Erith & Belvedere 0-1 Phoenix Sports - It's a massive relief it's done and dusted, says Phoenix Sports boss Steve O'Boyle

Wednesday 15th April 2015
Erith & Belvedere 0 – 1 Phoenix Sports
Location Park View Road, Welling, Kent DA16 1SY
Kickoff 15/04/2015 19:45

Southern Counties East Football League
Wednesday 15th April 2015
Stephen McCartney reports from Park View Road

PHOENIX SPORTS manager Steve O’Boyle says it’s a fantastic achievement to clinch promotion into the Ryman Football League after winning the Southern Counties East Football League title with three games to spare.


It has been a remarkable journey for the Barnehurst based outfit, who were crowned champions of the Kent County League Division One West only seven years ago and they can now look forward to playing at their highest level of football when the new season kicks off in August.

CHAMPIONS: Phoenix Sports celebrate winning the Southern Counties East Football League title following their 1-0 win over third-placed Erith & Belvedere at Park View Road.
Photo: Tony Day

Phoenix Sports suffered their only league defeat of the season at the 33rd attempt when they went down to a 2-1 home defeat to Ashford United – who played with ten men for 77 minutes – at the weekend.

But Paul Chambers’ side were held to a goal-less draw at home to Sevenoaks Town last night and Phoenix Sports took advantage by claiming the league title tonight thanks to Aaron Jeffery’s first half strike on a nervy night at Park View Road.

Jeffery turned villain when he allegedly punched Erith & Belvedere central defender Lewis Clark and referee Wally James showed him a straight red-card with nineteen minutes left, which forced Phoenix Sports to park the bus and try to hit their hosts on the counter-attack.

The home side also finished the game with ten-men when left wing-back Ben Wilson was sent-off for throwing the ball at Phoenix Sports’ striker Yacine Gnahore at a throw-in.

But O’Boyle, who guided the club out of the Kent Invicta League only two years’ ago, admitted he was chocked by his team’s success.

“I’m a little bit chocked up to be honest with you,” said O’Boyle, who turns 38 next week.

“It’s been a long time coming. I’ve managed at this level for a little while and I’ve got to say to you we’ve had a fantastic season and I think tonight is what we’re all about.

“It might not have been the best game in the world but they dug-in. They’ve got a great team spirit, a great work ethic and down to ten-men, did our goalkeeper really have a shot to save?

“There’s a lot of teams out there in this league who are paying big money – we’re not one of them and that is credit to our players’ for what they’ve done this season.

“I think we are the best team in this league. Maybe not the best players’ individually but as a team we are the best team in the league!”

Erith & Belvedere manager Matt Longhurst was gracious in defeat, as their sixth loss of the campaign left them in third-place in the table with 75 points from 35 games.

“Firstly, I’d like to congratulate them. I went over and shook their hands after the game,” said Longhurst.

“It’s a fantastic achievement what they’ve achieved this year and I think we can all learn from what they’ve done. They’ve built a team over a period of time and they’ve done great.

“I’d like to say firstly I take my hat off to them. They’ve done well and I’d like to congratulate them on that.

“From our point of view, I don’t feel we deserved to lose the game if I’m honest but sometimes it’s a little bit of a biased view where we’re sitting but we probably didn’t do enough to win it either.

“I don’t think we had enough shots on target. I don’t think we created enough but we had lots of the ball but we’ve been a little bit guilty of that probably for the last couple of months.

“We’ve had lots of possession but we haven’t really found a way past teams which is why we’ve picked up quite a few draws.

“We’ve played them twice in the league and they’ve beat us 1-0 both times so you have to take your hat off to them.”

Phoenix Sports kept their 28th clean sheet in their 51st game of the season and this was their ninth 1-0 win of the campaign.  They have conceded only 17 goals in 35 league games, losing only one league game and have collected 88 points.

Phoenix Sports deserved to win the game on the night and the league title overall.

