Sporting Club Thamesmead 2-2 FC Elmstead - To see that reaction and togetherness is brilliant, says FC Elmstead assistant Gerry Gonnella

Friday 16th August 2019
Sporting Club Thamesmead 2 – 2 FC Elmstead
Location Bayliss Avenue, Thamesmead, London SE28 8NJ
Kickoff 16/08/2019 19:45

Southern Counties East Football League First Division
Friday 16 August 2019
Stephen McCartney reports from Bayliss Avenue

FC ELMSTEAD assistant manager Gerry Gonnella praised his side’s togetherness to come back from being two goals down to extend their unbeaten run to three games to remain at the top of the Southern Counties East Football League First Division table.


Sporting Club Thamesmead were the better side during the first half and raced into a 2-0 lead inside the opening 29 minutes, courtesy of goals from striker Aaron Jeffery and winger Jedd Smith.

However, they failed to deal with FC Elmstead’s formation switch at the interval and the away side put in a vastly improved performance and Marcus Cassius made it three goals in as many games by rifling in a shot with just 14 minutes remaining, before Alimm Sesay tapped home a deserved injury-time equaliser.

Sporting Club Thamesmead made five changes to their side that lost 2-1 at Rochester United last weekend, while FC Elmstead made a couple of changes to their team that came away from Snodland Town with a single-goal win.

“Mixed emotions to be honest,” said Gonnella.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the boys. It’s not an easy place to come. They had a half decent side and they’ve got some good players.

“I thought we started well, a little bit fortunate for their goal but it was a good finish.

“First half we didn’t have enough intensity for me but then saying that, if Steve Karkari scored his chances we will be 2-0 up and the game looks different in the second half.

“I think their intensity was a lot better than ours and they seemed a lot more up for it.

“We didn’t have the best of starts in our warm-up. It was effecting our players and we missed some crucial leaders today in Lindsey Prescott-Kerr, Jordan Anderson and Antonio Gonnella, three very experienced players and I think their influence around the changing room was a big miss for us and it shown in that first half.”

Sporting Club Thamesmead manager Jason Long said: “Gutted! I thought we were the better team tonight. I thought we dominated the game in the first half, went two goals up at half-time. We should’ve stayed strong second half and saw the game out but we didn’t.

“As the game went on, I felt we got a little bit tired and we didn’t deal with that ball over the top, clearing our lines, winning first headers, just covering around.

“I’m not blaming them, our centre-half partnership did change again but it could’ve been better in that respect.”

On a wet and windy night in Thamesmead, the home side started the game on the front foot and created their first opening after three minutes and 45 seconds.

Right-back Reion McFarlane fed the ball into Smith’s feet and he pinged a quality diagonal pass over to left-winger Merrick Simms, who cut inside and drilled a poor shot harmlessly wide of the far post from 20-yards.

FC Elmstead’s two full-backs, Alfie Young (left) and Sesay (right) were poor during the first half, often letting Simms and Smith getting in behind them. 

Simms’ split open Young with a fine diagonal pass to put Smith through on goal down the right but his angled drive was comfortably gathered by Alex Hyde at his near post.

Chris Hubbard swung in the home side’s first corner of the night which was met by centre-half Dan McKimm’s header on the edge of the penalty box, which sailed into Hyde’s gloves for a routine catch.

A big kick from Acre keeper Aaron Cathrew sailed over Young’s head to put Smith in behind again and he drilled in a low cross towards the far post for Jeffery to tee up Hubbard, only for the holding midfielder to sweep his first time shot over the crossbar from 18-yards.

Sporting Club Thamesmead made their pressure count as they deservedly opened the scoring with 15 minutes and 45 seconds on the clock.

McFarlane played a low pass into Jeffery, who skipped past centre-half Russell Carter-Thompson before drilling his left-footed drive straight into the bottom right-hand corner from 18-yards.

Long said: “A great finish! Taz has been on the bench as assistant all season but we were just waiting for the right time to put him on and play him.  We know what he can do, he’s more than capable at this level. He wants to win, he’s a winner!”

“It was a good finish. It was a bit fortunate. I think Russell headed onto his back and he was set through on goal and you can’t take nothing away from him, it was a very good finish,” added Gonnella.

