Bromley 2-2 Dover Athletic - I've got to get the best out of my players every week, says play-off chasing Bromley boss Neil Smith

Tuesday 07th August 2018
Bromley 2 – 2 Dover Athletic
Location Hayes Lane, Bromley, Kent BR2 9EF
Kickoff 07/08/2018 19:45

Vanarama National League
Tuesday 7 August 2018
Stephen McCartney reports from Hayes Lane

BROMLEY manager Neil Smith says he has to get the best out of his players every week if they are to replicate last season’s magical campaign.

The Ravens started their fourth Vanarama National League campaign with 2-1 defeat up at AFC Fylde on Saturday, while Chris Kinnear’s Dover Athletic lost 1-0 at home to Wrexham.

Bromley got off to a flying start with left-back Dan Johnson scoring his first goal for the club before Dover Athletic equalised ten minutes before half-time through a tap-in from striker Jamie Allen.

Dover Athletic bossed the majority of the second half and deservedly took the lead in the final 18 minutes through another unlikely source in centre half Kevin Lokko.

Bromley grabbed a point, however, through Frankie Sutherland’s penalty just a couple of minutes before the end of the Hayes Lane battle.

“Just disappointed with the goals,” admitted Smith, during the rain-soaked interview out on the 3G playing surface.

“I thought we started the half really, really well.  To get the goal set us up and then just to give that goal away it was from a throw-in, we had possession earlier on, we gave the ball away and we went in at one-all and then we gave another soft goal in. I know it was a bit lucky and fortunate on their chance but I thought two-all, even at two-all we went for the win but we’ve got to nail the goals against.

“There’s always pressure because we want to win. We think we’re good enough to win. We’re at home, we want to get the first points on the board to help the boys relax and being 2-1 down that was the first time so far this season that I saw the boys had that bit of character.  I thought when Junior (Ogedi-Uzokwe) and Reece (Meekums) came on, I thought changed the game and we’re going to need them.”

Bromley and Dover Athletic defenders kept kicking the ball up in the air as these two Kent rivals produced an ugly aerial battle.

Dover Athletic went direct as they went close to opening the scoring after only 66 seconds.

Central midfielder Mitch Brundle hooked a high ball over Roger Johnson’s head to put Allen in on goal but his left-footed chip from the edge of the box dropped just over the top of the near post.

“We know they play direct, they don’t muck around. We were just caught flat-footed at the back and that was the only time they got in behind us,” said Smith.

But Bromley produced their trademark passing game, as they took the lead with only two minutes and 36 seconds on the clock.

They built in midfield with Sutherland, George Porter, Bobby-Joe Taylor and Sutherland, who swept the ball out to Dan Johnson.

Space opened up in front of the left-back and Dan Johnson strode forward with the ball and from 25-yards cut the ball onto his right-foot before drilling a deflected drive across the keeper to nestle nicely into the bottom far corner.

“We’ve worked on it believe it or not,” revealed Smith.

“We know they play man-for-man so if you knock it around someone’s not going to follow the ball.

“DJ (Johnson), I think, looked to pass it and you could hear everybody shouting ‘keep going’, because no-one was there and he gets it off and it takes a deflection and it goes in and it was everything that we said that Dover would do and we could counteract.”

Bromley fell into Dover’s trap and started launching long balls out of defence, which were meat and drink for their Dover counterparts and not very pleasing on the eye for the 1,303 inside Hayes Lane.

Smith explained the change his side’s approach to the game with a one-goal lead.

“Look, we had to try to not get caught into what they want to do.  They’re very direct, they’ve got Effiong up front and Allen. They get it up to them quickly but we were winning the ball and it was clearing and doing exactly the same as them. Obviously, they’re going to be better at it than what we are.”

Dan Johnson played a long ball down the line to Taylor, who was hugging the touch-line and with no-one inside the penalty area, he held the ball up, cut the ball onto his right-foot and curled his shot sailing harmlessly wide of the far post by quite a distance in the 29th minute.

