Deal Town 4-1 Sittingbourne - I've got to take ultimate responsibility for the result - I felt embarrassed, admits Sittingbourne boss Darren Blackburn

Saturday 12th September 2020
Deal Town 4 – 1 Sittingbourne
Location The Charles Sports Ground, St Leonards Road, Deal, Kent CT14 9AU
Kickoff 12/09/2020 15:00

The Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round
Saturday 12 September 2020
Stephen McCartney reports from The Charles Sports Ground

SITTINGBOURNE manager Darren Blackburn says he felt embarrassed with his side’s performance and insisted it will not be repeated when their Isthmian League South East Division campaign gets underway next weekend.

This was Deal Town’s fourth outing of the season. Derek Hares’ side thrashed Combined Counties League Premier Division side Knaphill 4-0 in The FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round on the first day of September and opened their Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division campaign with a 2-0 home defeat to Beckenham Town but they bounced back with a comfortable 2-0 win at K Sports last Monday and put in an impressive performance to book their place in the First Qualifying Round of The FA Cup for first time since 2015.

Deal Town caught Sittingbourne cold and took only 70 seconds to take the lead through Macauley Murray’s penalty, before they doubled their lead inside 21 minutes through Ben Chapman’s clinical finish.

Left-winger Jack Paxman capped off an excellent first-half performance by adding a third goal before Deal Town notched their fourth goal just before the hour-mark through a header from centre-half Kane Smith.

Sittingbourne scored a scant late consolation through striker Kane Rowland but too many of their players’ failed to turn up for their first outing of the season, their first since March.

Including last season, Sittingbourne have now extended their winless run to 12 games and they have now lost their last 10 games.

Reflecting on his first game in charge, Blackburn said: “We just never got going. We conceded a penalty in the first minute. Look, these things happen in football but you’re looking for a reaction from your players and I’m looking around at an experienced squad and wondering where that was going to come from – it just never did.

“Before you know it, you get caught out again, same manner because you haven’t learnt from the first one and I couldn’t believe what I saw in my eyes when you get done three times by the same sort of move.

“I questioned them at half-time. The preparation was done. We went to watch them (at K Sports) on Monday night and we highlighted the right-winger (Howard) and we said he was quick. 

“I prepared the tactics to them this morning. I spent three or four hours doing that and the lads have all gone through it all and were told how to play, how to deal with it but we just haven’t done it.

“There was so much that went wrong. We had a real physical battle against a Harlow Town team on Tuesday (winning 3-0), who played very similar to Deal and it was a great prep for us today. I thought it was really good and to a man we stepped up and we won each individual battle.

“They came here for a battle and they got one but today we just didn’t get going, didn’t get to the races. We didn’t win any individual battles, didn’t react to things quickly enough, lacked leadership on the pitch.

“I’m not just blaming the captain (Walters-Wright), I’m talking about all over the pitch. We’ve got enough experience out there to work that out and deal with it. It shouldn’t have to come from me on the side.

“The trouble is you can’t go one, two, or three-nil down against any team, let alone a Deal side that are well-organised, well-drilled.  They only change two or three players every season and they trust each other and they know what they’re doing.

“They’re a good cup side at the end of the day and I know exactly what we were going to get.  The only trouble is it’s difficult to put things from my mind into the players’ minds and I can only tell them and trust me we told them! I even sent them a message with everything on as well so it was fresh in their minds when they went to bed last night.  There might be some running (at training) on Tuesday night.”

Deal Town coach Steve King said: “Delighted! I thought we played really well. I thought first half we were outstanding. I thought we deserved it over the 90 minutes.

“We worked hard on the game, we knew how Sittingbourne were going to play, we done our jobs well, took our chances when we created them in the first half and we soaked up a little bit of pressure in the second half.  They were going to throw everything at it so we were quite comfortable with that.

“I’m really delighted, delighted for the boys, delighted for the club. It’s been a great day.

