Sporting Club Thamesmead 1-0 FC Elmstead - It was a smash-and-grab and in a way it could be our luck changing, says Sporting Club Thamesmead assistant manager Nathan Moore

Friday 02nd December 2022
Sporting Club Thamesmead 1 – 0 FC Elmstead
Location Bayliss Avenue, Thamesmead, London SE28 8NJ
Kickoff 02/12/2022 19:45

Southern Counties East Football League First Division
Friday 2 December 2022
Stephen McCartney reports from Bayliss Avenue

SPORTING CLUB Thamesmead assistant manager Nathan Moore believes his side’s luck could be changing after completing a smash-and-grab win over an FC Elmstead side unbeaten in 10 games. 

Central midfielder Antonio Gonnella rifled in a penalty on the stroke of half-time to notch his sixth goal of the season to give the home side the winner to ensure Ennio Gonnella and Aaron Jeffrey’s men climb up a couple of places into eleventh in the Southern Counties East Football League First Division table with 17 points from 14 games.

Hextable-based FC Elmstead remain in seventh-place in the pecking order with 21 points on the board from their 14 league outings, despite being the better side during a dominant first half but a goalkeeper mistake from Ryan McCourt cost them dear on a chilly Friday night at Bayliss Avenue.

“Scrappy game from our point of view.  It was a game of two halves,” admitted Moore.

“They were pretty much the better team in the first half and we didn’t really get going and they were camped in our half for the majority of it but the lads held on.

“Good play at the end of the half, we got a penalty, put that away and then second half was a completely different game.  I think we controlled it better, even though Elmstead did have little spells.

“It’s pretty much been the story of our season first half, we come out slow in games and we can’t get into it.  Even though today we had our backs against the wall in the first half the lads dug in and it was a smash-and-grab first half with the penalty.

“Second half we held on and done their job, created a couple more chances, nothing clear cut but possession wise I think we dominated the second half.

“We’ve been a mix bag, especially at the start of the season, performances haven’t been great, down at the bottom of the league but the last three or four weeks baring the game at Punjab, I think we’ve turned the corner. 

“We look to be more of a team, the lads in the changing room now are all together and they’ve turned into a bit of a family, which I think we lacked earlier on in the season.

“I just think we’ll start to be better and pick up some results. We’re a much better side than the league standing suggest. We’ve got to start turning the performances into wins week-in-week-out and I think the lads will do that.”

FC Elmstead manager Peter Nolan said: “I feel gutted for us tonight.  I’ve just said to them in there, I thought they had 10-15 minutes of dominance in the game.  I think that’s fair.  I try to be fair with our analysis of how we do and I thought we dominated most of it.

“But listen, if you don’t put the ball in the net it doesn’t mean anything, right.  We didn’t put the ball in the net tonight so we come away defeated, unfortunately.”

The home side suffered a 6-1 defeat at Premier Division side Punjab United in the Kent Senior Trophy Second Round last weekend and they created their first opening inside the opening four minutes.

Antonio Gonnella raised both of his arms into the air as he walked over to take their first corner, which was heading towards the first man but Aidan Smith nipped in and swept a shot on the turn past the near post from a tight angle inside the six-yard box.

“If those chances are falling to someone, it’s probably not Aidan. He’ll be the first to tell you that. He’s got in there, he’s tried to have a shot and it was a tame effort and it wasn’t anything they were worried about,” admitted Moore.

“It was a good bit of intent. If we could build on that, we could be alright but for whatever reason it was just not working out first half and that’s something that we’ve got to work on.”

The home side started with a 4-1-4-1 formation, while FC Elmstead deployed a 4-3-3 formation, with Kyle Beckford out wide on the left, Fitton in the centre and Joedon Cugas-Cowin wide on the right.

Both sides then cancelled each other out before FC Elmstead missed a great chance to take a 20th minute lead following the second of their nine corners.

Right-back Luke Alliband swung the ball in from the left and 14-goal Fitton headed the ball down into the ground and watched the ball kiss the crossbar before being cleared towards safety.

“Kanan’s one of the top scorers in the league.  You wouldn’t want it to fall to anybody else in the side,” said Nolan.

“He’s gone two or three games now without scoring from open play and he just needs another one to get that going but it’s a great delivery. I thought Luke Alliband was brilliant tonight and he was a bit unlucky to be taken off actually. A little combination of the fact his next yellow, he’s got a suspension.  We changed our shape and his deliveries was great all night.”