Erith & Belvedere, who were celebrating the Kent League double under former boss Micky Collins only two years’ ago, lined up with Clark, Joe Jackson and Ryan Johnson at the back, two wing-backs in the shape of Wilson and Denzel Gayle in an attempt to surprise their opponents.

Longhurst said: “We played three at the back tonight. We changed the formation to try to surprise them a little bit. We haven’t had long to work on it, we’ve only just changed it this week.”

However, it was Phoenix Sports who were to be denied by a fine save from highly-rated keeper George Kamurasi inside the opening thirteen minutes.

Russell Bedford launched a trademark long throw into the box, the ball was flicked on across goal by Gnahore and George King ghosted in at the far post and his low left-footed shot from six-yards was blocked low to his right by the goalkeeper.

O’Boyle said: “It was actually a really good save, it was a really good save. He couldn’t have done much more to be honest. He got it on target and he made the keeper make the save really. He came out, close range, he’s hit him.”

Longhurst added: “A great save, a decent save. I think the kid should score but it’s a hell of a save, but he’s been doing that for us for the entire season in fairness.

“I left him out on Saturday to get a reaction tonight and I think I got that.”

Phoenix Sports’ goalkeeper Steve Phillips launched a long kick over the top, which was latched onto by Jeffery, whose low shot deflected past the near post.

Harrison Carneige, who offers electrifying pace down the flank, hooked a left-footed volley narrowly over the Deres’ crossbar from 30-yards.

But Erith & Belvedere almost grabbed the lead – against the run of play – after 24 tense minutes.

Chris Hubbard was given time and space down the right to float in a cross towards the far post and wing-back Wilson ghosted in to plant his header against the crossbar from six-yards.

It proved to be shot-shy Erith & Belvedere’s best chance of the night.

Longhurst said: “It’s unfortunate. I think we go 1-0 up and goals change games at the end of the day, it’s an old cliché but it’s a fact!

“It hits the bar but I don’t think we quite react quickly enough in their box a couple of times tonight.  The ball’s bouncing and it’s a little disappointing but a good move, a good cross, a good header. Unfortunately it’s hit the bar.”

O’Boyle added: “I weren’t happy with the marking from the throw! He was given too much space and he came inside, too much space again.

“They were warned at half-time. We can’t afford to let them have any time on the ball at all.”

Carneige whipped in a cross from the left, which was headed away by Wilson from inside his own penalty area and King teed up Jeffery, who curled his shot into Kamurasi’s hands from 25-yards.

But Jeffery scored the goal that sent Phoenix Sports up into the Ryman League with 30:45 on the clock.

Central midfielder Jason Goodchild played a sublime low pass from inside his own half to release Carneige down the right, who sprinted forward before playing the ball in to Jeffery, who steered his right-footed drive underneath the keeper to find the far corner from 12-yards.

O’Boyle said: “He’s had a mixed night hasn’t he? He’s won us the league and also he’s been sent off!

“A good goal. It’s a goal that wins us the league so I couldn’t care if it came off somebody’s backside tonight as long as it went in!”

Longhurst said: “It was our throw. We gave possession away but Ben Wilson got caught out of possession because he was too high up the pitch.

“Harrison broke – we know all about him – he’s got a bit of pace. He got a bit of a lucky break with a bounce and he’s sort of gone down the side.

“They’ve brought Aaron Jeffery in to put the ball in the goal. I don’t think he did a great deal apart from that, other than get sent off but he’s scored the decisive goal that’s taken them up so you can’t knock that.

“Listen, I felt it was a mistake. I don’t think they’ve carved us open at any real point in the game at all. It’s not really the way they play but they’ve scored one and we’ve scored none and that’s the only statistic that really matters.”

Erith & Belvedere just didn’t look like scoring for the rest of the game.

Longhurst said: “In fairness to the back four that they’ve got, (Danny) Moore is a key too it. He talks and he organises. Listen, the two midfield players’ don’t play high up the pitch, they’re defensively organised.