“You saw 100% effort. I thought we were lively all over the pitch. I thought we looked fit and they stuck to what we asked them to do. They stuck to the plan and put in an all-round performance, so really good.”

Referee Jack Fagg pointed to the spot just 41 seconds into the game to award Deal Town a penalty after striker Ben Cardwell raced down the right and cut into the box and was sent crashing down to the ground by Cory Walters-Wright’s tackle.

Murray stroked his right-footed penalty into the left-hand corner, despite Sittingbourne keeper Jordan-John Perrin diving the same way.

“It’s nice, isn’t it, when you start well,” said King.

“We knew, we thought we could get to their two centre-halves on the floor. They’re both decent in the air.

“We played Ben Cardwell upfront today, rather than Connor Coyne because he’s got that bit of power, that bit of pace. But we thought we’d put him through the middle today and it paid off early doors. Once he got one-v-one with him and they didn’t get any cover, the defender is in trouble and a good penalty from Macca, so pleased with that.”

Blackburn added: “That’s not what you’re expecting when you come away from home, you try to keep things tight.  We’ve been difficult to score against, no-ones really pulled us apart in pre-season, even when we went away to Chatham we defended for 95% of the time and we were resolute.

“Today, maybe a few of the lads weren’t quite at the races. We had two or three lads who were caught in an incident up at north Kent and got here later but they were still in time for the warm-up. They got 90% of the full warm-up in so no excuses really.

“It’s just frustrating. They were told about the pace of a couple of players and we conceded that early so it was difficult to come back from.”

Sittingbourne just couldn’t live with their opponents during the first half and the home side created another opening after just 180 seconds.

Paxman’s first of five long throws into the Sittingbourne box was flicked on at the near post and Chapman sent his header over from within the six-yard box.

“He should’ve scored really. I thought Ben gets in great areas. He gets us the second goal. He was outstanding for us. It would’ve been nice if he got two,” added King.

Deal Town were winning their individual battles all over the pitch – a vital ingredient for an upset in The FA Cup – and holding midfielder Billy Munday, 21, put in a dominant performance to protect his back four and set off a number of attacks.

King said: “Bill was outstanding! The boys will tell you I’m on at him all of the time because for me he’s got the lot! He’s good in the air, he covers the ground, he’s good on the ball. Last season he probably hasn’t done it as consistently but he’s started really well this season. I thought he was the real unsung hero today. I think you’re spot on to pick him out. I thought he was very good in there.”

Sittingbourne’s left-winger Ryan Palmer endured a disappointing return to the club and was kept quiet by a good piece of defending from Deal’s right-back Liam Hark.

Palmer stroked a right-footed free-kick towards goal from 35-yards, which bounced the once and was gobbled up by Deal’s goalkeeper James Tonkin.

When asked about Palmer’s non-appearance, Blackburn replied: “Palms was really quiet, we said that actually and on reflection I’m struggling to sort of work out that performance because he hasn’t been like that in pre-season.

“He’s worked hard in pre-season, he’s a fit lad but he’ll want to put that right. He is his own worst critic, I know that speaking to the lad and getting to know him, so he’ll put that right, I’m sure and they’ll be plenty more positive performances from him, I’m sure.”

King said: “We know both the wide players, Ryan Palmer and Enoch, sorry Eggy, they’re decent players. I thought Jack Penny and Liam Hark are both good defenders one-v-one. We doubled up when we had to and I thought we stopped their threats really.

“Sittingbourne are playing an old school, so to speak, 4-4-2, two front boys and two wingers and we had to deal with that but where we had the extra man in midfield that enabled us to get on top of the game, so we were pleased.”

Sittingbourne central midfielder Andy Drury, who was making his second debut for the club, cut the ball back to holding midfielder George Monger, who whipped in a first-time cross from the right. The ball was poorly cleared to Lex Allan, but the centre-half lashed his shot on the turn over the crossbar from 22-yards.

