Sporting Club Thamesmead 2-4 Larkfield & New Hythe - I think we've got a good enough squad to hopefully get in those play-off places, says Larkfield & New Hythe manager Kris Browning

Monday 28th February 2022
Sporting Club Thamesmead 2 – 4 Larkfield & New Hythe
Location Bayliss Avenue, Thamesmead, London SE28 8NJ
Kickoff 28/02/2022 19:45

Southern Counties East Football League First Division
Monday 28 February 2022
Stephen McCartney reports from Bayliss Avenue

LARKFIELD & New Hythe manager Kris Browning says getting in to the Southern Counties East Football League First Division play-offs at the end of their first season at this level is a realistic aim for the club.

Larkfield & New Hythe remain in seventh-place with 46 points from their 25 games but closed the gap on Croydon to a point after coming away from a rain lashed Bayliss Avenue with a 4-2 victory over eighth-placed Sporting Club Thamesmead, whose manager Aaron Jeffrey failed to conduct his post-match media duties.

The home side took the lead against the run of play through a clinical finish from Alfie Eldridge’s third goal in as many games, before Larkfield & New Hythe levelled through Charlie Smith’s drilled 35-yard free-kick to take his goalscoring tally for the season to seven.

Larkfield & New Hythe’s left-winger Luke Baptiste flicked in their second goal of the night before Jake Beecroft notched his fifth goal of the season with a counter-attacking goal 10 minutes into the second half, just 18 seconds after the home side should have equalised.

Sporting Club Thamesmead pulled a goal back through central midfielder Harry Lawrence before Baptiste notched his sixth goal of the campaign.

“We dug in deep, I thought we dug in very deep tonight,” said Browning.

“I thought we wasn’t at our best first-half. Second half we got a big improvement from the lads. 

“We know they’re a decent side and have taken points off teams. It’s always a hard place to come. They’re a well-run decent, organised club and team.”

A Monday night crowd of 103 braved the wet weather and saw Larkfield & New Hythe go close inside the opening three minutes.

Centre half Stuart West drilled a first time long ball that released right-winger Hicham Akhazzan down the right and he cut inside and crossed low for striker Brett Ince, but the ball was cleared away by Acre left-back Bode Olajide.

Larkfield & New Hythe’s left-back Rob Lyall swiftly whipped in a deep cross and Ince had two bites of the cherry to score but stabbed his shot straight at debutant goalkeeper Alexander Warren.

Beecroft hit a speculative right-footed shot on the turn from 35-yards, which was comfortably caught by the Sporting Club Thamesmead keeper, promoted from the clubs Kent County League team.

The away side continued to play on the front foot and were to be denied by a fine diving save from Warren in the 14th minute.

Lyall played the ball into Baptiste down the left and the ball was fed into Akhazzan in the centre of the pitch and his low left-footed curler from the edge of the D was destined to nestle inside the bottom far corner, but Warren dived low to his right and used a strong right hand to push the ball towards safety.

Browning said: “He made a couple of great saves for us not to go 1-0 up. We started off ok but then we never pushed on from the first quarter-of-an-hour, which disappointed me.  The last half-an-hour of the first half was disappointing for our standards.”

Sporting Club Thamesmead, however, grabbed the lead, against-the-run-of-play in the 19th minute.

Olajide played the ball down the line and left-winger Kurti England rode a sliding challenge from Larkfield’s holding midfielder Jack Bray and played a diagonal pass on the deck over to winger Danny Edwards on the edge of the box.  He took a touch before putting it on a plate for Eldridge, who clinically placed his first-time right-footed drive into the bottom right-hand corner from 22-yards.

“He’s a decent player, I remember him being at Erith Town and I think he was a decent player there and he’s obviously come down here and he’s scored a few goals,” said Browning.

“I did tell them to watch him tonight. I thought he was decent, he was left unmarked and he finished it quite well to be fair.”

Sporting Club Thamesmead squandered a glorious chance to increase their lead just 117 seconds later.

Striker Tim Beckford, who like his manager endured a frustrating night, was released down the left and reached the by-line before whipping the ball towards the near post where Danny Edwards got in behind and hit his half-volley against the underside of the crossbar from very close range, as he aimed for the top left-hand corner.

“We could’ve easily have been 2-0 down in that first half. That’s when I noticed that we wasn’t at it and we needed to sort them out at half-time,” added Browning.

The miss proved costly, however, as Larkfield & New Hythe went up the other end and restored parity in the 23rd minute.

Smith’s intensions were clear, a long run up before drilling a powerful right-footed free-kick into the bottom far corner of the net from 35-yards, with no-one in a red shirt in the way to prevent the inevitable.

Browning said: “He does that nearly every week! It’s either on target or the keeper makes a great save there.  We rely on him a lot in those areas and I don’t think I’ve ever managed anybody who can hit a ball like that – it was a great goal.”

