Whitehawk 1-0 Beckenham Town - We'll have time to reflect on the season and be proud of what they've achieved but they know they've left too much in the dressing room tonight, says Beckenham Town assistant manager Phil Wilson

Tuesday 25th April 2023
Whitehawk 1 – 0 Beckenham Town
Location The Enclosed Ground, Wilson Avenue, East Brighton, Brighton, East Sussex BN2 5TS
Kickoff 25/04/2023 19:45

Isthmian League South East Division Play-Off Semi-Final
Tuesday 25 April 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from The Enclosed Ground

BECKENHAM TOWN assistant manager Phil Wilson says his players will have time to reflect on their maiden Isthmian League South East Division campaign but admits they left too much in the dressing room during their disappointing performance during their Play-Off Semi-Final defeat to Whitehawk.

Jason Huntley’s men completed their 38-match campaign in fourth-place in the table by finishing on 68 points on the board, collecting one point fewer than Shaun Saunders’ third-placed finishers.

The Brighton-based hosts booked their place in Friday’s home winner-takes-all Final against underdogs Hythe Town, after commanding centre-half Nathan Cooper headed in his seventh goal of the season following a 58th minute corner.

Beckenham Town – who failed to create a single goalscoring chance during the second half – finished the game with 10 men after centre-half Robert Carter tripped Whitehawk substitute striker Malachi Hudson in the sixth minute of stoppage time.

“We left too much in the changing room tonight. I don’t think we’ve had a clear-cut chance in the 90 minutes and if you don’t have that you can’t really argue with the result,” said Wilson.

“I think they deserved it on the fact that we didn’t create enough. I don’t think they caused us too much bother apart from set-pieces.  Set-pieces were the difference tonight. Obviously, they scored their goal from a corner.  I think we had six free-kicks in the second half where we haven’t beaten the first man and if can’t get it in the box from set-pieces….we haven’t taken any of those opportunities tonight to delivery any real quality into the box.”

The first half was a cagey affair, which was played out in front of Whitehawk’s largest crowd of the season of 702, with both teams opting for a direct style of play.

Whitehawk were a threat from set-pieces throughout the entire game and created their first opening inside the opening six minutes.

Left-back Harry Shooman – who was forced off through injury at the end of the first-half - swung the ball in with his left-foot from the right towards the far post where centre-half Luca Cocoracchio leapt above Alfie Bloomfield to loop his header over the top of the near post.

Beckenham Town started well, while kicking down the slope, but Whitehawk goalkeeper Luke Glover wasn’t troubled, as Cooper and Cocoracchio offered plenty of protection in front of him.

“I think we didn’t really do things with pace.  We are at our best when we play at pace.  We were too slow on moving the ball. We probably had too much time on the ball and that was disappointing because the message was it was a free hit for us. We weren’t expecting to go up at the start of the season. It was an opportunity to get the shackles off and have a real go tonight and we just haven’t done that,” said Wilson.

Beckenham Town goalkeeper Nick Blue showed why he is rated as the best goalkeeper in this division, single-handling thwarting Whitehawk on numerous occasions.

The visitors’ dealt with Shooman’s second corner of the game and Cocoracchio played a diagonal pass from within a crowded penalty area to pick out Shooman, who drilled a low shot towards the centre of the goal, only to be denied by Blue’s legs.

Whitehawk produced a good move from open play in the 21st minute.

Striker Robert O’Toole played a reverse pass to release right-back Hamish Morrison on the overlap and his low cross found its way to Alfie Rogers at the back post and Blue rushed off his line to make a vital block.

Beckenham Town could have snatched the lead just 120 seconds later.

Bloomfield played a first-time inside pass to 30-goal striker Louie Theophanous, who drove into the penalty area and was then forced into the right-channel.

He held the ball up and waited for support from right-back Harvey Brand, finding him with a 10-yard inside pass, who then slipped the ball through to talisman Theophanous but his angle was tight and Glover made a block at his near post.

Bloomfield had a second bite of the cherry, however, but his speculative overhead kick whistled harmlessly past the far post from eight-yards.

“I think it was probably our only chance of the game. It was a tight angle and we’ve seen Louie score from there so I wouldn’t be surprised if it went in, but at the same time as a goalkeeper I would expect him to save it, it was pretty routine,” said Wilson.

Beckenham Town’s left-back Archie Johnson’s deliveries are always on the money and he floated a free-kick towards a crowd of players at the back post and striker Tunde Aderonmu’s looping header from eight-yards was comfortably caught in Glover’s midriff.

