Sheppey United 1-1 Billericay Town - To get to the First Round of The FA Cup and be here and play a Football League club the feeling is just so special, says lost for words Sheppey United boss Ernie Batten

Tuesday 17th October 2023
Sheppey United 1 – 1 Billericay Town
Location Holm Park, St Peters Close, Queenborough Road, Halfway, Sheerness, Kent ME12 3BD
Kickoff 17/10/2023 19:55

(after extra time – Sheppey United win 5-4 on penalties)
The Emirates FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round Replay
Tuesday 17 October 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from Holm Park

SHEPPEY UNITED manager Ernie Batten says leading the club to The FA Cup First Round for the very first time is the best moment of his managerial career.

Kick-off was delayed for 10 minutes for Sheppey United’s second largest crowd (1,235) at Holm Park – and the home fans were treated to a performance full of heart and desire which helped The Ites book a lucrative home tie against League Two side Walsall in the First Round in early November.

Talisman striker Daniel Bradshaw – who gave the Ites a ninth minute lead with a clinical strike during Saturday’s 1-1 draw in Essex – headed in his seventh goal of the season to give Batten’s side another lead against their Isthmian League Premier Division opponents.

Billericay Town deserved their leveller when it arrived from Canterbury-born midfielder Bradley Stevenson, 25, with six minutes of normal time remaining to ensure this Fourth Qualifying Round Replay would last the distance.

Referee Lewis Sandoe gave Batten’s side a major lift when he sent off Billericay Town central midfielder Ben Wells for two yellow cards in the 103rd minute but this epic finished at 22:47, courtesy of Jacob Lambert’s right-boot, as Sheppey United claimed a famous win, 5-4 on penalties.

“It feels absolutely immense! I don’t know where to start,” said Batten during the post-match press conference.

“It was a typical FA Cup tie. It had so many incidents and so much toing and throwing.

“I just feel absolutely elated, elated for everybody at the football club. Elated for the island who came out in their numbers tonight and supported us.  I’m lost for words!

“It means everything, it means absolutely everything!  I’ve said to you before, to get to where we are in sort of eight or nine short years and have a Football League club here and to be in The FA Cup First Round is just everything and the support that came out tonight and the community, it’s growing, the support is growing.

“Interest in the football club is growing. We’ve got so many youth teams now. We’ve got a ladies’ team started this season and it’s all going in the right direction.”

Sheppey United have beaten Midhurst & Easebourne (3-0), Kennington (3-1), Burgess Hill Town (3-0) and came away from Wales with a 4-1 win at Merthyr Town and put in an impressive performance in their 1-1 draw at Billericay Town on Saturday – but tonight’s game will live long in the memory for the lowest ranked club left in The FA Cup.

The Ites join their Isthmian League South East Division rivals Ramsgate and Cray Valley (Paper Mills) in the FA Cup First Round, with Ben Smith’s Rams’ hosting National League side Woking, while Steve McKimm’s Millers have a glamour dream tie at The Valley against League One neighbours Charlton Athletic.

Gary McCann’s side, meanwhile, arrived on the Island having defeated Stowmarket Town (7-0), Brightlingsea Regent (3-1) and St Albans City (1-0).

Billericay Town are in fifth-placed in the seventh-tier with 16 points from eight games, while Sheppey United were in sixteenth-placed in eighth-tier, unbeaten with five points from three league games.

Sheppey United came out with all guns blazing and almost opened the scoring after only 68 seconds.

James Bessey-Saldanha rolled the ball back to holding midfielder Richard Hamill, who pinged a quality first-time diagonal pass towards left-back Frankie Del Morgan, who’s cross from the left-channel was cleared out to Lambert, who hit a right-footed drive towards the bottom left-hand corner from eight-yards, only for visiting goalkeeper Daniel Wilks to get down low to his right to push the ball away.

“I think we started quite well and got hold of the ball and passed it. We had our moves and he had a good opportunity, it was a good effort,” added Batten.

