save from Matt.  Matt’s our captain, he’s been outstanding all season.  Every time he’s called upon, he’s there. Yes, it was a great save from Matt but you can’t keep Rusthall consistently quiet. It only takes one person to switch off from a little corner, a little throw-in and he done very well.”

Powell-Downey drove straight past four defenders before drilling his right-footed shot just past the foot of the far post.

Rusthall continued on the front foot and called Bailey into making another flying save in the 33rd minute.

Powell-Downey drove down the heart of the pitch and after a few stepovers he played the ball on his outside to Adams, who took a touch before drilling his shot towards the top near corner from 15-yards, which forced Bailey to dive to his left to push the ball behind for a corner.

Rusthall continued on the front foot and they were now the team that were winning the second balls in the midfield battle.

However, Forest Hill Park centre-half Michael Garrick put in a commanding performance and he called Johnson into making a comfortable save in the 38th minute.

Jake Hampson, who is one of three Rusthall centre-halves, fouled Aibangbee from behind and Rusthall lined up a four-man wall to block Garrick’s driven free-kick from 27-yards but the ball fell back to Garrick, who swept his shot towards the bottom corner, the ball bouncing right in front of Johnson, who dropped down on his knees to make a comfortable save.

Queeley said: “Anyone whose been watching these league’s for a few years will know Michael Garrick has been a striker. He’s played for Whyteleafe and several other clubs and I’ve managed to convince him he’s a centre-half.

“It was a long conversation but early on he struggled with certain things, like running towards the ball, like he’s going to flick it on, instead of dropping off and heading it.

“He’s been outstanding from the mid-part of the season until now and he’s only going to get better, better and better.

“I managed to convince him, I believe he should’ve played there years and years and years ago and as you can see today, he’s a very good centre-half!”

Anderson added: “It was well blocked by my wall at the time.  I don’t know, I felt like they didn’t dictate the game but I felt they were always a threat and felt they could always score at times.”

Rusthall took a deserved lead with 44 minutes and 56 seconds on the clock.

Left-centre-half Robbie Bissett often hit long balls over the top of Forest Hill Park’s right-back Kris Queeley and this tactic played it’s part here.

Bissett released their outlet Powell-Downey, whose pace saw him easily cut inside Garrick and he decided not to take a pop at goal but put it on the plate by playing the ball inside to Clover, who hit a first time left-footed shot from 12-yards, which deflected into the bottom right-hand corner off Forest Hill Park’s left-back Onandi Shepherd.

Queeley said: “Those are the small differences, them doing what they’ve been asked to do consistently for 45 minutes and us not. That was doing the right things for 20 odd minutes and then them being consistent to do what their gaffer asked them to do.  It was a deserved lead at the time because they continuingly knocked on the door.”

Reflecting on the goal and what he said to his Rusthall players’ at the break, Anderson said:  “It was a fantastic time to score with that start of the game to come in at 2-1 we were obviously fortunate and I said there’s a long way to go.

“The team talk at half-time was we’re winning the game, to see the game out first and foremost and try to build on it.

“We felt like after 30 minutes we came into the game. Our game is all about trying to pass and move the ball and being lively and creating chances.”

Queeley added: “I said lots of things you can’t say and things you don’t hear in a Disney movie to put it nicely.

“It was ‘does anyone not understand what I’ve asked you to do? Tell me now!’ I went through them individually. ‘Do you understand why you’re finding that so difficult?”

Rusthall’s long ball over the top tactic gave them an opportunity to kill the game off just 22 seconds into the second half but Powell-Downey lost his composure when he only had keeper Bailey to beat.

Bissett launched a long ball over the top, Powell-Downey easily won a foot-race with Kris Queeley down the wing, cut into the box, slipped and skied his right-footed shot over the crossbar from 15-yards.

Anderson said: “We had a chance in the first minute of the second half with Reuel but I felt on that chance he could’ve squared it to Luke Adams or Charlie Clover.