“It was a good delivery, Archie is another person who has been absolutely outstanding all season,” said Wilson.

“Unfortunately, he took quite a heavy knock on his foot, which really did hamper that and we lost his quality a little bit because of that.”

Morrison floated a free-kick in from the half-way line, which Beckenham cleared their lines and Cooper’s speculative right-footed shot from 30-yards rolled into Blue’s gloves for a comfortable collection in the 36th minute.

Central midfielder Rogers floated another free-kick into Beckenham’s penalty area which was met by O’Toole’s header, which was destined to sail into the top far corner but this was a half where both side’s defences were resilient and the two sides went into the interval on level terms.

“There was not enough quality in what we were doing, our passing wasn’t crisp, there were too many square balls and not enough movement in the front four,” admitted Wilson.

“I don’t think the front four gave us a lot tonight. Tunde (Aderonmu) worked very hard to be fair to him but then also the quality that they were getting, I think their centre-half (Cooper) looked like he could move up three leagues in the way he cleared the ball tonight.  That’s no disrespect to him but we were teeing him up for his clearances.”

Whitehawk dominated the second half while kicking down the slope.

Whitehawk goalkeeper Glover took a free-kick a long way outside his penalty area and the ball was cleared out to Joel Daly, who unleashed a rasping right-footed drive from 15-yards, which was beaten away by the outstanding Blue, eight minutes into the second half.

Blue pulled off a brilliant double save to frustrate Whitehawk with 11:57 on the clock.

Striker Lambert charged into the penalty area and his drilled right-footed shot was beaten away by Blue, who then used a strong left-hand, high to his left to push over O’Toole’s overhead kick, which was destined to scream into the roof of the net.

“He did well because he obviously made the initial save and got himself up again. He’s not a young lad, so there’s still life in the old dog,” said Wilson.

“There were several saves in the first half, a big double save in the second half. He's been a fantastic servant to the game and today we saw what he’s all about.”

Dominant Whitehawk scored from the resulting corner, however, timed at 12 minutes and 41 seconds on the clock.

Whitehawk won the corner-count by 4-0 and it was no shock that Saunders’ side scored from a set-piece.

Rogers swung the ball in from the right towards the back post and Cooper buried his header into the left-hand corner of the goal from eight-yards.

“Frustrating to concede from a set-piece but that’s their strength and I think we gave them too many free-kicks and corners and opportunities to get it in the box,” admitted Wilson.

“You knew second half – we would’ve changed ends first half because you know how they want to play – and when they get at you in the second half with the crowd behind them, you’ve got to be on point at all times and you can’t switch off.”

Blue made a comfortable save just 190 seconds later.

Morrison threw the ball short to Tommy Brewer and the holding midfielder floated the ball towards O’Toole in the final third, who cushioned his header down for an unmarked Lambert, who cut the ball onto his right-foot and roll a 30-yarder into the goalkeeper’s gloves for a comfortable save.

Shortly afterwards, Rogers floated a free-kick towards a crowd of players at the far post where Lambert’s bullet header from a tight angle was kept out by Blue at his near post.

Beckenham Town hooked Bloomfield and brought on Steven Townsend and lost centre-half Mudiaga Wanogho to suspected cramp, so on came left-winger Henry Griffin, as they went with three at the back, with Johnson, Danny Waldren and Cater operating in defence for the rest of the game.

However, Wilson was disappointed that his forward players failed to break down a resilient Whitehawk back four, lead superbly by match-winner Cooper.

When asked what was missing tonight on a night when Beckenham Town froze on the big occasion, Wilson replied: “Quality. A bit of quality on the ball, our passing wasn’t crisp enough. Even when we were trying to leave the ball in behind, we were not leaving it in behind. We’re just teeing up Nathan Cooper just to play, get clearances down the line.

“I think even at the end you just want us to get on the ball, be a bit braver on the ball.  I wanted us to keep the ball more.  We went very direct.  I think we were very direct from the start and that’s not what we were asking them to do.

“We’re not a direct team.  Yes, we want to play in the final third. We don’t want it in our half too much but if you’re not going to deliver quality for people to be able to get the ball down, then it’s going to be very hard to do that and when it did happen the passing wasn’t crisp and the movement wasn’t there and we were very static.”

Whitehawk caught Beckenham on the counter-attack inside the final seven minutes with Brewer playing the ball into O’Toole, whose excellent first-time flicked pass sent substitute left-back Leon Moore on a lung busting run but he lacked composure inside the Beckenham box and rolled his shot straight at Blue from a tight angle, after Carter opened the gate.