Deal Town keeper Tonkin was forced into making a fine diving save to thwart Sittingbourne in the 18th minute during a good spell.

Drury played the ball inside to Palmer, who from a central position whipped a 30-yard right-footed drive screaming towards the top right-hand corner, which forced Tonkin to dive to his left and use both of his hands to palm the ball behind for a corner.

King said: “I always say to the boys, ‘that’s his job isn’t it’. It’s a great save but we wouldn’t expect him to be beaten from 30-yards. He’s a good goalkeeper, he’s been excellent. I knew he fumbled one at the end but he done a really good job for us in the first 85 minutes, talked really well and his distribution was spot on and he made two or three good saves and that was one of them.”

Sittingbourne kept knocking on the door and Monger played the ball across the face of the penalty area to pick out an unmarked Johan Caney-Bryan, who dragged his shot across the keeper, who controlled the rolling ball with his feet.

Deal Town doubled their lead with 20 minutes and 49 seconds on the clock, courtesy of a clinical angled drive.

The impressive pacey right-winger Troy Howard threaded a low ball in from the right into a crowd of players and Chapman broke through this crowd to cut into the box before unleashing a right-footed angled drive across the diving keeper to find the bottom far corner from 16-yards.

“I think because we had the extra man in the middle of midfield we could get Macca Murray on to the ball and we were picking out real decent balls going forward,” explained King.

“Troy’s only 18 but it you get him one-v-one against anyone, no one likes defending against pace and we’ve got that on both flanks and I thought both of them were excellent.

“They were going to struggle to track Ben Chapman’s runs by having only two in there and he made a great third man run. Troy’s picked him out and it’s a great finish.  That’s not an easy finish to tuck it into the far corner. Ben’s such an important player for us and that was a great goal.”

Blackburn added: “Again, we just didn’t deal with what I told the lads’ to deal with.

“We know they get balls into the lad up top and they get runners off of him and we were just second to everything in the first half-an-hour to be honest with you.

“I think the second and third goals were the killer blows and then you know it’s going to be, at any level of football to come back from two or three-nil down is a difficult ask but there was no reaction, there wasn’t a reaction.”

Paxman terrorised Sittingbourne’s right-back Daniel Stubbs for the entire first-half and it was no surprise when Blackburn ended Stubbs’ torture by withdrawing him at half-time and his replacement, Salvyn Kisitu was a better option defensively as Deal were no longer a threat.

“Dan has come in and played a few games in the centre of midfield but played the last couple at right-back and looked really solid on Tuesday against Harlow but it was a tough shout today between him and Salvyn Kisitu at right-back,” explained Blackburn.

“Dan is good enough and experienced enough to deal with that. Again, just one of the players’ who wasn’t at the races. I’m sure Dan will go away, he’s a mature and experienced lad and he’ll go away and reflect on that and that’s why we made the change at half-time.”

Deal’s right-back Hark played the ball inside to Munday, whose first-time diagonal pass released Howard down the right and his cross was knocked down at the far post by Chapman and the shaky Sittingbourne defence could clear their lines.

Sittingbourne were desperately unlucky when Drury struck the base of the right-hand post just 73 seconds before falling three goals behind.

Stubbs played the ball inside to Monger, who played the ball forward to quiet winger Enoch Adjei.  He teed up Drury, who took a touch before stroking his left-footed drive from a central position 25-yards from goal which beat Tonkin but not the upright.

“It was a decent effort. If that goes in maybe it changes the sway of the game,” added Blackburn.

“I don’t know if we can be looking at things like that. The fundamentals just weren’t there today but if that does go in and puts things back on a more of an even keel and settles us down a little bit and then we can maybe start to play with a bit more confidence.”

Drury, 36, has returned to his home-town club having left Sittingbourne back in 2003 to play at the higher levels of non-league and in the Football League.

