Sheppey United 4-0 Tunbridge Wells - We have got a good record in the Kent Senior Trophy, we've been to three finals in six years and if we get to this one, it will be four, says Sheppey United boss Ernie Batten

Friday 15th October 2021
Sheppey United 4 – 0 Tunbridge Wells
Location Holm Park, St Peters Close, Queenborough Road, Halfway, Sheerness, Kent ME12 3BD
Kickoff 15/10/2021 19:45

Kent Senior Trophy First Round
Friday 15 October 2021
Stephen McCartney reports from Holm Park

SHEPPEY UNITED manager Ernie Batten says he wants to keep that winning feeling after chalking off their eighth win on the bounce to beat Tunbridge Wells at Holm Park.

A Friday night crowd of 488 flocked through the turnstiles to witness all four goals being scored in the second half, as Sheppey United made it three years since losing in the Kent Senior Trophy.

Attacking midfielder Billy Bennett, 29, scored a hat-trick to take his goalscoring tally up to six for the season and provided an assist for winger Taureen Roberts to score the third, with the last three goals coming in a nine-minute blitz towards the end of the game to book their place in the Second Round.

Batten made five changes to the side that beat Holmesdale here 1-0 last weekend, while Richard Styles made just a couple of changes from the Tunbridge Wells side that suffered a 5-1 hammering at Chatham Town last time out.

Sheppey United are in second-place in the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division table with 28 points from 10 games, while Tunbridge Wells are in a disappointing tenth-place with 16 points from 10 outings.

“I thought we played well in patches. I said to the lads at half-time, I think we’ve had a fair proportion of that first half and got in some great situations and had chances and we lacked a little bit of composure at times. I think that’s something that we have to address a little bit because in these tight games you need to take your chances in football,” said Batten.

“Billy Bennett’s a super player. He’s been here for the last few seasons and he’s just got better and better.  Bill is so committed in the way he wants to play football and he enjoys his football and we’ve allowed him that freedom to do that.

“It’s fantastic, a Friday evening, what can be better? Under the lights and see a Sheppey United win, so maybe we could have one or two more games on a Friday?”

Tunbridge Wells’ assistant manager Dan Morrin said: “Disappointing second half really and at half-time we went in at 0-0 and we were quite pleased with how we set-up.

“We had a chance to get a goal in that first half when the ball’s gone across the goal but then you give a goal away so early in the second half and it just sort of kills the team talk that we had at half-time.

“At half-time we were certainly in the game at 0-0 and we had some good chances and we were pleased and we spoke to the guys and said how we were going to set up for the second half.

“Unfortunately, you go 1-0 down, especially away at Sheppey, under the lights with the crowd, yes it’s hard to come back from.”

Sheppey United created their first opening inside the opening eight minutes when centre-half Lex Allan threaded a 50-yard pass on the deck straight down the middle of the pitch for Roberts to cut onto his left-foot to stroke a rising 25-yard drive, which was comfortably caught at head-height by visiting goalkeeper Aaron Lee-Wharton, standing in the centre of his goal.

Batten said: “We had our chances and during the course of the season you need to take your chances so sometimes when there’s a little bit of composure required, we need to show that.”

Morrin added: “One thing Sheppey do is score as we found out second half.  They do put it on you, especially at home with their crowd behind them. To keep them at bay in that first half we were pleased with and I don’t think they had many clear-cut opportunities apart from that one.”

Tunbridge Wells centre-half Ryan Cheek pulled back striker Junior Aikhonbare just outside the corner of the penalty area and Bennett stroked the resulting right-footed free-kick sailing just over the top of the far post from 25-yards.

Both sides were cancelling each other out but Tunbridge Wells missed a glorious opportunity to snatch a 25th minute lead.

They produced a slick move on the artificial pitch with often isolated striker Matthew Gething running the left channel before playing the ball inside to Josh Froggatt, who laid the ball off to pacey winger Regan Corke in space inside the box but his drilled shot was blocked by goalkeeper Liam Northwood, making only his second start of the season, at his near post.

Morrin said: “That for us is a golden opportunity, the easiest thing to say is you have to take your opportunities when you go away to Sheppey and that’s a golden opportunity.  The ball’s come across the face of goal and that is a golden opportunity to take the lead and give us something to work with.”

Batten said: “Liam’s a young goalkeeper.  We decided tonight that Liam would go in goal. We rested (striker) Jack Midson as well tonight.  There’s players around the club like Liam who come and commit themselves to the club. He trains every single week, he’s a good young prospect and he deserved his opportunity.”

When asked about how he keeps his large squad of quality players happy, Batten replied: “Extremely difficult, extremely difficult.  Every player wants to play and we have a real tough time picking a side. It’s a little bit performance related but also on top of that we have to give players an opportunity to show us that their form’s good, we have a slight rotation.”

