Croydon 0-5 Phoenix Sports - You don't win anything in December, says Steve O'Boyle

Wednesday 17th December 2014

Southern Counties East Football League
Wednesday 17th December 2014
Stephen McCartney reports from Croydon Sports Arena

PHOENIX SPORTS’ manager Steve O’Boyle says team spirit has been key to the club’s impressive unbeaten start to the season.

The Barnehurst based outfit remain in second-place in the Southern Counties East Football League table with 39 points from 15 games and are now two points adrift of the leaders Erith & Belvedere with two games in hand.

Phoenix Sports have now won their last 12 games; are unbeaten in all 25 games this season (they lost to Deal Town in The FA Cup on penalties so that’s counted as a draw after extra time); and kept their sixteenth clean sheet of the season tonight, having only conceded six league goals this season.

However, the first 69 minutes of this game at the Croydon Sports Arena was an uninspiring affair, before Phoenix Sports scored a flattering five goals in a devastating final 20 minutes, when Croydon embarrassingly capitulated.

The Trams, who slipped to a place to fifteenth on 20 points from as many games following their 12 league defeat of the season, are now eight points clear of the sole relegation place.

Croydon didn’t recover from Harrison Carneige’s bundled effort from close range with 70 minutes on the clock, as they lacked character and desire to fight their way back into the game.

Croydon keeper Anthony Hall saved from Russell Bedford’s penalty, before the Phoenix Sports skipper scored from the rebound to kill the game off.

Louis Valencia made it three within a minute, before Elvis Defreitas directed a header into his own goal for the fourth, before Enoch Adjei came off the bench to slot home the fifth goal.

Phoenix Sports’ boss O’Boyle, 37, said: “I said to them defensively I thought we were pretty strong, they never bothered us at all but I just thought we lacked a little bit of quality in the final third in the first half.

“We needed someone in the final third to take the game by the scruff of the neck and it wasn’t happening. We were making bad decisions on the ball.

“I said to them at half-time, I think that they’re maybe trying to play the extra pass, just to keep it two touch and try to be a little bit more patient on the ball. It looked like we were playing in the 89
th minute mode really. We wanted to score with every attack so I told them that we could’ve taken a little bit more care on the ball in the final third and maybe take that better care when we had chances.”

Croydon joint-manager Kevin Rayner said he was pleased with his side’s application during the first 65 minutes when they looked likely to claim a point but he was bitterly disappointed with the way that they capitulated like a pack of cards so late on in the game.

“We competed well for 65 minutes or so. I think the scoreline flattered them a little bit but we were a bit unfortunate with two or three injuries that happened after we conceded and we got punished for it,” said the former Guildford City manager.

“We got overrun for ten minutes, a mad ten minutes and we lost all our shape.  The boys’ done well for 65-70 minutes but we had two chances just before they scored as well. If we got ourselves in front we might’ve gone on to get something from the game but a ten minutes spell and we threw it away.”

Had any of the 55 people inside the Croydon Sports Arena predicted that there would be five goals inside the final 20 minutes of the game, they would have been taken to the nearest funny farm!

Rayner agreed, saying, “That’s how tight it was but people will look at the scoreline and just think it’s an easy stroll for Phoenix but no I thought we competed with them.

“We set out to be quite solid – I think we were – we thought we could frustrate them. We had a couple of good chances at 0-0 and didn’t take them and I’m really disappointed to concede the second goal. We just lost our shape and that’s what happens.”

Phoenix sports enjoyed plenty of possession during a dull first half, but both sides clearly lacked quality in the final third.

The crowd had to wait until the 23
rd minute for the first opening, when Bedford rolled his deflected right-footed shot narrowly past the foot of the post from 25-yards and Alex Nelson’s inswinging corner from the right was palmed away at the near post by the Croydon keeper Anthony Hall.

Hall made a comfortable save following Bedford’s driven right-footed free-kick from 30-yards, before the vocal Croydon keeper shouted at his players’ in the wall for allowing the ball to sail towards him.

The best that Croydon could muster saw central defender Robert Curtis to pump the ball into the Phoenix penalty area but the ball bounced over winger Zachary Powell for a goal-kick.

However, the best chance to break the stalemate followed on the half-hour mark when a poor low clearance out of the Croydon defence by Curtis was intercepted by Carneige, who raced into the penalty area but he was denied from eight-yards by a smart near post save from Hall.

“I thought Harrison made his one himself, the run through on goal. Once he’s one-on-one I think he’s really got to put that away.

“The others were probably, they weren’t half chances, maybe a little bit more half chances but we’ve created three chances. I fancy us to nick a goal from one of them and go in at half-time 1-0 but it wasn’t the case.”