“We’re not about one player though. Andy’s a great signing. He brings another lump of experience to us that just adds to whatever we’ve got,” added Blackburn.

“The average age of our squad is 25-26 anyway without Andy so that was something we pushed up from last year.  I felt that was what was needed and that what makes today so disappointing, we’re not naïve, we’re not a team full of kids and yet we’ve almost gone out and played like it!”

King added: “I missed that one because I was coming down from the top of the stand. I heard the oooh’s so I can’t really comment.

“You need luck but I’m also an advocate that you earn luck in games and it always seem to go that way. We’ve had games in the past when we’ve said ‘we’ve been unlucky,’ but when you actually look back at your performance and think that’s probably a result of us not being very good so I think the way that we played in the first half we deserved our lead.”

Clinical Deal Town romped into a superb three-goal lead with 40 minutes and 41 seconds on the clock.

Left-back Jack Penny drilled a crossfield diagonal over to the right.  Howard was at least 10 yards behind Sittingbourne’s left-back Conard Lee, but he easily won the foot race down the flank and he put in a great low cross, which flashed across the face of goal and Paxman took a touch at the far post before burying his shot into the back of the net from six-yards.

King said: “It’s what we’ve asked them to do. Jack Penny, a great delivery. You may have heard me shout at Troy a couple of times. He tried to be a bit clever and tried to beat a man an extra time and tried to put balls to the edge of the box and I said to him ‘just put the ball into the danger area’, and he did it and Jack’s made a great run at the back post and it’s a great finish and you’re in dreamland at that point aren’t you – you’re thinking 3-0, unbelievable!”

Blackburn said: “Again, simple football really. It’s what we’ve just said about them in the dressing room.

“I can’t remember during the game when we really stretched them over the top when our wingers got in behind at all. We had the same options when we could’ve done that and we’ve got pace out wide. We’ve got good deliveries in the box but for some reason we were reluctant to do that today.

“We were almost looking for the perfect dissecting pass that wasn’t there so we turned away and played a little ball inside or we lost possession and I wanted us to put it in there and we didn’t do that at all today.”

Both King and Blackburn were asked their thoughts at the break.

King admitted: “It’s one of the hardest team-talks you can do because when you’re doing everything pretty much right you don’t want half-time.  We knew we were going to get a reaction from Sittingbourne. They weren’t just going to come out and roll over so it was just trying to manage that first 15 minutes of the second half and not give a goal away.”

Cardwell and Smith were both withdrawn through injury and Toby Greenfield later came off the bench to partner Alfie Foster in the heart of Deal’s defence.

King said: “Ben Cardwell had to come off at half-time with a little bit of a knock, a little niggle on his knee and that hurt us. That was a little bit of a precaution because he’s such an important player for us.

“Kane Smith just opened up the very bottom stitch from the other day (at K Sports). If it was tighter at that point we probably would’ve tried to patch him up again but at that point it was 4-0 and we just thought it would be more sensible to get him off and try to look after that for Tuesday (at home to Sheppey United).”

Blackburn issued an apology to the Sittingbourne faithful.

“I am angry! I’ve let them know in there but it’s frustration that we didn’t react quicker to second balls. How many second balls did we win today? Not many! Not many at all.  That’s frustrating but we’ll put it right next week!

“Look, a lot of things were said at half-time that I can’t repeat. We tried to be positive. Yes, we were 3-0 down and I asked them to go out and vastly improve and win the second half, regardless of the result, go out and win the second half for the fans.

“The travelling paying fans have come here and spent their money, some have travelled down on trains and all sorts to come down here. It’s not cheap so we thank them for that.

“I never thought I’d be saying this at all this season, especially the first game of the season. I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed stood on the side-line. I was embarrassed for the fans but the players needed to change it. It needed to come from them.

“Tactically there was nothing wrong with how we were set-up. There was nothing wrong with the shape. It was just basic fundamental errors that we got wrong today. That won’t happen next week. I can guarantee you that!”