“By that time as well a lot of people then had realised that Reuel was having a good game and he was trying to get goals for us, so naturally we’ve had it before that they might’ve doubled up on him so it gives opportunities for other players to get a shot off and I just felt we made little individual errors but they’re young boys, learning every week but I felt he could’ve squared that one.”

Queeley admitted: “My heart was pounding! He’s a good player, even though it wasn’t an easy chance, someone of his quality you’re kind of biting your tongue and hoping he doesn’t find the bottom corner. Lucky for us it ended up in Tunbridge Wells city centre.”

The game then turned into a cagey affair, with not a lot happening in front of goal as both sides slammed the door shut.

“I thought second half was a really good game for 45 minutes. We wasn’t under the cosh for 20 odd minutes, that didn’t really happen,” said Queeley.

“We went toe-to-toe with them so I thought it was a really good second half so credit to the boys for listening and delivering what I asked.”

You had to wait until the halfway point for the next real goalscoring chance and Forest Hill Park missed a glorious chance to grab the equaliser.

Garrick played the ball up to Aibangbee, who trapped the ball superbly down the right channel, before releasing Joji Phillips charging on the overlap.  Some poor defending from centre-half Ryan Styles opened the door and allowed Phillips to cut along the by-line to cut the ball back for Donnell Anderson, whose shot was blocked by the keeper and Aibangbee’s shot was cleared off the line by Hampson.

“Those are the small differences. That was the same position they scored their goal. We pulled it back this time and we weren’t accurate enough with the finish, it's gone straight to whoever was on the line,” said Queeley.

Anderson added: “I thought their 11 Jefferson caused us problems all game to be honest with you. He was quite lively in the first half, they came into it.

“Lennie (Ryan Styles) thought it was going to run out, naturally he should defend it and just clear his lines and their man nips in behind. It’s great covering by Jake on the line. Billy makes a fantastic save prior to that clearance off the line. It wasn’t great defending but overall Jake done his job and Bill done his job.”

Rusthall, however, were a dangerous threat on the counter-attack and immediately went up the other end and the outstanding Bailey pulled off another save, just 30 seconds after the one up the other end.

Clover broke through the heart of the pitch before he rolled the ball to Adams on his outside and his right-footed angled drive was pushed behind by Bailey, diving to his left.

“That was right in front of us and it was going bottom corner but he’s pulled off some really good saves and was man-of-the-match for me,” said Anderson.

“They might think they’ve dropped points but I feel like we’ve had enough chances to see the game out.”

Queeley added: “Again, on the break, it’s just on the break. I’m not going to keep mentioning how good they are on the break because it’s a bit too complimentary but they’re very direct on the break.

“You can’t go through a game without attacking a side, so you attack them and they come straight back at you. We just have to limit them, you can’t get behind the ball and deny them a counter-attack for the whole game but a good shot from Adams and a good save by Matt.”

Rusthall were getting in behind Kris Queeley on too many occasions as Camacho slipped a 10-yard pass down the hill and in behind for Powell-Downey, whose angled drive from a tight angle rolled into the hands of Bailey for a comfortable save.

Forest Hill Park grabbed their equaliser with 44 minutes and 21 seconds on the clock.

Kris Queeley fed Garrick, who released Aibangbee down the right channel, easily skipping past Styles before slipping Phillips through on goal. The striker skipped past the advancing goalkeeper inside the box and referee Shaakir Uddin allowed the advantage and the ball fell kindly for Aibangbee who capped an impressive performance by smashing the ball into an empty goal before running down the touchline with his finger to his lips shushing the home crowd.

“What a moment! I love the lad but I don’t think he’s played in front of such a big crowd in his life so he’s obviously been watching Match of the Day and thought he’ll (do that) to the crowd but why not? You’re not going to get 296 down Ladywell Arena, so it was his opportunity,” said Queeley.

“We definitely deserved that. Jefferson was really good today, dangerous and Joji Phillips.

