Tonbridge Angels 4-1 Grays Athletic - We've got to be in that top five at the end of it, says Tonbridge Angels' coach Justin Luchford

Saturday 11th February 2017
Tonbridge Angels 4 – 1 Grays Athletic
Location Longmead Stadium, Darenth Avenue, Tonbridge, Kent TN10 3JF
Kickoff 11/02/2017 15:00

Ryman Premier League
Saturday 11th February 2017
Stephen McCartney reports from Longmead Stadium

TONBRIDGE ANGELS coach Justin Luchford says the club must finish in the top-five at the end of the season.


The Angles remain in that position after doing the damage in the first half against bottom-of-the-table Grays Athletic, who have collected 26 points from their 35 games and are eight points adrift of safety following their 24th league defeat of the season.

Tonbridge Angels raced into a 3-0 lead inside the opening 33 minutes, courtesy of Tom Phipp’s header, Alex Akrofi’s header and a penalty from the striker, taking his goalscoring tally to 12 for the club.

Grays Athletic manager Jamie Stuart pulled off a tactical masterstroke at the interval by putting central defender Luke Wilson up front and he scored from a deflected drive early in the second half to give the Essex side a lifeline.

A large cheer went up in the 77th minute when striker Andre McCollin, 31, came on to make only his second appearance of the season after breaking his fibula on the opening day and he scored from a 90th minute penalty – his second goal in only 45 minutes of football this season - to wrap up the victory.

“Good to keep the momentum going, I think that’s six wins, two draws and one defeat in the last nine games,” said Luchford, who was the first of the Angels management team to emerge from the changing rooms.

“A solid win at home. We done the job in the first half, where I think the shot that they had, the goal that they scored was a deflection and a little goalmouth scramble, other than that I don’t think they were in the game.

“I didn’t think we did too well second half to be honest.  I think the game was dead at half-time.”

Luchford was surprised that the game went ahead, considering Tunbridge Wells’ home game against Fisher was snowed off just 5.9 miles uphill.

The Frant resident said: “The first thing I did at half-past-eight was texted the chairman and Charlie (Cole, club secretary) and I just said ‘what’s it like because over here there’s a couple of inches of snow?

“The pitch played well, I thought.  They got on it on Friday, used this shockwave machine but fair play to them look at it now, it doesn’t look like it’s had a game on it.  Fair play to the groundstaff, they do a fantastic job here.   We’ve rewarded them with a win today.”

A crowd of 312 hardy souls braved the bitterly cold conditions to see Tonbridge Angels dominate the first half.

Tonbridge Angels played a diamond in the middle of the park and Phipp tried to catch the visiting keeper cold with a right-footed chip from 30-yards after only 53 seconds, which was caught by Amadou Tangara.

“We started well.  We’ve had a week off as such, we had a game (at Leiston) on Wednesday that got cancelled and then we trained Thursday night so we’ve had a week off so there was no reason for us not to come out of the traps quickly,” said Luchford.

“We did that apart from the first five or ten minutes. The boys up front probably didn’t hold the ball up as we would’ve liked. It kept coming back a little bit but once we got a foothold in the game, it only looked one winner for me.”

Grays’ lone-striker Kieran Bishop shrugged off Mitchell Nelson, cut into the box and his low centre was swept away by Tom Parkinson at the near post.

Damien Scannell floated in a free-kick into the Grays’ penalty area but target-man Nathan Elder rose to send his header over, before Grays missed a glorious chance to take the lead inside 11 minutes.

Bishop’s pass released Matthew Baxter through on goal down the middle and he dragged his shot past the far post when he only had Anthony Di Bernardo to beat.

Luchford said: “That’s a little bit of a lapse in concentration, I think.  They’re in a sticky patch themselves. They’ve got to start quickly as well. They can’t sit and rest on their laurels and try to go for a point, they need points.   We weathered the storm, it wasn’t really a storm, let’s be honest, it was just one chance.”

Dominant Tonbridge Angels then hit the post in the 15th minute.

Right-back James Folkes reached the final third, whipped in a cross, which deflected off the head the man that was pressing him, Nathan Campbell. Elder jumped at the near post, the ball fell at Luke Allen’s feet, who swept his shot against the foot of the far post from six-yards.