Former Beckenham Town player Stefan Wright almost added insult to injury by nearly scoring against his old club.

Daly’s fine through ball split open Carter to put the winger through on goal but Blue rushed off his line and Wright left-footed shot rolled across the keeper and past the foot of the far post in a one-v-one dual.

“I think Bluey did quite well with his angle. I think the way he came out probably scared Stef a little bit – you can credit Bluey with that,” added Wilson.

With time ticking away, Huntley demanded that Aderonmu and Townsend stayed high up top but this was a disappointing performance from Beckenham Town.

Referee Daniel D’Urso pulled out a red-card for Carter (50:11) after tripping Hudson as the last man, as Whitehawk counter-attacked down the left.

There were to be no Whitehawk players within the Beckenham penalty area for Hudson’s resulting drilled free-kick from 22-yards, which was hit straight at Blue, who made another save with his legs, as Whitehawk ran out deserved winners and their players celebrated with their vocal set of supporters after the final whistle.

“There was no intent there. Their legs just got tangled together so I thought it was a harsh red,” said Wilson.

“For the second game (0-0 draw at Burgess Hill Town on Saturday), we had a very clear handball that (the referee) hasn’t given.”

Whitehawk host Hythe Town here in Friday night’s final after Steven Watt’s side beat runners-up Ramsgate (72 points)  4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw after extra time away from home – and are more than capable of sealing promotion alongside champions Chatham Town, after grabbing fifth-place on 67 points on the board.

Once the dust settles, Beckenham Town can be very proud of their first campaign in the eighth-tier of English football.

“We’re incredibly proud of what the boys have achieved this season and they should be incredibly proud of what they’ve done this season,” said Wilson.

“We’ll get over the disappointment of tonight and reflect on the season as a great start.  I think we were a lot of people’s favourites to be near the bottom.  We probably went in thinking we needed to find our feet in the league this season and the boys have been brilliant all season.

“We probably ran out of a bit of steam in the last few games to be honest, the performances haven’t been good enough but on the whole, over the season, they’ve been terrific.

“The (players are feeling) disappointed, again they will have time to reflect on the season and be proud of what they’ve achieved but they know they’ve left too much in the dressing room tonight and I think the hardest thing for them is when they wake up in the morning and you have that regret.

“I’ve been there where you haven’t performed in a Semi-Final of the play-offs (Wilson was Dulwich Hamlet’s goalkeeper during their 2-1 defeat at Margate in the Isthmian League Premier Division Play-Off Semi-Final in 2015) and that’s the hardest thing to overcome.

“A big thank you to our fans, they’ve been absolutely brilliant all season. The crowds have crept up at home and I hope that continues next season.  I know a few of the boys and myself said ‘thank you’ to the diehards and I hope they enjoyed the season. Sorry we haven’t given a good account of ourselves today.”

Huntley has to start making phone calls to keep his key players at Eden Park Avenue next season.

“I think our success has been based on keeping a core of players over the last three or four years,” said Wilson.

“I think naturally there will be some changes but I think we’ll have a week to reflect and get together at the weekend as a squad to celebrate what we’ve done this season and as a management team we’ll get together very soon, probably next week and start thinking about next season and planning what we’re going to do.

“We knew what we were coming into, anything out of the play-offs would’ve been a bonus. It would’ve been nice for us to give an account of ourselves to reflect the season we’ve had and I don’t think we’ve done that tonight.”

Whitehawk: Luke Glover, Hamish Morrison, Harry Shooman (Leon Moore 45), Tommy Brewer, Nathan Cooper, Luca Cocoracchio, Joel Daly, Alfie Rogers (William Miles 85), Charlie Lambert (Malachi Hudson 87), Robert O’Toole, Stefan Wright.
Subs: Reece Price-Placid, Khristopher Oti

Goals: Nathan Cooper 58

Beckenham Town: Nick Blue, Harvey Brand, Archie Johnson, Danny Waldren, Mudiaga Wanogho (Henry Griffin 76), Robert Carter, Ibrahim Jalloh (Yahaya Kamara 65), Freddie Nyhus, Louie Theophanous, Tunde Aderonmu, Alfie Bloomfield (Steven Townsend 71).
Subs: Nick Curran, Freddie Cray

Booked: Danny Waldren 90

Sent Off:  Robert Carter 90

Attendance: 702
Referee: Mr Daniel D’Urso
Assistants: Mr Thomas Price & Mr Patrick O’Reilly
Fourth Official: Mr Joshua Langley-Fineing