Bray hit a long ball straight down the middle from inside his own half, the ball was flicked on by Smith and Olajide and George Welsh were beaten by Akhazzan’s pace and the winger crashed a left-footed drive against the left-hand post from 22-yards in the 30th minute.

“If it goes in, we go 2-1 up and it’s a bit more comfortable but we created chances first half. It was just our defence from top to the back I wasn’t pleased with,” revealed Browning.

Akhazzan floated in the away side’s second corner of the night towards the back post where Lyall’s towering header was tipped over the crossbar by Warren, before Larkfield & New Hythe deservedly went 2-1 up in the 34th minute.

Smith played the ball out to Akhazzan down the right and he cut inside before crossing low for an unmarked Baptiste to flick his first-time shot rolling across Warren to find the bottom far corner from 12-yards.

“It was a good finish. We like to get the ball down and play.  I thought that was a good passage of play with four or five passes and then Luke Baptiste cut across and cut in and slotted it into the bottom corner,” said Browning.

Kick-off was delayed by 13 minutes as assistant referee Silvester Aina failed to turn up and referee Daniel Wyatt had to ask a favour from Keith Taylor to replace him at very late notice.

“We were just sloppy, we just wasn’t at our best first-half. We lost the midfield at times, which is unlike us, so it got a bit frustrating but we went in 2-1 up at half-time,” said Browning.

“I ripped into a few of them, four or five of them, because we just expected better. We came here tonight with a game plan and a few of them were told we’ve got a pattern of play and a few of them just forgot the basics of what we’re all about and at half-time and the second half they took it on board and I got the right reaction.”

Larkfield & New Hythe centre-half Jack Clark launched a deep free-kick into the penalty area but Lyall’s free-header was flicked across goal and bounced past the far post as the away side created the first chance of the second half.

Sporting Club Thamesmead were to be denied an equaliser when Stefan Dixon fed Connor Dobson who played the ball into Beckford outside the box and he took a touch before his reverse pass played in Eldridge, who drilled a right-footed shot at head height, which was beaten away by goalkeeper Scott Andrews.

The goalkeeper launched the ball upfield and just 18 seconds later, Beecroft clinically drove a right-footed drive across the keeper and nestling into the bottom far corner to give his side a 3-1 lead in the 55th minute.

Browning said: “Scott Andrews has made a superb save.  We’ve been sloppy in our defending, they’ve put a good ball into the box, which they did all night.  They’re very good at set-pieces and I was very impressed with their set-pieces in and around the box and I thought they were outstanding at that and Scott’s made a great save.

“Jake Beecroft’s got that in his locker. We want him to do more of that in the final third. At times, he passes it on but when he’s in those areas, his experience and breaking off the ball, he does that, he’s started doing that for the last few games now for us and he contributes to the club and the team.”

Sporting Club Thamesmead’s response was almost instant and just 73 seconds later holding midfielder Dobson cracked a right-footed screamer from 40-yards, which left Andrews well beaten but his shot crashed off the right-hand post.

Kurti England’s deliveries from set-pieces were top notch for the home side and his right-wing corner was met by Lawrence but his looping header was cleared off the line.

Then, England floated in a deep free-kick which was met by centre-half Welsh but his towering header sailed harmlessly wide of the target.

Lyall played the ball up to Bray, who fed Beecroft, who pulled his first-time right-footed shot past the left-hand post from 22-yards, before Sporting Club Thamesmead pulled a second goal back in the 68th minute.

Dobson floated in a free-kick from the right and it dropped to Lawrence, who planted his right-footed shot past Andrews into the bottom right-hand corner from 12-yards.

Browning said: “To give credit to them, they kept plugging away and trying and trying and we just hung on in there and just took our chances.

“They put us under a little bit of pressure but I think we coped with that quite well.

“It was just a couple of bizarre decisions that went against us and we kind of lost our heads.  I keep saying to the lads we have to respect the officials’ and just get on with it and just dust ourselves down and get on with it. It could’ve gone either way when that goal went in.”

Bray went close for Larkfield & New Hythe when he was left unmarked some 25-yards from goal and tried to curl his shot into the far corner.

Larkfield & New Hythe scored their fourth goal inside the final 14 minutes on the counter-attack.

Bray hit a diagonal pass over to left-winger Baptiste, who easily won the ball off right-back Stefan Dixon, who injured himself as he fell to the deck.

Baptiste charged down the left, cut into the box and from close to the by-line his shot clipped the inside of Warren’s leg (the keeper standing beside his near-post) and the ball bounced over the line.

“Luke will just chase and chase things and get on the ball. He’s nicked it off the full-back and buried it into the bottom corner. It was great and it took the pressure off us and it just shows how good we are on the counter,” added Browning.

