Crowborough Athletic 1-1 Newhaven - We've got to show the character of the team now because it's all about getting in these play-offs now, says frustrated Crowborough Athletic boss Sean Muggeridge

Saturday 06th April 2024
Crowborough Athletic 1 – 1 Newhaven
Location Crowborough Community Stadium, Fermor Road, Crowborough, East Sussex TN6 3BU
Kickoff 06/04/2024 15:00

Southern Combination League Premier Division
Saturday 6 April 2024
Stephen McCartney reports from Alderbrook

FRUSTRATED Crowborough Athletic manager Sean Muggeridge says he will be suffering sleepless nights after his players’ profligacy in front of goal ensured their promotion rivals Newhaven escaped with a point to extend their unbeaten away league run to 362 days.

The Crows were leading the Southern Combination League Premier Division after 14 match days throughout the season but have now slipped down from third-place to fifth-place for the first time this season after being held to a Newhaven side that haven’t lost on their travels in the League since losing 4-0 at Peacehaven & Telscombe on 10 April 2023.

Crowborough Athletic were the better side during this tussle against second-placed Newhaven - which was watched by their largest crowd of the season of 487 - and deserved their lead when centre-half William Puffette headed in his first goal for the club eight minutes into the second half.

But Puffette lost his man in a well-worked Newhaven equaliser, which was headed home by striker Lee Robinson, who notched his 17th goal of the season for his home-town club.

“Missed chances.  I thought we were the better side, probably the best we’ve played all season, defensively.  Attacking, final third, we just wasn’t good enough,” admitted Muggeridge.

“If you don’t take your chances then you’re not going to win games, unfortunately.

“I’m really proud of the players for what they’ve done today because they’ve made a good team look very ordinary but would I prefer to play bad and win? Yes, of course I would.  Sometimes you don’t get what you deserve and if you’re missing chances, unfortunately you’re not going to win games.

“It’s hard to have a go at them too much because everything else about the team and the game was absolutely superb.  I think we should’ve won that three or four-one, that’s my opinion.

“Newhaven might say it’s a dogged one-all draw but I mean it’s very frustrating that they’ve had one shot on target (in the second half) and scored.

“We’ve had a problem with it a little bit all season really, not finishing teams off and being clinical but unfortunately all the teams around us won now so we’ve got to get off the floor. It seems like a defeat now but we’ve got a big game at Pagham next Saturday.”

Crowborough Athletic went into this Southern Combination League  Premier Division clash sitting in third-place in the table with 74 points (23 wins, five draws and five defeats) from their 33 of 38 league outings.

The Crows were eight games (in all competitions) unbeaten since they lost 2-0 at home to league leaders Steyning Town (Community) on 10 February. 

Crowborough Athletic thrashed their local rivals and bottom-of-the-table AFC Uckfield Town 6-0 away from home on Easter Monday, 1 April, while Newhaven beat Peacehaven & Telscombe 1-0 at home, thanks to a last-gasp header from centre-half Joshua Tuck following a long throw from right-wing-back John Lucero, who hurled the ball in on five occasions at Alderbrook today.

Andy Cook and Sean Breach’s Newhaven, meanwhile, arrived at Alderbook in second-place in the table with 75 points (22 wins, nine draws and three defeats).

Crowborough Athletic came out of the traps on the front foot and called visiting goalkeeper Jake Buss into a save inside the opening six minutes.

Left-back Marcus Goldsmith floated in a free-kick from just outside the penalty box on the left-hand side towards a crowd of players at the far post and Buss flicked the ball behind, high to his left, and the referee incorrectly awarded a goal-kick and not a corner.

Central midfielder Harry Foster floated in a free-kick into the Dockers’ penalty area from 30-yards, the ball was cleared by Bailie Rogers (who plays on the left of a three man defence) and Crowborough Athletic’s holding midfielder John Sinclair smacked a right-footed volley just over the crossbar from 30-yards.

“It was like a basketball game really. There wasn’t a lot of clear-cut chances but we had chances in the final third when the final decision wasn’t good enough,” admitted Muggeridge.

Newhaven were to be denied by a superb double-save from Crowborough Athletic goalkeeper Martin Grant in the 19th minute.

Left-wing-back Callum Edwards played the ball in behind Crowborough’s left-back Goldsmith to play in Robinson.  His initial shot from a tight angle was parried by Grant, low to his left.  The goalkeeper then swiftly got up and dived to his right to deny Robinson for the second time and when the keeper was beaten, Sinclair was behind him to ensure the ball didn’t cross the goal-line.

