Tonbridge Angels 3-4 Needham Market - I back and fancy us against any team in the play-offs, says Tonbridge Angels' coach Justin Luchford

Saturday 04th March 2017
Tonbridge Angels 3 – 4 Needham Market
Location Longmead Stadium, Darenth Avenue, Tonbridge, Kent TN10 3JF
Kickoff 04/03/2017 15:00

Ryman Premier League
Saturday 4th March 2017
Stephen McCartney reports from Longmead Stadium

TONBRIDGE ANGELS coach Justin Luchford says he backs his side to win promotion at the end of the season despite this set-back against fellow challengers Needham Market.

Tonbridge Angels went into this game in third-place in the Ryman Premier League with 63 points from 36 games, as did fourth-placed Needham Market.

Steve McKimm’s side were unbeaten in eight games and they were comfortably leading 2-0 after 37 minutes, courtesy of two headed goals from right-back Ugo Udoji and target-man Nathan Elder’s 50th career goal for the club.

But things started to go downhill when goalkeeper Anthony Di Bernardo pulled up with an injury to his right knee in the 41st minute and was substituted at half-time.

Goalkeeper coach, Stewart Copeland, 26, came on after the break and put in a poor performance from a man that was clearly out of his depth in the Ryman Premier League, having previously played two levels lower for Tunbridge Wells as well as clubs in the Kent County League.

Needham Market scored four goals from their five shots on target as the hapless goalkeeper gave the points to Mark Worsley’s side and as the league table stands tonight will host Tonbridge Angels in the play-off semi-finals on a Thursday night in late April on the outskirts of Ipswich.

John Sands headed in his 11th goal of the season to bring Needham Market back from the dead within four minutes, but Tonbridge Angels’ third headed goal, this time from central defender Mitchell Nelson, gave McKimm’s men a two-goal advantage.

Udoji was sent off in the 55th minute for “denying a goalscoring opportunity,” according to the referee’s paperwork.

Winger Luke Ingram’s fourteenth goal of the season followed, before Reece Dobson equalised with his seventeenth goal of the season, before Sam Nunn came up from the back to tap in the winner with five minutes left following another mistake from Copeland.

“We’re gutted! We’ve got 11 on the pitch and with our number one goalkeeper in the goal I don’t think they got a sniff.  They never got a sniff all game until that point,” said Luchford, on the loss of his goalkeeper.

“We dominated without being very good.  We weren’t very good first half. We got ourselves ahead, like we said at half-time, we can’t play well every week and that’s not a problem if you’re winning.

“Two-nil at half-time, I was put under the impression that Tony would come back out but the physio had a look at him and he didn’t come back out and we had to make a change.

“They’re not in the game, how they are where they are in the league is beyond me! Hopefully, the way they acted today in terms of, in some quarters, we get ourselves in the play-offs and if they come back down here again, they certainly won’t be coming away with smiles on their faces put it that way!”

Tonbridge Angels came away from Suffolk with a 2-0 win in the league in November and a 3-1 win in the Alan Turvey Trophy Sponsored by Robert Dyas in the Quarter-Finals in January and could potentially meet again in the play-offs at the end of the season.

Needham Market were a big and strong physical side and they won the corner count 6-1 by half-time, although they failed to threaten Di Bernardo in open play.

Needham Market’s left-back Darryl Coakley swung over their second corner from the right, the ball was knocked down by Sands but the ball bounced off Ingram at the far post towards safety despite being close to the goal-line.

Tonbridge Angels’ midfielder Tom Phipp smacked a right-footed volley harmlessly wide of the far post from 30-yards as Tonbridge Angels probed for a breakthrough.

“Probed, without being very good.  We weren’t doing necessarily the right things that we did Tuesday night (in our 1-1 draw) against Havant & Waterlooville and we lost our shape a little bit,” admitted Luchford.

“We had people in wrong areas at crucial times in the final third of the pitch.  A couple of times the final ball wasn’t quite there.

“We kept probing. The work-ethic was there, the passing and the work-rate, it was just the tempo was low and we weren’t doing the things we were doing so well on Tuesday, especially winning the second ball.”

Tom Parkinson clipped the ball up from defence which was flicked on by Elder and his strike partner Alex Akrofi cut inside Keiran Morphew but his shot was saved comfortably by keeper Daniel Gay on his knees at his near post.

Tonbridge Angels got their breakthrough with 17 minutes and 4 seconds on the clock following their first of three corners.