With Blackburn’s rousing half-time team-talk still ringing in his players’ ears, Sittingbourne started the second-half on the front foot.

They were to be denied by another fine save from Tonkin inside the opening nine minutes.

Lee whipped his left-footed free-kick towards the near corner from 25-yards, forcing Tonkin to dive to his left and use his left-arm to prevent a certain goal.

Blackburn said: “We had a couple of those, we did start well.  All we changed was the one player at half-time. Dan Stubbs was struggling a little bit so we put Salvyn Kisitu on. He’s a physical, pacey lad. He can deal with part of that threat as well and to be fair they didn’t pose the same threat down our flanks in the second half so again that’s something for me to reflect on with regards to selection going forward.

“I’ve got to reflect as well. It’s not just the lads’ fault. I’m not going to point the finger at them. I’ve got to take ultimate responsibility for the result.”

King said: “They’re going to have a spell aren’t they?” They’re a good side and they’re not going to go through 90 minutes without having a spell and I thought we weathered it well.  We limited them to a free-kick, a couple of other shots from around the edge of the box and it was another good save from Tonks.”

Bradley Baker, who replaced Chapman at the break, whipped in a cross from the left but Howard rose in front of Walters-Wright to loop his header across the keeper and past the far post.

Sittingbourne missed a glorious chance with nine minutes and 42 seconds on the clock, following a well-worked move.

Monger released Adjei down the right and he put in a low cross along the 18-yard line. The ball was dummied by Rowland but Caney-Bryan lashed his first-time drive over the crossbar with his right-boot.

Deal Town then created an opening when Paxman’s flick released Baker, who played the ball out to Howard, who put the ball in from the right for Munday to sweep his first time shot across the keeper and past the far post.

Deal Town scored their fourth goal of the game with 12 minutes and 58 seconds on the clock, following a set-piece.

Murray was some 35-yards out when he floated the ball towards the far post and centre-half Smith won his aerial battle against Walters-Wright and easily headed down and into the bottom right-hand corner from six-yards.

King said: “We’ve been working on that. We’ve been working on our set-pieces. We’ve had a lot in our first few games and haven’t scored from them so delighted to score from a free-kick. 

“Kane’s very good in the air, a great free-kick and a great header and it just makes you breathe a little bit easier when the fourth one goes in.”

Blackburn admitted: “Really disappointed in that one. I’m sure Cory will be disappointed in that as well. He will probably back himself in one-v-one battles defensively but I think that probably sums up our day in that moment – not winning an individual battle and that’s not blaming Cory in any way shape or form because I don’t think there was any one of our players around him for two or three yards.  Everything we did was in bits, bits and pieces, isolated one-v-one at the back against a lad who is good in the air.

“It’s such a shame we haven’t got a video of today’s game because I’m sure we can show the players’ a few things that we’re trying to explain in the dressing room so hopefully they do understand come next week.”

Rowland did well to nip in front of his marker before unleashing a right-footed volley screaming past the left-hand post from 30-yards.

Paxman’s fifth and final long throw was flicked on at the near post by Foster but Munday swept his first-time shot just past the foot of the near post.

Penny swept a deep free-kick into the Sittingbourne box which was knocked down back across goal by substitute target-man Connor Coyne but Foster couldn’t keep his shot on target as he hooked the ball past the near post from a tight angle.

Sittingbourne kept plugging away and Lee stroked his left-footed free-kick into Tonkin’s midriff from 25-yards and they pulled a goal back with 40 minutes and 13 seconds on the clock following a set-piece.

Drury floated in a free-kick into the Deal Town box from close to the centre-circle, Rowland flicked the ball on and the ball came out to substitute Vance Bola, who cracked a left-footed shot towards the right-hand corner of the goal, forcing Tonkin to dive to his left to make another smart save.

However, Rowland steered the rebound into the back of the net from a tight angle to score his first goal of the new campaign.

