Tonbridge Angels 0-0 Braintree Town - You need that little bit of magic, that little bit of quality and neither team quite had that tonight, says frustrated Tonbridge Angels boss Jay Saunders

Tuesday 05th September 2023
Tonbridge Angels 0 – 0 Braintree Town
Location Longmead Stadium, Darenth Avenue, Tonbridge, Kent TN10 3JF
Kickoff 05/09/2023 19:45

Vanarama National League South
Tuesday 5 September 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from Longmead Stadium

TONBRIDGE ANGELS manager Jay Saunders says his side lacked quality in the final third during this goal-less stalemate against Braintree Town, as his side have scored only one goal in four home league games so far this season.

Tonbridge Angels twice hit the post through striker Ibby Akanbi and central midfielder Jordan Higgs late in the second half but Saunders’ men failed to replicate their performance at the weekend when they came away from then bottom side Slough Town with a 5-2 win, taking their goals tally to eight in as many games.

Angelo Harrop’s men stunned then league leaders Worthing by beating them 4-0 at Cressing Road at the weekend but both had to settle for a point in a disappointing clash, which was watched by a vocal and supportive crowd of 853 at Longmead Stadium.

Tonbridge Angels sit in 13th (of 24 club’s) in the Vanarama National League South table with 10 points from their eight league games, while Braintree Town remain in 16th place with nine points.

“I thought a 0-0 was probably a fair result, at least a draw was a fair result,” said Saunders.

“It was a game where neither team had large amounts of possession. It kind of went back and forward. It was a bit like a basketball game, which wasn’t ideal in both boxes from both sides. 

“It lacked that final bit of quality.  I thought both defences were good but no one could quite get the breakthrough.

“I know we hit the post twice and they had a couple of chances, when they went through with Johnny, he made a good save, but overall, I thought a point was probably about right.”

A frustrated Saunders added: “You can see that we lacked in the final third. We just couldn’t get going tonight.  I thought defensively we were outstanding.  Their defence was good as well. It was a game that they probably cancelled each other out.  You need that little bit of magic, that little bit of quality and neither team quite had that tonight.”

Braintree Town were the better side during the first half but neither goalkeeper Jonathan Henly or Braintree Town’s Jack Sims were tested.

Braintree right-back Ben Mason and striker Aaron Blair linked up well on the right before Mason whipped in a cross towards the edge of the penalty area for winger Tom Blackwell to find a pocket of space to send his downward header bouncing past the right-hand post inside the opening six minutes.

Alfie Payne (central midfielder), George Quantrell (winger) both linked up well before Quantrell curled a teasing cross from the corner of the penalty area, which bounced in front of Henly, who dived low to his right to push around the post.

Blackwell played the resulting corner short to Payne, who whipped in a cross for striker Will Davies to head straight at the Tonbridge goalkeeper, as the Essex outfit bossed the opening 10 minutes.

“I wouldn’t say they had anything clear-cut but I suppose they put a lot of balls into our box, which I wasn’t happy about,” added Saunders.

“I would probably say in the final third they had the better opportunities in that half.”

Braintree Town’s left-back Matt Carson played the ball into Blair, who cut inside Higgs before hitting a right-footed drive sailing over the crossbar from 22-yards.

Quantrell, holding midfielder Leon Davies and Mason linked up well on the right before Quantrell’s deep cross was worked to Carson, who flashed a shot flashing along the goal-line from a very tight angle close to the by-line.

Tonbridge Angels strikers Akanbi and big target-man Jordan Greenidge cut isolated figures for most of the game, as their team-mates often hit aimless long balls forward from defence.

“I thought in spells, they were ok.  I’ve got to be honest with you, I wasn’t happy with our service into them,” admitted Saunders.

“As good as we were defensively, I thought the service into them wasn’t good and that’s just not from defenders, that’s from midfield. I thought the service has got to be better.  When they did link, they looked a threat but on Saturday they were probably more effective, but our service was probably a little bit better.”

The home side’s only real first-half chance arrived in the 38th minute when winger Joe Turner switched the ball from the right to Scott Wagstaff, who ignored an overlapping pass before playing the ball back over to Turner on the right.

The winger ran down the line before whipping in a cross, which was flicked away by Sims’ poor punch and the ball bounced off an unmarked left-back Tariq Hinds at the back post and bounced past the foot of the near post.

Saunders said: “It’s a half-chance, wasn’t it and I think that was what the first half was.  There was a lot of half-chances, nothing clear-cut, nothing really well-worked from either team.

