Rusthall 0-1 Kingstonian - The boys wanted to go on and test themselves against an elite side - it's just a shame that this won't be our year to go onto the First Round of The FA Youth Cup, says proud Rusthall Academy boss Jonny Elwood

Thursday 19th October 2023
Rusthall 0 – 1 Kingstonian
Location Jockey Farm Stadium, Nellington Road, Rusthall, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN4 8SH
Kickoff 19/10/2023 19:30

The FA Youth Cup Third Qualifying Round
Thursday 19 October 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from Jockey Farm Stadium

RUSTHALL Academy manager Jonny Elwood says his players can’t beat themselves up after being knocked out of The FA Youth Cup in the final qualifying round.


The Rustics have defeated Chatham Town (5-2), Dover Athletic (2-1) and Cray Wanderers (6-3) to reach this stage of the competition for the first time – but it will be Bafor Aganbi’s unbeaten side that progress to the First Round for the second successive season.

Winger Kester Djoko headed in the only goal of the game on the stroke of half-time on a ran-lashed Thursday night at Jockey Farm Stadium, watched by a crowd of 215.

The Isthmian League Premier Division club have defeated Metropolitan Police (2-1), Hampton & Richmond Borough (2-1) and Lancing (5-0) and they put in a resilient second half performance to withstand Rusthall pressure.

The K’s were reduced to 10 men in the 86th minute when Djoko – who was booked in the 39th minute for diving in the penalty area – was shown a second yellow card by referee Mark Fitzgerald for throwing the ball away.

“Two very, very good sides, a game of few chances, lots of quality. It was a real battle in the conditions which probably didn’t suit us too much.  I’m not saying it suited them because they were a very technical side, similar to us,” said Elwood.

“It was a game of fine margins and I’m not going to say it wasn’t our night.  I think that game like that deserves to be reviewed and see where we went wrong because we’ve got better standards than that.  We just keep asking questions of them and it just wasn’t enough, unfortunately.

“I’m very disappointed because I’ve got a real hungry group of lads who are desperate to make the next step in non-league or pro football and they wanted to have an opportunity to have the platform to go to a pro side (in the First Round).

“We won’t feel sorry for ourselves but at the same time the boys wanted to go on and test themselves against an elite side and I actually feel we’ve done that in a way.

“I’m proud of them. I feel like that we’ve raised a few eyebrows getting to this stage.  We’ve got some great players in there, some fantastic players who will go on to bigger and better things. It’s just a shame that this won’t be our year to go onto the next round of the Youth Cup.”

Kingstonian created their first opening after only 21 seconds when winger Micha Fraser cut inside and stroked a left-footed drive from 22-yards, which rolled comfortably into the gloves of Rusthall goalkeeper Jack Glassborrow.

“I watched them a couple of weeks ago, my brother (Chris) watched them on Monday and we was well aware of their threat.  The diamond in the middle and they had some real tidy ball players but we worked very hard on our shape to try to nullity them and try to keep them out of the game,” said Elwood.

Rusthall created their first opening in the sixth minute, when a long throw from the left from Stan Sargent – who has signed a pro deal at League Two side Gillingham – wasn’t cleared by the Kingstonian defence and striker Hayden Marshall’s swept a shot towards the near post from the corner of the six-yard box but visiting goalkeeper Alexander Dubov came out and narrowed the angle to smother the shot.

Kingstonian were shading the opening exchanges and striker Alfie Burton played the ball into Jack Lillie, who switched the play over to the left for Frazer to cut inside Rusthall right-back Austin Kent but his shot was weak and Glassborrow gathered.

Kent found space some 35-yards out, took a touch before drilling a shot towards the Kingstonian goal, which was comfortably dealt with by Dubov.

Dubov was called into making a flying save in the 24th minute, to deny Rusthall taking the lead from a set-piece.

Right-winger Jack Lyons floated a left-footed free-kick into the box and centre-half Frank Little came up from the back and shouldered the ball towards goal, which forced the K’s captain to dive to his right to push around the post for a corner (Rusthall dominated the corner-count by 11-1).

“Frank is a real nuisance on set-pieces. He’s a big boy. He always looks like he’s going to get the first contact,” said Elwood.

“He was out of the side for the first couple of games of The Youth Cup and he was a little bit disappointed but since then he’s proved that he can’t be taken out of it.”