Blackburn said: “I think for once we did something basic. It was just a ball in, we scrapped for it and we played off each other.  We were sensible and we’ve moved into space and we got people in and round other people winning second balls and they were there.

“There was no magic formula to it.  In football if you’re playing as individuals you’re going to struggle.

“It was nice to finally see something go right for us. It gives the fans’ a goal to at least go home with them.”

King added: “A little bit sloppy but I’m not going to have a go at the boys.

“I think when you’re 4-0 up and you go into the last five minutes the job is done. Even the biggest pessimist in the world you’re not going to concede four goals in five minutes!

“I’m not going to say we switched off but fair play they got a goal. They worked hard all afternoon Sittingbourne, they deserved their goal. There’s no goal-difference in the cups so it is what it is.”

Despite keeping 10 men behind the ball during the later exchanges, the home side created one final chance when Tonkin’s big kick down the middle was flicked on by Coyne and fellow sub Baker hit a dipping left-footed drive screaming past the left-hand post from 30-yards.

Sittingbourne kick-off their league campaign with four Kent derbies, starting with an opening day home game against Whitstable Town next Saturday, before playing Cray Valley (away), Faversham Town (home) and Ashford United (home).

When asked what was missing from his team, Blackburn replied: “Leadership. Quality on the ball, positioning, movement of each other, work-rate off the ball. Our work-rate out of possession was nowhere near the level we set ourselves in our last two (pre-season) games, nowhere near it!

“I told them that in no uncertain terms after the game and that’s all over the pitch.  It was shocking. It was all over the place. When you play like that against anybody, especially against a team who are well-organised and drilled like Deal, you’re going to get beat.

“It doesn’t matter where you go, at this level, a team from the league below, bottom of our league, top or bottom of the league below. I think a lot of teams would’ve taken us apart today.”

Deal Town host Sheppey United on Tuesday night before having a free weekend and play their First Qualifying Round tie on Tuesday 22 September.

“We want anyone here because they have to come down here on a Tuesday night,” said King.

“We had to go to Knaphill (near Woking, Surrey) in the Extra Preliminary Round on a Tuesday and it’s a nightmare! We got there at half-past-seven so whoever we get I’d love anyone at home.

“We’re not going to win The FA Cup but part of you would like somebody at our level at home. The teams that are still left in because it will give you a good chance to get through to the Second Qualifying Round where the National League South boys come in but at the same token another local, another Kent derby would be nice.

“We don’t want to be going away to somewhere 150 miles away. We went to Knaphill and won 4-0. Whoever it is we’ll do the usual stuff, we’ll get ourselves prepped and we’ll go from there.”

Deal Town: James Tonkin, Liam Hark, Jack Penny, Billy Munday, Kane Smith (Connor Coyne 63), Alfie Foster, Jack Paxman, Macauley Murray (Toby Greenfield 61), Ben Cardwell (Brad Baker 46), Ben Chapman, Troy Howard.
Subs: Luke Eldridge, Harry Alexander, Keiron Jones, Lee Scott

Goals: Macauley Murray 2, Ben Chapman 21, Jack Paxman 41, Kane Smith 58

Booked: James Tonkin 24

Sittingbourne: Jordan-John Perrin, Daniel Stubbs (Salvyn Kisitu 46), Conrad Lee, George Monger (Freeman Rogers 81), Lex Allan, Cory Walters-Wright, Ryan Palmer, Andy Drury, Kane Rowland, Johan Caney-Bryan (Vance Bola 63), Enoch Adjei.
Subs: Sam Flisher, Harry Miller

Goal: Kane Rowland 86

Booked: Kane Rowland 24, Andy Drury 58, Conrad Lee 78, Ryan Palmer 90

Attendance: 287
Referee: Mr Jack Fagg
Assistants: Mr Ryan Chantrill-Smith & Mr Nicholas Derrane