Tonbridge Angels 4-3 Lowestoft Town - We deserve to go up, says Tommy Warrilow

Saturday 07th May 2011
Ryman Premier League Play-Off Final
Saturday 7th May 2011
Stephen McCartney reports from Longmead Stadium

HEROIC Tonbridge Angels sealed their promotion into the Blue Square Bet Conference South for the very first time in their history – with a champagne performance to send Lowestoft Town back home empty handed and picking up the pieces of a shattered dream.

A record crowd of 2,411 crammed into the Cauldron of Passion that is Longmead Stadium and like Harrow Borough last Tuesday, Lowestoft Town wilted under pressure as the Tonbridge public got their heroes across the finishing line, as they won two roller-coaster play-off games.

Rock-bottom in their first three games, the Angels clawed themselves up the Ryman Premier League table and their second place finish was their highest ever finish in the club’s history, and they deserved their promotion alongside champions Sutton United.

But fans were put through the mill in this seven-goal thriller.

Just like against Harrow Borough in midweek, the Angels raced into a 2-0 lead inside 22 minutes, courtesy of Ade Olorunda and Danny Walder, before Lowestoft pulled a goal back after 31 minutes through Scott Mitchell’s far post header.

Walder held his nerve to score a penalty in the final three minutes of the first half, before Lowestoft fought back and Andrew Cave-Brown headed home within the first three minutes of the second half and a stunning strike from Bulgarian Lubomir Guentchev with only thirteen minutes was gripping stuff.

But Lewis Taylor scored his most important goal of his career – just 166 seconds later – and the Angels defended for their lives and led by the colossal Scott Kinch, who was playing with two broken bones in his left wrist, the final whistle brought jubilant scenes as fans streamed onto the pitch to worship their promoted heroes.

Tonbridge Angels boss Tommy Warrilow said afterwards, “A long time coming.  Three and a half years, we’ve had some ups and downs.  Yet again, the crowd got their money’s worth again.  I don’t like winning like that to be honest.  It was a real battle.  If we let them back after going 4-3 up you would’ve seen me hanging from that pole up there!

“They’re a good side and the last two games the boys have just given me everything, they deserve it!

“First half we played some really good stuff, got in some good areas and we deserved to go in front but when you’ve got a team like that, who are big and physical, they’ve got good backing, we knew it’s going to be a tough old game but the most important thing is about getting a result and Conference South. It’s absolutely brilliant!”

Assistant manager, Alex O’Brien, added, “Oh my God!  It’s been an absolute rollercoaster but to be honest I think overall in the season I would say we were one or two of the top sides.

“I think the boys did extremely well considering the bad start (of the season) that we had, to dig it out and to kick on like we’ve done, to beat Harrow, a very, very good side, and then to beat Lowestoft, who are really, really strong and are organised and very, very intimidating in a way, but today just shows what the squad can do when they put their minds to it.  I’m absolutely made up.  Absolutely proud.  For me it’s just deserts.”

But whilst the players will pick up the accolades, they were quick to praise their 12th man – the Barmy Army, whose support not only throughout the season but these two crucial play-off games, was simply immense.

Lowestoft were big and strong, but the football from the Angels during the first half was brilliant, but the Angels’ character, especially when Lowestoft clawed themselves back from the dead to bring the scores level at 3-3, was there for all to see.  They weren’t going to surrender.

Tonbridge, like against Harrow Borough, drew first blood, breaking the deadlock inside the opening 12 minutes.

The returning Lee Browning delivered a corner from the right which dropped to Kinch at the far post and his left-footed volley deflected off two Lowestoft defenders and dropped to Olorunda unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box and the 28-year-old caressed a right-footed shot beyond visiting goalkeeper Andrew Reynolds.

Tonbridge then turned defence into attack and really should have doubled their lead.

Tonbridge resident Sonny Miles gave away a free-kick and goalkeeper Lee Worgan punched away Dale Cockrill’s free-kick out for a corner.

Joe Francis’ resulting corner from the right was cleared away by Olorunda and Chris Piper played the ball with the outside of his right foot to release Taylor, but just like against Harrow Borough, his right-footed chip lacked power and the goalkeeper was able to make a comfortable catch.

But Longmead was rocking, again, when Tonbridge Angels doubled their lead at the same time as midweek - 22 minutes.

Mitchell fouled Piper 30-yards from goal and Walder stepped up and stroked a right-footed free-kick which deflected off Guentchev in the two-man Lowestoft wall past the despairing dive from Reynolds to nestle into the bottom right-hand corner.

