Tonbridge Angels 0-0 AFC Wimbledon - We know we've still got a lot of work to do, admits Tonbridge Angels' coach Justin Luchford

Saturday 23rd July 2016
Tonbridge Angels 0 – 0 AFC Wimbledon
Location Longmead Stadium, Darenth Avenue, Tonbridge, Kent TN10 3JF
Kickoff 23/07/2016 15:00

Pre-Season Friendly
Saturday 23rd  July 2016
Stephen McCartney reports from Longmead Stadium

TONBRIDGE ANGELS coach Justin Luchford says his side have got a lot of work to do ahead of the big kick-off in three weeks’ time.

This was their fourth game of their pre-season campaign and they haven’t yet tasted victory after losing to Hampton & Richmond Borough (0-4), drawing both Bedlington Terriers and Blyth Spartans 1-1 in their annual tour of the North East and being held to a goal-less stalemate by a young AFC Wimbledon side at a hot Longmead Stadium today.

The Ryman Premier League hosts were the more dominant spell during the first half but they couldn’t find a breakthrough in front of 246 fans who were keen to get the club’s play-off semi-final defeat to promoted side East Thurrock United out of their system after completing their 46-match campaign in the top four last season.

Tonbridge manager Steve McKimm was without defenders Jerrome Sobers (ankle) and George Beavan (holiday) so Ugo Udoji (on a one-year loan from National League side Bromley) slotted in the centre of defence for the first 50 minutes before half-time sub Tom Parkinson partnered Sonny Miles for the second half.

“Yes, another work-out at the moment, especially in the heat, it’s about people getting some minutes under their belt and I think that’s the fourth game now. The boys are building up minutes, starting to look a little bit sharper in places,” said Luchford.

“We know we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’ve got new players this year so we’re trying to in bed the way we do things and that will come and that will work though training and through playing games.

“I thought their (AFC Wimbledon) team did well. I thought their young lads did well, especially their two centre halves. I thought they tried to keep the ball well and to be fair to them, under 21s, that’s’ why they want these games because they’re coming up against men.  A lot of these lads are boys. I thought they done exceptionally well today against our big boys and they gave us a game. Result wise we’re not that bothered about it. They worked hard, we worked hard and we both got out of it what we wanted but it was probably a fair result.”

When asked about their winless pre-season campaign to date, Luchford is not panicking. The club open their Ryman Premier League campaign at home to Wingate & Finchley in three weeks’ time.

“Don’t worry about that! We won loads of them (pre-season games) last year and we ended up in the play-offs. What does it mean? I mean, these aren’t about results. 

“I tell you what, what is important today is to keep a clean sheet because we haven’t kept a clean sheet yet and that’s more important than anything else to be honest.

“We’ve got players out there who are going to score goals so we know that will come so no way are we concerned about the result.

“It’s all about getting people minutes. We were missing a few people, we played a few people out of position because they want to get minutes as well.  Over the last two or three games we’ll be starting to look at what we’ll be doing about Wingate and like the gaffer said today, last week and a half training and games we’ll look at the side and look at set-pieces and then we’ll work on some shape.”

Tonbridge Angels started the game on the front foot and right-winger Bradley Fortum-Tomlinson impressed on his home debut and his looping cross-come-shot from the right was pushed over the crossbar by visiting keeper Joe McDonnell.

Nick Wheeler swung in the resulting corner towards the far post and Miles’ header was helped on and Luke Allen’s hooked volley sailed just past the far post from 10-yards.

“I thought we had a few (chances) first half,” said Luchford.

“I think we had three or four decent chances. I wouldn’t say they were clear cut but they were decent chances so on another day we score two or three of those.
But we’ve got to make sure we’re in the right positions to make those chances and be in the position to take those chances. That was the story of the game there.”

AFC Wimbledon offered very little in the attacking third and they should have done better from their first corner.

Tonbridge dealt with Nez Belliki’s corner from the right and the ball was played out to right-back George Casey, who had time and space to whip in a cross but central defender Paul Kalambayi poked his shot wide of the target.