Three of four Tunbridge Wells defenders picked up yellow cards from referee Richard Joss as most of the game was played in a cagey manner and at this stage of the game, it didn’t look like that there would be four goals in the game.

Richard Hamill, one of two holding midfielders for the home side, swung in a free-kick from the right touchline but Aikonbare used his shoulder at his near post to loop the ball over the crossbar, finding a pocket of space on the edge of the six-yard box, on the half-hour mark.

“I think we applied pressure certainly in the first half-an-hour and we got in some great positions to score,” added Batten.

Sheppey United really should have taken the lead just 34 seconds later.

A poor goal-kick from Lee-Wharton went straight to Bennett, who put Roberts through on goal but the Sheppey United winger dragged his shot across the keeper and past the far post in a one-on-one situation.

Batten said: “I think we were a little bit eager at times to score that opening goal and the good thing is as a supporter and as the manager of the club seeing players in good positions and having those opportunities to score.”

Tunbridge Wells’ central midfielder Jordan Wells split open Sheppey United’s left-back Renford Tenyue to exploit Corke’s pace down the right and he played the ball in low to Froggatt, who took a touch inside the D before lashing his right-footed shot over the crossbar.

Jordan Wells’ central midfield partner, Danny Keyte, slid the ball into Jordan Wells, who played the ball out to winger Kyron Lightfoot, who cut the ball onto his right-foot before curling his shot around the far post from 25-yards.

But Tunbridge Wells went within inches of scoring in the 42nd minute with a slick move on the deck.

Jordan Wells’ diagonal released Lightfoot down the left and his pacy run saw him cut inside and whip his left-footed angled drive flashing across the keeper and just past the foot of the fa post.

“Kyron’s done well since he’s come in on a dual-registration from (Isthmian League South East Division side) Herne Bay,” said Morrin.

“He’s been good and he’s brought into what we do and he’s a really nice guy and a good lad to have around.

“We thought that one was in and everyone thought that was in and when he went through on goal they’re the ones we expect him to slot away and that’s what his bread and butter is really and I think the bench was celebrating before the ball went past the post so we were disappointed with that.”

Batten added: “We got caught on the break a couple of times. I think we were over-committing players and our full-backs were very high at times and Tunbridge Wells did well and they were able to counter and we were fortunate not to concede.”

Both Batten and Morrin were asked their thoughts at the interval with the game evenly poised at 0-0.  Sheppey United had the most possession and Tunbridge Wells created the more clear-cut chances during the first half.

“Football’s all about taking your chances and to take our chance, I just felt we needed a bit more composure,” added Batten.

Morrin said: “Much of the same really, same as we did in the first half. Stick to the game plan that we set out before the game.

“We knew we would have opportunities, we had opportunities in the first half. It was all about sticking to what we wanted to do and hopefully get our own opportunities and not let any at the other end.”

Tunbridge Wells called Northwood into making a diving save just 145 seconds into the second half, which was their only chance during their disappointing second-half performance.

Robbie Bissett played a long ball out of defence which split open Tenyue to release Corke charging down the right-wing and the winger cut inside and cracked a low right-footed drive which was destined for the bottom far corner, forcing Northwood to dive to his right to tip around the post.

Sheppey United were clinical in front of goal during the second half, taking the lead with three minutes and 19 seconds on the clock.

A defence-splitting pass released right-back Daniel Birch in a wing-back position in the final third and his over-hit pass was cleared away.

However, in the third phase of the attack, the away side failed to clear their lines and Bennett played a one-two with Roberts just outside the penalty area and Bennett drilled a low right-footed shot past Lee-Wharton from 10-yards, just to the goalkeeper’s left.

“It was good to get the opening goal and there was a good move there. We were playing some good football at times, I felt, tonight and that was a great example of building up play and getting the ball up and I think there was a one-two between the two players and Billy finished it off well,” said Batten.

Morrin added: “You can’t give Bill those opportunities, he’ll score them. It’s his bread and butter really and that’s one thing we did say before the game. We said you’ve got to watch the third man run from Billy Bennett and be alert to him because he is a danger in front of goal as you’ve seen today, he is dangerous.”

Tunbridge Wells’ left-back Frankie Griffin played the ball inside to Lightfoot who drilled his shot harmlessly past the left-hand post from outside the box.

Aikhonbare shielded the ball from Cheek on the edge of the Tunbridge Wells penalty area before playing a reverse pass into Roberts, who cut onto his right-boot inside the D but his shot was charged down by Jordan Wells and cleared the crossbar.