Simms pressed Sesay into making a mistake down the left-channel and Jeffery joined in to poke the ball inside to Alfie Evans, who screwed his shot past the left-hand post from the edge of the FC Elmstead box.

FC Elmstead should have equalised in the 21st minute when McFarlane switched off from a short throw-in.

Young threw the ball short to winger Ashley Bertrand-Kesington, who drilled in a cross from within the left-channel and found striker Karkari, who steered his free-header across goal and past the far post from eight-yards out.

“If Steve took his chance there, then it would’ve been a different game,” highlighted Gonnella.

“He should’ve scored! He should’ve scored! It will come but he played three games in pre-season and scored nine goals or something like that so it will come. His performance tonight was brilliant as well. He put himself about everywhere so I sort of forgive him.”

Sporting Club Thamesmead forced their third and final corner halfway through the first half. 

Hubbard swung the ball in from the right and McKimm battled to retain possession on the edge of the penalty area and Evans swept shot from 15-yards brought a comfortable save from Hyde.

Sporting Club Thamesmead were bossing the midfield as Hubbard, James Jewers and Evans were dominating Michael Sarpong and Mark Axell.

“At the back we only had one fit centre-half today so we had to do a bit of a reshuffle. Russell had to move inside and Alimm as you saw in the second half how crucial he is to us in centre-midfield.  We made a few changes in the second half and we really should’ve gone on to win it,” said Gonnella.

Sporting Club Thamesmead deservedly doubled their lead with 28 minutes and one second on the clock, courtesy of some more poor defending from FC Elmstead left-back Young.

Hubbard hit a long ball which sailed over Young’s head, which released Jeffery charging down the right channel. He cut the ball back to Smith, who took a couple of touches before crashing his right-footed shot against the right-hand post, before receiving a slice of luck as the ball rolled along the line and kissed the opposite post before nestling into the back of the net.

Long said: “That’s what he’s capable off! He joins in and gets amongst it and he will get his rewards and that was another one, he’ll score goals.

“I felt the next goal is the most important and we’ll see if we can get it. Then it sends the game to bed but at the same time you’ve gone 2-0 up, don’t concede, you’re in a really good position.”

Gonnella said: “Again, better than the first goal I think because it was well-worked.

“I think Alfie got caught a couple of times in the first half with that same ball but he learnt in the second half and I thought he dealt with it brilliantly.  He’s a young boy, he’s been brilliant since he’s come in so full credit to him for his reaction.”

McKimm was the next player to hit the ball long and over Young’s head to release Smith down the right but he wasted his chance by drilling his right-footed shot just past the foot of the near post.

FC Elmstead received some bad luck in the 33rd minute when they were to be denied a lifeline.

Axell split open Acre centre-half Devonte Roberts with a threaded ball straight through the heart of the pitch to put Karkari through on goal and after twisting and turning his marker, he drilled a left-footed shot screaming over Cathrew’s right-shoulder, only to crash his shot against the underside of the crossbar and eagle-eyed assistant referee Ethan Gillespie deemed the ball did not cross the line as it bounced down.

“A lot of people above me (in the stand) were saying it was in but I couldn’t really see from where I was,” said Gonnella.

“I was going from the reaction from everybody else and people above me was saying it was in, so it was a bit unfortunate.  To get that goal before half-time, maybe it would’ve been different.”

Long added: “Yet again, they’ve had a good shot. I just feel we were creating and still good on the ball. I still think we were better. 

“They’re going to have chances, of course they are. He’s hit it well, fair play to the kid, he’s hit it well. I don’t think it did go in. It looked like it bounced the other side, rather than bounce towards the goal.”

Sporting Club Thamesmead then started suffering from sloppiness as McFarlane lost the ball to Cassius, who cut in from the left to the centre of the pitch but his weak shot from 25-yards rolled towards goal and was controlled by the keeper’s feet.

“He had a few,” said Gonnella.  “He’s started the season on fire, it’s three goals in three games now, so he’s confidence is high and that’s why he’s taking shots from that range. We spoke before the game about him coming in and getting shots off because he’s got a brilliant strike on him. That one was a bit weak.”

FC Elmstead went close to scoring with the last kick of the first half, following the first of their four corners.

Perrie Rose’s corner from the left came out to Cassius, who swept his shot past the left-hand post from 25-yards.

