Rusthall 0-1 Tunbridge Wells - We are certainly not in this league to make the numbers up, says Rusthall joint-manager Steve Ashmore

Tuesday 05th July 2016
Rusthall 0 – 1 Tunbridge Wells
Location Jockey Farm Stadium, Nellington Road, Rusthall, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN4 8SH
Kickoff 05/07/2016 19:30

Pre-Season Friendly
Tuesday 5th July 2016
Stephen McCartney reports from Jockey Farm Stadium

TUNBRIDGE WELLS manager Jason Bourne hailed his side’s winning mentality at the start of their pre-season campaign.

The Wells suffered their worst season in nine after finishing a disappointing fourteenth-place in the Southern Counties East Football League last season, while hosts Rusthall completed the last Kent Invicta League campaign with only Lewisham Borough below them in the table.

A crowd of 240 gave Rusthall a lucrative night at Jockey Farm Stadium and the vocal Tunbridge Wells supporters went home happy as debutant striker Richard Atkins sealed the victory with a thumping header five minutes before half-time.

Bourne said: “It’s a good work out, it’s minutes. We knew what we were going to do. It was going to be two mixed teams today. But we talked about it in there. You can dress it up how you want, it’s a friendly, you want to win games. It’s got to be in-grained in you, turn up and do the business. We won the game, it doesn’t really matter how we did it. It’s about getting the boys to play the way I want them to play, getting a system, sticking to it.

“There’s some good performances out there. There’s a couple of lads that we haven’t seen before in game situations so it’s nice to see them. Football’s all about winning games, although it’s all about getting minutes into the legs, we wanted to win and that’s what we’ve done.

“It’s good to see Richard Atkins get off the mark. It’s always important to see a centre forward come into a new club and score and players to realise what his strengths are and how we’re going to play into him.”

Rusthall are now under new management with joint-managers Steve Ashmore and Steve Sands in charge and Ashmore took plenty of positives despite losing to their near neighbours in their first game.

“Really positive. Two sets of lads, two sets of different 11s first half and second,” said Ashmore.

“I can’t fault the commitment, the work-rate, the way they passed the ball considering a lot of them have never played together before. The commitment was good, we can take only positives.

“Bit unlucky, I thought the goal we gave it away in an area we probably wouldn’t do during the season but it’s the first pre-season game of the season so mistakes are always going to creep in. 

“We’ve got a few things we can work on now, hopefully still bring in one or two or confirm one or two before the season starts.”

Rusthall got through 21 players, with former Hildenborough Athletic goalkeeper Sean Ingleson the only player on the pitch to play the entire 90 minutes, while Tunbridge Wells fielded 23.

Bourne said: “It was good to see the under 21s, they’re a newly formed side so we had half a team that we’re 21’s tonight so it was nice to see them get their own bond, grow into and develop into a team which eventually will push the first team so that was obviously a massive plus.

“We had four players unavailable today on holiday, which is going to happen in pre-season so they’re under a little bit of pressure and have to get game time in.”

Tunbridge Wells, who committed 17 of the 29 fouls during this warm-up game, created the first chance inside the opening three minutes.

Central defender Tom Bryant floated over a deep free-kick from the left towards the far post, the ball was brought under control by winger Rhys Bartlett, whose shot was smothered by the advancing Ingleson at the near post.

Rusthall striker Dan Powell was caught offside on a couple of occasions for the time he was on the pitch and he hooked a shot past the right-hand post whilst under pressure.

Atkins charged forward through the left-channel and his right-footed scuffed shot brought a comfortable low save from Ingleson.

“He’ll probably hoped he’d score from there really,” admitted Bourne.

“Maybe in a few games in he’ll finish that or squares it in to Brad Large, who was in a good position, who should’ve made his mind up for him really. It was a good, nice change of pace from Richie. He made his own chance. I’m sure he’ll be disappointed that he didn’t take it.”