“There’s no one way to win football matches or win football leagues. I’ve got a way I like to play and try and do things. At the end of the day they’ve finished top of the league. The league table can’t lie, doesn’t lie, never will lie and they’ve won the league by doing what they do and they’re good at is so you’ve got to take your hat off to them.

“They’ve conceded 17 goals in the league all season so that’s a phenomenal record and I don’t think it will probably ever be done again if I’m honest.

“They’ve won the league on the back of a great run and that winning mentality breads confidence and that’s so difficult to break down because they believe they won’t concede.”

Central midfielder Lee Hales unleashed a left-footed drive sailing over the Phoenix crossbar from 35-yards after 40 minutes.

Phoenix Sports were only 45 minutes away from hosting Ryman League football at their Mayplace Road East Ground next season and that’s exactly what O’Boyle told his troops at the break.

He said: “They were reminded of that, yes. We were 25 minutes away on Saturday though so they were reminded of that.

“I basically said they shouldn’t be able to out run us or anything like that. We’ve got something at the end of it and something to hold onto.”

Longhurst explained: “We just needed to be a little bit braver in possession off the ball. I’ve played three (at the back) to try to get out, try to pin them back in so we played 3-4-3 tonight and I felt it worked. The movement needed to be a little bit better in front of us so we spoke about our movement as a front three and the two wing backs.

“I said to them we just needed to believe in it a little bit more, put our head on the chopping block a little bit more. I felt we could have been braver in certain areas of the pitch but I just needed them to keep probing away.”

Erith & Belvedere were awarded a free-kick some 22-yards from goal but Joe Minter’s right-footed effort deflected off the wall and bounce behind for a corner.

Minter’s corner from the right found 37-goal striker Alfie May lurking on the edge of the box and his right-footed drive on the turn sailed over the Phoenix crossbar in the 48th minute.

King whipped in a cross towards the near post and Kamurasi made a smart block at his near post to deny Gnahore. King recycled the ball back into the box and Chris Hill came up from the back and looped his header into the keeper’s hands.

Hill was to be denied his ninth-goal of the season with 68 minutes on the clock.

Bedford swung in a corner from the left out towards the far post and the central defender powered his header towards the top corner from 12-yards, but Kamurasi clawed the ball away high to his left at his near post.

O’Boyle added: “It was a good header actually. A good header and a good save.”

Phoenix Sports produced a slick move down the left when Carneige, Jeffery and Gnahore linked up well and Jeffery played in Carneige, but an alert Kamurasi got down low at his near post to make a fine block to deny the winger scoring with a low right-footed shot towards the bottom corner from eight-yards.

Longhurst said: “George made a couple of good saves. He had a decent game. George has been outstanding for us this year.”

But Phoenix Sports were to win the league title the hard way when they lost former Greenwich Borough striker Jeffery for allegedly punching Clark after 71 minutes.

Both managers were asked their thoughts on the two red-cards.

O’Boyle said: “Didn’t see it! Didn’t really see it! I’ve got to say that. I didn’t see it (Danny Lye’s red-card) on Saturday. I didn’t see it again tonight.

“Apparantly he did (punch someone). We won’t have that! It’s not good enough!

“It put us under pressure for the last 25 minutes. That’s why he’s had a mixed night. I can’t have people who can’t keep their discipline.”

When asked about Wilson’s red-card, O’Boyle added: “I didn’t see it either. I don’t know. I don’t know. I can’t comment.”

Longhurst added: “I’ve got to be honest, a little bit harsh. Wenger style but I actually didn’t see what happened.  Lee (Barnett) saw it, who was standing next to me and he said he punched him but I didn’t see it.

“He obviously did something because he was sent off.

“I know his temperament and he’s got a little bit of that in him and it’s not the first time that’s happened and it won’t be the last but the kid scored the winning goal in a game that proved vital.”

