Sittingbourne 1-1 Merstham - It's a chance missed today, if I'm honest, admits Sittingbourne boss Nick Davis

Saturday 28th October 2017
Sittingbourne 1 – 1 Merstham
Location Woodstock Park, Broadoak Road, Sittingbourne, Kent ME9 8AG
Kickoff 28/10/2017 14:30

The Buildbase FA Trophy First Qualifying Round
Saturday 28th October 2017
Stephen McCartney reports from Woodstock Park

SITTINGBOURNE manager Nick Davis says he didn’t feel under pressure during their FA Trophy draw against higher-league Merstham at Woodstock Park.

The Brickies went in to this First Qualifying Round tie in second-place in the Bostik South with 29 points from 14 games, five points behind Lewes and on an impressive run of 11 unbeaten games.

Hayden Bird’s side, meanwhile, were in thirteenth-place in the Bostik Premier with 20 points from their 15 league outings.

Merstham bossed the first half with former Leeds United and Bromley midfielder Ryan Hall, 29, oozing class, pulling all the strings from a deep number 10 role.

It was no surprise when he set up striker Richard Pingling, who drove his shot into the bottom far corner to score his second goal for the Moatsiders.

Sittingbourne were the better side during the second half and super-sub David Smith, 19, described by his manager as an impact player, drove his shot in off the foot of the far post to earn a deserved replay on Tuesday night with six minutes remaining.

“Do you know what? A little bit disappointing actually at the end,” admitted Davis.

“I don’t think we had the best of first halves and we’ve been excellent all year, I can’t really complain too much but we just didn’t have the energy that we had for the majority of the games that we’ve played so far.

“We gave them too much time on the ball, which we didn’t against Cray on Tuesday, which we haven’t done throughout but going one down, we’ve not had loads and loads of attempts at goal.

“I thought they was only one team in it in the second half, so disappointed in the end that we didn’t create more chances because we have created chances this season.

“Second half, we fancied ourselves against most sides, especially at home. It’s a shame, it’s a chance missed today if I’m honest.  First half performance wasn’t quite up to it.”

Sittingbourne attracted a crowd of 165 for the game that kicked-off at half-past-two owing to a wedding reception that was being held within the clubhouse.

Sittingbourne missed a glorious chance to grab the lead after only 117 seconds.

Left-back Chris Elliott launched a long throw in to the box from the left and central midfielder Mobolaji Dawodu planted his header straight at visiting goalkeeper Chris Haigh from six-yards.

Davis said: “He’s got his head on it so you’d expect him to do a little bit better, especially someone like Bola’s class in the air, he’s technically fantastic in the air, fortunately for them it’s gone straight into the keeper’s hands.”

Merstham played the ball out from the back, just like Cray Wanderers who came away from Sittingbourne with a goal-less draw in midweek.

Merstham’s right-winger Dan Bennett drifted into the middle of the park to release Ryan Hall, who ran into the Sittingbourne box before his left-footed shot from 15-yards was held by understudy goalkeeper Harry Brooks, diving low to his left.

“He’s the real danger for them. He got a hat-trick against Lowestoft last week, we’re aware of him,” Davis said of Ryan Hall, now playing at the lowest level of football of his career.

“He turns up in pockets, he’s got a great left-foot, very clever, been a League footballer.   We weren’t close enough to him, nowhere near for the first 20 minutes and we addressed that and Harry’s done well.”

Sittingbourne’s lone striker, Kane Rowland, played the ball in behind Reece Hall, and right-winger Tom Loynes cut inside and his cross-come-shot was palmed away by Haigh, high to his right.

Loynes was to be a threat down that side of the pitch and he certainly gave problems to Merstham’s left-back Ben Harrison, although Sittingbourne’s other winger, Gil Carvaho burst into life during the second half.