“I think if you look at it back, it was mainly crosses into the box from both teams, which both teams dealt with quite well.”

Mason played the ball down the channel to release Blair, who cut into the box and lacked composure as his weak miss-kicked shot rolled into the gloves of Henly at his near post but this sixth-tier encounter lacked quality when it really mattered.

Saunders said: “I just said to the boys (at half-time), we need to be a bit more composed on the ball.  We had to sort out a little bit defensively because I wasn’t happy with the amount of balls coming into our box, which I thought we did better in the second half.

“It was just about being better on the ball and just have a little bit more quality and a little bit more belief and being brighter on set-pieces, rather than just hanging things into their box. 

"When we did that in the second half, we actually hit the post and we caused them a few problems but I just felt we were a bit, I don’t know, tentative, I’m not sure. I’m not quite sure what it was. It was try and get that bit more belief and creativity.”

The Essex outfit created an opening after only 58 seconds into the second half, but once again Henly wasn’t troubled.

Blackwell played the ball into an unmarked Will Davies but the striker drove his low right-footed drive past the foot of the left-hand post from 30-yards.

“Again, it was a half-chance.  You’re quite happy with them shooting from long range against Johnny from there, so you’re not too worried about that,” added Saunders.

Braintree Town should have smashed the stalemate in the 12th minute when Mason hit a curling through ball from his left-back station which should have been cleared by Tonbridge centre-half Kodi Lyons-Foster. 

However, the defender let the ball go through his legs and this gave Blair the chance to run through on goal but he lacked composure once inside the box and Henly came off his line to smother the ball.

“I am pleased about a clean-sheet.  You have to remember they put four past Worthing on Saturday, so to keep a clean-sheet is good,” said Saunders.

“It shows defensively that we were good. It’s just disappointing,  we went away and scored five goals away from home and you want to be doing that in front of your home fans. It’s not easy to score five goals every week but you want to entertain the fans and now you’re looking at it, we haven’t scored enough goals at home, so it’s something that we’ve got to work on.

“We’re still trying to add to the squad.  The squad is a little bit thin at the moment. We’re still trying to add to it and we’re still trying to bring some quality into that final third.”

Saunders was forced into making one change in personnel tonight with left-back Jernade Meade away on International duty for Montserat.

“I tell you what wasn’t ideal for me today, we go and have a really good performance and result on Saturday and we lose Jernade and we have to put Tariq Hinds at left-side.  I didn’t want to change the shape because of the performance we had and we were a problem.

“I had to put Tariq Hinds at left-wing-back, JT (Turner) there at right-wing-back and Woody (Nathan Wood) came in and it’s no disrespect to Woody, but I thought we missed Jernade. He’s a natural left-footed full-back and he’s been excellent for us.  We missed JT a little bit higher up the pitch.

“I thought Woody came in, to be fair to the lad, he hasn’t had many minutes really since the start of the season and it’s tough to come into the side when we weren’t at our best and it was tough for him but I thought he done well and worked hard and he had glimpses.

“I’m not sure if it’s tiredness, I think it’s probably the change of shape and different things.”

Braintree Town continued to dominate proceedings and Blackwell drove through the heart of the pitch before playing the ball to Will Davies on his outside and the striker took a touch before drilling a low shot just past the foot of the right-hand post from 18-yards.

Braintree Town went close again as the clock ticked towards the final 20 minutes when they had a spell of possession inside the Tonbridge half before Mason fed Quantrell, who turned Wagstaff on the edge of the penalty area but his shot flashed across the keeper and past the far post.

Tonbridge started to have a go inside the final 15 minutes, but Braintree Town’s centre-half Joe Grimwood, 20, was excellently resilient, having been given his chance by Harrop, having plucked him out of the Southern League Premier South from AFC Sudbury, which proves there are gems plying their trade in the lower leagues.

Tonbridge Angels struck the post for the first time in 80th minute when Wagstaff played the ball into substitute right-winger Rueben Soares-Junior, who cut inside and his left-footed drive from 20-yards deflected past the right-post.

Turner floated in the resulting corner from the right and from within a crowd of players inside the Braintree penalty area, the ball dropped to Akanbi, who swept his shot against the near-post.

“That’s frustrating for me,” admitted Saunders.

“We’ve worked on things. I asked the boys to do certain things for corners and I’ve just said to them after the game that they need to listen and make sure they take it on board because we’ve finally worked what we’ve asked them to do and we hit the post from it and I felt we needed to be brighter from set-pieces.