“They’re a good side, they’re going to create chances and this is why I’m proud of the players for the amount of chances that we limited them to,” added Muggeridge.

The home side won the corner-count by seven to four and Goldsmith’s first corner came in from the left, Harvey Killick hooked the ball back into the danger area and Sinclair’s shot was blocked from within a crowd of players.  Goldsmith recycled the ball towards the far post again and Ollie Hyland’s looping header dropped on top of the roof of the net.

Both of these promotion chasing sides cancelled each other out but Crowborough Athletic created more of the chances and edged the game.

Left-winger Leo Vowles fluffed his lines when Crowborough Athletic broke on the counter-attack in the 39th minute.

Thirteen-goal striker Lucas Murrain dropped deep (Newhaven’s central centre-half Robbie Keith put in an outstanding performance to keep Murrain very quiet) and played the ball back to Forster, who released Killick in space down the right and he hooked the ball inside to Vowles, but a poor touch outside the box in the final third ensured that Buss advanced to the edge of his box to gather the ball.

“We had one where Leo just unfortunately miss-controlled it. If he had controlled it, he would’ve been one-on-one with the keeper,” said Muggeridge.

“I don’t know whether it’s taken a bobble or not. The problem is because the defender closed Harvey down quite quick, he sort of had to half-volley it to Leo so it came to Leo in the air, so as it came down, a heavy touch.”

Newhaven offered very little in attack – a triangle of players with Robinson up front, 31-goal striker Alfie Rogers behind him and Demas Ramsis out wide of the left and the trio were kept very quiet indeed.

Ramsis played a one-two with central midfielder Robert Malila and put in a low cross from the right to find an unmarked Edwards and the left-wing-back laid the ball off to Lucero, who lashed his shot over the crossbar from inside the D, as Vowles came out to press him.

Crowborough Athletic created their last chance of the first half (49:39) with the last touch of the half.

Goldsmith clipped a long ball out of defence to release Murrain down the left and the ball landed inside the box and Keith closed the door shut.

Goldsmith easily turned Malila inside the box and hung over a cross towards the penalty spot but 13-goal right-winger Killick sent his diving header across the keeper and past the far post.

“I’m so disappointed not to go in with the lead at half-time,” said Muggeridge.

“Another missed opportunity. It would’ve been a good header to score from there.

“I don’t know whether we’re nervous at the moment.  We’re not as clinical as we used to be.  We played Uckfield on Monday and won 6-0 but they’re bottom of the league and we expected to win there quite convincingly.

“We have had trouble putting the ball in the back of the net for some reason.

“I was quite pleased with the way that it was going because I just said to them (at half-time) it was just in that final third.  We weren’t good enough in that final third, the final ball just wasn’t there.

“I think we should’ve been leading at half-time but it wasn’t the end of the world because I knew we would get chances in the second half.

“I didn’t know we were going to come out like that to be fair.  I thought we totally dominated the second half.”

Newhaven created the first opening, 205 seconds into the second half when Crowborough centre-half Tom Boddy and Grant switched off following a long ball into their penalty area by Rogers.

Robinson nipped in between the two Crowborough players but lacked composure inside the box and hit his left-footed shot over the crossbar from 15-yards.

“It was Lee Robinson, whose a very good striker. I think he’ll say he’s getting on a little bit now but he’s always a danger, always a theat. He scored the goal. He’s had one chance, he’ll put it away if he’s not marked. It was sort of a half-chance,” added Muggeridge.

Killick swapped flanks and was released down the left but his shot was charged down and visiting goalkeeper Buss did well to stretch high to his left to prevent the ball looping into the top far corner just 43 seconds later.

Crowborough Athletic deserved their lead when it arrived following their fourth corner, with seven minutes and 34 seconds on the clock.

Goldsmith swung the corner in from the right and Keith headed the ball out and back to Goldsmith, who cut inside his man to float a cross towards the back post where an unmarked Puffette buried his header into the top near corner from inside the six-yard box.

“Will’s obviously come in for the injured Harrison Mayhew (he’s back now, he’s tweaked his knee) a few weeks back and Will’s done really well,” said Muggeridge.

“He could’ve been on the end of another clean-sheet but maybe it was his man, who headed it in.

“Will’s been threatening to do that. He’s been heading it over, heading it wide and then suddenly he get a good header, which really should’ve won the game.”

Newhaven should have levelled in the 56th minute when Puffette was penalised for a foul on Robinson just outside the corner of the penalty area.

Edwards floated in the resulting free-kick towards the edge of the six-yard box where Puffette lost Rogers, who sent his free header over the crossbar.