Nick Wheeler played a short corner to Phipp, who turned Reece Dobson on the right-hand side of the penalty area and he floated in a deflected cross and Udoji ghosted in to plant his downward header in off the keeper’s legs for the ball to nestle into the bottom left-hand corner.

“They got done with it at their place with a short corner and they’ve done it again,” said Luchford.

“We worked on it and if you don’t use it, we’ve got six or seven different variations of the same corner so you can’t read it and it’s worked and we got a goal.

“Ugo’s done well the last couple of weeks at centre half. He played right-back this afternoon and he’s gone up and won the header and done well.”

Needham Market went close when Coakley drilled a first time 35-yarder which swerved just around the foot of the far post inside the opening 20 minutes.

Tonbridge Angels missed a chance to double their lead just seven minutes later.

Parkinson fed the ball to Phipp, who passed to Akrofi and Wheeler’s short flicked pass put Luke Allen in and after riding Morphew’s sliding challenge the Angels midfielder scooped his left-footed shot over the crossbar from 15-yards.

“Left foot, I think it was.  If it was the opposite side Luke probably puts it away and he’s just tried to get as much of it as he can with his left foot and he puts it over the bar,” added Luchford.

Sands rolled the ball on the outside to right-winger Ingram, who was given time and space to whip in a dipping cross, which forced Di Bernardo to palm away diving high to his right.

But resilient Tonbridge Angels were putting in some good defensive blocks to protect their goalkeeper – but they failed to replicate that with ten-men during the second half.

Sands fed the ball out to left-winger Jack Simmons, who’s cross looped off Phipp and Di Bernardo gathered comfortably.

Tonbridge Angels did get away with it when Nelson stopped and allowed Sands to get in behind him but the Angels defender made a last-ditch tackle inside his box to prevent a free shot on goal.

Tonbridge Angels were coasting when they deservedly doubled their lead with 36 minutes and 52 seconds on the clock.

Jack Parter headed the ball out of defence and Akrofi cut inside and Allen floated in a lovely cross towards the far post for Elder to plant his towering header over the goalkeeper’s outstretched right hand to crash his header into the roof of the net from five-yards out.

It would be interesting to know the stats of how many of Elder’s 50 goals for Tonbridge Angels have come from trademark headers.

Luchford said: “Great header, great header, great goal. Great ball to the back post by Luke. He did well actually because he could’ve put it back and recycled it but he didn’t, he put it to the back post and Nathan got up brilliantly and it’s a fantastic header, you’re not going to stop them!

“It’s what he does, probably 49 (have been scored) with his head. Do you know what, that’s who he is! You put balls in the box, he’ll score goals.  He’s a threat everywhere. He holds the ball up well at times and links the play, so fair play to him.”

Wheeler found himself in the middle of the pitch, dragging his right-footed shot just past the far post from 30-yards, but there was concern when Di Bernardo pulled up through injury and carried on for the rest of the half with the ball up the other end of the pitch.

Luchford said: “He’s just done something to his knee.  We don’t know if it’s cartilage, we don’t know if it’s meniscus.  Marvin Slight (our physio) tried to book an appointment on Monday to get a MRI scan. We’ll have to see how long he's going to be out for.

“We’ve got enough contacts, the gaffer (McKimm), Barry (Moore) and myself. We’ll work hard tonight and tomorrow and make sure we’ve got some cover for Tuesday.”

When asked about what McKimm told his troops during the half-time break, Luchford revealed: “The gaffer weren’t happy because we weren’t winning the second balls. Players’ weren’t playing in the right areas, so we were having people like Phipp trying to cover ground on the left-hand side, right-hand side when that should’ve been covered by Luke Blewden or Luke Allen. Nick Wheeler wasn’t quite getting on the ball where we wanted him to get on the ball.  The decision making on the ball when we got it in the final third wasn’t the greatest so we said to them about that.

“We were more worried about what changes we were going to make.  We thought about bringing Ugo off as well because he was struggling a little bit so we thought James Folkes back or so we thought. We were going to make that change but we didn’t and we made the goalkeeper change.

“We didn’t think we were going to have to make that when we got in the changing room but at the end of the team talk we had to make it.  When we got off the pitch Tony said he was going to strap it and see how he was. Once he strapped it and Melvin took a look at it he could hardly walk on it and do anything else to it so he was only going to be a hindrance to himself so we made a change at half-time.

Tonbridge Angels had the first chance of the second half after only 75 seconds, but Allen sent his right-footed free-kick over the wall and crossbar from 25-yards.