Andrews made a brave save at the feet of substitute Ryan Solan, who had easily cut into the Larkfield & New Hythe penalty area and reached the by-line before he was thwarted by the visiting keeper.

The home side were a threat from set-pieces and Olajide’s deep free-kick was hooked on the turn and on the volley by Lawrence, the ball looping towards the top right-hand corner and Andrews plucked the ball out of the air, high to his left.

Larkfield & New Hythe captain Stuart West was sent off for the third time this season, deep into injury-time as referee Daniel Wyatt dished out nine cards during the game.

Browning said: “The first red card he picked up was handball on the line against Lewisham Borough. The second one was for violent conduct against Snodland and if we had filmed it, we would’ve got away with it and tonight, I just think he was very, very unlucky.

“Even the referee, who I know quite well and I respect, I think even he was a bit gutted to give it after all of the fouls that went on tonight.

“Westy’s in there, he’s gutted now but it’s one of those things. He’s our skipper, he's led us tonight and when you play Monday’s, Saturday’s, Wednesday’s these things will happen at any level so we’ve got a good squad, a very good squad, so we’ll just patch things up and we’ll move on from there.”

Sutton Athletic are still at the summit having collected 57 points from 27 of 38 games.

The four play-off places are currently occupied by Stansfeld (53 points from 24 games), Tooting Bec (53 points from 27 games), Snodland Town (50 points from 28 games) and Bridon Ropes (50 points from 27 games).

Croydon are in sixth-place with 47 points from 27 games, Larkfield & New Hythe are a point behind but with two games in hand on Liam Giles’ men and Sporting Club Thamesmead remain in eighth with 41 points from 28 games, having suffered back-to-back defeats, having lost 5-2 at Sutton Athletic in their last outing.

Lewisham Borough, who host Browning’s side on Saturday, are in ninth-place, having collected 40 points from 25 games.

“They gave me a performance that gave us a win away from home but I was pleased with the second-half, definitely pleased with the second half but they know in there that we’ve got better to offer than that,” said Browning, whose side have now won three games on the spin since losing 2-1 at home to Hollands & Blair in the Kent Senior Trophy Semi-Finals.

“It’s the old cliché, we’ll take every game as it comes but we’re a new club in a new league so our ambitions are to do the best we can and hopefully get in those play-off places.  I think we’ve got a good enough squad to do it.  We just need to keep picking up points and coming to these sort of places and grinding results out, just see where it gets us at the end of the season.

“Lewisham will be another tough game, they’re a very good side.  When I got promoted (from this division) with K Sports I think there were only three or four decent sides in the league then. 

“Now, we’ve come into it as a new club and I’d say it’s a very tough division. There’s about a good 10-12 teams in this league who are very decent and even the rest of them are capable of taking points of people.

“It’s a very good league in my opinion. It’s been more organised after the lockdown and everyone was buzzing to get back and I personally feel the top 10 in this league would survive in the league above us.”

Browning, who guided his club to the Kent Senior Trophy Semi-Finals but lost out to Hollands & Blair, has targeted a top five finish.

“I think to get into the play-offs is a realistic aim and if we get in there I just think it’s two cup finals then so we would like to get in to the play-offs, obviously.  It’s our objective. We’re building. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

With 13 league games left to play in the last eight weeks of the season, Browning insists his squad can cope with the busy schedule.

“We’ve got a decent squad, we just have got to rotate it.  I’ve got a lot of youngsters’ so it’s just rotating it, having man-management, resting people here and there and then just going really the best we can.”

Sporting Club Thamesmead: Alexander Warren, Stefan Dixon (Ryan Solan 77), Bode Olajide, Connor Dobson (Mike Nduakulu 83), George Welsh, Joe Matthews, Kurti England (Ayo Bakare 65), Harry Lawrence, Tim Beckford, Alfie Eldridge, Danny Edwards.
Subs: Mason Simms, Max Williams

Goals: Alfie Eldridge 19, Harry Lawrence 68

Booked: Tim Beckford 44, George Welsh 59, Ayo Bakare 69, Aaron Jeffrey (manager) 83, Joe Matthews 90

Larkfield & New Hythe: Scott Andrews, Jack West, Rob Lyall, Jack Bray, Stuart West, Jack Clark, Luke Baptiste, Jake Beecroft (Jack Nelson 84), Brett Ince (Dan Lott 89), Charlie Smith, Hicham Akhazzan (Ross Ibertson 73).
Sub: Keaton Courtman

Goals: Charlie Smith 23, Luke Baptiste 34, 76, Jake Beecroft 55

Booked: Stuart West 26, Jack Clark 27, Ross Ibbertson 90

Sent off: Stuart West 90

Attendance: 103
Referee: Mr Daniel Wyatt
Assistants: Mr David Lambert & Mr Keith Taylor