Hamill’s right-wing corner failed to beat the first man who headed the ball back to Hamill, whose second cross was miles better and Allan rose at the back post to plant his header towards the top near corner from six-yards, which was brilliantly clawed out by a diving Lee-Wharton on the hour-mark.

“I thought that was a great save because it looked like it was in all the way and I thought he got up and it was like a Gordan Banks type like claw out at the top of the roof of the net, so it was a great save,” said Batten.

Morrin added: “Aaron saves us a lot, that’s him.  Shot stopping, for me, is one of the best, if not the best in the league really when it comes to point-blank shot-stopping and keeping us in games and we have to be thankful for week-in-week-out.”

The game then returned to its cagey self and had a feeling of it being settled by just the one goal, as Tunbridge Wells failed to create anything of note.

Morrin said: “We were 1-0 down and kept it tight for quite a while in the second half and at that point that’s when we should come into it ourselves and create.  We didn’t create enough in the second half and that’s one thing we said to the boys.

“Fair enough, you go 1-0 down but you re-group and you keep it as tight as you can and get back into the game. We did keep it tight but we just didn’t create anything at the other end, unfortunately.”

Bennett played the ball in from the left but Aikhonbare was in space 30-yards from goal, smashing his low shot past the left-hand post.

However, Sheppey United settled the tie by scoring a second goal with 35 minutes and 25 seconds on the clock.

Roberts cut into the box down the left and was tripped by Lightfoot just inside the penalty area and referee Richard Joss had no option but to point to the spot.

Bennett placed his right-footed penalty into the bottom right-hand corner, leaving goalkeeper Lee-Wharton flat-footed.

“If Taureen gets on the edge of the box and he’s facing defenders there’s every chance that’s something going to happen,” said Batten.

“He’s got great ability with his feet.  I think he stepped inside and the guy’s brought him down.”

Morrin added: “We just said to the boys ‘was it a pen?’ and they’ve said ‘yes!’

“It probably was a pen, which is fair. It was probably one of the only things the ref got right all night, to be honest, and Bill’s taken it and he’s scored and fair play, Aaron had no chance.”

Sheppey United notched their third goal with 40 minutes and 18 seconds on the clock with a well-worked move after the away side switched off from a throw-in.

Bennett cut into the box and played a sublime 10-yard reverse pass to put Roberts in behind Cheek and form a tight angle just outside the corner of the six-yard box the winger drilled his right-footed shot across the keeper and in off the foot of the far post before nestling into the back of the net.

Batten said: “Another good move.  These short interchanging passes on the edge of the box is creating good chances for us.  We’ve got these type of players who can play these triangular passing movements and it opens defenders up and it was a good finish from Taureen.”

Morrin was bitterly disappointed in the manner that his side capitulated late on.

He said: “It’s another thing we mentioned, you’re 2-0 and just stay at 2-0.  You never know, you know what football’s like, if you stay at 2-0 for so long and it gets into the late dying embers and you nick one and it’s 2-1 and it’s a nervy last few minutes but we didn’t. 

“We did capitulate and for us we’re reflecting on the game, it’s the one thing we’ve got to work on, we cannot just fold like that.

“At that point, whether we’re just trying to chase the game, I don’t know or the boys are tired by that stage. It’s just not really defended as well as we should or could and at that point it’s game, set and match really.”

Sheppey United’s two substitutes combined when Michael Hagan whipped in a deep cross from the right over to striker Malachi Hudson, whose free header sailed across the keeper and dropped just wide of the far post.

“We’ve got three or four wingers that can play in those positions and bringing fresh legs on with the quality that we’ve got is always going to cause problems for defenders,” he said of right-winger Hagan.

Sheppey United’s third and fourth goals were flattering, as they completed the scoring with 46 minutes and 37 seconds on the clock.

Roberts was in space inside the Tunbridge Wells half and split open centre-halves Cheek and Bissett to put Bennett through on goal and he emphatically smashed his shot past Lee-Wharton.

Batten said: “It was nice for Bill tonight. He’s been a bit short of goals lately and he’s been over-trying a little bit and tonight he got his reward for his efforts.”

Morrin added: “That’s the point when Rich and I turn round to each other and just said ‘we don’t deserve to lose this game by four goals’, but it’s a bad second half. It’s not even a bad day at the office, it’s a bad second half at the office really, that’s where we’re at.”

Reflecting on their eight wins on the bounce, Batten said: “It’s good for morale because we’ve got a strong squad, we’ve been fantastic. We haven’t had too many injuries, touch wood and it’s enabled us to field a strong side each and every game, even if we had players missing, the players that have come in are quality players so it’s enabled to keep getting us results.”

The Kent Senior Trophy was not played last season due to Covid-19 and Sheppey United reached the Final of the 2019-20 competition but haven’t yet played the game against now Isthmian League South East Division side Corinthian, although the clubs have been told by the Kent FA that the game will get played at some point.