Needham Market put in a free-kick into the box from the right from Coakley and shaky Copeland stayed on his line and Luke Blewden glanced his header behind for a corner.

Needham Market pulled a goal back with three minutes and 51 seconds on the clock.

Dobson ran forward with the ball and played the ball out wide to Ingram, who whipped in a cross into the box for an unmarked Sands to send his downward header across the keeper to score from six-yards.

Luchford said: “Poor defending really.  We spoke to Jack Parter two minutes earlier, he just got done by one over the top and he’s done the same. The boy got across him and Mitchell’s just not opened his body up. It’s just poor defending. The lad is six or seven yards out, he’s not going to miss from there.

“That was a poor start to the half and unfortunately, I say unfortunately, I say that set the tone. It didn’t because we went back up the other end and got ourselves back in the lead.”

Tonbridge Angels needed a third goal, it arrived with six minutes and 49 seconds on the clock and inevitably it came from a set-piece.

Wheeler whipped in a corner from the right and Nelson rose to plant his header towards the left-hand corner.  Simmons’ acrobatic clearance wasn’t enough and the assistant referee signalled that the ball crossed the line for Nelson’s fourth goal for the club.

“To be honest, even from where we were, we thought it was a goal,” said Luchford.

“We were looking at the linesman and he was halfway up the pitch. It was a goal, we knew it was a goal!

“Great delivery from Nick Wheeler, great header from Mitchell and at that point you’re thinking just hold it again for another 10 minutes, just slow the game down, just unfortunate errors after that.”

Tonbridge Angels shot themselves in the foot when Udoji was shown a straight red card in the 55th minute.

Copeland rushed off his line, spilt the ball, the ball bounced up and hit him on his head.  Ingram pounced on the loose ball and was destined to score if it wasn’t for Udogi to trip him in a central position inside the D.

The former Bromley defender was clapped off the pitch and returned the gesture and Sands drilled the resulting right-footed free-kick over the crossbar from 20-yards.

“You can’t point the finger at Stewart today, right,” said Luchford, trying to defend his colleague for his mistake.

“You’ve got someone there who is our goalkeeper coach, he’s on the bench to make up the number and the freak instance he was to go on the pitch, he goes on there and do a job for us, you know what, fair play to him for doing it.   Lots of people wouldn’t even have done that.

“He’s just come out a little bit, he’ll look back on that. I know he will because he’ll beat himself up. He’ll look back on it and think he didn’t need to come. He came out to far. The ball’s ricochet and ended up on the edge of the 18-yard box.

“Ugo, it’s a professional foul. You’ve got to take the risk that he’s going to give you a yellow card and there’s players behind him.

“We were still a little bit undecided that there were players’ behind him that maybe still could’ve made a challenge.”

When asked whether the club will appeal the red card, Luchford replied: “We need to see the video of that. If we feel it’s worth an appeal, we’ll do that.”

When asked whether he felt everything was going against his side at that point, Luchford replied: “I did when the first goal went in within four minutes. When it went to 3-1, I thought do you know what, we had a chance here. As soon as the sending off happened I just felt they had an extra man and I felt that we were a little bit worried about what was behind us.

“To be fair to Stewart in an ideal world you’ve got to give him games in the week for the under 21s or something like that so he’s got his hand on it and that was the thing for him. He was caught cold today, he was just completely caught cold.”

Needham Market were in the ascendancy as soon as they scored their second goal in the 63rd minute.

Physically strong central midfielder Cameron Norman played a sublime diagonal cross over Parter’s head to find Ingram on the right, who controlled the ball, cut inside the Angels left-back, cut into the penalty area before stroking his shot past Copeland from 10-yards with ease.

“Again, it’s bad defending,” complained Luchford. 

“We told him to show him on the outside, Jack showed him on the inside and he’s come across the box and it gives them a chance.  If you get a chance across the box it’s nothing to do with the goalkeeper. He’s got a shot away, we’ve got to defend that better.”

Phipp’s speculative drive from 30-yards, was meat and drink for visiting keeper Daniel Gay, who was a virtual spectator during the second half as Tonbridge Angels lacked any attacking threat.

Luchford barked out instructions to his players to pick up the big men but Sands nipped in front of his marker at the near post to poke the ball wide after Coakley’s corner from the right.

Copeland made a morale boosting save in the 71st minute when Dobson’s dinked pass put Simmons through on goal and his left-footed shot was held by the keeper, diving low to his left.

“Good save. Stuart’s a goalkeeper, right. It’s not like he’s not a goalkeeper. He made a good save at his feet,” added Luchford.