Frankie Raymond released right-back Tobi Adebayo-Rowling with a ball on the deck and he whipped in a cross into the Dover Athletic box  for Mitch Walker to grab hold off just in the nick of time as Bromley striker Omar Bugiel attempted to hook the ball past him as he jumped.

Dover Athletic weathered the storm and deservedly equalised with 34 minutes and 49 seconds on the clock, with a fine move, mostly on the carpet, down the right.

Josh Passley threw the ball to Bedsente Gomis, who played the ball back to the right-back, who lofted the ball into Brundle’s path, he turned Dan Johnson and skipped past Roger Johnson on the by-line and put the ball on a plate for Allen to turn the ball in from a couple of yards.

“He couldn’t miss!  He nearly did, he didn’t hit it great but it was two-yards in front of the goal,” said Smith.

“So two questions. How did he get down the side of DJ? We’ve actually spoken about it.  We know what he did wrong and then how is there a player in the middle of the goal anticipating that we may not get it and not one of us so there’s a couple of things that we’ve got to work on.”

Bromley goalkeeper David Gregory produced a world-class save to prevent Dover Athletic taking the lead in the 37th minute.

Nortey Nortei played the ball inside to Brundle, who was offered space to powerfully drill a shot towards the roof of the net from 25-yards, which was brilliantly tipped onto the top of the crossbar and behind for a corner by Gregory, diving high to his left.

“Great save! We’ve got a new goalkeeping coach in Kris Dixon whose come from Brighton. He’s been working with him for the last few years on that,” said Smith.

“We know Mitch has got a strike on him.  They hit the crossbar on Saturday so we’ve been aware of it.  I thought it was a fantastic save, it’s just a shame he couldn’t do that one (to prevent Danny Rowe curling in a winner) on Saturday.”

Smith feels his Biggin Hill based 23-year-old goalkeeper should be in the England C squad.

“I think he’s going to be the best keeper in the league. I hope he starts getting selected and up for selection as well in the England C because I think he’s progressed so far since he’s come here this time last season, so to pull of those saves and get man-of-the-match is a full credit to him.”

A ball cleared out by the Dover defence was hit on the volley by George Porter from 30-yards, which screamed just past the top of the right-hand post.

Smith said: “Just wide. I think it was quite end-to-end stuff.  I don’t think there was any boring football out there but I’ve still got to concern myself with the goals against!”

Bugiel, who endured a frustrating night, drove towards the edge of the Dover box but his shot deflected off Jack Connors and Walker gathered comfortably.

Gregory was twice called into action as Dover Athletic created a couple of chances just before half-time.

Passley’s driving run saw him cut into the penalty area and flicked his shot towards the bottom near corner, which was held by Gregory, low to his left.

Connors then swung in a free-kick from the right touch-line and Allen made space at the near post to glance his header towards the bottom near corner, forcing Gregory to get down low to his left and grab hold of the ball just before it trickled over the goal-line.

Praising his keeper, Smith added: “He did well, he did very well, it didn’t go in. I know they were appealing. He’s got great hands Gregaz, thank god he had them then!”

When asked what he said to his troops at the break, Smith replied: “Do everything you were doing in the first 33 minutes!  I thought we played some really good stuff.  I thought we played some good football. We knocked it around, one-touch.  I thought our goal was a well-worked goal. 

“I said go and do the same! Don’t get caught up in the long ball, kicking it long. It’s different when you’re 2-1 down, then you’ve got to be a bit more direct but I think our lead up play was a little bit better up until they scored the goal.”

Bromley created a half-chance just 67 seconds into the second half when Taylor’s deep cross was steered into Walker’s hands by Porter’s header from a very tight angle.

But Dover Athletic started to dominate proceedings and were by far the better team for a large chunk of the second half.

“They were on top because I think we got caught out of position a little bit and that’s why I brought on the fresh legs in Reece and Junior,” came Smith’s explanation.

They went close in the 58th minute when Connor Essam launched a big kick out of Dover’s defence, which was headed clear by Frankie Raymond and Brundle brought the ball down before cracking a right-footed volley flying just over the crossbar from 25-yards.