Phoenix Sports’ central defender Scott Whibley went close with his right-footed clearance from 65-yards sailed over the back-peddling Kamurasi and just past the right-hand post.

Whibley then formed a resilient five-man defence – with Bedford sitting in front of them – to park the bus and protect their slender lead, while his team-mates tried to hit the home side on the break with 31-goal striker (26 of them for Phoenix) Gnahore working tirelessly up front on his own.

O’Boyle was full of praise for his solid defensive wall.

“How many games have we played? They’ve (Hill and Whibley) have played really well together as a partnership in every game this season except for (the Ashford game on) Saturday.

“They’re not blessed with pace or anything like that but clean sheets speak for themselves.

“You’ve got Danny Moore playing at left-back, Lewis Mingle. You’ve got two good centre halves. I’ve got two good right-backs with Myles (Keizer-Burrows) and Ryan (Andrews).

“I’m blessed with good defenders who want to defend. The keeper’s fantastic. How good was he when their goalkeeper just ran straight at him and he stood there and he came out on top as well.”

Erith & Belvedere, meanwhile, lacked ideas in the final third and didn’t look like scoring.

“I think we defended with our lives second half when we went down to ten-men,” said O’Boyle.

“It was just a very good team performance, well-worked and I can’t really say too much more.

“The boys’ know how much I love them and what a fantastic way to finish the season off – coming to your neighbours – I live just over the road.”

Phoenix Sports almost wrapped up the title with a second goal with just over six minutes remaining.

Carneige clipped the ball up to Gnahore, who held the ball up, before playing a reverse pass to release Carneige, who cut in to the box and from 14-yards drilled his low right-footed shot just past the foot of the near post.

O’Boyle just couldn’t wait for the final whistle.

“What’s going through my mind? I’m thinking how long is this referee playing?

“I think he gave a couple of really dodgy decisions at the end. How is was a foul for the free-kick and how he gave a corner I do not know? There were two really bad decisions and he put us under more pressure than we needed.

“But I was just basically counting down the minutes. It is a massive relief it’s done and dusted!”

Wilson was sent-off with 88 minutes on the clock for throwing the ball at Gnahore and Longhurst said: “I was right there. It’s one of them. If it’s a free-kick and our player kicks it at their player because he’s standing in the way their player gets booked.

“It’s a throw in and their player is standing in the way so I don’t know whether that’s – I don’t know what he’s done him for. I haven’t spoken to the referee. If he’s done him for violent conduct, maybe it’s been deemed to be aggressive that he’s thrown the ball at him but the kids standing in his way when he’s trying to take a throw-in.

“We’ve got two or three minutes left, we’re trying to get the ball forward and they’re trying to slow every opportunity down.

“I don’t know, I’m not a referee. Some games that could be given a free-kick to us and a yellow card to their player to trying to stop us playing it and tonight he’s seen it as dangerous play and sent our player off.

“It’s 50-50. He’s either seen stupidity from our left-back for doing it with five minutes to go or it’s seen as their players been clever and got out player sent off by standing in the way.”

Kamurasi who had earlier shouted out to his team-mates “how much do you want it?” and questioned his team-mates desire – came up for two late free-kicks in a desperate attempt to keep his club’s slender title hopes alive.

Phoenix keeper Phillips was not tested but he did pull off a great catch under pressure after Minter swung in a free-kick in from the left flank at the death.

Longhurst admitted: “Second half, if we went on stats of possession, we must have been 60-40 at least in possession if not more.

“We got to the final third, our choices aren’t good enough. Crosses aren’t good enough. Shots and crosses get blocked.

“You’ve got to give them credit for that. They don’t let many goals in, they put a lot of numbers behind the ball and put themselves in the way of stuff and they take up good positions when they haven’t got the ball. They’ve got the self-belief that they’re not going to let a goal in.