Elliott’s free-kick found its way out to Loynes, who cut into the penalty area and his weak shot rolled into Haigh’s hands, who launched a big kick up field and Merstham were celebrating a deserved lead, timed at 14 minutes and 54 seconds on the clock.

Ryan Hall easily skipped past Elliott in midfield, ran forward with the ball before playing the ball on the outside to Pingling, who swept his first time left-footed shot across the keeper to find the bottom far corner from 16-yards.

“I wasn’t happy because we were left four-on-four, I think it was.  We had someone on the edge, it had to come to that Ryan Hall, arguably their best player,” reflected Davis.

“Chris Elliott has dived in and made his mind easily for him. Unfortunately, he’s gone through, it’s three-on-two and we’ve been caught on the break. It’s a typical goal that we score to be fair but we’ve conceded two in nine in open play, where we’ve got our banks together and we’re well-organised.

“We don’t concede many goals but the time when you can catch any side is in transition and our attacking players are committing forward and we’ve been exposed, disappointed from our point of view.”

Sittingbourne striker Rowland was an isolated figure up on his own and he failed to keep the ball stick as Mertsham’s passing game gave Sittingbourne problems during a dominant first half.

Sittingbourne lost their right-back Salvyn Kisitu through a hamstring injury in the 23rd minute and Chris Webber slotted in his place.

“Unfortunately, I had to take a defender off. It’s limited me for attacking options later on in the game,” explained Davis.

“He’s just pulled his hamstring.  Chris Webber has been near enough ever-present for us anyway, he’s missed the last two through, he’s been on holiday during the season. He’s stepped in at right-back, which is a good fit for us but it just limited my options later on.”

Loynes cut inside Harrison and cut into the penalty area but tried to drill his shot into the near corner, his shot going a yard past the post from a tight angle.

Davis said: “He makes things happen Tom. He uses the ball quite well.  You feel something’s going to happen when he’s on it but I can’t see from the angle, maybe it was better to go across goal there? You can’t blame him for having a shot.”

Sittingbourne won their first of six corners in the 34th minute, swung in from the right by Elliott, but Dawodu rose to plant his header over the crossbar from 10-yards.

Sittingbourne keeper Brooks was called into action for a second time in the 38th minute.

Classy Ryan Hall rode Dawodu’s sliding challenge in midfield, ran forward before playing the ball out to his brother Reece on the left and his low right-footed angled drive from 15-yards, was held by Brooks, low to his right.

“I think we restricted them to long pops really at goal for the majority,” said Davis.

“This is a side that beat Lowestoft 6-2 last week and beat Margate 2-0, so we know on their day they were a very good side and they’re going to score lots of goals but we were restricting them and Harry’s come in and done well.”

Merstham deserved their single goal lead at the break.

“We needed to get hold of the number 10 (Ryan Hall) for them. He had too much room,” admitted Davis.

“I was thinking to change it there and then but I’ll give people 10 minutes before I changed it.

“We went 4-3-3 and we changed our formation to press them higher so we had an extra man up top and an extra man in midfield.  I didn’t think they were getting at us in wide areas, so I thought we could do that and still leaving Gil Carvaho one side and he was a threat second half.  He’s up and down. He didn’t have a bead of sweat on that man and he’s only 19 and he’s a real threat and Loynes’ on the other wing.

“We had to change it and I thought it worked. I know there wasn’t loads and loads of clear-cut chances, there wasn’t the other night against Cray as well, when you’re playing against good sides, you cancel each other out.”

Sittingbourne’s shooting at Merstham’s goal was woeful during the early part of the second half but they grew in belief the longer the game went on.

Loynes, who else? And Miles Cornwell, linked up and played the ball inside to Ollie Brown, who picked the ball up in midfield, charged forward before slicing his right-footed shot past the right-hand post from 22-yards after 176 seconds.

Brown then turned provider for Rowland, who smacked his right-footed half-volley high and wide of the same post, the ball more of a danger to the cars parked in the car park behind the fencing than Haigh’s net.