Rusthall produced a fine move after 10 minutes when right-back Michael Tubb played the ball down the line to winger Sam Jones, who put in a low cross to Powell, who held the ball up and set-up George Rogers, but the winger dragged his first time shot wide from 20-yards.

Rogers then managed to get his next shot on target, hooking his shot into Ryan Chandler’s hands from the left-hand side of the penalty area, his shot deflecting off Wells’ right-back Kieron Tarbie in the process.

Chandler, who played for Kent Invicta League side APM Contrast last season, pulled off a brilliant save to deny Rusthall taking the lead at the half-way point.

Rusthall left-back Alex Rich clipped the ball upfield and central midfielder John Sinclair brushed past Powell to latch onto the ball.  From the left hand side of the penalty area he drilled his left-footed shot towards the top near corner, but Chandler used his outstretched left hand to tip the ball over the bar.

Ashmore said: “John was one of the big ones that we wanted to get in. What he gives us from the centre of the park in terms of his energy, his runs are top quality. He saw the ball from Richy, he wanted it, he drove all the way to the goal pulled off a good shot, a good save.”

Bourne added: “It was a nice move, maybe we backed off a little bit.  We could’ve engaged him. Again, it comes with sharpness. Nice save. I thought Ryan played really well first half. He’s new to the club, was quick off his line, made a couple of good saves, distributed the ball well.”

Tunbridge Wells’ third-corner of the game was taken by Bayley Colbrahan from the right and Perry Spackman came up from the back to loop his header into Ingleson’s hands, who gathered the ball at the second attempt whilst challenged.

But Ingleson will surely be in goal for Rusthall on the opening day of the season after impressing tonight and pulling off a brilliant save in the 32nd minute.

Barlett fed central midfielder Ollie Bankole and the former Sittingbourne player unleashed a deflected right-footed drive towards the top right-hand corner, which was tipped over the bar by the diving keeper’s left-hand.

Ashmore was full of praise for a goalkeeper that he’s plucked out from the Kent County League Premier Division.

“We’ve brought Sean in with us from Hildenborough, a lad I’ve known a very long time,” said Ashmore.

“His commitment’s good, he’ll give you ten out of ten for effort. He’s handling’s come on leaps and bounds over the last year as well as his kicking. He’s become a really good all-round keeper. We can still work on a few bits but we wanted to get him 90 minutes, we wanted to get him used to the set-up because he’s one of the newer ones coming over. I can’t fault him.

“He made a great save in the first half, one-handed, tipped that over. He’s commanding was good, he told his centre halves what he wanted to do. He pushed them up when he needed to and his kicking was outstanding.”

Bourne said: “I thought Ollie grew into the game. He started nice and lively and he certainly finished strongly. He made a couple of good chances actually. He definitely grew into the game and I’ll look forward to working with him. He’s a character, he’s a leader and get the best out of him.”

Bankole picked up a loose ball in the middle of the park before curling his right-footed shot across the keeper and narrowly past the far post from 25-yards.

Atkins issued Rusthall a warning when his left-footed hooked chip sailed over the advancing keeper and dropped just past the far post, before he got off the mark with his first goal for his new club in the 40th minute.

Winger Bradley Large was given time and space to float over a quality cross from the right towards the unmarked Atkins, thumping his header into the roof of the net.

“When you play Richard up top as a front man you need to get service in and the wide players have got to do that,” said Bourne.  “They’ve got a responsibility to service the front men. We spoke about it and a lovely ball in from Large, that’s Richard’s bread and butter and he gets off the mark.”

Ashmore blamed sloppy defending for the only goal of the game.

“A little bit of those pre-season games, we weren’t quite 100% switched on. I thought it was a pass there during which maybe during the season you wouldn’t play. In pre-season we try these things. We got caught half coming out when we lost it and we weren’t quite tight (to Atkins) like we could’ve been. A great cross and fair play to the lad, it was a great header at the end there.”

Rusthall created the last chance of the first half when substitute Chris Stoate fed the ball into Sinclair, who looped his first time shot past the right-hand post from 25-yards.