FC Elmstead were by far the better side during the first half and Louis Glazebrook played a 25-yard pass along the deck out of defence into Cugas-Cowin down the right-channel.  He cut the ball back and Alliband whipped in a first time cross, which was overhit and left-back Darion Dowrich did well to hook the ball back for Kyle Beckford to stroke a right-footed drive towards goal from 20-yards, which was comfortably held by Aaron Cathrew, low to his right.

Nolan said of four-goal Beckford, “Kyle has done really well. He’s got electric pace, every defender who plays against Kyle is scared of him. 

“He scored a couple of goals last week and I back him to get to double figures this season. He’s going to be a big, big player for us.  I thought he did ok tonight, a little bit quiet in patches.”

Moore added: “I don’t know Kyle Beckford personally but the lads have all said he's a good player.  I think he looked a pretty good player.  I was surprised when they brought him off because he looked the liveliest one for me to score them a goal but it was a good effort.”

However, Sporting Club Thamesmead missed a decent chance to snatch the lead on the half-hour mark.

The Acre handed striker Charlie Alexiou his debut, a player who has made 16 appearances for Isthmian League South Central’s bottom side Merstham, scoring just the one goal and his last first-team appearance came on the 14 November.

FC Elmstead’s holding midfielder Connor Dobson lost the ball in the centre-circle to Alexiou, who played the ball out to eight-winger Jordan Samuels, who put in a cross towards the back post.

Winger Merrick Simms took a touch on the corner of the six-yard box and swept a poor shot past the foot of the near post.

However, Alexiou missed a glaring chance for the home side in the 38th minute, letting FC Elmstead off the hook on his debut.

Samuels threw the ball short to right-back Ryan Solan, who took a touch before floating over a precise cross towards the unmarked Alexiou in the centre of the goal but somehow his downward header from six-yards was straight at McCourt, who comfortably grabbed hold of the ball as he fell to his right.

“He’s come in on loan from Merstham.  He trained with us last night for the first time so he’s come highly recommended,” said Moore.

“He looks a good player but it’s just one of them, on another night he probably scores a couple of chances.

“He’s still trying to learn how we want to play, get to know the lads he’s playing with and going forward those sort of chances he’ll be putting them in the back of the net.”

Nolan admitted: “We made two mistakes and that was the other mistake we made in the first half, the other one was the goal.

“We weren’t close enough to the nine and he should score. It’s a free header from six-yards out.  We were a little bit lax defensively in that moment.”

A handball from Acre’s left-back Bradley Russell allowed Alliband to whip in a great free-kick from within the right-channel which was flicked against his own crossbar by the otherwise outstanding Sporting Club Thamesmead centre-half Jordan Anderson.

FC Elmstead were to be denied a deserved lead in the 42nd minute when Cugas-Cowin and Beckford linked up inside the final third before Alex Arif cracked a left-footed half-volley towards goal from 22-yards, forcing Cathrew to dive to his left and use both of his hands to push the ball behind for another corner.

“I think Alex Arif was the best player on the pitch tonight  out of both teams. I thought he was superb,” hailed Nolan.

“He dominated play, he was picking it up from the centre-halves and was driving with the ball.  I thought he was brilliant.

“He went close at the end of the first half.  Second half we shifted our shape a little bit and got him further up the pitch and I thought he was good again and his deliveries were good.”

Moore added: “That was a good save.  I thought it was going in but Aaron’s been fantastic for us. He’s so reliable in goal. He pulls off saves like that week-after-week, so sometimes it’s surprising when he does get beat because he’s so reliable.

“He’s kept us in the game there because it was backs-against-the-wall in the first half and if that goes in they get their backs up even more and it’s then a bit of an uphill task for us but he’s kept us in it.”

However, Sporting Club Thamesmead grabbed the winner, 182 seconds into time added on after referee Ryan Andrew pointed to the spot.

Bethel Gboda drove into the penalty area before playing in Alexiou, who cut across goalkeeper McCourt inside the six-yard box before he was tripped by the keeper, which earnt him a yellow card.

Antonio Gonnella rifled his emphatic right-footed penalty into the roof of the net straight down the middle, after the goalkeeper went to his right.

“Bethel’s been fantastic, he’s such a good talent and he can play higher, not even a league above, he can go Isthmian Premier, he’s that type of player,” hailed Moore.

“When he gets the ball and drives at people like that, he’s scary! He’s doing it time and time again and if he adds a few more things to his game, he’s still a young lad, he’s going to go places.