Rusthall lost centre-half Joseph Brum to a suspected ankle injury just past the half-hour, as Elwood switched formation to three-at-the-back with Kent (right), Toby Crampton (centre) and Harry Palmer (left), with substitute Callum Wright sitting in front of the trio in a holding role, which Crampton had before Brum’s serious injury.

“We’re really disappointed to lose Joe because I thought he was outstanding. He’s been great on the whole cup run,” added Elwood.

“We’re not quite sure of the extent of the damage.  He’s off to hospital, so we’ll wait to hear the extent of the damage, fingers crossed for him.”

Glassborrow was called into making a brilliant save in the 35th minute, however.

Kingstonian holding midfielder Freddie Bailey put over a free-kick, which was cleared out to an unmarked Burton, who drilled a shot towards goal from 20-yards, which was pushed over the crossbar by Glassborrow’s outstretched two hands, diving high to his right.

“Amazing save!  The one that he tipped over the bar (in the Dover game), was the best save I’ve seen. I think that one tops it.  I gave him a little bit of stick at times but he’s worked on his shot-stopping and it was just an unbelievable save,” added Elwood.

Rusthall went close when Yusuf Rabbaj swept the ball out to left-winger Sargent, who cut inside before hitting a right-footed drive from 35-yards, which flashed just past the foot of the near-post.

However, Kingstonian sealed the deal by scoring the only goal of the game, 71 seconds into stoppage time, on the counter-attack.

Djoko played the ball out to Frazer, before Dyer hung over a great cross from the left for Djoko to bury his downward free-header past the Rusthall goalkeeper.

“We’re really disappointed. We conceded a similar goal on Sunday. We’re disappointed to concede a goal at the back post. He’s coming in unmarked. Kester’s a good player,” said Elwood.

“The boys did take a little bit of stick about that at half-time but second half they came out and they rallied round and we can’t beat ourselves up about it. It’s spilt milk. We’ve had enough chances at the other end in the second half to make something happen and unfortunately the blame lies with us all.

“We just said (at half-time) we still believed in them. We’ve had two comebacks in this competition already.  We like attacking this end (the farm) because the supporters are behind us and we felt like we could turn the game on its head – we very, very nearly did.

“The message was positive. We felt we were well in the game. We felt like we carved them open a couple of times and we could do it a few more.  Unfortunately, their goalkeeper was equal to them.”

Kingstonian central midfielder Oskar Dari lashed a left-footed half-volley dipping just over the top of the post from 30-yards inside the opening second minutes of the second half.

Sargent’s hooked pass released Massood down the left and he cut inside before playing the ball inside to Wright, who took a touch before unleashing a right-footed drive towards goal from 30-yards, which was spilt by Dubov, before gathering the spilt ball at the second attempt as Rabbaj pounced.

“Callum has been amazing. His dad spent the best part of the last year in a hospital bed but Callum is infectious and his larger than life and he’s great in the changing room and he’s come on tonight and he’s probably had a good game as anyone on the pitch,” said Elwood.

“It was a great strike. I was a little bit disappointed that Yusuf was the only one following in and I felt like we could’ve been closer to win that rebound but the goalkeeper’s done brilliantly well to claw it back in.”

Kingstonian went close just before the hour-mark when substitute central midfielder Myles Mari drove forward before cutting inside and playing the ball to fellow midfielder Freddie Bailey, who laid the ball off for Djoko, who drilled his right-footed shot just over the right-upright from 25-yards.

Rusthall then dominated for large chunks of the second half but Kingstonian’s back four were resilient and put their bodies on the line, leaving Elwood a crestfallen man during the post-match press conference.

Palmer drilled a long ball forward out of defence and Lyons’ drilled angled drive from outside the box was beaten away by Dubov, who then flicked Massood’s follow-up angled drive behind for a corner in the 67th minute.

“Story of the night really,” admitted the Rusthall boss.

“We very, very rarely draw a blank. We always look like we’re going to score. I can’t remember the last time we haven’t scored.

“I suppose that tells you how good a side Kingstonian are defensively, they put bodies in the way, the goalkeeper’s made another great save and as I say, story of the night.”

Lyons – who scored the first of his six FA Youth Cup goals after only four seconds in the win over Chatham Town – went close for Rusthall with a dipping left-footed free-kick from 35-yards, which only just cleared the Kingstonian crossbar.

