Tonbridge Angels 1-3 Bognor Regis Town - It's been the poorest we've been all season, admits Tonbridge Angels coach Justin Luchford

Tuesday 23rd February 2016
Tonbridge Angels 1 – 3 Bognor Regis Town
Location Longmead Stadium, Darenth Avenue, Tonbridge, Kent TN10 3JF
Kickoff 23/02/2016 19:45

Ryman Premier League
Tuesday 23rd February 2016
Stephen McCartney reports from Longmead Stadium

TONBRIDGE ANGELS coach Justin Luchford admits his side put in their poorest performance of the season after losing out to fellow promotion challengers Bognor Regis Town.

The Rocks extended their unbeaten run to 13 games with an impressive performance to leapfrog over Billericay Town into fifth-place in the Ryman Premier League table with 60 points from 31 games.

Tonbridge Angels remain in third-place with 62 points from 33 games, while Hampton & Richmond reached the summit on 70 points from 35 games following their 4-0 home win over relegation threatened VCD Athletic.

Bognor Regis deserved their 2-0 lead at the break when striker Jason Prior headed in two goals in the space of 184 seconds to take his prolific goalscoring tally to 32 goals for the season, to the delight of the vocal travelling support.

The Rocks, who welcome Vanarama National League strugglers Torquay United in The FA Trophy Quarter-Finals on Saturday, added a third through a solo run and chip from striker Alfie Rutherford, to score his 14th goal of the season.

Luke Blewden came off the bench to score his 18th goal of the season for out-played Tonbridge Angels during the second half but it was too little too late for Steve McKimm’s side.

“Yes, fully deserved, I think.  They were quicker out of the traps, they were better than us and we didn’t start playing until it was 3-0 and then after that it’s a fairly even game, but by then the game’s gone at that point,” admitted Luchford afterwards.

“If you give sides in the top six a three goal advantage you’re very rarely going to get yourselves back in the game.

“When you do put your finger on it, I don’t know, it’s one of those evenings. We didn’t turn up. We didn’t turn up at all. There was not one shining light.

“But we’re third in the table with how many to go? Twelve to go. You’d bite your arm off at the beginning of the season. We can’t be too down.  We just have to put this one to bed and go again.”

Tonbridge Angels created their first opening with only 102 seconds on the clock.

Nick Wheeler whipped in a low cross from the left and the ball was cleared out to Luke Allen, who took a couple of touches before unleashing a right-footed drive from 30-yards, which stung the fingers of visiting keeper Grant Smith, who plucked the ball out of the air above his head.

But Bognor Regis Town started to dominate possession, although Tonbridge Angels created the chances.

They were unlucky not to open the scoring in the 14th minute when Nathan Elder cut the ball back to right-back James Folkes, who fed the ball into Bradley Woods-Garness, who saw keeper Smith advance off his line and the striker dinked his shot over the keeper and the ball bounced agonisingly past the foot of the far post.

“We had two or three chances in the first 20 minutes before they scored,” said Luchford.

“I think the one with Bradley when he’s gone through and he’s chipped it over the keeper, if that goes in I think it’s a different game. It gets your tails up.

“We’ve got to take those chances if you want to be there or there abouts in the play-off areas.

“You have to have that little bit of luck and even though we weren’t playing very well – they were better than us tonight – if we can nick something you never know what can happen.  We didn’t quite nick it.  We didn’t deserve it either.”

Folkes then back-heeled the ball to Charlie Webster, who put over a deep cross towards Wheeler, who cracked a half-volley into the keeper’s hands from 20-yards.

Bognor Regis Town took 21 minutes to fashion their first opening.

Set-piece specialist Dan Beck cut the first of his seven corners back to diminutive midfielder Doug Tuck, who leaned back and blazed his shot over the bar from 25-yards.

Tonbridge Angels should have scored following the first of their two corners.

Wheeler swung in a near post corner, which Elder jumped up with Prior and one of them headed the ball back towards the far post which Jerrome Sobers was left unmarked and hit his right-footed volley over the bar from a tight angle.

Bognor Regis Town were to be denied when central midfielder Stuart Green was released through the middle and his shot was blocked by Angels’ keeper Anthony Di Bernardo.  The follow-up drive from Rutherford was blocked and Tuck’s drive was cleared off the line beside the right-hand post by Sobers.

Bognor Regis Town deservedly opened the scoring with 25:43 on the clock.