Rayner added: “He made a good save.  First half there was nothing between both sides, but we set out to frustrate them and we did well.  No one really had any clear cut chances.”

Hall made a comfortable low save to his left to hold onto Carneige’s right-footed drive from 30-yards.

The crowd were desperate for the second half to vastly improve, but they were not expecting to see five goals.

Phoenix Sports upped the tempo at the start of the second half with Gnahore setting up both Bedford and George King, who drilled speculative shots wide from around 35-yards inside the opening four minutes.

O’Boyle said: “I wasn’t happy with our forward play. I thought we were quite wasteful in possession, choosing the wrong options.  I also thought there wasn’t enough desire in the first half. They weren’t getting themselves hurt to get a goal. I just thought we was a little bit off the pace. We weren’t playing fantastically well but we were comfortable in defence. They weren’t hurting us.”

But Croydon’s first chance of the second half fell to striker Carlton Murray-Price who drilled his deflected right-footed shot past the post from 25-yards.

But The Trams should have broken the stalemate and snatched an unlikely victory with their best chance of the game after 63 minutes.

Tom Degiogio swung in a corner from the right towards the far post where their best player Adam Allen rose to plant his free header agonisingly over the crossbar from six-yards.

“It could’ve gone anywhere. It’s unfortunate. He’s sliced it over the bar but a couple of minutes later they’ve gone down and scored a really soft goal,” bemoaned Rayner.

O’Boyle admitted he was disappointed with his side’s defending.

He said: “That’s unlike us to be honest with you.  I think we’ve got boys back there who take responsibility and take their men and I wasn’t happy with that! A free header, six-yards out, the boy should’ve done better and scored really. It was a let off and if he did score it could’ve been a different game.”

The game so needed Croydon to open the scoring to give it a kick-start that it desperately needed.

Degiogio went close with a deflected shot which dinked narrowly past the foot of the right-hand post and he went over to take the resulting corner but Murray-Price couldn’t steer the ball over the line in a goalmouth scramble.

However, the first goal summed up the game – it was awful – and it appeared at that time that Phoenix Sports had done enough to scrape through with a single goal victory.

Bedford launched his sixth long throw into the box and Hall failed to collect at the near post and Carneige capped off a fine performance by poking the ball inside the bottom near corner from close range.

“It was about breaking the deadlock,” admitted O’Boyle.

“He tried his best to miss it, didn’t he? Yes, it was a scrappy goal. We scored a scrappy goal. They all count the same, so I’m not going….

“We’ve come away to Croydon on a Wednesday night. It’s not a nice place to come to on a Wednesday with traffic and whatever and it’s not the easiest place to come to either, but we’ve come here and won the game and that’s all we need to do really.”

Rayner admitted his side failed to recover from that set-back.

“We didn’t deal with the keeper’s clearance well enough. We should’ve headed it. They’ve got a throw-on and we conceded an absolutely poor goal to put them in front.

“Because the goal was so poor it’s made us lose our concentration and shape a little bit.  If we’d conceded a better type of goal, they’d probably have had accepted it a bit better and not have the same sort of reaction to it.”

Referee Peter Cruise pointed to the penalty spot after Curtis sent Carnegie tumbling to the ground, at the end of a slick passing move from the away side.

Hall dived to his right to make a great save to prevent Bedford scoring from the resulting penalty, but Croydon’s defence went missing again as Bedford slotted home the rebound to score his sixth goal of the season from midfield after 78 minutes.

O’Boyle said: “I’ll be totally honest with you, when we went 1-0, we opened them up.

“I thought it was quite a good save to be fair. Goalkeeper’s shouldn’t save penalties but it was a good save by the goalkeeper but it was an easy tap-in for Russell on the rebound.”

Rayner added: “Again, we’ve not defended that properly. He’s made a good save and he’s not been helped out. After that, it was pretty much it!”

When asked what went wrong, the Croydon manager added: “We just lost our shape and our concentration. A couple of lads are injured, Jamie Atkins and Tom Degiogio but that’s lost us a couple of defensive players. We brought on a couple of younger lads who are not defensive as those two that I had on and unfortunately we just got a mad ten minutes over run with no shape.”

The Trams were derailed when Phoenix Sports scored a third goal within 58 seconds.

Carneige was given the opportunity to drill in a precise low cross from the right flank to an unmarked Valencia, who stroked his low shot into the bottom far corner of the net from sixteen-yards to score a flattering third.

O’Boyle was delighted that the former Hollands & Blair winger scored his second goal of the season.

“Great finish from Louis. He needed that! He’s a good player. He just need a goal really. He hasn’t scored that many. He’s been in and out of the side. That goal will do him the world of good because we do think highly of him here.”