Dover produced a good move when Nortei ran down the left, played the ball inside to Allen, who played Passley in behind the Bromley defence but his shot didn’t find the bottom near corner as it should have done.

Smith clearly had enough of seeing an away side dominate at Hayes Lane and threw on pacy wingers Reece Meekums (right) and Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe (left) after the hour-mark – but he still had one tactical masterstroke up his sleeve.

Bromley are a threat from set-pieces and four of their five corners tonight all came in the final 21 minutes as they started to edge back into the game.

Raymond swung in a corner from the right and Bugiel rose to plant his header through a crowd of players and Connors was on the line to make a vital block.

Smith said: “Omar has grafted. He’s got three against two up there so it’s always going to be hard for him so he has to work it so our wingers get in.  Sometimes you have to sacrifice your game for somebody else and I think he done that superbly today Omar.”

Towering unit Inih Effiong cut inside before dragging his shot past Roger Johnson’s foot and past the near post from 22-yards, before Dover Athletic deservedly took the lead with 26 minutes and 57 seconds on the clock.

Meekums run the risk of coming unstuck as he tried to kick the ball against Connors to force a goal-kick, but Connors swung in a great cross from the left and Lokko was lurking near the goal-line to slid the ball across Gregory to roll the ball into the bottom far corner, just grazing the base of the upright.

Reflecting on Bromley’s fourth goal that they have conceded in two games, Smith said:  “Reece has tried to kick it off him to get a (goal-kick) and I think it’s come off him and it’s going out for a (goal-kick).  It’s come off Reece, it’s gone inside and again, just put a square ball across and you’ve got the centre half here standing on the goal-line standing on his own!

“Again, we should’ve done better, maybe should’ve kicked it out for a throw-in rather than trying to be clever.  That’s what I think we’ve tried to do. I think we were trying to be too clever on both accounts.”

Smith’s tactical masterstroke was to put central defender Jack Holland up front alongside Bugiel and Ogedi-Uzowke and natural centre half Marc-Anthony Okoye came off the bench to partner Roger Johnson.

“Jordan Higgs and George Porter had done a great job and Bobby-Joe Taylor and I thought right lets get some pace on!  Reece Meekums showed in pre-season what he can do and he’s very direct.  Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe has come in (on loan from Colchester United), he’s waited his turn. He’s had to get to know the boys and he’s come on and showed what he can do, what he does give me, he gives me options for Saturday.”

You just sensed something was going to happen.  Holland shows neat touches with his feet when he has to answer a SOS from his home-town club and Smith’s tactical nous paid off.

“We went for it, just put the balls in the box! We don’t want to go direct from back-to-front but if there’s corners and free-kicks – I think we’ll always be dangerous from set-plays because of our free-kick takers and corner takers but it’s then getting on the end of it and then putting it away.”

Bromley threw the kitchen sink at Dover Athletic and they couldn’t stomach a taste of their own medicine. 

The home fans started getting behind their side as they could see they were giving their all against a club that finished in eighth-place last season, a place above the Ravens.

Bromley kept knocking on the door.  Raymond floated in a cross and Okoye threw his big frame at the ball with a diving header, which deflected past the far post.

The former Braintree Town captain showed his desire levels when he lost the ball in the final third to Effiong, who charged down the left but Akoye chased him and produced a well-timed tackle to steal the ball back off him further up the pitch.

Dover Athletic went close when Brundle played in substitute Kadell Daniel, who cut onto his left foot to curl his shot around the far post from 22-yards out.

The Hayes Lane faithful felt their time was up when Sutherland strode forward before hitting a speculative 40-yard shot about 40-yards over the crossbar.

But Bromley showed character and desire to grab an equaliser with 43 minutes and 41 seconds on the clock.

Sutherland swung in their last corner from the left and Okoye’s diving header at the far post struck the hand of big centre half Tim Schmoll and referee Carl Brook pointed to the spot.

Bromley played their first get out of jail card of the new season and Sutherland buried the ghost of penalty shoot-out heartbreak at Wembley Stadium just 79 days ago, by smashing his right-footed penalty into the back of the net, although Walker got a hand to the ball.

