Sevenoaks Town 1-1 Maidstone United - We came here knowing it would be a good test for the lads, says Maidstone United boss Jay Saunders

Thursday 14th July 2016
Sevenoaks Town 1 – 1 Maidstone United
Location Greatness Park, Mill Lane, Seal Road, Sevenoaks, Kent TN14 5BX
Kickoff 14/07/2016 19:45

Pre-Season Friendly
Thursday 14th July 2016
Stephen McCartney reports from Greatness Park

MAIDSTONE UNITED manager Jay Saunders says he appreciated the good test that Sevenoaks Town gave his newly-promoted side.

The Stones raced into a 3-0 lead at newly-promoted Ryman Premier League side Folkestone Invicta inside the opening 11 minutes on Tuesday night before coming away from Cheriton Road 6-1 winners but they found a disciplined Sevenoaks Town side a harder nut to crack.

Maidstone United are preparing for life in the Vanarama National League and Saunders confirmed that his side will retain their two nights per week training schedule – but they couldn’t beat a top-five Southern Counties East Football League side in front of 180 fans at Greatness Park.

Sevenoaks Town were the better side during the first half and deserved their lead through left-winger Kieran McCann’s thumping drive inside the opening 14 minutes.

Maidstone United restored parity through central midfielder Jack Paxman’s finish six minutes into the second half but couldn’t find the victory.

“I thought it was a good game.  I thought there could’ve been more goals, probably more goals from Sevenoaks’ point of view,” admitted Saunders, who said afterwards that he is targeting a top ten finish in the National League.

“I thought first half they probably should’ve gone in at half-time in front.  They had the better chances. 

“I thought Ben (Bridle-Card) pulled off some good saves but all-in-all, a very worthwhile exercise.”

Sevenoaks Town boss Micky Collins, who is searching for improving on the club’s top five finish of last season, said: “Good game, I enjoyed it. Both sides got quite a lot out of it, we certainly did! It was a great night for the club.

“Maidstone always do me proud, they always look after us. Jay always does and they bring a strong side down and we always have a good game with them. Tonight proved it and everyone that watched probably enjoyed it.”

Maidstone United won the corner count nine-to-one and Jamie Coyle came up from the back to loop his header into Rob French’s hands after meeting Vas Karagiannis’ left-wing delivery.

But Sevenoaks Town were to be denied by visiting keeper Ben Bridle-Card, who was on loan at Greatness Park towards the end of last season.

Yacine Gnahore swept the ball out wide to right-winger Harrison Carneige, who twisted and turned Paxman down the channel before whipping in an excellent deep cross for McCann to stoop down low to nod in from close range, only to be denied by a brilliant reaction save from Bridle-Card at his near post.

Collins said: “It’s a great save from Ben! We’ve done everything, played some good football, got in and Ben, who was our keeper at the end of last season, that’s a fantastic save, at any level!  When he dived I thought it was Worgs. Yes, we could’ve been one up with that!”

Saunders added: “Brilliant save! Ben’s a good keeper.  Obviously Mick knows him well down here because he spent last season on loan so we know he’s a good keeper and he’s capable of that.  I used to have him in the Academy as well, so I know a lot about him and I’m very confident with him between the sticks.  It’s good for him to have 90 minutes and Worgs (Lee Worgan) will get 90 minutes (at Welling United) on Saturday.”

Maidstone United swiftly responded and Karagiannis was to be denied by a fine save from French, palming the ball over the crossbar high to his right.

Collins added: “Frenchie hasn’t had a lot of football because he’s carrying a groin injury from last season so we’ve thrown him in a bit to get 90 minutes tonight. Rob’s a good goalkeeper and that’s another good save.”

But Sevenoaks Town took a deserved lead with 13 minutes and 14 seconds on the clock.

Paxman was guilty for some poor defending on the edge of the Maidstone United box and Gnahore played the ball inside to Anthony Fenech, who was denied a debut goal by the keeper using his legs to make a fine block.  The ball came out to McCann, who drilled a first time left-footed shot into the back of the net.

Collins said: “Great finish with his weak foot! That’s a great strike. He’s right-footed but it was his left-foot. It’s a good goal, well-deserved. I thought it was a good finish.”

Collins was playing down the fact that Sevenoaks Town were leading a National League outfit for 37 minutes and were the better side during the first half.