Scott Kinch showed his desire to win the game when he picked himself off the floor, following treatment after a fully committed challenge on Cave-Brown brought him a yellow card, but his desire rubbed off on to his team-mates as they all played with pride, passion and character.

“I look again at Kinchy,” added O’Brien. “He played today with a broken wrist.  I mean, that just shows you the desire and the hunger to get out of this league.  Everyone done a shift and everyone’s put in 115%.”

However, Lowestoft almost pulled a goal back with the resulting free-kick.

Skipper Adam Smith’s left-footed free-kick was pushed up onto the crossbar by Lee Worgan’s left arm and the ball dropped nicely for Matt Nolan and his shot was blocked by Jon Heath and the Angels keeper pounced onto the loose ball.

But it didn’t take long for Lowestoft to pull a goal back.

Miles gave the ball away in the build-up, gifting a pass to Adrian Forbes, who slipped the ball through to Nolan, who cut the ball back on to his left foot and he floated in a cross towards the far post and Mitchell nodded the ball in from close range after 31 minutes.

Come on!  It was never going to be easy, was it?

Step forward Tuesday night’s match-winner Olorunda.  Walder released  the former Hastings striker who shrugged off Curtis Haynes-Brown in a tussle before cutting into the penalty area and as he attempted to cut the ball back his legs were taken away by the Lowestoft number six, who collected a yellow card.

Olorunda needed treatment on his right ankle and Walder kept his cool during the agonising 116 second wait and slotted a clinical right-footed penalty into the bottom left-hand corner to send Longmead wild again.

Walder won’t mind picking up the £10 fine for the yellow card he collected for celebrating with the crowd in the North Stand.

“The pressure was on Dan but he just stepped up and put it away, no problem!” said O’Brien.

“Again, that just shows you the mental strength of the boys that we’ve got.  To go to a final and soak it all up and break away and nick a fantastic goal in Lewis Taylor, it just shows you we have got goals in us, regardless of the score, we will always create.”

Three-one up at the break and Tonbridge Angels were on the brink of creating history.

But after just 195 seconds the entire game took a different complexion as Lowestoft pulled a second goal back.

Mitchell whipped in a cross into the penalty area and found Guentchev at the far post and his header back across goal dropped to Cave-Brown who hooked the ball past Worgan from inside the six-yard box.

Tonbridge fought back, Olorunda’s pace shrugged off Haynes-Brown again and his cut back was sent over the crossbar by Walder’s left-foot.

Miles was penalised for holding Guentchev around his neck and Smith swung in a dangerous free-kick with his left-foot and Nolan’s glancing header sailed just past the far post.

Tonbridge were giving away free-kicks in dangerous positions and Smith stroked a left-footed free-kick towards goal from 30-yards, but thankfully Worgan made a comfortable low save to his right.

When Lowestoft squandered their best chance after 58 minutes, the Gods were wearing the blue of Tonbridge Angels.

Francis swung in a corner from the right and the ball dropped nicely for Haynes-Brown, who cracked a speculative left-footed volley from 15-yards, which screamed just over Worgan’s crossbar.

Forbes nudged Worgan in the back after Smith floated in a cross into the danger area and the brave Tonbridge keeper carried on after treatment on his goal-line.

Heath gave away yet another free-kick, this time Mitchell swept a right-footed free-kick around the wall and into Worgan’s gloves with 21 minutes remaining.

But Tonbridge Angels’ rear-guard was breeched with an excellent strike from Guentchev, with only thirteen minutes left. Pure drama!

Smith sent another free-kick into the box and the ball was headed away and dropped to the Bulgarian who cracked a stunning left-footed screamer, which flew over Worgan’s despairing dive into the top far corner.

O’Brien appreciated the strike.  “I applauded it!  I’m a football fan and I applauded it, the way he took that and smashed it into the top corner.  I don’t think there’s a keeper in the world, let alone in the division that would’ve saved that.

“Ok, we’re in it, we’re back in a game, but as valuable was his strike, you’ve just have to look at the next couple of minutes and Lewis Taylor.  He’s jinked into the box and slotted it as cool as you like into the bottom corner, so for me, it dismisses the wonderstrike that I saw!”

Warrilow, however, admitted Lowestoft made a big, big mistake.

“Sometimes when teams get back into it again, like them giving it the big ‘un, when they’ve got the third one that’s fair enough, jumping up and down.  I just felt then they thought they won it – but they didn’t!