Billericay Town raced up the other end and missed a decent chance just 48 seconds later.

Striker Ade Azeez was released down the right channel and he put over a deep cross towards the unmarked Stevenson, who lashed a first-time drive over the crossbar from 15-yards.

Billericay Town kept patient in possession but they often went to pieces inside the box, with left-back Matthew Dench offering width going forward, while right-back George Wind didn’t advance up the pitch like his fellow full-back.

Dench put over a cross from the left, the ball was knocked down by Saturday’s scorer, Frankie Merrifield, inside the box but Alfie Cerulli hit his shot over the crossbar from 16-yards.

A 30-yard crossfield run from Sheppey United’s right-winger Danny Leonard saw the ball was cut to Bessey-Saldanha before the ball was worked to central midfielder Josh Wisson, whose shot from just inside the box was charged down and the former Dartford goalkeeper made a comfortable save.

Billericay Town were lacking in quality inside the final third and an example of this was when centre-half Matt Johnson played the ball along the deck to Stevenson (more wide left than the central midfield position he had on Saturday), who lashed his shot high and wide of the target from 25-yards.

Sheppey United opened the scoring with 18 minutes and 42 seconds on the clock – and Holm Park erupted!

Centre-half Olamilekan Majoyegbe played the ball into an unmarked Wisson, who clipped a fine pass down the side to release Del Morgan, who whipped in a sublime first-time cross with his left-foot and recalled centre-half Aron Pollock switched off and allowed Bradshaw to bury his free-header into the left-corner from eight-yards.

“That’s what Dan does, isn’t it?  I thought it was a good move. It was a great ball out to Frankie Morgan, a great first time cross and Dan’s got on the blind side of the centre-half and done what Dan does,” said Batten.

“Dan’s not fit (hamstring), but he thought he can get through. He got though part of the game – he got his goal and scored Saturday. It was a massive risk but also the risk paid off for us.”

Billericay Town are a side that are over-reliant on set-pieces and goalkeeper Aiden Prall made a comfortable save at the half-way point of the first half.

Stevenson floated the ball in from the right and Johnson found a pocket of space at the back post to send his free-header into the midriff of the former Corinthian goalkeeper.

Sheppey United’s first corner of the night (taken by Lambert) failed to beat the first man, who cleared his lines and the ball came out to Leonard, who dragged his shot past the left-hand post from 25-yards.

Pollock drilled a diagonal out of Billericay’s defence and a fine first touch from Stevenson in the final third, saw him cut inside before stroking a right-footed angled drive towards goal from 25-yards, which was comfortably saved low down by Prall.

Batten heaped plenty of praise of his versatile centre-half Connor Wilkins, who denied Billericay Town equalising in the 26th minute.

Johnson launched a long throw from the left, the ball was allowed to bounce a couple of times and Cerulli smashed a shot straight at Prall.  Stevenson then hooked a fierce drive from a tight angle, which was superbly blocked by Wilkins, helped by the underside of the crossbar too.

“They’re an excellent side. They had several chances, a lot of scary moments in terms of getting balls in our box but Aiden made a couple of good saves. They skewed a couple of efforts wide as well but we rode that and came through and we had the lead at half-time,” said Batten.

Islander Wilkins has put in a couple of excellent performances during these two games against Billericay Town, which should alert higher league clubs.

Batten added: “He was immense! Connor’s so versatile, you could play him basically anywhere on the pitch. He’s covered in areas and he covered at centre-half but you show me a better one at the moment – he’s been immense!”

Hamill played a 20-yard pass into Del Morgan, who cut into the box (cutting past Cerulli and Pollok) before he was tackled by a well-timed intervention by Johnson inside the penalty area. The ball came out to Hamill, who placed a left-footed half-volley past the left-hand post from 22-yards.

When asked about his thoughts at the break, Batten replied: “I said, just keep going, just keep playing. There wasn’t anything to change. We were doing particularly well. We felt that we didn’t want to take our foot of the gas in terms of sitting back and trying to protect that lead.