He said: “It’s not about that! It’s an irrelevance the score for me. You just want your team to play with the shape that you command and you want your boys to fit into it. We’ve got five or six that started the game that weren’t here last season. We could be all over the place but we’ve been disciplined.  We’ve worked on stuff even though we haven’t played anyone yet.  We worked on a shape we wanted to play and how we’re going to conduct ourselves and the boys have absorbed it and took it on board.

“You’re not going to be more tested than playing against a team in the National that are going to open you up and show your weaknesses and I thought we coped with it quite well.”

Saunders said: “Great finish! They probably should’ve scored just before that, Ben saved it with his legs and it’s rebounded out and to be fair to Kieran he’s taken it well.

“I thought they started better than us. We started really sharp down at Folkestone the other night and we changed it tonight and I thought in all fairness to Sevenoaks, they started really, really well.”

Sevenoaks Town’s promising start was to stun a side that now play four levels higher.

Saunders said: “You don’t really think about it.  It’s early in the game, obviously you want to win every game but at the same time the reason why we came down to Sevenoaks and we do it every year is because Mick has his teams very well organised, they’re very hard working and they’re good sides so I knew when we came down here, I said to the boys before the game, it will be a really good test for you.

“When you kind of picking out what happened with the goal, on that occasion I thought it was a very good finish.”

Maidstone United turned defence into a counter-attack as Paxman headed away Greg Benbow’s free-kick and Tom Mills played the ball up to Ben Greenhalgh, who swept the ball out to Karagiannis who held the ball up to set up Greenhalgh, but the former Inter Milan player hit his left-footed drive over the bar from 25-yards.

Sevenoaks Town’s right-back Jack Miles kept Karagiannis in his pocket, so much that his clearance behind for a corner struck his dad who was standing behind the fencing.

Karagiannis swung in the resulting corner, which was met by another Coyle header at the far post and this was comfortably gathered by French.

Sevenoaks Town should have doubled their lead in the 27th minute when Miles clipped a clever free-kick from the half-way line into a hole for Gnahore to latch onto and chip the ball over both the advancing keeper and crossbar.

Karagiannis found Coyle’s head with another deep corner from the left and Coyle’s towering header hung in the air and Flisher just failed to poke the ball in from beside the left-hand post.

Saunders said: “We had a lot of corners. The delivery wasn’t the greatest to be honest. Vas’s deliveries are normally better than that but that’s his first run-out pre-season, he was struggling to play against Folkestone so I thought his deliveries are normally better than that.  You’d like to think from nine corners you’d have a couple more chances really but it’s one of them.

Collins added: “They’re very strong at that! You expect that at that level. That’s what they work on.  They’ve got some good delivery on the ball, a long through in from Flish, big strong lads. We’re going to struggle with that, especially against that but we actually dealt with that ok, which is a bonus.”

Greenhalgh, who was playing in the number 10 role, sprayed the ball over to Karagiannis, who took a couple of touches before drilling a shot which deflected off John Lord before French made a comfortable low save at his near post.

Maidstone United’s best chance saw Karagiannis cut in from the right to the centre before spraying the ball out wide to Alex Flisher, who cut inside and cracked a left-footed drive sailing just past the far post.

Saunders said: “Good strike to be honest.  This year I’m looking to play Flish sort of more central but for the sake of giving everyone minutes it’s one of them where we played him wider.  He’s been capable of that (shot) Flish. On another day I’ve seen him hit that far corner a lot of times. Great strike but unfortunate for him it’s a little bit wide.

“We had some good possession at times but we didn’t really hurt Sevenoaks. That’s sometimes pre-season, you can have all the possession in the world but you need to be a lot more ruthless with it and I thought Sevenoaks were that and that’s why they created the better chances. They were a lot more direct in the final third.”

Sevenoaks Town went in at the break with a deserved one-goal lead. 

When asked what pleased him the most, Collins replied: “Our shape! The fact that we put five new lads in there and they’ve got the shape going forward but they got exactly what I asked of them out of possession, knowing how Maidstone play and they’ve listened to instruction and taken it on board and that pleased me and the level of fitness already six sessions in. We looked ok, we coped with it, which was good.”

Collins was then asked his thoughts about leading Maidstone United at the break.

He said: “There’s no thinking really. You don’t go in and think we’re 1-0 up against Maidstone. You don’t really look at that because the scores an irrelevance because we could come out and lose 8-1 so it doesn’t matter. All that matters, what I’ve asked them to do and they’ve carried it out and that’s the most important thing.”

