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Looking for Kentish pride
WEATHER permitting the semi-finals of the Kent Senior Trophy are played on Saturday with two very exciting ties in prospect, writes Stephen McCartney.
Treble chasing Ramsgate travel to Bayliss Avenue to lock horns with Thamesmead Town for the third time this season - with another two cup ties to follow - and Beckenham Town host VCD Athletic at Eden Park Avenue.
Ramsgate have already completed a league double over Thamesmead and will play them again in a two-legged Kent League Cup semi-final, which Thamesmead are the holders.
Rams boss Jim Ward said: "One thing about it is no-one else can do the treble, we are the only ones. It's a thing that is very rarely done in the Kent League but we are there to win every game."
Ward, however, would swap success in the two cups to clinch the Go Travel Kent League title, which they are currently involved in a two-horse race with rivals Herne Bay.
Both sides are level on points (49) but if Jason Lillis' side play their game against Sporting Bengal United at Winch's Field, they will return to the summit if they collect at least a point. Ramsgate, however, will then have two games in hand.
The Ramsgate boss, knows a lot about Thamesmead, adding: "They're a good side no doubt about that. They've got a good management team, they are very organised and nine times out of ten there will be a good playing surface up there, which is the biggest factor. That suit us, it gives us a good chance to get the ball down.
"We'll be favourites no doubt, but its a semi-final of the cup, both teams will be up for it, no quarter given, no quarter asked."
The Scot, based in Broadstairs, revealed the club will be visited by officials from the Ryman League and Football Association on March 10th to assess their Southwood Stadium.
"The chairman assures me it won't be things off the pitch that don't get us promoted," Ward said.
"What we need to put in place will be put in place - but we need to get it right on the pitch first.
"We are now at the business end of the season. We have nine league games left, win them all we'll win the league.
"This is when you need everything to go for you. You need the breaks, a bit of good fortune and your best players at full fitness."
Thamesmead Town boss Paul Blade has three players returning to his squad against the Rams.
Jon Mayall (shoulder), Peter Deadman (calf), Kieran Collins (work commitments) are back in the squad with left-back Danny Evans (thigh) rated 60/40 to join them.
Although the Mead are ninth place in the league with 30 points, they have only played 19 games, and having eleven league games to play and another five possible cup ties to fit in, manager Paul Blade is angry with Kent League officials over the allocation of fixtures - not the first manager to vent their displeasure on this subject.
He said: "With eleven league games and a possible five cup ties to play, you look at some teams like Beckenham they have only five league games left.
"I think it shows a bit of a mockery of the league fixtures at this level of football.
"If you look at the Ryman and Southern League they've all played 28-30 games and we've played 19. There's not many teams in this league, with only 30 games. We've had a decent cup run but for us to have a maximum 16 games left, with the weather as it as at the minute, we are in a situation that it will be near on impossible to play our fixtures, playing three games a week. You can't expect the players to do that at this level of football."
Will the Kent League officials take notice of managers up and down the county and issue a statement on their website and explain the reasons for this fixture fiasco? Probably not!
Blade blasted: "I don't think the fixtures are done properly and it needs to be addressed, especially if they want more teams to come into the league next year. What will they do then?"
Looking ahead to their third clash with Ramsgate, Blade is looking to extract revenge on a side that have completed a league double over them.
"Two semi-finals are important for the club. It's our way of getting a little bit of silverware again this year," he said.
Thamesmead, current Kent League Cup holders, have their big guns back on Saturday, which is pleasing the manager.
"After beating us twice in the league this year, the first game we didn't deserve anything, losing 3-0. We did, however, deserve to get something out of the second game at home."
Injury-hit Mead, lost that game 1-0 thanks to a Shaun Welford's header five minutes from time, the only goal of the game. The former Dover Athletic striker has now scored 13 goals from 13 games.
Talking about goalscorers, Jason Taylor, assistant manager of Beckenham Town is hoping the prolific strike pair of Paul Vines and Lewis Wood book their place in the final.
Vines has scored 15 goals from 17 games with Wood scoring the same amount from 18.
When asked if this partnership can get the club into their first final since 1993, Taylor emphasised: "I certainly hope so, that's the aim. They are scoring regularly and I hope Saturday won't be any different."
Taylor is anticipating a tough time against Martin Ford's VCD Athletic side - who are without strikers Jon Maine and Richard Dimmock, both down under.
