Seven Acre & Sidcup 1-2 Sittingbourne - All that mattered today was we went through, admits Sittingbourne player-boss Nick Davis

Thursday 27th August 2015
Seven Acre & Sidcup 1 – 2 Sittingbourne
Location Bayliss Avenue, Thamesmead, London SE28 8NJ
Kickoff 28/08/2015 19:45

The FA Cup Preliminary Round (Sponsored by Emirates)
Friday 28th August 2015
Stephen McCartney reports from Bayliss Avenue

SITTINGBOURNE player-manager Nick Davis says getting through a tricky FA Cup Preliminary Round tie against a club two league’s lower than them was all that mattered.

Kent Invicta League club Seven Acre & Sidcup have enjoyed three FA Cup ties in their debut season in the competition.

They came agonisingly close to beating Southern Counties East Football League side Sevenoaks Town at Greatness Park, but after Anthony Fenech drilled in the club’s first ever FA Cup goal, Adrian Stone popped up to break their hearts with a last-gasp equaliser.

But Seven Acre & Sidcup secured tonight’s tie against Ryman League Division One South Sittingbourne after beating Micky Collins’ side 4-2 on penalties after Fenech’s first half penalty had cancelled out Austin Gacheru’s opener and the two sides could not be separated after extra time on a wet night in Thamesmead.

Sittingbourne arrived at Bayliss Avenue tonight with two wins and three defeats in their league campaign – sitting in the bottom six - and they also defeated Ryman Premier League side Merstham 2-1 in the League Cup.

Lee Hill’s side went into this game in tenth-place in the table with two wins and one defeat from their opening three games, although they can take great pride from their FA Cup campaign.

Sittingbourne read the script as they took an early lead through a fantastic run and shot from left-back Conrad Lee, but target-man Fenech raced through to slot home his seventh goal of the season before half-time.

There appeared not to be two levels difference between the two Kent sides and Sittingbourne’s longest-serving player, Hicham Akhazzan came off the bench to
avoid his club slipping up on a potential banana skin and to bank the club a welcome £1,925 in prize money.

“In all honesty, it was exactly what we expected. We knew it was going to be tough,” said Davis afterwards.

“We’ve had them watched twice, spoke to various people and they were spot-on with their assessment.

“He’s got them well-organised and I think they’re well decent. It was always going to be tough to come here and get a result.

“I thought it was a bit too easy to begin with. We scored the goal and when we did score the goal we took the foot of it a little bit.

“We played some good stuff and we lost it and they did score. When you play a certain way you expect that to happen sometimes.”

Seven Acre & Sidcup’s assistant manager Steve Arnold said: “We can be proud of the boys and they can be proud of themselves really.

“For long periods of the game we didn’t look totally out of place at all bearing in mind they were two leagues above us now. I think we’ve done really well.

“We went down to have a look at them in midweek so we knew what we was up against, but that’s happens in a game. We had our own chances as well.

“Disappointed to go and concede the goal like we did, again getting close to the end of the game with seven minutes to go. You always say you look at the defending and stuff.

“The first goal, the boy took it well. You really can’t do too much about that! The second one, we’re a little bit disappointed with but a draw would have been a fairer result.

“Again, the boys have put everything out on the pitch for us so it was a good performance.”

Seven Acre & Sidcup created the first chance of the game with 8 minutes and 25 seconds on the clock.

Fenech won his aerial battle by heading the ball inside to left-winger Chris Hubbard, who sped past right-back Jack Steventon before dinking the ball back to Fenech, who hit a first time shot with his right-foot from 15-yards, which looped up into Adam Molloy’s hands for a comfortable catch.

Arnold said: “We set our stall out. We didn’t really want to go direct against their back four so what we say in the week, they’d eat that up all day. That’s the league they’re in!

“It’s a longer ball game centre halves win balls in the air all the time. Fenech’s done well against them.” 

Davis admitted he knew he was going to be in for a tricky night.

“Yes, I mean it’s a leveller isn’t it? We’ve played against (then Conference South) Staines the year before and it happens doesn’t it? It’s the magic of the Cup isn’t it?

“We’ve got a young side so some of these lads were playing at this level. I’ve got five teenagers in my (squad) today. We’re ok playing against the better sides, we went to Merstham and outplayed Merstham because we had nothing to lose.

“Today, that’s what I said to the lads, let’s see how we’re like against a side that’s so-called underdogs. We’re not faced too many sides like that because we’re always the underdog.”

But Sittingbourne settled any nerves by taking the lead with 11 minutes and 27 seconds on the clock.