Davis added: “We’ve lashed at them a little bit instead of hitting the target and making the keeper make a save.  We need to take more time and a have a little bit more composure.”

Merstham were a threat on the break. Bennett released Michael Abnett down the right and he cut inside John Coker slipped the ball in behind for Ryan Hall to whip in a deep cross from the by-line for Reece Hall to see his deflected drive go over the crossbar.

Sittingbourne believed in themselves more when Davis brought on substitute Tyrone Guthrie for Cornwell, who offered very little in an attacking sense, in the 57th minute.

Elliott whipped in a great free-kick into the penalty area, Merstham failed to clear their lines and Dawodu’s flick was directed into Haigh’s grateful hands from close range by Rowland after 64 minutes.

“We’ve got to do better there,” admitted Davis. “Bola’s spare back stick, he’s hit it into the ground and any real good touch that’s in right, because it’s on the goal-line. We scored one very similar last Saturday, unfortunately the keeper’s just cherry picked it.”

Loynes swung in a corner from the left towards the far post and Dawodu flicked his first time shot straight at Haigh and they kept knocking on the door during the final 20 minutes.

“We changed it again, we threw another one up top and we’ve been brave.  There wasn’t a clear-cut chance.  I was saying to the lads on the bench are we going to get that one clear cut chance? Fortunately enough, we did!”

Davis pulled off a tactical masterstroke by taking off a substitute (Webber) for their super-sub Smith.

“Just to sacrifice someone at the back and bring super Smith on. What an impact he can be? He’s a powerhouse, he’s 19 Dave.  I would’ve brought Kane Phillip on as well just to give us even more pace and someone driving at defenders.”

Sittingbourne went agonisingly close to claiming a deserved leveller with 15 minutes left on the clock.

Loynes’ in-swinging corner from the left was cleared out to Elliott, who kept composed by taking a touch before unleashing a left-footed drive that screamed just past the top of the right-hand post from 35-yards.

Davis said: “He had the keeper scrambling across there, that would’ve absolutely been a worldie of a goal. He’s got that, he’s got the technique, unfortunately it didn’t hit the net!”

Merstham were trying to take the sting out of the game by holding the ball up in the final third when they did get in to that area of the pitch, which wasn’t often.

But Sittingbourne deservedly equalised courtesy of Smith’s sixth goal of the season, timed at 38 minutes and 15 seconds on the clock.

Guthrie swept the ball out to Carvaho on the right and he slipped the ball inside to Smith, who managed to dig the ball out from under his feet, hitting his left-footed angled drive across the diving keeper, who tipped the low shot against the foot of the far post, before it crossed over the line and into the back of the net.

“It’s a one-off game, there’s money up for grabs (£3,250), it’s important for both clubs, for any club at this level but you might as well lose 4-0 in my opinion in the Cup, so you throw caution to the wind, have gone with near enough three or four up front I think near the end,” said Davis.

“Fantastic. We were right behind it. He didn’t have much of a back-lift and I think he took it early, which surprised the goalkeeper. The keeper’s at full-stretch, tipped it onto the post. It was a great goal and that’s what he’s got.”

Both sides had chances to grab a winner inside injury time.

Brown threw the ball inside to Smith, who took a touch before powering his left-footed drive crashing against the crossbar from 35-yards.

Davis said:  “That was moving in the air, the keeper’s beaten and it’s just rocketed straight off the bar.  He’s got that in him, he’s frightening at times.  He’s started in five or six games and he’s only scored the one when we’ve started him. Dave’s a brilliant impact player and he needs to be able to adapt it. He does blow out, some players do that. He’s still got time to adjust and manage himself that he can last for 90 minutes.”

Merstham’s holding midfielder Kershaney Samuels clipped the ball up to Abnett, who knocked the ball down to Ryan Hall, who cut the ball onto his right-foot before stroking a low drive towards the bottom far corner from 25-yards, forcing Brooks to dive low full-stretch to his left to hold.