Wheeler, who was pinging some high-quality crosses, found the head of target-man Nathan Elder, who directed his looping header into McDonnell’s hands for a routine catch.

With Allen and Tommy Whitnell playing in the middle of the park, space opened up for AFC Wimbledon’s young-guns but they failed to exploit it fully.

Toyosi Olusanya ran through the heart of the pitch with the ball and played the ball out to winger Belliki, who cut inside and returned the ball to striker Olusanya, who drilled his shot over the bar from a tight angle.

Fortum-Tomlinson floated in a cross from the left into the AFC Wimbledon penalty area and Elder’s towering header sailed past the far post.

Tonbridge Angels’ best chance, however, arrived in the 19th minute when McDonnell made a diving save to his right to tip the ball around the post.

Tonbridge left-back Jack Parter made progress down the left before he played the ball inside to Wheeler, who unleashed a right-footed angled drive towards the bottom left-hand corner from 25-yards, which wasn’t going to beat the keeper.

“We can’t see how close they are from our side, the other side of the pitch,” said Luchford.

“I thought their keeper did well today in terms of dominating his box and I thought he did alright, so he had to dive for a reason. It’s good to get shots on target.”

Fortum-Tomlinson and Elder linked up well outside the AFC Wimbledon box but Whitnell flashed his right-footed drive past the right-hand post from 25-yards.

Whitnell, 27, has come back from a couple of operations to his fractured cheek and broken eye socket.

“It’s not his natural position to play centre midfield,” admitted Luchford.

“Tom’s got a great touch, every time he gets the ball he makes space for himself and then makes space for others by doing that. He’s a very good footballer Tommy.”

Miles came up from the back to hit a first time drive flashing past the other post from 35-yards as Tonbridge Angels failed to turn their dominance into goals.

James Folkes rolled the ball out to Wheeler, who was hugging the right touch-line (Tonbridge have brought in both flanks a couple of yards on both side of the pitch!) and he floated in a deep cross which was headed down and wide by Miles.

AFC Wimbledon weathered the storm that lasted 30 minutes, before Tonbridge were to be denied a deserved lead on the stroke of half-time.

Wheeler played the ball inside to striker Luke Blewden, who took a touch before cracking a low right-footed drive towards the bottom left-hand corner from 30-yards, forcing McDonnell to dive to his right again to tip the ball around his post.

But with Udoji playing at the heart of defence, Luchford was pleased with the defensive unit today.

“We didn’t want them to have clear cut chances. We didn’t want to concede goals. If you looked at last season, probably apart from the last third of the season, defensively we were very, very solid and we want to do that again this year.  We want to make sure that the back four, the keeper and the people in front of them are doing their jobs defensively and I thought we did that well first half.

“I thought Ugo did well. He’s obviously played at a higher level. He knows what he's doing, he talks and he makes good decisions and he can play anywhere across the back four so he’ll be a big asset to us.”

When asked his thoughts at the break, Luchford said: “Maybe really to move the ball a bit quicker and maybe to go in behind a little bit more.  We played a lot of football in front of their back four, into Nathan’s feet and chest rather than looking for the run in behind.  We asked them to do that a little bit more second half but we didn’t quite do that but that’s a learning curve for the new boys coming in and also a learning curve for the players that have been here for the last couple of years.”

The impressive Allen floated in a deep cross from the left which Fortum-Tomlinson poked into McDonnell’s hands at the near post as the winger ghosted in and hit a first time shot after only 129 seconds into the second half.

Fortum-Tomlinson’s looping shot was brilliantly tipped up by McDonnell and was destined to loop into the back of the net but captain Kalambayi led by example to get back on his line to head the ball off the line.

Luchford said of Fortum-Tomlinson: “He worked his absolute nuts off! We knew what he could do going forward. You worry sometimes with wingers what they can do going back the other way and I thought two or three times today he got himself back round and defended very well. I’m sure he’ll be quite sore in the morning because he put in a shift down the right hand side.”