Saunders was refusing to panic and said: “I just said to them in there first and foremost it was just to make sure we’re doing the right things.  I didn’t think we moved the ball quick enough. I thought we had too many touches.  Their goal actually, it was Jack Paxman who took too many touches on the edge of the box and if he just dropped it off it could’ve been cleared and I thought that was the case.  I think we didn’t switch play quick enough and when we did have possession we didn’t look after it well enough to create anything in the final third.  We didn’t put enough crosses in the box and it was just little things like that really. I’m just trying to get them doing the right things and I thought we came out second half and started a little bit better but no ranting and raving, just a case of making sure they’re aware of things I’m asking.”

Saunders made one change at the break with Jack Richards coming on down the left flank for striker Jay May, while Collins made two changes at the break with striker Adam Marsh and central midfielder Charles Ofusu-Hene coming on for Fenech and Jimmy Rogers.

Referee Garry Maskell was in the middle for the first half but he was replaced by assistant referee Gerry Heron for the second half, while fourth official Chris Myatt took the flag after the interval, leaving Maskell to take up fourth-official duties.

Sevenoaks Town created the first chance of the second half, Marsh’s speculative right-footed chip from 30-yards comfortably dropping into Bridle-Card’s hands after two minutes.

As expected, Maidstone United came out with more desire and upped their game.

Mills played the ball forward from left-back, Flisher brought the ball down and Greenhalgh's left-footed drive brought the very best out of highly-rated keeper French, diving full-length to his left to palm the ball away.

Greenhalgh then produced a solo run from the half-way line towards the Sevenoaks box and his left-footed drive was saved by French down beside his near post.

Collins said: “That was a good save but you’d expect it then. We’re going to be that little more tired, we’ve had a break, we’re not on it and you expect to get stretched a bit and we did.”

Saunders said: “He made a couple of good saves. Ben’s good at driving on from those areas.  When he was here in his first spell we played him a little bit wider. We played him in the hole (tonight) and he picked up good pockets and I thought he looked a threat in there.

“A couple of good saves from Frenchie and it was a better start.  I think that was important. It’s always hard if you don’t come out first or second half well. It always gives the other team a little boost.”

Maidstone United notched a deserved equaliser in the 51st minute.

Substitute Jack Richards fed the ball into Paxman, who swept the ball to Flisher, who played Paxman through on goal and he skipped past French and kept his composure to steer his low shot into the bottom far corner.

Saunders said: “Jack Richards came on and made a difference in the second half.  For a young lad he done really well. He got the ball, he played a lovely ball into Pax and a one-two and Pax took it well, so yes, it was a nice goal. It was a confident finish.”

Collins added: “That’s disappointing because at half-time the thing we said they’ll probably look to do is push the third man running and we’ve got to pick the third man runner up and they didn’t do it and that’s something we addressed at half-time and just made sure we were coping with it and it was the only time that we got undone and that was the reason we’ve had a bit of a moan about it at the end of the game. You expect to get opened up by Maidstone, they’re a good side.”

Sevenoaks Town squandered an excellent chance to regain the lead only 48 seconds after conceding.

McCann sped down the left channel and whipped in a quality cross towards an unmarked Gnahore, who somehow looped his header over the bar when he only had Bridle-Card to beat from six-yards.

Collins said: “I’m glad it weren’t a league game!  It was straight from the kick-off, we’ve gone down the wing, we’ve crossed it and he’s four yards out. It’s an open goal, he’s missed the header and he’s just headed it over. It should’ve been a goal.  We should’ve bene in front!

“I think Jay will probably be disappointed that they’ve switched off a little bit and we’ve got in that easily and I’m glad that we’ve shown a bit of spine to come straight out from conceding a goal and have a really, really gilt-edged opportunity.”

Maidstone United went close before Saunders made seven changes on the hour-mark.

Paxman played the ball out to Karagiannis on the right and he whipped in a quality cross towards the far post for an unmarked Richards to run in and crack his right-footed volley across goal and agonisingly past the far post.

Saunders said: “At Folkestone we picked two teams and I said half of them will play 60 minutes and then we’ll swap it and do half hour and we’ll reverse it for tonight.  Going forward now we’ll give people a little bit longer because I’m confident the fitness levels are there, or are at a good standard.  I’m not a big fan of drip feeding and doing one every five minutes or every one every three and a half minutes and it keeps stopping the game. I’d rather get them all on and go from there.”

Collins, who used six subs tonight, added: “Jay always tells me what he’s going to do and to be fair he told me exactly what he’s going to do and I have major admiration for him because he’s got people here who he has to play and he has to look at.