As expected, both clubs gave more players a chance to impress during the second half.

Ashmore said: “We’ve got a very big squad. We’ve only been in for two sessions so we always gave everyone 45 minutes.

“With me and the other Steve (Sands) being very new this is our first chance to look at everyone and we made sure everyone got a good amount of game time so we could study.

“I can’t fault any effort and the boys that came on in the second half carried on that desire and that work-rate that we showed in the first half. I thought we were unlucky not to maybe nick a draw.”

Bourne said: “We spoke about areas we want to improve in. The shape was a little bit of an issue. It’s just ironing out finer details and getting them to play the way I want them to do.”

Josh Fermor played a delightful raking pass from the middle of the park to put former Sevenoaks Town man Stoate through on goal but he powered his right-footed drive past the near post.

Rusthall then built down the right and right-back Chris Baldwin cut the ball back to Sam Stevens, the winger whipping in a delightful cross which was headed over his own crossbar by Mahai Mitrio, as Tunbridge Wells fielded a back four all on trial at the club.

Stevens swung in the resulting corner and Craig Gallie came up from the back to glance his free header past the left-hand post.

Rusthall went close to scoring a deserved equaliser in the 57th minute. 

Tunbridge Wells’ central defender Jay Prem pleaded his innocence from the deck after fouling Stoate, who stepped up and placed his right-footed free-kick around the wall and just past the foot of the right-hand post.

Ashmore said: “Chris is very good on dead-ball, he knows exactly where he wants to put it. He saw there was a big gap around the outside of the wall, took it on, just didn’t work out but he worked that free-kick, he won it, he showed the desire, he wanted to take it, just unfortunately past the post.”

Tunbridge Wells striker Joe Nwoko caused Rusthall problems with his electrifying pace and he got in behind Ben Johnson to cut the ball back and Jason Barton slid in at the far post to poke his shot wide from eight-yards.

Bourne said: “It weren’t Gascoigne-esque! It was good. Joe’s a livewire. We made a conscience decision today to split Joe and Richard. We could’ve played them both in the first half. We wanted to have a focal point in both halves and Joe was an outlet in there. He looks a handful. He gets on the ball and drives at people and he’s hard to play against.”

But as the sun started to go down, Rusthall created another chance to score.

Fermor delivered a deep free-kick from the left and Johnson came up from the back to direct his towering header from a right angle straight into the hands of visiting keeper Steve Lawrence.

Ashmore said: “Ben did very well to get there. A little bit over-hit from Josh but in the area where we wanted him to hit it. Maybe three or four yards further in field Ben gets that back across the goal rather than hit it towards the near post. Ben’s done incredibly well to get there and managed to get anything on it to knock it back.”

Lawrence proved why he’s Tunbridge Wells’ first-choice keeper when he dived to his right to tip Stevens’ curling low drive around the post.

Bourne said: “I thought Steve was neat and tidy tonight. He was good, his distribution was nice, good, commanded the back four.  There was a couple of youngsters playing, a couple of trailists in the back four so he had to be at his metal and that was the reason we played him in the second half because we knew it was a new partnership at the back. He done well.”

Ashmore added: “Sammy’s worked very hard down the right. We asked a lot of our width players to get up and down for the 45 minutes that they were working on.

“He received the ball outside, cut in on his favourite left-foot and got a good shot out and has tested the Tunbridge Wells goalie. All credit to him. He showed great desire to get the ball inside. He took a shot which is something we asked him to do. If they get an opportunity to have a shot, take it.  We don’t want the extra pass if there’s a possible shot on all the time so fair play to Sam.”

Tunbridge Wells’ right-winger Ollie Vidler got more into the game as the game wore on as Rusthall left-back George Allen struggled against his pace.

Vidler’s angled drive was spilt by Ingleson, who back-peddled to save Vidler’s 30-yard chip, which was destined to drop into the top right-hand corner at the death.