It seems strange that Puffette was awarded the man-of-the-match award by the home club, yet all of his mistakes led to Newhaven chances and/or their equaliser.

Muggeridge said: “That’s a bit disappointing. It was a free-header so obviously it makes me feel a little bit better that they’ve had another couple of chances, might’ve had scored but we can’t give quality players free-headers and we got away with it.”

Crowborough Athletic’s right-back Jack Mayhew often linked up well with Vowles and the pair linked up well on the hour-mark before Vowles cut inside Rogers to put in a cross, which resulted in Forster cutting across his marker and hooking his shot just past the near-post from a tight-angle on the edge of the six-yard box.

Newhaven produced a well-worked move to grab an equaliser, timed at 19 minutes and 49 seconds, where Puffette made a costly mistake inside his penalty area that was buried by Robinson.

Ramsis played the ball out to Edwards on the left and he put in a cross towards the unmarked Robinson, who left Grant rooted to the spot with a free-header that crashed into the roof of the net from 12-yards.

“Unfortunately, Will’s scored and he’s given a guy a free header, a quality player but he’s always going to finish that,” admitted Muggeridge.

“Lee Robinson’s been brilliant for all of the years that he’s been playing for Newhaven. I’ve got a lot of respect for him for staying at Newhaven because he could’ve gone higher and he’s always stuck by Newhaven and he’s a nice bloke as well.

“I didn’t want him to score, obviously, but it’s disappointing, a free header when we’ve just gone in the lead.”

Crowborough Athletic swiftly went up the other end and missed another glorious chance to score.

Just 40 seconds after conceding, Murrain played in Forster in behind and as goalkeeper Buss came off his line, the attacking midfielder stabbed his shot past the foot of the right-hand post.

Muggeridge had this feeling that Newhaven would go up the other end and snatch the victory.

Edwards broke down the middle of the pitch before playing the ball out to substitute right-wing-back Harry Reed, who cut inside but his shot was charged down by a pressing Goldsmith and Grant was untroubled as he bent down to pick up the ball as it was not heading towards the Crowborough goal.

There was ill-discipline coming from the Newhaven bench as referee Matthew Dyson showed yellow cards to Breach (86), goalkeeper coach Graham Row (86) and player-coach Ryan Walton (89) and returned to the away dug-out to show Breach a second yellow card and a red card in the 90th minute.

Profligate Crowborough Athletic missed two glorious chances to claim all three points, which would have been fully deserved going by their performance today.

Substitutes Stephen Smith (striker) and Lewis Unwin (right winger) linked up down the right before the ball was hit first time by central midfielder Hyland from within the D and the ball flashed agonisingly past the foot of the right-hand post (49:20).

“I thought it went in. We all thought it went in but it obviously hit the back of the fence and hit the back of the net,” added Muggeridge.

“It was a good strike to be fair. I mean you expect him to hit the target but I think it’s very, very disappointing.”

Sinclair then played the ball to substitute winger Aaron Hopkinson on the right who whipped in a quality delivery towards the near-post where Unwin sent his diving header over the crossbar from eight-yards.

“I thought he was going to be super-sub, another chance,” agonised the Crowborough manager.

Referee Dyson’s final whistle blew (54:12) and this was a case of two-points dropped for Crowborough Athletic, leaving Muggeridge a frustrated figure during the post-match press conference.

Fifth-place is the lowest that Crowborough Athletic have been all season and Muggeridge takes his side to 12th placed Pagham (10 wins, 11 draws and 15 defeats) next Saturday, a side that lost 2-1 at seventh-placed side Eastbourne United Association today.

Steyning Town Community (82 points) occupy the automatic promotion place, while the four play-off places are held by Newhaven (76 points), Eastbourne Town (76), Hassocks (75) and Crowborough Athletic (75), while Haywards Heath Town, who lost their Isthmian League South East Division status last season, waiting to pounce on 72 points.

“It’s frustrating for me because now we’ve got to make sure we win every game, make sure we win every game to keep in it and also we need to make sure that we get in the play-off’s now because teams around us won.

“We are one of the best teams in the league. I’m really proud of what I’ve got in there but it will be absolutely unbelievable if we don’t get into the play-offs, if we don’t get in the top five. We’ll see how it goes.

“We have to pick the lads up now. It is disappointing. They are winners and it’s very disappointing. I’m really proud of the players for what they’ve done but you don’t get points for playing well.