Beck swung in his second corner from the left towards the near post and Prior made space to glance his deflected header across goal and bounced in front of Di Bernardo and crept into the bottom corner of the net.

“I’m not sure it went in by Jason Prior. I think it was an own-goal,” said Luchford.

“There was a lot going on, on the line with the keeper and James Folkes and everything else.  I don’t know exactly what happened but I don’t think it went straight in.

“You’ve just talked about fine margins, they got a little bit of luck on the line. We didn’t get that little bit of luck at the other end so it’s fine lines. They got that little bit of luck and thoroughly deserved the lead.”

Right-back Folkes, who was voted the sponsors man-of-the-match for the home club, whipped in a deep cross for quiet targetman Elder to direct his downward header past the near post while under pressure.

Bognor Regis Town deservedly doubled their lead, with the clock showing 28:47.

Jack Parter gave Beck ample time and space to whip in a cross from the right and Prior was left unmarked in the middle of the box to plant his header into the bottom left-hand corner from 10-yards.

“You can’t give Jason Prior that room in the box,” said Luchford.

“We’ve squeezed up, the balls gone back out wide and we haven’t stayed tight to our men.

“It was a poor first half in everything we did and that was just another highlight of that problem.”

Bognor Regis Town squandered an excellent chance to kill off their poor hosts as early as the 35th minute.

Prior, who was keen to drop deep, picked the ball up and played the ball out wide to winger Connor Tighe, who whipped in a cross from the right.  Striker Rutherford brought the ball down under his spell and bent his right-footed shot towards the far corner, but Tonbridge were received a huge slice of luck as the ball narrowly missed the target.

Luchford said: “I turned to Barry (Moore, assistant manager) at that point and just said ‘you just wonder at that point’.

“If you go in 2-0 and we can nick something early, maybe, it’s game on again but it didn’t happen so it wasn’t a turning point at all. It could’ve been.”

Left-back James Crane played the ball into Rutherford, who hit a shot on the turn, which only just cleared the top of the far post.

Tonbridge’s defending from Becks’ corners was woeful and once again they left Prior unmarked and his glancing header at the near post dropped down and Di Bernardo was able to gather the ball low to his left before the ball nestled inside the bottom far corner.

“The thing is you have to remember this boy is a good player right, he’s a really good player,” Luchford said of Prior.

“He’s hard to mark and he’s hard to deal with and when he’s playing like this at the moment and we know he’s playing well because we hear the reports and we go and watch them, sometimes you can become a player that can be unplayable. 

“I’m not saying he was unplayable tonight because I think we gave him too much respect and too much room but you give that boy space and he’s going to punish you.”

Two-nil down at the break, it could and should have been far much worse for the home side.

“It’s been the poorest we’ve been all season,” admitted Luchford.

“Let’s be honest, we haven’t been that poor all season. As the gaffer said at half-time we haven’t served that up in the whole of the season and I don’t know why we served it tonight – but we did!

“It was a case second half go out and make amends for what we did and to be fair we started quite brightly and the lad gets it from god knows how many yards out and lobs our goalkeeper.”

Tonbridge Angels clearly missed central midfielder Tom Parkinson left-winger Nick Wheeler was withdrawn at the break.

“Yes, Tom was ill. Wheeler was ill,” Luchford confirmed. 

“We took a gamble on Wheeler. We had to change it but when you bring in Anthony Riviere you’re not that worried because Rivs is a great player anyway.

“I just think we failed to get to grips with them first half.  We were slow out of the traps and we were second to everything and they were on fire first half.  They were moving the ball around and the movement was good. We made bad decisions.

“Everything about us in the first half was poor so as much as however good they were, we helped them be good because we weren’t very good.”

Luchford added: “The quality into the box wasn’t very good tonight from start to finish and when you’re missing the Nick Wheeler’s quality crossing and you’re also missing Parky, who arrives late in the box with the size of him and everything else and the way he stamps his authority in the middle of the park, they’re two big players when they’re not 100% and they’re not playing.

“Parky’s been tremendous this season and he’s been a big miss for us but let’s make no excuses, let’s make no bones about it, Bognor were the better side tonight. We have to pick ourselves up and go again.”

Tonbridge Angels created the first chance of the second half but Woods-Garness hit a right-footed shot on the turn which sailed just wide of the right-hand post from 25-yards.

But Bognor Regis Town killed the game off with their third goal in the 53rd minute.