Setting the scene nicely, Smith said:  “You’re sitting there or standing there with your hands over your eyes going back a few weeks ago. 

“To be fair, Suthers is our penalty taker and he’s stepped up and we’ve got so much confidence in him.  We didn’t doubt it for one minute but then when we got the goal we wanted to score the winner.”

Fifteenth-placed Bromley host tenth-placed Harrogate Town at Hayes Lane on Saturday. Harrogate sealed promotion via the play-offs along with Salford City from the Vanarama National League North.

“It’s the first point.  I think we were disappointed not to come away with something on Saturday, we would’ve been disappointed not to come away with something today but now the boys can relax a little bit,” said Smith.

“The supporters were fantastic getting behind us and it’s going to be another tough game against Harrogate.  There were more positives than negatives but the negatives at the moment are costing us goals.”

When asked what was missing from his side tonight, the answer was obvious.

“Look, you’ve got to replace a Louis Dennis, which is always going to be difficult,” admitted Smith, who lost his star player to League One side Portsmouth.

“We’ve looked around for people, when other people are trouncing you with what they can pay and what we can, it’s always going to be difficult so even with Louis, he wasn’t like that until the last year of his four years that he was actually here, so we’ve got to develop one.

“Maybe we’re missing Adam Mekki, someone who can unlock, he’s going to be a couple of weeks. We’ve got Kyle De Silva coming back, so those players can sort of open up games and what you’re looking for, especially on a surface like this.  It’s just that little bit of cutting edge that we need.”

Smith revealed the type of playing budget that he has compared to rival National League club’s.

“I’d say the lower end of the table, I’ve got to be brutally honest.  Listening to people and what they’ve got, the Salford’s, the Ebbsfleet’s, the Dover’s, the Eastleigh’s, Harrogate, you’ve got all these teams.  Fair play, I’d love to be in their position. We’re not. We work within our means. We have to generate our own money and I think that’s the best way, everyone has to earn what they can do.”

Bromley finished in the top nine last season and missed out on the play-offs by just four points (taking goal-difference into account) and upset the big boys.

Tonight showed Bromley are up for the challenge of repeating their magical season again and prove a lot of people wrong.

“It’s tough but we’re alright for a fight,” said Smith.

“The expectation levels after last season are always going to go up so now people want us in the play-offs, they want us to get promotion. They want us to win the FA Trophy. I do. I do but then I’ve got to get the best out of the players every week!

“Going for the play-offs again?  Of course I am and I won’t give up until I believe we can’t do it but the first port of call is get those 50 points as soon as we can and then we’ll worry about the play-offs.”

Bromley: David Gregory, Tobi Adebayo-Rowling, Dan Johnson, Frankie Sutherland, Roger Johnson, Jack Holland, Jordan Higgs (Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe 65), Frankie Raymond, Omar Bugiel, George Porter (Marc-Anthony Okoye 79), Bobby-Joe Taylor (Reece Meekums 60).
Subs: Max Huxter, Jake Goodman

Goals: Dan Johnson 3, Frankie Sutherland 89 (penalty)

Booked: Frankie Sutherland 76, Reece Meekums 90, Marc-Anthony Okoye 90

Dover Athletic: Mitch Walker, Josh Passley, Jack Connors, Connor Essam, Kevin Lokko, Tim Schmoll, Bedsente Gomis, Mitch Brundle, Inih Effiong (Kadell Daniel 84), Jamie Allen, Nortey Nortei (Ejiro Okosieme 90).
Subs: Moussa Diarra, Loui Fazakerley, David Smith

Goals: Jamie Allen 35, Kevin Lokko 72

Booked: Mitch Brundell 45, Jamie Allen 87, Tim Schmoll 89, Jack Connors 90, David Smith 90

Attendance: 1,303 (178 away)
Referee: Mr Carl Brook (St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex)
Assistants: Mr Mike Desborough (Fareham, Hampshire) & Mr Tristan Greaves (Godalming, Surrey)
Fourth Official: Mr Jamaal Horne (Thornton Heath, Surrey)