Miles Cornwell, who started the game in the hole behind the front two, played the ball inside to Lee, who collected the ball near to the half-way line before running with the ball for 30-yards. 

Seven Acre & Sidcup’s defenders failed to approach him and the former Erith Town left-back curled his right-footed shot screaming into the near corner of the goal from 25-yards.

“Great goal, wasn’t it?” came Davis’ reply.

“Fantastic!  He’s left-footed as well! He’s put it on his right. His right’s not bad either. We got Conrad from Erith Town. I tell you what, he’s been our best player this year! No winger’s got the better of him and I can’t speak more highly of him.

“He really deserved that. He’s got the energy to get up and down like a proper old wing-back and I’m really pleased for him.”

Arnold said: “A great finish from the lad! I won’t take that away from him but he’s gone past certainly more players than we’d like him to gone by. That to us to get into a position to have a shot that was too easy but there you go, he took it well.”

Ollie Bankole (who alongside Ollie Brown) sat in front of the Sittingbourne back four, released Harry Smith down the right and his low centre was put out for a throw by the excellent Tony Hill.

Steventon came up from right-back to launch a long throw into the box from beside the corner flag, the ball sailing to Davis at the far post whose stooping header from eight-yards sailed across goal to clip the far post.

The boss said: “I was running away, I thought I’d scored! It was in! It bounced and I had to make a play on myself. It was flying in. I was wheeling away. I was about to celebrate but it wasn’t to be.”

Arnold added: “We started a little bit slow. We didn’t get close enough to them in midfield. Yes, they got some early chances. It could have been a long night. Thankfully we settled down and got ourselves back in the game.”

Seven Acre & Sidcup defender Ricky Hardie cut short a Sittingbourne breakaway by tackling Adam Williams before releasing Ade Akande down the right.  The right-back played a low cross over to Tony Ecuyer, who flicked his pass on for Fenech, but Molloy raced off his line to smother the ball at the striker’s feet.

Now, it will be a surprise if former Welling United attacker Josh Patrick stays in the Kent Invicta League for much longer and he came within inches of giving the Acre the lead on the half-hour mark.

Left-back Frankie Beale hit a sublime 50-yard diagonal pass and Patrick brought the ball down under his spell before cutting in and hitting a left-footed curler on the turn which sailed agonisingly around the far post from 16-yards.

The club will face a battle to keep hold of their prized talent.

Arnold said: “You’ve seen him over the last couple of games, that’s what Josh does! He’s more than capable of actually bending that in so he was unfortunate tonight. He had a few good chances but on another day they dropped in. It’s just one of those things, some drop in, some don’t!”

Sittingbourne then created a couple of chances when Brown played the ball into Smith, who spun to hit a right-footed shot into Colin Barnes’ hands from 20-yards.

Bankole then played the ball into target-man Smith, who cut inside and curled his left-footed shot around the post from the corner of the box.

Then, George Crimmen clipped the ball out of Sittingbourne’s defence up to Smith, who chested the ball down to his strike partner Adam Williams, who stung Barnes’ fingers with his shot.

Davis said: “Build up play, we got in and amongst it.  Our problem is our final pass. We’ve created a lot of chances this year so much more than we did at the back end of last year, which is pleasing.  At least we’re creating them but you’re right, our final ball at times wasn’t good enough. The build-up play was nice, it was nice little stuff and it got stuck underneath us a couple of times.”

Patrick saw Molloy had ventured off his line and hit a speculative drive from 30-yards, the keeper running back to pluck the ball out of the air from underneath his crossbar.

Seven Acre & Sidcup equalised in the 38th minute, courtesy of a mistake from Bankole.

The midfielder gifted the ball to Hubbard who played a delicious through ball along the deck to release the powerful Fenech through the heart of Sittingbourne’s defence.

As Molloy advanced, he skipped past the Sittingbourne keeper and maintained composure to slot his right-footed shot into the empty net from ten-yards.

“Words can’t describe really, it’s a dream to play in The FA Cup but to score in it, you can’t describe it! It’s the best feeling in the world but scoring the goal and not going through, it’s nothing really. I’d rather had gone through and not scored,” said Fenech, 23.

“I went through one-on-one with the keeper. Before, I was going to go bottom corner but I disguised it. I took it around him and put it in with my right foot.”

Reflecting on his seventh goal of the campaign, Fenech said: “Just been in the right place at the right time. He (Hill) wants me to stay in the box instead of coming deep, that’s what I’m doing. I’m staying in the box and getting the goals but I’d rather win games and not get goals but that’s me. I want to be a team player. Goals mean nothing to me!”