But the equaliser was coming and it arrived in the 77th minute through poor defending from Tonbridge.

Needham Market’s right-back Jake Dye crossed to Sands, who rode Nelson’s challenge and Dobson drilled his low shot across the flat-footed keeper to find the bottom far corner from 16-yards.

Luchford said: “Again, poor defending on the edge of the box. We’ve got to make a tackle. If we made the tackle, there’s no goal but we didn’t make the tackle. We were sort of putting our foot in, not quite and half going in for a tackle, half trying to clear the ball and no one really put their foot through the ball and going ‘I’m going to make this mine and I’m clearing it!’ and the ball fell to the lad and he’s finished it off.”

Phipp sent Allen driving forward with a run with the ball but he screwed his shot wide of the right-hand post as the home fans’ found their voices urging on their side.

Phipp then drove a shot towards goal which appeared to be pushed over the crossbar by Gay, referee Lee Brennan awarding the visitors’ a goal-kick instead.

But Copeland gifted Needham Market the winner with 39 minutes and 50 seconds on the clock, following their ninth and final corner.

Coakley chipped the ball into the box, the ball was flicked on and Copeland stooped down and spilt the ball at the far post and Nunn poked the ball into the bottom left-hand corner from a couple of yards out to snatch the victory.

“Stuart’s made the save at the back post. Whether he could’ve put it round, I don’t know, I can’t see from where I am. It just fell to the lad three yards out and he’s going to make no mistake from there,” said Luchford, who consoled Copeland after the final whistle.

Tonbridge Angels would not have lost this game had Di Bernardo been in goal for the entire game and putting on a goalkeeper without any Ryman Premier League experience was a risk that backfired.

Blewden, who was playing wide right, and substitute striker Dan Thompson had shots blocked and Blewden’s shot rolled across the goal and agonisingly past the foot of the far post as Tonbridge Angles threw the three points away.

“Even then, we still had chances to go and equalise and testament to them for keeping going, we still kept going,” added Luchford.

“Dan Thompson had one there in the six-yard box, it was fired off for a corner. We had one cleared off the line. Blewey smashed a great volley from 12-yards out and it hit our own player, we were unlucky.”

Tonbridge Angels have slipped down a place to fourth and travel to sixth-placed Leiston on Tuesday night, a side that lost 2-1 at Hendon today.

“Look, there’s 27 points to play for and if I’m really honest, there’s no reason why we can’t get 27, I’m not saying we will,” said Luchford.

“I’ll tell you now the side we’ve got and the way we’re playing, apart from what’s happened today, everyone could say at half-time this game was dead and buried. The only way they were going to get back in the game was from some errors on our part and the game changer and the game changer was the goalkeeper and the sending off.

“We’ve got nine games to go and if we win all nine of them, it wouldn’t surprise me.

“We’re not going to Ipswich (for an away play-off semi-final), we’ll be in that top three, that’s what we’ve got to aim for.  You’ve got to finish as high as you can. 

“We’ve been a juggernaut recently and I back us against everyone at the moment. I back us against any team and I’ll tell you something now, if we are in the play-offs at the end of the season, which I expect us to be, I fancy us against everyone, I really do.”  

Tonbridge Angels: Anthony Di Bernardo (Stewart Copeland 46), Ugo Udoji, Jack Parter, Tom Phipp, Mitchell Nelson, Tom Parkinson, Luke Blewden, Luke Allen, Nathan Elder (Dan Thompson 67), Alex Akrofi (James Folkes 58), Nick Wheeler.
Subs: Andre McCollin, Tommy Whitnell

Goals: Ugo Udoji 18, Nathan Elder 37, Mitchell Nelson 52

Booked: Mitchell Nelson 26

Sent Off: Ugo Udoji 55

Needham Market: Daniel Gay, Jake Dye, Darryl Coakley, Cameron Norman, Keiran Morphew, Sam Nunn, Luke Ingram, Kemal Izzet (Billy Holland 77), Reece Dobson, John Sands (Billy Clark 82), Jack Simmons.
Subs: Joe Whight, Ian Miller, Nathan Munson

Goals: John Sands 49, Luke Ingram 63, Reece Dobson 77, Sam Nunn 85

Booked: Reece Dobson 53

Attendance: 555
Referee:  Mr Lee Brennan (Westminster, London SW1)
Assistants: Mr Lee Martin-Crump (Lewes, East Sussex) & Mr Callum Tulley (Hove, East Sussex)


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