“You start to have thoughts in your mind going back to the Burgess Hill game a few weeks ago when we ended up drawing 0-0 and they parked the bus,” recalled Luchford.

“Grays didn’t park the bus today, so credit to them for having a go. It was only a matter of time.”

Scannell swung in a free-kick from the left and Parkinson challenged the keeper and the ball trickled behind for a corner.

Allen swung in a quality corner from the left and Phipp dashed towards the near post to plant his header into the bottom far corner to give Tonbridge Angels a deserved lead with 16 minutes and 25 seconds on the clock.

“We’ve got that corner in our locker, we’ve done that a couple of times,” said Luchford.

“Phippo done the same at Harrow earlier in the season and makes a great run across the front post. He’s really hard to track and if the ball’s right, he’s got a chance.”

Tangara was then twice called into action by diving low to his left to hold Allen’s right-footed low curler, before diving to tip Akrofi’s deflected drive around his post, as Tonbridge pressed for more goals, which pleased Luchford.

“We peppered their goal a little bit first half. I thought we played some good football, we kept the ball well. I thought we used it well. We got it in wide areas, we got the full-backs on when we could. We played some stuff inside, got some good shots off and made their keeper work a little bit.  The goals were coming.”

Bishop’s strength then got the better of Nelson for a second time, turning his man down the left before sweeping his shot which bounced comfortably into Di Bernardo’s hands.

Tonbridge Angels doubled their lead on the half-hour mark from the penalty spot.

Allen floated in a corner from the right and Parkinson was fouled by Etienne Mukanya Kabobola at the far post and referee John Pike pointed to the spot.

Striker Akrofi stepped up and smashed his right-footed penalty into the back of the net, despite Tangara diving to his right and getting his hands to the powerful drive.

“He was smashing it! If the keeper stands still, he probably catches it! No keeper really does that nowadays. He smashed the ball.  I don’t think he was ever going to save it,” said Luchford.

“I think that settled us then and to be honest we thought we’d go on and get more than we did.”

Tonbridge Angels had the three points in the bag as early as the 33rd minute through a goal that could have been chalked off for offside.

Allen delivered his fifth corner of the game from the right, the ball came out to Parkinson and Phipp clipped the ball back into the penalty area where Akrofi sent his header into the roof of the net from six-yards.

When asked whether he thought Akrofi was offside, Luchford replied: “Difficult to tell where we were, we’re not in line. The linesman’s not given it, so you can’t be offside.

“It was a great ball from Phillo. The corner’s worked to the back post, Phillo’s got hold of the ball, he’s delivered well in to the middle of the goal and Alex does what Alex does best, six-yards out.

“Alex’s ticking over nicely. He played last week against Canvey. He hadn’t played for the previous couple of games because of his suspension and he managed to nick a goal in the first five minutes and he’s just got that ability to get across people and get in the box. He’s a typical centre forward so we’re pleased with him.”

Grays Athletic put in a poor first half performance and Allen was given space to drive his shot towards goal from 25-yards, forcing the busy Tangara to dive to his left to parry towards safety.

Akrofi’s pace got him past Wilson down the right and Jonathan Ashton came across to make the tackle.  Akrofi cut the ball back to Phipp, who drove a first time right-footed drive towards the bottom corner from 22-yards, which was held by the diving Ivory Coast born 26-year-old stopper.

Luchford added: “I think if that was more in the middle that was fairly easy for the keeper, right height, but we were having plenty of shots and playing good football in the first half.”

On the subject of goalkeepers, Di Barnardo was forced to palm away Baxter’s tricky cross from the right wing, which was dipping towards the top far corner, after the ball was played out to him by substitute Kwabena Osei.

Tonbridge Angels deserved their three-goal lead at the break.

“The manager (Steve McKimm) said we can’t take the foot of the gas,” said Luchford.

“We’ve had teams this year where we’ve had them up on the ropes and we need to give a team a pasting and that’s what we talked about before the game. If we get into these positions we need to be a bit more clinical.