And on his club’s FA Cup exit, Fenech added: “It’s gutting, it’s heartbreaking but we go again next year! Playing a team two leagues above us we played our heart out and what more can we do? There’s nothing else than we can do so we keep our heads up and move on to next week.

“We gave them a good enough game. As it was, fitness levels showed. You can tell they’re two leagues higher than us!”

Arnold was quick to praise the striker by saying, “I think he’s scored in every game so far this year! Fench’s growing into it. He’s doing well. We just have to keep him a little bit grounded.”

Davis added: “We was spread out to give him (Bankole) some options and he’s through. It’s just one of them. If you play that way that’s their only clear cut chance of the night, I’m pleased with that.

“You say there was no difference between the sides but I think our football was a lot better at times than theirs.

“Game on, you’re damn right it is! You could see the players staring to niggle at one another, blame themselves and others. What’s done is done now. If you’re playing a certain way and playing some decent football, you’re going to lose the ball at times. Even the best sides in non-league football do that!”

Cornwell had the last chance of the first half when he cut in from the left but his right-footed angled drive from 30-yards bounced into the hands of the Acre keeper.

Davis revealed his thoughts at half-time, although he only lasted eight minutes after he was replaced by Jono Richardson.

“Just said, keep playing, keep going! We’ll be fitter than them. I thought we’d be fitter than them. The lively start of the Ryman League we expected to be fitter. Just keep passing and keep playing and to be fair the first 15 we weren’t that great, but I thought we controlled the game for the last half-hour.

“I played 90 minutes on Tuesday in a tough Kent derby (against Whitstable) – man-of-the-match by the way!

“Jono’s just come back from four weeks away so he’s an important player for us. It was a tough game, we won 1-0. Jon needs minutes so he got a good half-an-hour.”

Arnold added: “Again, at half-time, we just got back into the game but we were slow to start. We gave them too much respect if you like. You’ve got to respect them because they’re two leagues above but once the first half’s out of the way you can get amongst your players.

“We were playing some good football. We felt they were more direct than what we were playing and we just told the boys to start tighten up in midfield and get a little bit closer to them, don’t give them so much time on the ball and just keep playing how we were playing.

“I don’t think we were too far short in getting it right really.”

Seven Acre & Sidcup were to be denied an equaliser inside the opening six minutes.

Billy Higgins played a diagonal pass to Beale, who was given time and space to float a deep cross into the Sittingbourne box and Fenech bulldozed his way through and managed to flick his shot from underneath his feet, which was blocked by the Sittingbourne keeper.

Arnold said: “That ended up one of them laying on the floor, I think, in that instance. Again both me and Lee had our heart in our mouths sort of thing that we were just looking for that one to just nestle.”

Sittingbourne’s first chance of the second half saw skipper Tom Brunt cut inside and feed Lee on the overlap and Barnes rushed off his line to smother the ball from the feet of the goalscorer.

Williams’ last chance came to him within a couple of minutes before he was replaced by pacy right-winger Fred Obasa.

Davis said of Obasa: “He’s quick, isn’t he? He’s only 20, he’s been at Greenwich Borough and he’s come pre-season and he’s brilliant! He gives us another option. He’s absolutely lively. He’s offside too many times. He’s not the finished article but I’ll tell you what, he’s got that turn of pace that scares defenders!”

Brown played the ball into Cornwell, who set up Williams, who hit a deflected drive which bounced into Barnes’ hands for a comfortable save.

Seven Acre & Sidcup scared Sittingbourne following their fifth and last corner in the 63rd minute.

Ecuyer swung in the ball from the left towards the far post and if Patrick’s over-head kick had swooped into the back of the net then it would have been something special – the ball sliced past the far post.

The game then turned scrappy. Bankole produced a run and shot from 35-yards, which comfortably bounced into Barnes’ glove.

Brown attempted a 35-yarder, which lacked any conviction and rolled into the hands of the Seven Acre & Sidcup keeper as the game headed towards the final 20 minutes.

Smith should have done better for Sittingbourne when he rose at the far post to meet Brunt’s corner from the right but the ball deflected off Fenech’s head and behind for another corner.

Sittingbourne were denied by some excellent defending by Hardie, who made a great penalty box tackle to prevent Obasa shaping up to score from a drilled angled drive after the quick winger latched onto Cornwell’s pass.

Sittingbourne jumped over the banana skin by scoring the winner with seven minutes remaining.

Steventon released Obasa down the right and he reached the by-line before cutting the ball back to Bankole, who laid the ball inside to an unmarked Akhazzan, who rifled his left-footed shot into the top near corner from six-yards.