“We would’ve probably jumped up and down doing the same but I just felt the body language of some people and sometimes it’s not all over and my lads were gutted but their heads didn’t drop.”

Lowestoft’s fans raised the roof underneath the North Stand - but they were silenced when Taylor scored his third and most important goal of his Angels career.

Kinch passed the ball to Taylor who jinked into the penalty area, leaving players in white in his wake, and he bent a low right-footed shot past Reynolds’ and the ball nestled into the bottom right-hand corner to spark the party.

There was no way back for the Suffolk side.  Mitchell sent a right-footed shot high over the stand after Guentchev’s cut-back and they kept pumping ball after ball into the penalty area but Tonbridge stood firm.

Tonbridge Angels substitute Frannie Collin (in his first game back from injury) cut inside and struck the foot of the near post, before Smith stroked another free-kick from 25-yards into Worgan’s gloves and when the board for five minutes of added time went up the pressure and tension intensified.

Warrilow added, “A lot of manager’s compliment us but what they didn’t know was we were a little bit sceptical when battling qualities come into it but the last month or so we had to battle games out.  If anyone wants to battle us now we’ll stand up, like we did today, but we can play as well as we proved in the first half.

“I said to them (at half-time), go out there second half.  I want 11 warriors because with this wind they’re going to get at you – and what do we do?  We give them a goal after three minutes and it makes it even harder.”

Yet another ball went into the Angels box from the visiting goalkeeper and when Stock looped a header over with the last action of the game – timed at 50:24 – the party started and Tonbridge Angels can now look forward to playing Blue Square Bet South football for the very first time in the club’s history in August.

“It was always about promotion at the start of the season – it’s alright saying it but doing it is another thing – and this year we’ve done it,” beamed a proud Warrilow.

“We’ve finished second, which in most league’s would get you automatic promotion. When I got these players I didn’t expect them to have mediocre (performances), I have a go at them and moan at them and I know they get the hump with it. 

“But these boys have got so much ability and they deserve to go up.  I think I’ve got one of the best teams – if not the best team in this league on our day but the pitches have dictated to how we play and we have adjusted to that.

“We’re not a real battling side but we’ve proved that we can match that once we get under the cosh.”

O’Brien paid tribute to the club’s 12th man.

He said, “They were unbelievable.  It weren’t two games, it’s been all season, all year, they’ve been fantastic.

“You look around, I walked out at half-time and it’s just a roar, an absolute roar and it’s a pleasure to be here to have that backing, that desire from the fans.  It helps our boys, it rubs off on our boys.

“There’s not a big enough word for thank you!  Thank you for sticking by us.  Thank you for turning out in numbers in the cold, in the rain, in the snow.  Thank you.  A massive thank you from me, Tom, Tel, everyone at the club, the players.  They’ve been fantastic.”

Warrilow added, “Thirty years I’ve been associated with the club as boy and a man.  Just to see the same people and get it to Conference South, that’s why the club’s so good.  All we have to do now is adapt ourselves to Conference South.”

Tonbridge Angels: Lee Worgan, Danny Walder, Jon Heath, Scott Kinch, Sonny Miles, Ben Judge, Lewis Taylor, Chris Piper, Adrian Stone (Fraser Logan 58), Ade Olorunda (Carl Rook 77), Lee Browning (Frannie Collin 72).
Subs: Jake Beecroft, Joe Hagan

Goals: Ade Olorunda 12, Danny Walder 22, 42 (pen), Lewis Taylor 81

Booked: Scott Kinch 29, Ade Olorunda 36, Danny Walder 42

Lowestoft Town: Andrew Reynolds, Andrew Cave-Brown, Adam Smith, Scott Mitchell, Sam Gaughran, Lubomir Guentchev, Dale Cockrill (Andrew Fisk 46), Matt Nolan, Adrian Forbes (Russell Stock 76), Joe Francis (Jamie Goldbold 83).
Subs: Stuart Ainsley, Greg Crane

Goals: Scott Mitchell 31, Andrew Cave-Brown 48, Lubomir Guentchev 77

Booked: Curtis Haynes-Brown 41, Lubomir Guentchev 39, Andrew Fisk 90

Attendance: 2,411
Referee:  Mr Brett Huxtable (Torrington, Devon)
Assistants: Mr Vince Penfold (Addlestone, Surrey) & Mr Greg Read (Addlestone, Surrey)
Fourth Official: Mr Andy Newell (Bristol)