“Also, when you play against them people start believing we’re not going to score. Sometimes that sets in and the longer and longer it goes on that you haven’t scored against them, the more and more confident they get and the less and less confident we get and we started forcing stuff. 

“Our movement needs to be better and that’s something we need to look at for next year. We’ve suffered off late when teams come here and park the bus which is fair enough. Team’s aren’t going to let us come round because they know the way we play and know we want to get the ball forward and we’ve got quick players who can get off the back of people but they didn’t allow us to do that tonight.

“I felt out decision making in the final third weren’t good enough. I don’t know what the stats were for shots on target, but I don’t think it was many at all.”

The final whistle brought emotional scenes from Phoenix players and their large travelling support who cheered on their heroes and bandaged up Bedford held the silverware aloft.

“I’ve got to say, the support tonight for us, we turned it into a home game,” said O’Boyle, who was quick to thank the people who have turned the club from Kent County League minnows into a Ryman League outfit in just seven years.

“I’d like to mention we’ve got some great people at the club, who have drove this club forward. Steve House, Andy Mortlock, Alf Levy, people like your Roger Guard. There’s too many too mention.

“The club deserves it. There’s been a lot of people working hard at this club to get us there. I can’t actually believe it! It’s a fantastic achievement for this football club, two promotions under my belt with this club.

“I’ve always wanted to be a Ryman League manager. I’m ambitious. I want to move on. I’m so pleased I’m doing it with Phoenix.

“We can enjoy Saturday. We’ve got Beckenham and our presentation do Saturday night and I will enjoy tonight by the way. I don’t have to go to work (at Smithfield Market tonight), which is handy and I’m going to make sure a few of us get back to the club and have a few beers.”
When asked about next season’s Ryman League campaign, O’Boyle replied: “Can we worry about this season first? I’m looking forward to having a holiday!

“There’s going to be a lot of things that have got to be sorted out. I need to sit down with the committee and sit down with the players’ and work out what’s what.

“If you’re asking me off the cuff now I would want to take those bunch of lads into the Ryman League and give them a go.

“I love them to death. They’ve had a great season and I’d like to see what we’ve got and see how we go.

“At this moment in time I just want to go and celebrate!”

For Erith & Belvedere, they are fighting for second-place along with Ashford United, who have three more points, with three games remaining.

Longhurst, whose side play in-form Deal Town at Park View Road on Saturday, said: “We’ve had a great season this year. We can’t let that great season just dwindle away. We’ve got three games left to play, we need to try to get maximum points and see where we finish up.

“If we end up finishing third then we’ve been the third best team in the league. If we finish second, we’ve been the second best team. If we finish second or third to Phoenix who have been unbelievable this year, then that’s what we’ve got to accept.”

Erith & Belvedere: George Kamurasi, Denzel Gayle, Ben Wilson, Joe Jackson, Lewis Clark, Ryan Johnson, Joe Minter, Lee Hales, Alfie May, Chris Hubbard (Adam Marsh 66), Enoch Adjei (Lee Craig 87).
Subs: Aaron Lacy, George Reed, Allan Matthews

Booked: Lee Hales 16, Joe Jackson 53, Ryan Johnson 71, Alfie May 78, George Kamurasi 86

Sent Off: Ben Wilson 88

Phoenix Sports: Steve Phillips, Ryan Andrews, Danny Moore, Russell Bedford (James Brown 90), Scott Whibley, Chris Hill, Harrison Carnegie (Myles Keizer-Burrows 88), Jason Goodchild, Aaron Jeffery, Yacine Gnahore, George King (Peter Smith 76).
Subs: Carl Cornell, Andy Constable

Goal: Aaron Jeffery 31

Booked: Ryan Andrews 28

Sent Off: Aaron Jeffery 71

Attendance: 178
Referee: Mr Wally James (Welling)
Assistants: Mr Dan Proctor (Dartford) & Mr Zoltan Konkoly (Maidstone)