Davis said: “We could’ve brought on any of our players. Connor Leon cane turn a game, a young lad from Charlton. Steffan (Wright) gives us loads of energy, he’s played all of our games when I was here last year and Hich has been away.

“But Hich scored 10 goals for us last year and he gets important goals and he always seems to punish the lower sort of sides and I know he would come on the back stick and score a goal.

“I hold my hands up to that one. It doesn’t work sometimes but it worked there and he’s the one you want in that situation, he’s a technically good player.”

Arnold admitted he knew the winning goal was coming.

He said: “Thoughts on that is as that was building up I screamed from the bench, that they had two at the back that were being unmarked. We ball watched, it dropped over us, it dropped to them and they put it in the back of the net. That was the mistake that cost us the game.

“I don’t think there’s any shame of going out of The FA Cup at this stage, playing the teams that we did, putting in the performances that we did.”

Sittingbourne’s final chance saw Akhazzan turn provider, putting Crimmen in behind the defence down the left-hand side but Smith spooned his shot over the bar from six-yards out.

Davis added: “He had a few chances, one that came straight in, he bashed one over. Again, he could be on 10 goals Harry Smith, the size of him and everything else. He just needs a bit more composure in front of goal. I reckon he’ll get 15 goals this year.”

Seven Acre & Sidcup deserved a second bite of the cherry and they came so close to forcing a replay inside time added on.

Beale hung a free-kick towards the far post from the left and Fenech rose with keeper Molloy but directed his header narrowly past the post from four-yards.

Arnold said: “Again, there’s no blame or shame in that! It’s great football again from the boys.

“Frankie’s come in today, he’s done really well, we’re really pleased with him.

“Fen’s gets up and his header’s gone the wrong side of the post. Another day it drops in but it’s one of these things.

“We just build from this. From our point of view, from management but I think from the players’ point of view, they’ve got to look at what we’ve achieved. I’d say we’re more than capable of actually a lot this year. We’ve gone up against better sides potentially in higher leagues, both occasions and haven’t looked out of place.  In our own league, we should now look to stamp our authority on games.

“The boys have now set the benchmark quite high now. Anything lower than that, we won’t be happy about it!

“Testament to the boys. They’ve worked hard in pre-season. We’ve got them playing football. It’s all about belief and what they want to achieve here this season. They’re more than capable going into the league games and doing well.

“We’ve played (Sevenoaks Town from) the league above and we still didn’t look out of place so we’re doing the right things at the right time. Playing football, you can go and play against anyone really.”

Davis said: “Look, it’s a Cup tie isn’t it? We’re playing a team two league’s below us. We’re on a hiding to nothing tonight – I know that – I’m just so pleased we won the game.

“That’s all that mattered today, was we went through and the money for the club, which is desparately needed.”

Sittingbourne travel to Ramsgate on Monday (subject to the Rams not drawing their FA Cup tie on Saturday), are at home to Guernsey on Saturday, 5 September, before the early return trip to managerless Whitstable Town on 8 September.

Davis is looking forward to their FA Cup First Qualifying Round tie at Metropolitan Police on 12 September.

“Not the best tie next if I’m being honest, Metropolitan Police away. They’ve not had the best of starts but we’ll go there as the underdog, which we did at Merstham. We’ll go there full of confidence. We’ll get a coach and it will be a great day out.”

Seven Acre & Sidcup: Colin Barnes, Ade Akande (Billy Skinner 89), Frankie Beale, Billy Higgins, Tony Hill, Ricky Hardie, Tony Ecuyer (Basit Ajala 84), Magnus Orelaja, Anthony Fenech, Josh Patrick, Chris Hubbard (Sam Bailey 87).
Subs: Brad Marshall, Michael Samoi, Tony Oyugi, Michael Dillon

Goal: Anthony Fenech 38

Sittingbourne: Adam Molloy, Jack Steventon, Conrad Lee, Nick Davis (Jono Richardson 53), George Crimmen, Ollie Bankole, Tom Brunt (Hicham Akhazzan 79), Ollie Brown, Harry Smith, Adam Williams (Fred Obasa 59), Miles Cornwell.
Subs: Stefan Wright, Dave Pilcher, Connor Leon

Goals: Conrad Lee 12, Hicham Akhazzan 83

Booked: Ollie Brown 90

Attendance:  152
Referee: Mr Phil Rowley (Canterbury)
Assistants: Mr Ollie Butcher (Canterbury) & Mr Ivan Gelov (Canterbury)