“It was a great ball, ran into space, he’s cut inside, would’ve been a pen, I believe so credit to the ref and it’s fallen to Jefferson and he does what he does in those sort of positions, hits the back of the net.”

Anderson revealed: “I was a little bit nervous, I don’t know if that rubbed off on my team today but they’re big enough and old enough now to be able to see games out and it didn’t quite work out today.

“It’s similar to the earlier chance when Lennie tried to see it out. It’s the 88th minute, maybe he should clear his lines. He’s been fantastic for us all season so I believe he should clear his lines there and deal with it.

“Bill’s come out, he dinks it over the keeper. Bill then makes contact with the nine, potentially could’ve been a penalty and the referee plays advantage and their man tucks it into an empty net so fair play to them, they played until the 90th minute and we didn’t unfortunately.”

Forest Hill Park created one final chance when Kris Queeley and Phillips linked up and diminutive substitute midfielder Luke Markey cut in from the right wing before curling his left-footed shot around the far post from 35-yards out.

With warnings of an entire shutdown of football over the Coronavirus crisis approaching, both managers urge the Southern Counties East Football League to carry on.

“Yes, we do want to play. The world spins and we must go on,” said the Forest Hill Park manager.

“I’m not a scientist, I’m no professor. I don’t know anything about a virus. I only know what everyone else knows, what I’m reading. What I do know is if it’s going to spread, it’s going to spread. If you’re unlucky, you’re unlucky.

“You have to go about your daily life. I’m not going to stop what I’m doing in terms of football. When they say ;you can play;, we’ll play. If they say ‘you can’t’, we won’t!

“The only thing I might do is I might touch a few fists instead of shaking some hands. We’ll do what we can do but I won’t overdo it.

“I’m not going to say anything more than that regarding Covid-19 because I’m no expert – but I’m happy to play football matches, I want to play football matches and I’m happy to go to work.

“Let’s hope we can get through this as a nation and we can keep playing football and let’s keep these casualties down and keep everyone fit and well.”

Rusthall boss Anderson said: “So as of today, there’s been no signs of any of my players, from tomorrow, I might have a few, I don’t know.

“There was a big crowd here, they’re all giving high fives to their mates afterwards and stuff like that.  There’s been a good atmosphere, both teams have respected each other on the pitch.

“We didn’t shake hands at the start but stupidly and naturally you do at the end to just say ‘well done’ to each other so it kind of goes out of the window.

“We’ll obviously follow the rules with the League and The FA have got to make a decision, so it will be down to them.

“We were happy for the game to be on today. As you could see, a lot of people came to watch it and they enjoyed the game.”

Rusthall, meanwhile, are scheduled to travel to Lydd Town next Saturday, while Forest Hill Park host leaders Kennington.

Just let us continue playing and watching non-league football! If players’ don’t want to play, let them drop out of squads.  If football stops, then the only casualties will be the club’s themselves who will face financial ruin and we can’t afford to lose teams like Rusthall or Forest Hill Park.

Rusthall: Billy Johnson, Louis Anderson, Stephen Camacho (Louis Clarke 90), Ryan Styles, Jake Hampson, Robbie Bissett, Charlie Clover (Jack Harris 71), Paul Butler, Luke Adams, James Miles, Reuel Powell-Downey.
Subs: Bradley Large, Lorenzo Cuozzo, Callum Gallie

Goals: Reuel Powell-Downey 27, Charlie Clover 45

Booked: Luke Adams 56

Forest Hill Park: Matthew Bailey, Kris Queeley, Onandi Shepherd, Flavio Jumo, Matthew Faithorn, Michael Garrick, Jefferson Aibangbee, Jamal Batchilly (Luke Markey 78), Joji Phillips, Joseph Sylvester (Victor Okisor 63), Donnell Anderson.

Goals: Stephen Camacho 3 (own goal), Jefferson Aibangbee 88

Attendance: 296
Referee: Mr Shaakir Uddin
Assistants: Mr Stephen Roots & Mr Andy Butler