“We wanted to try to get another goal but of course, against a very, very good team, it’s easier said than done!”

Set-piece specialist Stevenson had the first chance of the second half after Wilkins tugged Billericay striker Ade Azeez from behind in the 51st minute.

Prall lined up a four-man wall for Stevenson’s 20-yard free-kick and Prall was in the right place to make a comfortable save in his midriff, as Stevenson tried to find the bottom far corner, via one bounce.

“That’s right. They had so many free-kicks during the course of the game and Aiden was equal to the ones that were on target,” added Batten.

Sheppey United rarely switched off at set-pieces but they could have paid the price in the 58th minute following another Stevenson free-kick.

He played the ball down the side to a quiet Merrifield, who drove his shot into the base of the side-netting, despite Wisson and Prall both spreading themselves to ensure the ball wasn’t going to nestle inside the bottom near corner.

Leonard drove towards the corner of the Billericay box before being clipped by Johnson and Sheppey United had a chance to double their slender lead on the hour-mark.

Wilks lined up a three-man wall for Hamill’s left-footed free-kick from 19-yards, but the goalkeeper made a comfortable save at the second attempt.

“These chances, you’re hoping one is going to fly in the back of the net – but I just thought it was such a game that it ebbed and flowed and chances came and it was a matter of who stuck them in the back of the net,” added Batten.

McCann made a double change in the 64th minute, bringing on striker Moses Emmanuel and right-winger Richard Asamoah, hooking the ineffective Azeez  and centre-half Pollock and went with three at the back and went for the equaliser.

Leathers dropped from holding midfielder to partner Johnson and Dench in the away side’s back three, while at the other end Sheppey United’s back four were excellent.

Tiredness started to creep into the Sheppey United ranks during the final 15 minutes of normal time and Billericay Town continued to probe.

“Yes, there was (tiredness).  I don’t think you can underestimate that because they ran us around so much. We had to work extremely hard to close down. They passed the ball extremely well and the effort our lads put in was incredible, to keep it tight and limit their chances,” said Batten.

Asamoah cut into the Sheppey United penalty area down the left in the final eight minutes but his fierce drive was beaten away by Prall, who tried to smother the ball on his by-line before the ball went behind for another corner.

Sheppey United put 11 men behind the ball but Billericay Town deserved their leveller when it arrived with 38 minutes and 28 seconds on the clock.

Cerulli hung over a cross from close to the right by-line and Stevenson found a pocket of space in the box to guide his header past a flat-footed Prall to find the far corner from 10-yards.

“Pressure, they got the ball. I thought Lekan covered it and he got out wide and he came back inside and crossed to the far post and I think the fella was unmarked and finished it well,” said Batten.

“Well, I just previously looked at the clock. It was 82nd or 81st minute on the clock. I thought ‘we’re probably 10 minutes away from The FA Cup First Round.’ As I looked back, he’s headed it in. I thought I better revise that,” added Batten.

At this stage, it appeared that Billericay Town would be the ones that would host Walsall in the next round but Sheppey United’s players put in plenty of heart and desire, something that made a mark on Batten.

“I don’t think there’s a question. I mean that’s the catalyst for us winning the game, the heart and desire was mind-boggling today.”

Billericay Town almost snatched the victory, 50 seconds into stoppage time after Bessey-Saldanha clipped Stevenson just a couple of yards outside the Sheppey box.

Prall lined up a five-man wall but they stood tall and Stevenson’s right-footed free-kick from 20-yard sailed just over the crossbar, aiming for the top left-hand corner.

When asked about his thoughts going into extra-time, Batten replied: “Well, I think going into extra-time, because they equalised so late, we just wanted to get to extra-time because sometimes you see this where they get on and we’re a bit flat then.  It flattened us.

“We’ve held on so long in terms of the second half performance and then you just want to get to extra-time because you can get fresh impetus and anything can happen, as it turned out.”

Sheppey United created the first chance of the first period of extra-time.