Elwood said: “Jack always looks like he’s going to score. He always looks like he’s going to make something happen.  That’s what makes Jack an unbelievable player.  He wants to take the game by the scruff of the neck. He doesn’t go hiding and when the going gets tough, Jack gets going. He kept trying to carve something out for us tonight but unfortunately he couldn’t.”

Rusthall kept knocking on the door but Kingstonian squandered a glorious chance to kill the game off inside the final nine minutes.

Substitute Harry Stone released striker Burton, who reached the by-line on the right and whipped a low cross towards the back post for an unmarked Djoko, who took a touch before hitting his shot over the crossbar from six-yards.

Elwood said: “I mean, as the game went on, we had to go for it a little bit more, so we starting chucking bodies forward. We knew they’d get chances.

“I think Jack in goal was quite close to it. I think he sort of forced him to rush it, which as I say he spread himself quite well.”

Bailey then floated a deep free-kick into the Rusthall box and Mari’s free-header looped over the Rusthall keeper and crashed against the crossbar, before Kingstonian were reduced to 10 men when Djoko picked up his second yellow card.

“When things like that start happening, you start to think it might be your night and you might go up the other end and be able to put one in,” said Elwood, when asked about the crossbar being hit.

“But it was a game of two evenly-matched sides and the margins were really, really fine.”

Reflecting on the red card, the Rusthall manager replied: “I think he was grabbing the ball. I think he (the referee) got that right.  He’s (Djoko) a very good player, he’s a handful. It meant that we could put Frank (Little) up top and continue to knock the door down but it didn’t quite happen unfortunately.”

But despite their dominance, Rusthall just couldn’t force a late equaliser to take the game to the lottery of a penalty shoot-out, as Kingstonian defended superbly well in tough conditions and did their homework to snuff out Rusthall’s threatening players of Lyons, Sargent and Massood.

When asked what Rusthall can take out of their longest FA Youth Cup campaign, Elwood said: “Massive pride. I have been telling people, including pro clubs, including non-league clubs that this group of players are people that they want to look at and I think it’s taken for us to go on this run for people to actually see that this is the case.

“We’ve seen a lot of scouts in attendance tonight, so I’m massively proud of the boys, excited to continue our journey. I don’t believe this is the end for this side.

“As a band of 16-year-olds to be inspiring six to 12 year-olds (that play in Rusthall’s junior sides), it’s really quite something when you look at it like that, so I’m really proud of the boys, looking forward to the next 12 months.

“I’ve just said to the lads in there, other than Zaed Massood they’ve all got another go at this next year.  Stan Sargent and Frank Little have got two years at it so we’ve got to look at it that way and look at it with excitement.

“Yes, the players are (feeling devasted in the changing room), players and staff. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves.  I know there’s a little bit of disappointment.  We won’t be the victims of this situation. We’ll come through it and we’ll learn from it. We’re back in training tomorrow and we’ll keep believing on what we’re doing – this is just another step on the journey!”

Rusthall: Jack Glassborrow, Austin Kent, Harry Palmer (Ben Williams 87), Toby Crampton, Joseph Brum (Callum Wright 32), Frank Little, Stan Sargent, Yusuf Rabbaj, Hayden Marshall (Yukai Cheng 79), Zead Massood, Jack Lyons.
Subs: Anthony Mepham, Nathan Burness, Femi Onasanya, Finn Appleby

Booked: Jack Lyons 34, Austin Kent 45

Kingstonian: Alexander Dubov, Carlos Angulo, Lucas Dyer, Freddie Bailey, Joshua Kirkham, Ben Parkinson, Micah Frazer (Harry Stone 70), Jack Lillie, Alfie Burton, Oskar Dari (Myles Mari 55), Kester Djoko.
Subs: Daniel Vakulya, Eren Hincal, Marvin Frimpong, Max Holland, Joshua Lohmeier

Goal: Kester Djoko 45

Booked: Alfie Burton 28, Kester Djoko 39, Ben Parkinson 77, Freddie Bailey 90, Jack Lillie 90

Sent Off:  Kester Djoko 86

Attendance: 215
Referee: Mr Mark Fitzgerald
Assistants: Mr Grant Steele & Mr Ayden Gillespie