Whitnell put over a hanging cross, which was knocked down by Miles and Allen should have capped an impressive performance from the middle of the park, but he smacked his volley over the crossbar.

“He did well Luke and what he did well today he picked and chose when he made his runs, because in the last five minutes he still stole the ball in the middle of the park and drove forward and he conserved his energy at the right times. It was quite a mature display from him today.”

AFC Wimbledon’s best chance finally arrived in the 58th minute following a set-piece down the right.

Belliki floated in a free-kick, the ball dropped at Kalambayi’s feet and he lashed his shot against the underside of the crossbar from 10-yards and Egil Kaja’s follow-up shot was saved by Anthony Di Bernardo, diving low to his right.

“I haven’t been here for the last three, I’ve been away and Barry (Moore) said to me when that happened, ‘that’s happened two or three times this season, that free-kick’, so that’s something that we’ll be working on to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Tonbridge Angels’ part-time players started to wilt in the heat after the hour mark and the game was played at a slow tempo as the heat took its toll.

“It’s hard out there for both teams,” admitted Luchford.

AFC Wimbledon’s finishing was of poor quality as Belliki raced down the left and played the ball inside for Olusanya to drill his shot high and wide from 30-yards.

Tonbridge Angels should have won the game with 11 minutes remaining.

Substitute left-winger Damian Scannell whipped in a corner from the left on a plate for Elder who from six-yards planted his header straight at McDonnell, who was relieved to catch the ball. Either side of him and it would have been the win that the Kent side deserved.

Luchford added: “Exactly” It’s pre-season, he’s still in the right place at the right time. Give him a couple more games, I’m sure first game of the season, if he’s in the starting line-up and that ball comes in, my money will be on that ball hitting the back of the net!”

Belliki stroked a left-footed free-kick towards the far corner from 30-yards, the ball bouncing once into Di Bernardo’s hands for a comfortable save.

Although Belliki produced some impressive counter-attacking runs for AFC Wimbledon, his team-mates finishing was poor.  This time it was central midfielder Alfie Egan who lashed his shot over from 25-yards.

Tonbridge Angels’ last chance fell to substitute striker Tashi-Jay Kwayie, who hooked the ball straight at McDonnell after the ball dropped over his right shoulder at the death.

Tonbridge Angels have three warm-up games starting with Jon Heath’s Testimonial Match against Tommy Warrilow’s Thamesmead Town next Saturday, before travelling to National League side Sutton United (2 August) and hosting Ryman One South side East Grinstead Town on 6 August.

“It will be a good game for Jon, that’s what it’s about.  He’s been a great servant for the club and I’m sure the players’ and the fans will give him a good reception and quite rightly so,” said Luchford.

“We’ve got three left and we have to make sure within those three we iron out the problems that we might have at the moment. Iron out the things that need to do, educate the new players and maybe change a little bit that we’ve done before and be ready for August 13th because at the moment that’s all we’re concerned about.”

Tonbridge Angels: Anthony Di Bernardo, James Folkes, Jack Parter, Luke Allen, Sonny Miles, Ugo Udoji (Damian Scannell 50), Bradley Fortum-Tomlinson, Tommy Whitnell, Nathan Elder (Tashi-Jay Kwayie 80), Luke Blewden (Andre McCollin 62), Nick Wheeler (Tom Parkinson 46).

AFC Wimbledon: Joe McDonnell, George Casey, Seth Owens, Seanen McKillop, Paul Kalambayi, Toby Sibbick, Egil Kaja (Reece Bowers 70), Alfie Egan, George Oakley (Jaden Antwi 46), Toyosi Olusanya (Nathan Wood 70), Nez Belliki.
Sub: Osasi Urhoghide

Attendance: 246
Referee: Mr Lee Dyson (Gravesend)
Assistants: Mr Scott Rudd (Dartford) & Mr Dan Doyle (Maidstone)
Fourth Official: Matt Charles (Chatham)

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