“We’re on the same boat. I try to keep the subs to a minimum and try to filter them in so it doesn’t spoil our style because if we open ourselves up too early we’re going to get destroyed because we haven’t got the quality of player all the time to cope with these teams.”

Marsh played a one-two with McCann but stroked his shot into Bridle-Card’s hands, making a comfortable save.

Maidstone United’s substitute striker Tom Murphy failed to get a couple of shots on target before Callum Drive floated in a cross from the right and fellow sub Bayan Fenwick flicked his shot across goal and past the far post.

Substitute midfielder Jack Evans was on the end of a couple of hefty challenges and he stepped up and hit a 30-yard free-kick sailing over the Sevenoaks crossbar.

Sevenoaks’ left-back Benbow, who picked up a knock in the last two minutes as the home side finished the game with 10 men, lost the ball in midfield to Evans, who played the ball up to Murphy, who set up Fenwick, who drilled a poor shot wide.

Bobby-Joe Taylor raced forward and Evans right-footed angled drive from 30-yards deflected into the foot of the side netting as Maidstone United failed to get in behind a well-marshalled defence led by Lord and Corey Holder.

Saunders said: “I thought we had quite a bit of possession without really hurting them.  I thought our decision making in the final third tonight was quite poor. It was quite the opposite at Folkestone on Tuesday night.  I don’t think we got enough crosses in the box tonight and we didn’t ask enough questions but I thought Sevenoaks defended really well. I was impressed with them tonight. I thought they done well.”

Evans clipped the ball in behind Michael Fahm and Callum Driver’s pass from the right went to Taylor, who cut inside and his shot screamed past the foot of the near post.

Maidstone United created the final chance when former Welling United central defender Kevin Lokko clipped a long ball from the half-way line but Fenwick failed to get his free-header on target from eight-yards, the ball looping over.

Saunders said: “I thought Lokko came on and done very well. He came forward a few times and I’ve been pleased with him last couple of games. He’s put a good ball in and Bayan’s just headed it over.”

Many people would’ve expected Maidstone United to turn Sevenoaks Town over but Saunders was pleased with the outcome.

He said: “A real, good worthwhile experience. A good match. I think both sides got a lot out of it. It’s another 60 minutes under their belt for some of our players and we can now look forward to Welling on Saturday.  There won’t be wholesale changes like there was the last two games.

“We came here knowing it would be a good test for the lads and I said that Tuesday night after Folkestone.

“All-in-all, like any manager will tell you, it’s not a massive thing about the result. It’s always nice to win them but the main thing is it was a proper game, it was a realistic sort of games and that’s what you want at this stage of pre-season.”

Sevenoaks Town are kicking off their pre-season campaign against three National League sides at Greatness Park.  Bromley arrive next Tuesday, while Dover Athletic come calling on Saturday 23 July.

Collins has used his contacts to pull in Kent’s three highest placed non-league clubs.

He said: “It’s pre-season, it’s not meant to be easy. The first three you want really tough ones. You want to be tested. There’s no point going through pre-season just rolling teams over and beating people. You don’t get nothing out of it.  You want the big sides to come here.

“I’m proud and I feel privileged that these people, Jay, Neil Smith, a good friend of mine at Bromley and my good old mate Chris Kinnear will bring teams here and bring strong teams here. That’s a credit to us and I can’t thank them enough for it. It means an awful lot to us at our level.”

Sevenoaks Town: Rob French, Jack Miles, Greg Benbow, Jimmy Rogers (Charles Ofusu-Hene 46), John Lord, Corey Holder, Harrison Carnegie (Gary Stock 61), Joe Bingham (Steve Camacho 56), Anthony Fenech (Adam Marsh 46), Yacine Gnahore (Frankie Barker 65), Kieran McCann (Michael Fahm 65).

Goal: Kieran McCann 14

Maidstone United: Ben Bridle-Card, Will Thomas, Tom Mills (Callum Driver 60), Jamie Coyle (Kevin Lokko 60), Callum Davies, James Rogers (Jack Evans 60), Vas Karagiannis (Bobby-Joe Taylor 60), Jack Paxman (Dan Sweeney 60), Jay May (Jack Richards 46), Ben Greenhalgh (Bayan Fenwick 60), Alex Flisher (Tom Murphy 60).

Goal: Jack Paxman 51

Attendance: 180
Referee: Mr Garry Maskell (Greenwich, London SE10)
Assistants: Mr Gerry Heron (West Wickham) & Mr Tom Fell (East Ham, London E6)
Fourth Official: Mr Chris Myatt (Dartford)