Rayner knew the game was up at this point.

“They’ve gone, haven’t they? There’s no shape and it’s really disappointing. At 1-0, 2-0, you’ve still got a chance, haven’t you?

“But 3-0 and people packing up, you haven’t.”
Croydon gave their opponents a helping hand with their fourth goal in the final eight minutes.

Bedford swung in a corner from the left towards the near post and defender Defreitas met the ball with a bullet header which sailed into the top far corner of his own net.

O’Boyle said: “Russell’s saying it was actually going in, but I’m not having it really!

“It was just a ball put in the box and the man just basically defending it badly.

“When it went to 4-0 today, I would’ve taken a clean sheet rather than getting one more.”

Rayner added: “Well, there you go. It’s not ideal but again it’s because we’re not concentrating properly. We let the game get away from us. We’re doing everything right from the corner, that’s what happens.”

And clinical Phoenix Sports wrapped up the scoring with three minutes remaining.

Gnahore cut into the penalty area and was allowed to reach the by-line before he cut the ball back for Adjei to slot his right-footed shot into the bottom corner from three-yards.

“It was a good goal. I’m glad he’s scored really. He’s a good player,” said O’Boyle.

“He played for the under 21’s last night. He’s given me a headache. He needs to get himself fitter because he’s been out for a little while, but once he gets back fully fit he does give me loads of options going forward.”

Rayner said: “Again, we’re nowhere near the shape that we should’ve been before the goal. We’re all over the place and as you said on twitter for 65-70 minutes you couldn’t see that as a 5-0 in any shape or form.

“After 80 minutes you could so there you go!”

Rayner insists he and Dickson Gill (who missed the game through sickness) will turn it around so the club avoid suffering relegation at the end of the season.

“I’m positive that we can build a good little squad and exciting. We’ve got some good players.

“I had five players out from Saturday and five in and two or three injured so natural to change seven or eight players by the game’s finished.

“It’s going to be difficult but we’ll build a good squad here and I’m sure we can enjoy it.

“I’m sure we will (avoid relegation). I’m not worried about that.”

But for Phoenix Sports, the club are going from strength-to-strength and O’Boyle is proud of their unbeaten record.

“It actually does go back to March apparently. March was the last time we got beat,” he said.

“There ain’t no secret. It’s just I think I’ve got a half decent side here, a good bunch of lads who like winning football matches.

“We don’t concede many goals and we ain’t too bad putting them in so it’s a good habit really.

“It’s a good record, but we’ve got to keep it up. It’s only December, there’s a long way to go.

“The good thing about us as well, I don’t think I’ve signed a player for a long time. It’s a squad that’s stayed together. I’ve not had too many in’s and out.

“We’ve got a very good team spirit and I think the secret behind it is they all get on and they’re all in it together.”

O’Boyle takes his side to Rochester on Saturday, before hosting Erith & Belvedere to Mayplace Road East on Saturday, 27 December – a real Christmas cracker between the top two sides.

When asked whether his side are favourites to claim their first title at this level,  O’Boyle replied: “No chance! No! I think the title favourites are the boys with the big money and we haven’t got big money here.  Greenwich, Erith & Belvedere have big players, big budget. We’re not in the same league money wise.

“We’re not title favourites. Like what I said to you before, we’re an underdog, but I love an underdog.

“It’s all going well but it can change in an instant.  I’ve said before, you don’t win anything in December. Good teams do it for the whole season and that’s what we’ve got to do.

“We’re in all competitions – apart from The FA Cup obviously – so come the New Year I’m looking forward to going into four competitions.”

Croydon: Anthony Hall, Robert Curtis, Jamie Atkins (Matteo Badchkam 71), Elvis Defreitas, Michael Craveiro, Edward Boateng, Zachary Powell, Adam Allen, Carlton Murray-Price, Sam Spencer (Lauris Chin 34), Tom Degiogio (Dan Jupe 80).
Sub: Leigh Wise

Phoenix Sports: Steve Phillips, Ryan Andrews, Danny Moore, Russell Bedford, Scott Whibley, Chris Hill, Harrison Carnegie (Enoch Adjei 83), Alex Nelson (Shaquille Richards 83), George King (James Brown 72), Yacine Gnahore, Louis Valencia.
Subs: Myles Keizer-Burrows, Richie Hamill

Goals: Harrison Carnegie 70, Russell Bedford 78, Louis Valencia 79, Elvis Defreitas 82 (own goal), Enoch Adjei 87

Booked: Russell Bedford 66

Attendance: 55
Referee: Mr Peter Cruise (Rochester)
Assistants: Mr Luke Challinger (Crayford) & Mr Zoltan Konkaly (Maidstone)