“Braintree were quite happy with balls into their box, they were quite comfortable with defending deep. I just felt we needed to be brighter on set-plays and the one we did second half, we hit the post from it.”

Despite winning the corner-count by 9-7, Tonbridge Angels couldn’t find the breakthrough via this method – and their play for most of the game was direct and sub Soares-Junior lacked end product when he was released down the right.

Turner put in the home side’s eighth-corner of the night (37:47) and Higgs took a touch before stroking a left-footed drive through a crowd of players only for his 25-yard drive to agonisingly kiss the base of the right-hand post and apologetically roll behind for a goal-kick.

Saunders said: “We huffed and puffed at the end.  We changed shape and we got Rueben (Soares-Junior) and Joe Boachie come on and I thought had an impact and we went for it.

“It did become a bit of a basketball game, it was back and forth but you can say both teams did lack in the final third but at the same time both teams defences were good.”

Braintree Town had a chance to walk off with all three points in the 86th minute when Blackwell and Blair broke before substitute striker Aaron Matshazi’s left-footed drive from 22-yards was comfortably saved by Henly, to prevent the ball nestling into the bottom right-hand corner.

Tonbridge Angels had one more chance with 49:30 on the clock (the final whistle blew at 50:14) but Higgs looped his header (from Jamie Fielding’s cross) over the crossbar from the edge of the six-yard box.

The Angels are four points clear of the play-off zone (seventh-placed Yeovil Town) and four points clear of the relegation zone (Slough Town).

Saunders’ side welcome sixth-placed Taunton Town (15 points) to Longmead Stadium on Saturday.

Taunton Town came away from Chippenham Town with a point in a 3-3 draw tonight and Saunders needs to find the formula that produces goalscoring chances on their artificial pitch.

“Tough game.  They’re well-organised, well-drilled, a big side. They did the double over us last year.  We didn’t have a keeper when we went to their place, Jonny pulled out with Covid.

“They’ll come here and be hard to beat. They’re flying high so it’s up to us to take the game and we’ve got to come up with something to make sure that we get three points.

“The League table is all over the place. It will even itself out. I just think we’ve got to worry about us, trying to get a little run.  I’ve said to the boys, if we get three points on Saturday, seven points from the last three games isn’t a bad return, with an away game and two at home. You’d take that.

“But we’ve just have to concentrate on us and make sure that we get three points on Saturday and move on.”

The Angels finished in ninth-place in National League South last season – the West Kent club's joint-highest position in today’s money – and Saunders wants the club to achieve regular top 10 finishes and push towards the play-offs (positions two to seven).

“Ideally, you go into every season trying to get promoted and for us I think it will be hard to win the league but you want to try and make play-offs,” said Saunders.

“You want to try and better last season.  We’ve got to establish ourselves as a top 10 club.  We did that last year. We now have to stay there and try to close the gap on the play-offs.  If we can do that, then we’ve got a chance.

“Every season it’s get to the 40-odd point mark and then assess where you are then.”

Meanwhile, Tonbridge Angels will be travelling to Haringey Borough in The FA Cup Second Qualifying Round on Saturday 16 September, after they beat their Isthmian League Premier Division rivals Dulwich Hamlet 2-1 in tonight’s replay.

“Tricky one, Haringey is a tough place to go, the 3G pitch there.  We would’ve loved it at home, you love a home game against lower opposition but when the FA Cup is drawn you want lower opposition.

“We’ve got that but they’re a good side.  I’ve been there many times with Margate.  We’ll prepare and we’ll have them watched and do our homework, like we do for our league teams.

“This year we need to have a bit of a better Cup run than we did last year.”

Tonbridge Angels: Jonathan Henly, Jamie Fielding, Tariq Hinds, Scott Wagstaff, Kodi Lyons-Foster, Ben Swift, Nathan Wood (Ruben Soares-Junior 63), Jordan Higgs, Ibby Akanbi (Joe Boachie 87), Jordan Greenidge, Joe Turner.
Subs: Tom Parkinson, Gianni Crichlow, Nat Gibb

Braintree Town: Jack Sims, Ben Mason, Matt Carson, Leon Davies, Joe Grimwood, Ben Tompkins, Tom Blackwell (Tom Stevenson 87), Alex Payne, Will Davies, Aaron Blair, George Quantrell (Aaron Matshazi 77).
Subs: Kyran Clements, Josh Dawson, Josh White

Booked: Leon Davies 65, Ben Tompkins 67

Attendance: 853
Referee: Mr Isaac Searle
Assistants: Mr Howard Collins & Mr Pabio Roque