Davis added: “They’ve had one shot near the end but I think have they really threatened us at all in the second half for a team in the league above? No!

“Brilliant save!  How many teams have two goalkeeper’s at this level? Not many and he’s hung about and he’s been fantastic. We’ve played him in all of the cup games, the League Cup and the Kent Cup and the odd League game.

“Thank god we’ve got a spare goalkeeper because Daren Hawkes has been our number one and he’s pulled his back. He’s missed five or six games now so to have Harry come in and be available has been a blessing in disguise. He’s done really well and it was a great save.”

Merstham start as favourites for Tuesday night’s replay at Weldon Way.

“We’re away from home, it’s going to be tough but away in a way, when we’re away from home, it gives us a little bit of freedom,” said Davis.

“It’s a free game for us, I said today was a free game. I didn’t feel pressure today, I feel pressure every league game because we’re up there and I want to compete and I want us to stay involved and we’re enjoying it, but in the Cups when we’re playing teams higher up, there’s no pressure at all. It’s a free game, we’re expected to lose aren’t we?

“It’s going to be a tough game but if we show the same energy that we’ve shown for the majority of the second half, we fancy ourselves against most sides. But we’re going to go there full of confidence and go and win the game, that’s the aim.”

Davis revealed that he was without his captain Ben Gorham today so John Coker and Laurence Ball started, leaving scouted Lex Allan, 18, on the bench.

“We’ve got strength-in-depth, that I’ve never had before.  My captain Ben Gorham was missing today, he’s been outstanding for us.  Joe Coker, Laurence Ball came in, He’s got the record still of the most points anyone has got winning the League at Dover. That’s the type of person we’ve got here.

“Lex Allan can’t even get in the side at the moment.  Crystal Palace (Premier League) are showing a real interest in him, a lot of clubs are.  I had Norwich (Sky Bet Championship) ring me last week, a scout was here on Tuesday.

“It’s really difficult for me, I want to play him. He’s played six or seven games for us and he’s not put a foot wrong and he’s getting better each game. He’s six foot seven, he’s quick, he’s got all the attributes and maybe some of the stuff he hasn’t got, you can teach.

“If someone wants to get hold of him, I generally think he’s got a decent chance but we’re doing so well defensively I can’t change it at the moment.

“Laurence Ball comes in, the experience he gives you, not the biggest of centre halves is he but he’s a class act, always in the right place.

“Lex is going to Norwich for a week, he’s away for a week and they’re putting him up for a week. 

“We can’t keep losing new players, we lost a few last year when we started off well, so we’ve put one or two on contract now (including Allan) and others are in talks now but while we’re doing well you’d like to think players will want to stay and be a part of that.”

Sittingbourne: Harry Brooks, Salvyn Kisitu (Chris Webber 23, David Smith 79)), Chris Elliott, Ollie Brown, Laurence Ball, John Coker, Tom Loynes, Mobolaji Dawodu, Kane Rowland, Miles Cornwell (Tyrone Guthrie 57), Gil Carvaho.
Subs: Kane Phillip, Lex Allan

Goal: David Smith 84

Booked: Chris Webber 45, Chris Elliott 82

Merstham: Chris Haigh, Michael Abnett, Ben Harrison, Kershaney Samuels, Jelan Jones, Simon Cooper, Dan Bennett (Alex Addai 72), Stephan Hamilton-Forbes (Sean Bonnett-Johnson 72), Richard Pingling, Ryan Hall, Reece Hall.
Subs: Sahr Kabba, Sonny Black, Tom Nyama

Goal: Richard Pingling 15

Booked: Ben Harrison 34, Jelan Jones 63, Alex Addai 76

Attendance: 165
Referee: Mr Scott Williams (Hackney, London)
Assistants: Mr Farai Hallam (Ilford, Essex) & Mr Charlie Acton (Chingford, Essex)

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