“We said to go out in the second half as well as you’ve done in the first half and you’ve got to set the tone and go again.  The second half they went out there and unfortunately didn’t set the tone!

“Look, you can take it two ways. We didn’t really do what we wanted to do in the second half. We didn’t move the ball in the same way, we didn’t move it as quick, we didn’t get the balls into wide areas. We didn’t get as many crosses into the box but you know what it’s like in football games when you’re so one sided in the first half.  The other side have got to stop…if they didn’t dig in it is going to be four, five and six and to be fair to them they dug in.

“They stuck the six (Wilson) up front and he played better up there than he did at centre half to be fair to him and he caused us problems and we didn’t deal with them and they got themselves a goal.”

The decision to remove Wilson from defence and put former Angel Nathan Campbell in his place proved to be a masterstroke from Stuart as he went up top and scored a consolation goal with 157 seconds on the clock.

Baxter ran at the Tonbridge defence and slipped the ball in behind to Wilson – who appeared offside when he received the pass – and his left-footed shot deflected into the bottom left-hand corner, leaving Di Bernardo flat-footed as the ball nestled into the net.

“He did look to be offside but again the linesman hasn’t given it, so he ain’t,” added Luchford.

“But it’s a deflection. Tony’s wrong-footed. It’s come off James Folkes, who tried to get a tackle in. He’s knocked Folksey out of the way in the first instance and Folkesy has gone in to make the first tackle, he’s hit the shot and it’s just cannoned off him and it’s just gone past Tony. There’s nothing Tony can do.

“The thing is it just gives them a little bit of hope.  We said at half-time don’t give them any hope, put them to the sword, go and get four,five,six, but we didn’t really look like doing that second half.”

Allen’s sixth corner of the game was cleared at the second attempt by Grays and Scannell’s left-footed shot from 25-yards was comfortably saved by Tangara.

Allen’s seventh corner was cleared out to Luke Blewden, who was playing wide right, but he powered his first time drive harmlessly wide of the left-hand post from 35-yards.

Scannell and Allen linked up in the middle and the ball was played out wide to Blewden, who hung over a cross towards the near post but Elder rose to loop his header over the top of the far post.

Without Nick Wheeler, Tonbridge Angels didn’t seem to be put many balls into the opposition’s penalty box like they normally do.

Luchford said: “I think Nathan had a couple (of headers) in the second half. We had a couple of crosses that went into the box.  Nathan got his head to it. It wasn’t Nathan’s day today.  I don’t think he had anything clear cut that he missed. We just didn’t do enough in the second half.”

Wilson was often winning his attacking dual with Parkinson (who slotted in at the heart of defence alongside Mitchell due to Sonny Miles (shoulder operation and George Beaven (pulled tendons in fractured fingers) being ruled out through injury. 

Wilson held off Parkinson and played in Lartey Sarpong but his right-footed drive was beaten away by the diving Di Bernardo in the 63rd minute.

“That was probably their best bit of football,” claimed Luchford.

“They changed their formation a couple of times in the second half and when they matched us up we were a little bit shaky for a bit.  We were playing with a diamond and they changed to a diamond and they got a little bit of joy from it and that was probably their best phase of play and Tony made a good save.”

Folkes headed clearance out of defence was collected by Akrofi on the halfway line and he released Allen, who strode forward before unleashing a low right-footed drive which was gobbled up by Tangara at his near post.

“I think if Alex and Nathan would have been a bit further up the pitch, I think Luke Allen would’ve squared it.  I don’t think he had too many choices,” added Luchford.

Baxter played the ball inside to Wilson, who was offside by the time he swept his shot past the post, but when you’re down at the bottom luck goes against you as Grays Athletic found in the 85th minute.

Baxter’s deep cross found substitute Harry Watkins unmarked at the far post and he turned and swept his shot towards the near post, which was blocked by Di Barnardo’s legs and Wilson drove his first time shot against the foot of the right-hand post from the follow-up.

Luchford said: “That was their only chance in the second half, you know.   I think it was a scramble, it comes out to him he’s hit it well, well enough and it’s hit the foot of the post but we’ve hit the post in the first half, so.