Batten is a manager who takes the Kent Senior Trophy seriously.

He said: “We have got a good record in this competition.  I think we’ve been to the final twice. We played Whitstable, we lost that one. We beat Ashford the first time round and of course the one that hasn’t been played so we’ve had three finals in the six years that we’ve been up and if we get to this one that will be four.”

Both sides are in FA Vase First Round action against lower league opposition on Saturday 23 October with Sheppey United welcoming Forest Hill Park to Holm Park, while Styles takes his side to play Hilltop.

Darrell Queeley’s side are in fourteenth-place in the Southern Counties East Football League First Division table with four wins and a draw from 10 games, while Hilltop are in second-place in the Combined Counties League First Division table with nine wins and a draw from their 11 league outings.

“Well, we don’t take any game easily so I’m sure Forest Hill will come here and there will be a big crowd and that raises the opposition and they’ll put in that extra effort,” said Batten.

“It’s The FA Vase and as we know the favourite teams have been knocked out. We won’t treat them lightly and we’ll approach that game the same as we’ve approached every other game.

“We’d love to have a good run, we’re capable. We’ve got a good squad but cup games are a little bit of luck on the day but if we can play up to our abilities, we’ve got a chance of going far in the competition.

“The message to the fans is it’s great for you to keep coming to supporting us, the players and myself are very grateful for all of the support we have.

“Sheppey are capable, I believe, of rising a few leagues in non-league football and we love and it’s fantastic that the fans are going on this journey with us.”

Morrin is keen to bounce back after two heavy back-to-back defeats to two of the big guns in the division and looking forward to their trip to the Middlesex Stadium, the home of Hillingdon Borough, to face minnows Hilltop.

“We’ve had them watched twice now so we’ve seen them and got two good reports on them so we know what to expect,” said Morrin.

“They’re going to be a tough game especially away from home but we’re taking a really good following down there, a coach full of fans who will enjoy the day out no matter what and hopefully we’ll put on a really good show for them and the bus on the way home can be lively to say the least.

“Our fans are with us week in week out and we’ve got a FA Vase game next Saturday and over 50 of them are coming up to deepest darkest north-west London so our fans are fantastic and we are forever grateful for everything that they do.”

Glebe are currently top with 28 points from 11 games, Sheppey United have a game in hand and there is currently six horses in the race for promotion, with Erith Town (28 points from 12 games), Deal Town (27 points form 11), Chatham Town (24 points from nine) and Erith & Belvedere (22 points from nine) all involved.

“I had a rye smile to myself in the summer when people were taking about a two-horse race between ourselves and Chatham.  I never saw that, you always get a surprise package and obviously the other sides have strengthened as well, so I think it’s a very, very interesting season,” added Batten.

Tunbridge Wells are in a lowly tenth-place position and they are miles away from pushing for promotion going by tonight’s performance.

“The fans’ know we’re a project and we’re a working project. We are getting where we want to be slowly and we will get to where we’d like to be but they know what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to achieve and from where the club’s been years before, even before we got there, it’s always going to be a project and that’s what we’ve come here to do.

“We’re not going to come to do something quickly, it’s a project.

“Tenth is not where we want to be. We want to be a lot higher but we have played some of the more favoured teams in the league up to now so as long as the season evens out and gets more games we can see exactly where we are and get a better idea but we’d certainly like to be higher.

“The season is very, very early still. We’re mid-October so we are still early and we’ll still keep doing what we do and we know on any day we can beat anyone in this league but we have to have more of these days.”

Sheppey United: Liam Northwood, Daniel Birch, Renford Tenyue, Helge Orome, Jahmal Howlett-Mundle, Lex Allan, Taureen Roberts, Richard Hamill (Liam Gillies 69), Junior Aikhonbare (Malachi Hudson 84), Billy Bennett, Jefferson Aibangbee (Michael Hagan 66).
Subs: Danny Smith, Ashley Sains

Goals: Billy Bennett 48, 81 (penalty), 90, Taureen Roberts 86

Booked: Liam Gillies 73

Tunbridge Wells: Aaron Lee-Wharton, Jack Hope, Frankie Griffin, Danny Keyte, Ryan Cheek, Robbie Bissett, Regan Corke, Jordan Wells (Danny Lawrence 90), Matthew Gething, Josh Froggatt (Euan Sahadow 62), Kyron Lightfoot (Miles Cornwell 83).
Subs: James Nurden, Jonathan Shea

Booked: Ryan Cheek 18, Danny Keyte 20, Frankie Griffin 29, Aaron Lee-Wharton 90

Attendance: 488
Referee: Mr Richard Joss
Assistants: Mr Michael Donnelly & Mr Christopher Clarke