"They are always a good side, always in the right half of the table. It will be close and I hope our front two will edge the game for us," added Taylor, whose been with the Eden Park Avenue outfit for six years.
Beckenham, sixth place in the league, will be using success in this competition as a tool to keep their current crop of talent and to persuade other quality players to join the progressive club next term.
He added: "By being successful in the cup, we hope to keep hold of the players. A top five finish will also help that cause as well. The players can see we are heading in the right direction and building for next season.
"The players we've got now are on good deals and if we have success that will attract a few more to the club."
Ground improvements are planned in the summer, which will complement the excellent playing surface the club proudly play on.
Taylor revealed: "A new stand, a new clubhouse are going up with new turnstiles erected. The club's aim is to get the ground up to standard and apply for promotion. Obviously we'll want to get the ground in order first and go on from there."
Taylor, who was promoted from reserve team manager to assist long serving manager Kevin Sugrue, has seen the club grow in the last couple of years, adding: "Especially in the last 18 months. A lot has been going on, a new impetus and the club is moving in the right direction, which is very positive."
Beckenham, without Adam Heaslewood, whose cup-tied having played for Thamesmead Town in an earlier round, welcome back Dean Forbes, coming in for Mario Celaire (groin) other than that, they are at full strength.
Speaking about the former Bromley and Tooting & Mitcham star, Taylor added: "He's settled in well. He's done well and he's a good acquisition for us."
Martin Ford, the manager of VCD Athletic is thankful his side are playing away from home, and is confident his side can book their final place.
He said: "We haven't had the greatest run in to the semi-final but we are looking forward to it.
"We had a good win against Whitstable and we are unbeaten in February, drew the other games though but we do go into the game four games unbeaten."
Ford, however, is disappointed with their fourth place position in the table and completely out of the title race, 12 points behind Ramsgate and Herne Bay, and two behind third placed Whitstable Town.
"We are disappointed. We've had some dreadful home performances, we've lost 6 out of 7 games at home. Our away form is tremendous, which has kept us near the top all season. To be honest we haven't played good enough at home when we should have done," admitted Ford.
The long serving manager blames the poor playing surface at Lordswood's North Dane Way ground, something the Crayford based club want the Medway outfit to rectify for next season.
"It's not the greatest pitch, it's very uneven," he admitted.
"We've got players who are good passers of the ball but we can't do that at home. But it's the same for both sides. We haven't adapted to it this year."
Ford has a full strength squad to choose from but will be without James Brown and Stuart Abbott who are both cup-tied, having played for Thamesmead Town and Slade Green in earlier rounds respectively.
Ford revealed Vickers will have to wait another four months to receive the money, set aside for ground improvements for their Oakwood ground, from the Football Foundation.
He said: "We were always going to have another year at Lordswood but we are all geared up for a return (to Oakwood)."
Vickers will be starting working on their pitch in two months time and are in negotiations to strike a deal with Lordswood to play at their ground next season.
Ford revealed: "We are in negotiations with Lordswood to stay there. They want us to stay and we are happy to stay there if they can guarantee us a few things.
"We are not happy with the playing surface, if could be looked after, and there are a few things we need to tie up with them regarding playing there next season.
"We've been offered a couple of grounds in the local area for next season but it all comes down to money and a bit of loyalty.
"Lordswood have been good to us and we think we owe them a little bit of loyalty as well."
With Main and Dimmock enjoying the sun down under whilst Kent is under a blanket of snow, Ford has a stop gap striker in place for the next three weeks.
He revealed: "We've promoted a new lad from the reserves in Chris Johnson. He has been scoring a lot of goals for our reserves and we've been dying to give him a chance.
"He scored twice on his debut against Whitstable but we've only got him for another three weeks. His parents own a bar in Cyprus and he goes out there to work for six months.
"But we have enough quality in the squad, we are getting players back from injury. The reserves are doing well and it's a question of putting everything into Saturday, getting to the final.
"I am certain we can, we've got a good record at Beckenham, they've improved themselves, they've got a few quid.
"We are looking forward to it, we will go down there and be positive and get the result we want."
The Route to the Semi-Finals:
Saturday 5th March 2005
Kick Off 3:00pm
Kent Senior Trophy Semi-Finals
Beckenham Town v VCD Athletic - at Eden Park Avenue, Beckenham
(Telephone the club on 07774 728 758 before travelling)
Thamesmead Town v Ramsgate - at Bayliss Avenue, Thamesmead, London SE28
(Telephone the club on 0208 311 4211 before travelling)