“I bet the keeper, for a couple of seconds thought it might’ve been closer than it was,” said Bourne.

“It was nice. I was quite impressed with Ollie. He’s good on the ball. He’s a powerful player. Again, he’s a new one for us to have a look at. He’s come across from Eastbourne Town. He lives in Hawkhurst so I think Ollie’s very promising.”

Bourne was quick to praise Tunbridge Wells’ supporters who gave his team excellent vocal support tonight.

He said: “That’s why players want to come and play here (at Tunbridge Wells). They want to come because the following’s so good. The fans are vocal, you don’t get it in this league apart from maybe Ashford. It’s a unique club, the support is what makes it what it is and they pretty much follow us anywhere. You’ve got to take pride in playing in front of those people. It’s going to excite you and hopefully it will.”

When asked whether he knows his starting 11 for the opening game of the season on 6 August, Bourne replied: “Definitely not, definitely not, pretty much,  If I have to pick 16 players I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be a million miles off but I want people to come and surprise me. I want people to step up and not be happy just to play in the under 21s.

“We’ve still got players contacting us about coming down. It’s a club that has a lot of appeal for a lot of reasons.

“It’s about getting the right balance. I don’t want to tear the team apart from last year because I spent six months building it. A few in and there might be a few out as well so just see what their commitment levels are to me moving forward.”

Ashmore was delighted with the whole night despite losing his first game in charge of the club.

“We’re very pleased with the boys. We’re a little bit unlucky to come away without possibly a draw or something,” said Ashmore.

“It’s the first pre-season game. The result is not too important. It’s more to see how the players interact with each other, how they communicate, how they work for each other, which was very pleasing to see considering probably out there maybe eight or nine boys know each other and the rest have come in who we’ve pulled in from different areas.”

Ashmore is keen to get results that will entice people to come and watch the SCEFL1 club at Jockey Farm, which now has floodlights and covered seating.

“It’s hopefully what we can start to carry on. Winning brings a crowd in so that’s what we’re looking to do. We want to bring the days back when we were regularly getting 60-80 here watching us play good football, stay and have a drink with the players after the game. We want to interact with them as much as possible and make this club like it has been. The last couple of years, maybe it’s not quite been there but we’re very much looking to bring it back together.

“Our first target will be stability. The club’s been through a bit of a transition over the last couple of years when they’ve been up and down through various different issues but first of all we want to bring stability but we are certainly not in this league to make the numbers up.

“We want to compete, compete heavily in every competition that we’re in, league, all the cups and first of all stability, but we’re very much looking at climbing this table and being as high as we possibly can and why not promotion?

“The games I’ve watched in this league last year I think we’ll have a squad very equipped to push this league hard.”

Rusthall: Sean Ingleson, Michael Tubb (Chris Baldwin 46), Alex Rich (George Allen 46), John Sinclair (Tom Green 46), Nick Coxon (Craig Gallie 46), Steve Goshow (Ben Johnson 46), Sam Jones (Sam Stevens 46), Richard Cole (Josh Fermor 46), Dan Powell (Chris Stoate 36), Callum Strachan (Jack Rusbridge 46), George Rogers (Dan Kommo 46).

Tunbridge Wells: Ryan Chandler (Steve Lawrence 46), Kieron Tarbie (Jason Hollick 46), Joe Adams (Joseph Wickham 46, Dave Card 73)), Tommy Lawrence (Tom Mackeldon 46), Perry Spackman (Mahai Mitrio 46), Tom Bryant (Jay Prem 46), Rhys Bartlett (Mason Tucker 46), Ollie Bankole (Jason Barton 46), Richard Atkins (Joe Nwoko 46), Bayley Colbrahan (Ollie Vidler 46), Bradley Large (Jason Hinkson 46).

Goal: Richard Atkins 40

Attendance: 240
Referee: Mr Leigh Judd (Tunbridge Wells)
Assistants: Mr Tony Gamberdella (Tunbridge Wells) & Mr James Gamberdella (Tunbridge Wells)