When asked about letting Grays Athletic back into the game, Luchford admitted: “It was just a bit annoying that we weren’t doing the same things as we were doing in the first half.  Sometimes you take your foot of the gas because you’re so comfortable that you don’t go for the kill.

“Take nothing away from Grays because they stepped it up second half but you can’t fault their work-rate and credit to them for that but I just think we took our foot of the gas and didn’t do the things that we told them.

“It’s almost the worst thing you could do, to tell a team that they’ve done well at half-time because it takes to their heads and unfortunately they go out second half and don’t neceassiruly do what we asked them to do.”

Cheers went up when McCollin made a welcome return to action but the striker exploded into life inside injury time.

He cut the ball onto his right foot before cracking a dipping drive, which Tangara pulled off a great save, diving high to palm the ball over the bar with his outstretched right-hand.

Former Welling United left-back Barney Williams was penalised for handball in the box by the assistant referee and McCollin placed his right-footed penalty into the bottom right-hand corner with five minutes and 29 seconds into time added on.

“Great for him to get a goal ,he’s worked so hard and let’s be hopeful, touch wood if I can touch some wood, what a great time of the season to have your number one striker back,” said Luchford.

“We know what Andre’s like. He’s been around a long time. He’s a good player. He’s going to create himself a chance and we’ll create him chances as well. 

“I think Phippo would’ve been on the penalty but he’s let Andre have it because he wants to get back off the mark.  If you look at the amount of first team minutes that Andre has played this season he’s played 45 minutes and scored two goals so he’s pretty much on fire at the moment!”

As things stand tonight, Tonbridge Angels will be away to Needham Market in the semi-final of the play-offs at the end of the season.

Bognor Regis Town occupy the sole automatic place with 65 points with 33 games of a 46-game season played.

Needham Market (62 points from 33 games); Havant & Waterlooville (61 points from 31 games); Leiston (55 points from 29 games) and Tonbridge Angels (55 points from 32 games) occupy the four play-off berths.

Waiting in the wings are Enfield Town (50 points from 33 games); Harlow Town (50 points from 33 games); Worthing (49 points from 31 games); Dulwich Hamlet (48 points from 31 games) and Wingate & Finchley (48 points from 31 games).

Tonbridge sent their scout to watch Enfield Town go down to a 3-2 home defeat to Merstham today.

“We’ve got a job to do. We’ve got to keep racking up points to make sure we’re in that top five,” said Luchford.

“Wherever we are at the end of it we’ve got to be in that top five. That’s what our aim was at the beginning of the season, that hasn’t changed.

“Enfield have lost today, great. They’ll then be looking at they have to bounce back on Tuesday against us but we’re in good form. People will say we’re not doing this and not doing that and you look at the Burgess Hill goal-less draw and the 1-0 defeat at Harlow. If you look at the last nine games we’ve won six, drawn two and lost one. That’s play-off form and we’ll look to keep that going on Tuesday.”

Tonbridge Angels: Anthony Di Bernardo, James Folkes, Jack Parter, Luke Allen, Mitchell Nelson, Tom Parkinson, Tom Phipp, Damien Scannell, Nathan Elder, Alex Akrofi (Andre McCollin 77), Luke Blewden.
Subs: Ugo Udoji, Stewart Copeland, Liam Smith, Sid Sollis

Goals: Tom Phipp 17, Alex Akrofi 30 (penalty), 33, Andre McCollin 90 (penalty)

Grays Athletic:  Amadou Tangara, Ryan Mahal (Tarik Kucuk 90), Barney Williams, Nathan Campbell, Jonathan Ashton, Luke Wilson, Etienne Mukanya Kabobola (Kwabena Osei 40), Lartey Sarpong, Kieran Bishop, Matthew Baxter, Joao Carlos (Harry Watkins 56).
Subs: Jordan Agnatise, Jamie Stuart

Goal: Luke Wilson 49

Booked: Lartey Sarpong 10, Nathan Campbell 68, Barney Williams 82

Attendance: 312
Referee: Mr John Pike (Hassocks, West Sussex)
Assistants: David Philp (Lewes, East Sussex) & Mr Andrew Senior (Lingfield, Surrey)

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