The home side built-up play patiently inside the Billericay half with substitute Maliq Morris and Del Morgan linking up inside the final third before the ball was worked to Lambert, who lashed his right-footed drive over the crossbar from 25-yards.

Sheppey United right-back Mamadou Diallo clipped Stevenson, whose right-footed free-kick from 30-yards bounced just past the foot of the near-post, before Sheppey United were given a helping hand from the referee, who showed Wells a second yellow card in the 103rd minute.

Batten was just as baffled as to why Wells was sent-off as everybody else.

“Second yellow. The referee saw that as he did. I couldn’t actually see what happened. The referee will have an explanation for it.

“It helped massively.  We settled down. I thought at that point we passed the ball. It gave us renewed enthusiasm. I thought we saw a way that we could win the game.  They’re down to 10 and I thought we took reasonable advantage of it.”

Billericay Town created the final chance of the first period of extra-time, however.

Stevenson’s eighth (of nine) corner was cleared out to Leathers, who stepped inside Leonard, before Johnson stroked a right-footed drive, which was comfortably saved by Prall down on his knees.

Dench fed substitute Jayden Robinson, who drove to the left-by-line before cutting the ball back which was cleared out to Robinson, who drilled a first-time right-footed drive harmlessly wide from 30-yards just 213 seconds into the second period.

Despite feeling tired and leaving everything out on the pitch, Sheppey United finished the second period of extra-time on the front foot and created a couple of glorious chances to win it outright.

Firstly, Hamill whipped in a high-quality left-footed free-kick from within the right channel towards the near post but Majoyegbe steered the ball just past the right-hand post after rushing in to meet the delivery from the former Fisher man.

Billericay Town goalkeeper Wilks pulled off two good saves to prevent Sheppey United scoring with 14:01 and 15:20 on the clock.

Hamill stroked the ball forward, substitute striker Oladipo Durowoju (who replaced Bradshaw after 30 minutes), hooked the ball five-yards inside to Lambert, who drove forward before unleashing a stinging right-footed drive towards goal from 22-yards, which was straight down the throat of the goalkeeper, who gathered at the second attempt.

Batten said: “I thought that was going to be the fairytale.  I thought they came through and they could see the whole goal, (Lambert and Hamill both) hit decent strikes.

“We all thought it was going to be that Ronnie Radford moment. If you remember that one for Hereford (against Newcastle in THAT FA Cup Third Round Replay back in 1972), where he smashed it in and they went running back to win the game.”

Morris then fed Hamill, who was in space and he drilled a left-footed drive towards the roof of the net from 25-yards, Wilks raising both of his arms to push the shot over his crossbar.

The referee brought the game to a close (17:10) immediately after Majoyegbe’s speculative right-footed drive from 35-yard flashed harmlessly past the far post.

So, onto penalties, which were taken at the Botany Road end, with Sheppey United fans banging advertising hoardings in an attempt to put off the Billericay Town players.

It was no surprise that Stevenson would take Billericay Town’s first penalty, an emphatic right-footed attempt, high into the middle of the net, with Prall diving to his right.

Hamill stepped up next, clinically finding the bottom left-hand corner with his left-footed penalty, despite Wilks diving the same way.

The only taker not to score was Billericay’s captain, Johnson – his right-footed penalty was superb smothered by Prall, diving low to his left and using a strong hand to push the ball away, to the delight of the home fans.

Bessey-Saldanha gave Sheppey United a 2-1 lead, finding the bottom left-hand corner with his right-footed spot-kick, despite Wilks diving the same way, to his right.

Billericay sub Louis Ramsay rifled his right-footed penalty into the roof of the net.

Wilkins drilled his right-footed penalty into the bottom right-hand corner, sending the keeper the wrong way, with a clinical penalty to give Sheppey United a 3-2 lead.

Dench kept Billericay Town in it, his left-footed penalty converted straight down the middle, the keeper diving to his right.