Long said: “At half-time, I said to them you’ve just got to see the game out! Don’t stop playing, don’t stop working hard.  Keep your quality on the ball and the next goal is the most important, so if we get the third goal then great, but if not, don’t concede and we’ll win the game.”

Gonnella revealed:  “Normally we go mad but I didn’t go mad!

“In all seriousness, I thought I didn’t think it was that bad in all of the events. A couple of things needed to be tweaked a bit like a couple of formation changes.  We put Alimm back in the middle and Axell pushing back into centre-back and Russell going into his favourite right-back position.

“There were a few changes and we started winning a few second balls because I think we didn’t win enough of that.  I know they had the free two in the middle in the first half because we started 4-4-2 but second half we put Cassius in to the 10 and he picked up brilliantly and he won everything in the second half.”

FC Elmstead came out a much better side for the second half, courtesy of a tactical masterstroke from Gonnella.

Carter-Thompson switched from centre-half to right-back, Axell slotted in at centre-half alongside Ahmed Deen, while Young put in an improved performance at left-back.  Michael Sarpong was holding midfield and Cassius switched to the number 10 role behind Karkari.

The tactical switch worked as FC Elmstead played most of the second half on the front foot, creating their first opening in the eighth minute.

Right-winger Perrie Rose had a couple of bites at the cherry, hitting a right-footed drive from 25-yards, which was comfortably saved by Cathrew.

“He was unlucky there,” said Gonnella.

“Perrie’s another one really and he’s not had his fitness levels yet because he’s been out for a long time with a nasty knee injury.  Tonight was his first start in months so all credit to him getting through 55 minutes. “

Sporting Club Thamesmead created a chance from a set-piece in the 20th minute.

FC Elmstead’s defence let Smith’s free-kick from the right bounce several times inside their penalty box but McKimm stabbed the ball past the foot of the near post from inside the six-yard box at the far post.

Long said he wants goals from centre-half McKimm.

“Again, just being clinical is something that we’ve got to keep working on.  Obviously all be a fox in the box really from set-pieces and things from open play.  I just want him to join in and get in the box and join in and have an end product really.”

Sporting Club Thamesmead’s left-back Dan Walshe was their defensive weak link during the second half as FC Elmstead upped their intensity.

McKimm was booked by referee Paul Greenfield for pulling the shirt and then kicking Bertrand-Kesington as the FC Elmstead winger attempted to break past the centre-half down the left.

Deen floated in the resulting free-kick from the left and Cassius found a pocket of space inside the box to crack a shot on the turn into the roof of the net from 12-yards to bring FC Elmstead back into the game with 30 minutes and 29 seconds on the clock.

Gonnella said: “Brilliant finish! A brilliant ball from Ahmed to start off with.  Well taken by Cass. That’s what he’s capable off. That’s what he’s been doing all pre-season, all this season so far.”

Long said: “Again, just resilience standing up, just being strong and making sure the centre-halves are communicating and know where the players are and making sure it’s organised in front of them, as well as having the restraints not to concede. 

“Maybe we had a bit of tired legs but if you want to win games and you want to keep clean sheets, we’ve got to be resilient and stay strong for 90 minutes.”

Cassius was a threat to the home side during the second half and he received a threaded pass from substitute right-winger Jerome Walker but Cathrew got down low to make a comfortable save, following a shot from 30-yards.

With time ticking away, Cassius drilled a right-footed shot from 30-yards, which was comfortably saved low by Cathrew, but the equaliser was coming.

However, inside the final five minutes and Sporting Club Thamesmead created a couple of chances to snatch the victory.

Evans’ ball over the top released wide man substitute Jordan Cowin down the right channel and he cut the ball back along the goal-line but Kanan Fitton couldn’t squeeze the ball over the line as Axell showed enough desire to make a vital goal-line block.

Sporting Club Thamesmead missed a glorious chance to claim the victory with 47 minutes and 49 seconds on the clock.

McKimm’s chipped pass released Simms – who was quiet in the second half – down the left and he cut into the box and put the chance on a plate for an unmarked Fitton.

It seemed like the striker had too much time alone inside the penalty area and when he did shoot, Hyde rushed out and spread himself to smother the shot.  Fitton lost all composure and slipped his second shot past the foot of the right-hand post.