“The penalty’s fantastic.  Antonio is a dead-ball specialist. As much as age is against him now, he’s still got that experience and that quality that we rely on since he’s been in with his brother (Ennio) from Kent Football United, he’s been fantastic.

“Antonio’s a help to the management team, the younger guys. He’s really a credit to himself with the way he conducts himself.

“When he steps up you put your money on him scoring. He’s scored some important goals for us this year – he doesn’t miss those pens.”

Nolan said: “One moment of brilliance from Bethel Gboda, I know him quite well, he played against us last season, I rated him.  He goes past two, three, four players at the end of the first half, a lapse of concentration from our side. 

“I’m not annoyed with our lot. We’re Step Six football players and we make mistakes and I felt we probably made one or two mistakes in the first half and I felt like they made plenty of mistakes and we got punished.”

Both Moore and Nolan revealed mixed feelings during the interval.

Moore said: “We came in and it was bitter-sweet. It’s hard to be really upbeat after the performance we put in but we scored a smash-and-grab in a way. It could be our luck changing and us getting a bit of the rub of the green because weeks gone by that would’ve been us on top and conceding a goal and then being behind in the game.

“We just said to them ‘you’ve rode your luck and you’ve escaped with a 1-0 lead at half-time so now you’ve got to build on it’ and I think they listened.

“Second half they did everything that we asked.  We asked them not to get cute on the ball, not to play in tight areas and to stretch the game and keep the ball as much as we could and they done that and worked really hard.

“They’re quite a good set of lads.  You don’t have to go at them too much. Whenever you give them something to play for, they run through brick walls for you and they showed that second half.”

Nolan added: “Half time was really strange because I actually thought their half-time take would be more ferocious than ours.  My half-time talk was really easy. It was like ‘go and do that again and I think we score and win two, three, four-one.’  As it happens I was wrong, we didn’t!”

Sporting Club Thamesmead started the second half on the front foot and created a couple of openings inside the opening five minutes.

Gonnella’s corner from the left was met by Samuels’ free-header at the back post but his effort from six-yards was straight at the former Bromley goalkeeper.

Alexiou then should have done better when played in by Gonnella but his right-footed weak shot from 15-yards was comfortably held by McCourt.

“It looked a bit promising but as he cut in I think he looked a bit leggy and it was a tame shot,” said Moore, who was asked about the striker’s debut.

“It’s a hard one to gage really. He worked very hard first half, he won a few aerial battles and tried to bring a few other people into the game but I think he got a little bit of a knock to his knee earlier on in the second half.

“Before he came off he was probably just going on adrenaline really, trying to help us out because we didn’t have another striker on the bench so all in all I think he's done ok.

“There’s plenty more to come, I’m sure, when he beds in and gels into the team, starts to get minutes under his belt and he’ll start scoring goals.”

The Acre management team made a switch by replacing wingers Samuels and Simms for Danny Edwards (left) and Harry Main (right) and Edwards was more of a threat in attack.

FC Elmstead hardly attacked past the hour mark.  Cugas-Cowin’s through ball went under Solan and played in Beckford, but his left-footed chip from 15-yards was caught by Cathrew.

Nolan said: “More times than not, if you’ve got Kyle in front of goal, he’ll probably put the ball in the net.

“I’m disappointed that he’s had a couple of chances tonight and not quite hit the net but listen I thought we played well tonight and he’ll continue to be a great player for us this season.”

Edwards drove towards the edge of the FC Elmstead penalty area and after a few stepovers the winger cracked a right-footed drive towards the roof of the net, only for a flying McCourt to tip the ball over the crossbar.

“That’s typical Eddie.  Since I’ve come in, I’ve always spoken so highly of him. He's a dream to work with. He trains hard, he doesn’t give any problems. If he’s on the bench he comes on and gives 100% all of the time and he’ll be the first to tell you he’s been a bit frustrated this season,” revealed Moore.

“It’s just not clicked for him.  Last season he was fantastic and come pre-season we were glad we still kept hold of him.  Team’s would’ve been looking at him but the last couple of weeks things have started to click for him again and he’s looking like the old Eddie that we all know he can be.

“I think he probably changed the game when he came on.  One of the problems in the first half, the wide men just weren’t at the races today and certainly when he came on we started getting more joy and started to look more of a threat.”

Nolan added: “Ryan’s been great. He’s a young keeper, we got him in from Bromley last season. He’s stayed with us and he’s improved a lot since we got him.  He’s worked with Dean Rose and I’ve seen so much improvement in Ryan’s game and he pulls off saves like that all of the time. He’s doing great this season.”