The eighth penalty was converted by Diallo, the Sheppey United right-back finding the left middle corner, sending the keeper the wrong way.

Boos rang around Holm Park greeted Emmanuel, who held his composure to find the middle left corner, as Prall dived to his right.

Batten – who revealed his side have been practicing penalties - was then asked how he was feeling as soon as Lambert beat Wilks with his right-footed penalty, which sparked wild celebrations as his heroes created history.

“I mean penalties. We have done but not overly (practiced).  I think it’s all on the day. I don’t think it’s something you can really practice for under that kind of match pressure but we took them so superbly. Aiden got the save and then none of them were ever in doubt we’re they.  I don’t think their keeper got close to any of them.

“I went numb (when Lambert scored the winning penalty).  I can’t take it in. I don’t know. It just means so much to everybody involved with Sheppey United.  I just thought about everybody involved in the club and how that made them feel.

“I can only thank our fans’.  It was obviously a massively important aspect of the win. The support was great, they never stopped singing. I got here an hour and a half before and they were already behind the goal and it was a real carnival atmosphere.”

When asked how tonight rates in his career, Batten replied: “It’s the best, as a manager.  I think any manager will tell you, to get to the First Round of The FA Cup and be here and play a Football League club.  I’ve won trophies and got promotions but honestly, the feeling is just so special!”

Sheppey United v Walsall (currently thirteenth-place in League Two), artificial pitch, under floodlights, tight compact stadium with fans close to the pitch – has all the makings off a giant-killing act and the television companies would be foolish not to select that fixture for live coverage.

“I think we’re favourites aren’t we, after today?  No, I mean, it’s a Football League club. We want to give a good account of ourselves but obviously we’ll be trying to win that game,” said Batten.

“It will be marvellous and we’ll perform like tonight. We’ll give it absolutely everything and if the gods are shining, you never know. That’s the Magic of The FA Cup.”

This was Sheppey United’s 10th consecutive cup fixture and they play their fourth league game when newly-promoted side Horndean visit Holm Park on Saturday (15:00) – and the Sheppey United’s players will be given a heroes welcome.

Batten said: “We’ve played three games. I don’t know how many cup games we’ve had now? (11).  We’ll turn our attention to it. We want a good league programme. It doesn’t even feel like we’ve even started yet!

“We’ve got to settle down now and we’ll keep our feet on the ground. We’ll come in on Thursday and do a bit of recovery work because they put in a lot tonight and we’ll go into Saturday and we’ll try to win that football match.”

Batten, who was interviewed in the medical room, with joyous scenes of celebrations outside and of course, in the home dressing room, finished by saying, “I’d like to say congratulations to the players. I want to go and see the players…”

Sheppey United: Aiden Prall, Mamadou Diallo, Frankie Del Morgan, Richard Hamill, Olamilekan Majoyegbe, Connor Wilkins, James Bessey-Saldanha, Josh Wisson (Maliq Morris 90), Daniel Bradshaw (Oladipo Durowoju 30), Jacob Lambert, Danny Leonard.
Subs: Daniel Birch, Oscar Housego, Hadley Glock, Alexander Willis, D’Jean Spencer

Goal: Daniel Bradshaw 19

Booked: Olamilekan Majoyegbe 62, Mamadou Diallo 112

Billericay Town: Daniel Wilks, George Wind, Matthew Dench, Adam Leathers, Aron Pollock (Richard Asamoah 64), Matt Johnson, Bradley Stevenson, Ben Wells, Ade Azeez (Moses Emmanuel 64), Frankie Merrifield (Louis Ramsay 79), Alfie Cerulli (Jayden Robinson 104).
Subs: Charlie Waller, Stefan Lamaoq, Lisandro Cassandra

Goal: Bradley Stevenson 84

Booked: Ben Wells 66

Sent Off: Ben Wells 103

Attendance: 1,235
Referee: Mr Lewis Sandoe
Assistants: Mr Lukas Wood & Mr Luis Nunes
Fourth Official: Mr Joseph Turnpenny