Rutherford picked the ball up on the halfway line and raced forward and as Di Bernardo raced off his line, chipped the ball over the keeper’s net, the ball dropping down into the far corner, to the delight of the singing travelling fans.

“It’s one of those isn’t it? It’s great when it’s for you, when it’s against you, it’s not so good and it killed the game,” said Luchford.

“We got the goal back but the game was done at that point.”

Tonbridge Angels scored a consolation in the 61st minute following a set-piece, which involved three of their substitutes.

Tommy Whitnell swept a free-kick into the penalty area from the left, the ball was driven across goal by Laurence Ball and Blewden swept a first time shot to the keeper’s left from eight-yards.

Luchford admitted: “Too little too late.”

When asked why Blewden started the game on the bench, he explained: “Luke’s played the majority of the games and the way Luke plays he runs and runs and runs and sometimes you can’t keep flogging him.

“We wanted to give him a bit of a rest. We gave him a rest Saturday (3-1 win at Kingstonian) and played Bradley out there. Bradley did alright. Luke came on and made a massive difference and tonight we felt the same.

“If we can give Luke a week off and maybe the gaffer might think about putting him back in on Saturday for Hampton but you can’t keep putting players out there that do that much work because they can’t physically carry on doing it.

“Last time we did it we gave Luke a week’s rest and he came back and started banging goals in again so let’s hope he starts doing that when he’s back in the side.”  

Luchford felt that goal was going to spark a trademark Tonbridge Angels fight-back.

“We had a good 10 minute spell after we scored where we put some pressure on,” he said.

“If we had nicked another one, maybe it would’ve made it a bit nervous for them for the last 15-20 minutes but they defended well. 

“We didn’t put enough quality balls in the box, unfortunately tonight, like we normally do and we didn’t give Nathan a chance to do what he does best.

“It’s a bad night at the office. We just have to put it to bed and go again.”

The rest of the game failed to produce many clear cut goalscoring opportunities but on tonight’s performance Bognor Regis Town will give Vanarama National League strugglers Torquay United a scare of two at Nyewood Lane on Saturday.

Rutherford played the ball into Prior and his drilled shot deflected off Sobers and flashed just past the foot of the right-hand post after 66 minutes.

Blewden launched one of his trademark long throws into the penalty area and the ball was headed out to Riviere, who smashed a volley towards goal, which smacked off the head of solid central defender Craig Robson.

“There was nothing clear cut,” admitted Luchford as Smith didn’t look troubled again.”

Folkes put a ball into the penalty area but Allen blazed his shot over the bar from the edge of the penalty area with just over 15 minutes remaining.

Bognor Regis’ travelling fans were outstanding all night and gave their side excellent vocal support throughout the game and were signing about going to Wembley.

For Tonbridge Angels, they host leaders Hampton & Richmond Borough on Saturdday, who go into the game eight points clear of McKimm’s men.

The Angels have now lost five at Longmead Stadium, while they have lost once on the road in the league this season and this is concerning the coach.

“I feel for the fans because we had a fantastic result Saturday away and the fans were absolutely fantastic. They really well noisy, a bit like Bognor were tonight,” said Luchford.

“Unfortunately for whatever reason this season we haven’t been able to give them consistently good performances at home.  We’ve been better on the road. I think we’ve got the best form on the road.

“But 12 games to go. Hampton on Saturday. We’re all looking forward to it. We’ll dust ourselves down, we’ll work hard (in training on) Thursday and they’ll be in for a game.”

Tonbridge Angels: Anthony Di Bernardo, James Folkes, Jack Parter, Anthony Riviere, Jerrome Sobers, Sonny Miles (Laurence Ball 52), Charlie Webster (Tommy Whitnell 59), Luke Allen, Nathan Elder, Bradley Woods-Garness, Nick Wheeler (Luke Blewden 46).
Subs: Tom Parkinson, Ben Harrison

Goal: Luke Blewden 61

Bognor Regis Town: Grant Smith, Calvin Davies, James Crane, Doug Tuck, Sami El-Abd, Craig Robson, Stuart Green (Gary Charman 74), Dan Beck, Jason Prior, Alfie Rutherford (Daryl Wollers 84), Connor Tighe (Alex Parsons 67).
Subs: Chad Field, Snorre Nilsen

Goals: Jason Prior 26, 29, Alfie Rutherford 54

Attendance: 377
Referee: Mr Nick Dunn (Deal)
Assistants: Mr Jack Hobbs (High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire) & Mr Richard Joss (Margate)

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