The game then turned to a stalemate, not helped by the number of substitutions that both sides had made, with FC Elmstead switching to three at the back after 66 minutes with Glazebrook, half-time sub Lewis Cotter and Dowrich.

The Acre failed to hit the target inside the final 10 minutes when substitutes Llyas Boumar and Ashley Martin both linked up and Boumar dragged his shot-come-cross from the right across the keeper and bouncing past the far post.

Cugas-Cowin controlled a long ball sublimely and drove forward before hitting a right-footed drive towards goal from 25-yards, which forced the home goalkeeper to dive to his right to parry the dipping low drive.

“We have been leaking some goals so if you don’t concede, you can’t lose and clean-sheets is something that we bang on to the lads,” said Moore.

“I think the back four worked tirelessly but Aaron Cathrew is fantastic in between the sticks, he gets us out of the trouble but the back four were superb as well.

“Jordan Anderson has been such a leader since he’s come in. He’s a fantastic player.  He’s old school, no airs and graces. He wins it, he clears it. He’s tough, he shouts and sometimes at this level of football you need that.”

FC Elmstead deserved more for their effort and they squandered an injury-time chance following their final corner with two substitutes playing a key role.

Aaron Walker floated the ball in from the left but striker Jerome Walker failed to score against his former side, planting his header over the crossbar from within a crowd of players.

Nolan said: “Jerome has been out for six weeks, he’s a super player.

“When Ennio Gonnella left Kent Football United, he came down to Thamesmead for a little bit and we took him from here. He got injured and he’s been in with the physio for six weeks and he’s literally just coming back.

“Jerome will be one of the best players in this league and I back him to score that chance but it weren’t our night tonight in front of goal.   We could’ve been out there for another 30-40 minutes and we still probably wouldn’t have scored tonight.”

Big-spending pair Snodland Town (31 points from 15 games) and Larkfield & New Hythe (29 points from 14) are fighting it out for the title.

Kris Browning’s side are joined in the play-offs by Lydd Town (28 points from 16), Faversham Strike Force (25 points from 14) and Tooting Bec (25 points from 16).

Sporting Club Thamesmead travel to Lydd Town on Saturday 10 December, while FC Elmstead are on the road to Faversham Strike Force.

“Lydd is a tough place to go, they’ve been flying high this year, playing well. I think their results have fallen away a little bit but when we played them last year, they were a good side,” said Moore.

“The likes of Snodland and Larkfield are maybe a cut above the rest but with everyone else, everyone can beat everyone on their day so I think if we go down there and we apply ourselves we can win.  We can beat anyone in the league on our day but we’ve got to start applying ourselves more consistently thana we have so far.”

Nolan’s side arrived at Bayliss Avenue on a 10-match unbeaten run in all competitions and Nolan wants his side to bounce back at Salters Lane.

“It’s a huge game. Faversham will be a big game. Every game in the league is really important.  There isn’t an easy game and that’s why tonight hurts.  We’ve dropped three points, although we didn’t deserve to drop three points.  I think we deserved the three tonight but what that tells me is that every side in this league is going to drop points.

“It’s a strange league this season.  Snodland and Larkfield look like they are getting a bit of form and getting a head of steam but I still think they’re going to have hard days.

“I think Faversham on Saturday becomes even more important and we’ve got to go there and put on a performance, we’ve got to get something.”

Sporting Club Thamesmead: Aaron Cathrew, Ryan Solan, Bradley Russell, Aidan Smith, Jordan Anderson, David Jesus, Merrick Simms (Danny Edwards 53), Antonio Gonnella (Kwasi Amoah 58), Charlie Alexiou (Ashley Martin 80), Bethal Gboda (Llyas Boumar 80), Jordan Samuels (Harry Main 53).

Goal: Antonio Gonnella 45 (penalty)

Booked: Antonio Gonnella 19, Bethel Gboda 80

FC Elmstead: Ryan McCourt, Luke Alliband (Aaron Walker 66), Darion Dowrich, Connor Dobson, Louis Glazebrook, Lucky Nwosu (Lewis Cotter 46), Kyle Beckford (Jerome Walker 66), Dekkland Wallace (Callum Keeble 66), Kanan Fitton, Alex Arif, Joedon Cugas-Cowin.
Sub: Fred Agyemang

Booked: Ryan McCourt 45, Kanan Fitton 86

Attendance: 110
Referee: Mr Ryan Andrew
Assistants: Mr Michael Jones & Mr Kenechukwu Aghasili