“We’ve still got four games left. We lost 1-0 at home to Pagham (on 25 November), we dominated and they had one shot on target and scored and we had the same thing. We missed chance-after-chance. I’ve got to find why we’re missing them because we coach them in training. Is it that they’re getting nervous? I don’t know.

“Pagham’s going to be a tough game.  The journey there for a start.

“Well, I said it will be a massive achievement if this club gets in the play-offs.  Four or five weeks ago I said we could win it (the league title).  I still think we can but we’ve got to win all of our games.

“We knew it was going to be difficult today. I thought we totally dominated the game and I think we should’ve won. It’s as simple as that!”

When asked what his side must show for their three away trips to Pagham, Crawley Down Gatwick (16 April), Midhurst & Easebourne (20 April) before finishing their league campaign at home to Shoreham on 27 April, the Crowborough manager replied: “We’ve got to show the character of the team now and win them all and see where it takes us because I think Steyning, it’s going to be hard for them not to win it now.

“They’re going to be difficult games, they are all difficult games.

“It is frustrating because I don’t really know now what’s going to happen because it’s not in our hands.  If we would’ve scored the second goal today it would’ve been in our hands again but it’s not in our hands now, so what will be, will be.

“I’m looking at winning all of the four games. If we don’t win the league, we need to get this momentum going again. We’ve got a squad to do it. It’s mentality now, after this game.

“It’s my job to get them up again. It’s very, very disappointing. I’m going to have sleepless nights about those misses but we’ve got to get on with it, I suppose.

“It’s all about getting in these play-offs now, that’s not being defeated, that’s being a realist.

“I think two wins is going to be enough because Newhaven have got Haywards Heath and they’ve also got Hassocks, so you work it out and they’ve got Steyning, who can go for the league (title) now.

“I think two wins minimum out of the four and hopefully two wins in the play-offs (to win promotion). It’s disappointing now because you’re talking to me now and I’m disappointed because a win it will still be in our hands, now it’s not and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Crowborough Athletic spent one season in the Isthmian League and finished bottom in season 2008-2009.

When asked whether the club would be ready to play in the eighth-tier next season – should they win promotion this season – Muggeridge replied: “We’re ready yes. I wouldn’t have said that the years before but the squad that I’ve got now, I think is good enough for the Isthmian League. Not good enough to win it but it’s good enough.

“I’m really confident that if we get up, we can sustain it more than we did (back in 2008-09 season).

Champions – Automatic Promotion
Play-Offs - Second v Fifth; Third v Fourth

1 Steyning Town Community – 82 Points

13 April – Away – Newhaven
27 April – Home – AFC Uckfield Town

2 Newhaven – 76 Points
9 April – Away – Haywards Heath Town
13 April – Home – Steyning Town Community
27 April – Away – Hassocks

3 Eastbourne Town – 76 Points
13 April – Home – Horsham YMCA
27 April – Away – Crawley Down Gatwick

4 Hassocks – 75 Points
13 April – Away – Saltdean United
27 April – Home – Newhaven

5 Crowborough Athletic – 75 Points
13 April – Away – Pagham
16 April  - Away – Crawley Down Gatwick
20 April – Away – Midhurst & Easebourne
27 April – Home – Shoreham

6 Haywards Heath Town – 72 Points
9 April – Home – Newhaven
13 April – Home – AFC Varndeanians
27 April – Away – Peacehaven & Telscombe

Crowborough Athletic: Martin Grant, Jack Mayhew, Marcus Goldsmith, John Sinclair, William Puffette, Tom Boddy, Leo Vowles (Lewis Unwin 90), Ollie Hyland, Lucas Murrain (Stephen Smith 72), Harry Forster (Tom Pearson 82), Harvey Killick (Aaron Hopkinson 75).
Sub: Rory Salter

Goal: William Puffette 53

Booked: John Sinclair 45, William Puffette 70, Stephen Smith 76

Newhaven: Jake Buss, John Lucero (Harry Reed 68), Callum Edwards, Robbie Keith, Jacob Thompson, Bailie Rogers, Demas Ramsis, Ryan Blunt, Lee Robinson, Alfie Rogers, Robert Malila.
Subs: Billy Barker, Dexter Lambert, Reece Edwards, Ryan Walton

Goal: Lee Robinson 65

Booked: Bailie Rogers 9, Sean Breach 86 (joint-manager), Graham Roe 86 (goalkeeper coach), Ryan Walton 89 (player-coach)

Sent Off: Sean Breach 90 (joint-manager)

Attendance: 487
Referee:  Mr Matthew Dyson
Assistants: Mr Nathan George & Mr Ade Willougby
Referee Coach:  Mr Ian Bentley