Long said: “Kanan’s a young lad, he’s got great potential for us.  I know what he’s capable of. He’s just got back into the team so he will score goals, don’t you worry about that!

“He’ll be hurting a little bit after that but I know what he’s capable of so he’s got to get his head up now and get him going again, which I know he will do.

“It was massive, absolutely massive. If we score that it’s game, set and match without a doubt. 

“But he’s young, he’ll learn but at the same time he’s got the confidence and the quality to come back from that and get stronger, he’ll be fine.”

Gonnella admitted: “I turned away thinking they’ve scored but full credit to Alex Hyde. I think the first save no one expected him to save it.   I think that might’ve put the striker off. I’m not too sure. The save from Hyde was brilliant. It was absolutely brilliant but lucky for us.”

It proved to be a big moment in the game as FC Elmstead deservedly equalised just 21 seconds later.

Walker was released down the right and was given acres of space by McFarlane (now playing at left-back) to put in a low cross for Sesay to tap the ball into the net from inside the six-yard box.

Gonnella said: “It was a brilliant move. It was well brought up, good build-up play from the boys.  Hyde and then about five or six passes all the way up to the front, brilliant play and Alimm, who rarely gets a goal, for whatever reason he’s found the legs to get into the box. He looked tired about five minutes before that but he was brilliant in the second half.”

Long added: “Again, we were a little bit done on the counter from our attack to their attack.  They’re chasing the game, kept going, all credit to them and that’s why they’re sitting top after two games and now they’re sitting top after three.  They did keep going and they’re a good team and they do try to play and they do well but I personally feel we’ve done really well tonight.”

FC Elmstead remain at the summit with seven points from three games, while Sporting Club Thamesmead are in second-place on six points.

“It showed, they surprised me again because we’re holding this position and to see that reaction and togetherness is brilliant,” said Gonnella.

“I said to the them (in the pre-match huddle), I’m so proud of them. It’s games like this when you look back at in the season and think that’s the point that done it for us, so moving forward we’ll take one step at a time. 

“It’s been a good start overall and we have to just keep it going. I think it’s well deserved.  The boys have listened to everything.  They’ve trained well. That second half is how they train. The intensity is so good and I think that’s helping them.  They’ve managed to bring that training mentality into games, so moving forward hopefully it stays that way.”

FC Elmstead hold home advantage over landlords Sutton Athletic in their next game on Bank Holiday Monday 26 August.

“Groundshare derby, if you want to call it. They’ve started the season well, for me they’re always yup there, so it’s going to be a tough game, a really tough game. We’ve got a nice little break now so it will be good for the boys.”

Sporting Club Thamesmead are next in action here next Thursday 22 August against Dartford based side Kent Football United.

The fixture was brought forward 24 hours due to Bayliss Avenue being used for a social function.

“It’s not a terrible start. It’s a whole new group of lads, they’re all learning about each other. Some of the group will grow and improve,” said Long.

“We’ll take the positives from this game because there were a lot and we’ll take it into the next game. I’m sure it will be an even better performance next week.”

Sporting Club Thamesmead: Aaron Cathrew, Reion McFarlane, Dan Walshe (Jordan Lovell 79), Chris Hubbard (Kanan Fitton 82),Devonte Roberts, Dan McKimm, Jedd Smith (Jordan Cowin 70), James Jewers, Aaron Jeffery, Alfie Evans, Merrick Simms.
Subs: Hussein Afolabi-Shittu, Joseph Sylvester

Goals: Aaron Jeffery 16, Jedd Smith 29

Booked: Dan McKimm 75

FC Elmstead: Alex Hyde, Alimm Sesay, Alfie Young, Michael Sarpong, Russell Carter-Thompson, Ahmed Deen, Perrie Rose (Jerome Walker 55), Mark Axell, Steve Karkari, Marcus Cassius, Ashley Bertrand-Kesington.
Subs: Melvin Kwasi, Darren Lalldin, Kevin Musinskas

Goals: Marcus Cassius 76, Alimm Sesay 90

Booked: Alimm Sesay 60

Attendance: 80
Referee:  Mr Paul Greenfield (Eltham, London SE9)
Assistants: Mr Shaakir Uddin (Chatham) & Mr Ethan Gillespie (Swanley)