FC Elmstead 0-1 Greenways - These nights are really important. These will be the nights that get you places and unfortuantely we've got to learn to finish our dinner, says FC Elmstead boss Peter Nolan

Wednesday 08th February 2023
FC Elmstead 0 – 1 Greenways
Location Lower Road, Hextable, Kent BR8 7RZ
Kickoff 08/02/2023 19:45

Southern Counties East Football League First Division
Wednesday 8 February 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from Lower Road

GREENWAYS manager Rob Jeffery admits his side are punching above their weight after grabbing a place in the Southern Counties East Football League First Division play-off zone.

Impressive right-winger Tom Reardon notched his thirteenth-goal of the season with a sublime 35-yard half-volley to grab Greenways a vital victory inside the final four minutes at a frozen Lower Road in Hextable.

However, FC Elmstead squandered numerous chances on a night where their players literally froze in front of goal and missed a glorious chance of joining the play-off party.

Snodland Town climbed to the summit following their 1-0 home win over Forest Hill Park tonight and are top of the pile with 41 points from their 19 (out of 32) games.

Luke Wallond takes his side to Larkfield & New Hythe on Saturday, with Kris Browning’s side level on points with the same number of games played.

Lydd Town (37 points from 22 games), Rochester United (34 points from 20) and Greenways (34 points from 22 games) are within the play-off zone tonight.

Faversham Strike Force (33 points from 21), Bridon Ropes (32 points from 22) and FC Elmstead (31 points from 20) also have a lot to play for in the business end of the campaign.

“I don’t think it was a great performance from us,” admitted Jeffery, whose side lost back-to-back games to Faversham Strike Force (1-2) and Larkfield & New Hythe (0-2), before back-to-back wins over Lewisham Borough (2-1) and tonight.

“I think we rode our luck at times, first half in particular.  I thought they were the better team.

“Second half we grew into the game, I thought.  We changed a couple of bits at half-time (switching formation to 3-5-2) and look it’s an individual moment that has won us the game.  I said to the boys that Dan Stevens made a couple of important saves at the other end.

“When it’s tight, games like this, it is about big moments and for us we came out on top on those big moments today and that was the difference.

“I think the longer the game went on the more I felt we were coming into the game and the more confident I felt we could get something.”

FC Elmstead manager Peter Nolan added: “I mean it’s hard for me not to laugh, right. Not disrespecting the opposition at all, they deserved the win. They scored the goal, they win 1-0 tonight.

“We dominate through minute one to minute 94, whatever it was.  I said when they put a sub on I said, ‘you’ll win tonight.’ I could just feel it.  We didn’t look like we were going to score.  We could’ve played for another hour, we probably weren’t going to score tonight. We had chance after chance after chance after chance. We dominated.

“Anyone watching that game tonight knows we were the better side but it is what it is. They scored a goal, they deserved to win.”

Nolan sensed Greenways would be more clinical than his side when it really mattered and that’s how the game panned out.

“We all felt it. Everyone knew what was going to happen.  I think possession wise, we’re not lucky enough where we can look at stats and stuff like that but I think it’s fair to say we had 80%, maybe more.  We have the ball all night and we just don’t do enough with it. We’ve got to look at ourselves when it comes to that because we need to learn to do more with the ball. We should be punishing teams like that!”

FC Elmstead dominated large chunks of this game, creating their first chance of the game inside the opening nine minutes. 

Holding midfielder Connor Dobson played the ball into right-winger Joedon Gugas-Cowin, who laid the ball off to an unmarked Nile Waite, who drilled a right-footed shot towards goal from 12-yards, which was superbly held low down by Daniel Stevens.

“Dan’s a fantastic goalkeeper. He’s got us out of jail many times and I know that’s what he’s there to do but he was particularly good tonight,” added Jeffery.

Nolan added: “I’d like to tell you I remember it but honestly I don’t think I do and the reason is we just had so many chances all night long that I’m finding it hard to remember which chance was what.

“All I can say to you is that I think we could be 4-0 up in the first half and I don’t think that would’ve flattered us.

“I think we could’ve been seven or eight-nil up by the 80th minute – but look we got what we deserved, they won!”

Greenways offered very little during the first half with their first opening coming in the eleventh minute when Oscar Saxton’s floated free-kick from just beside the centre-circle being flicked harmlessly wide by the head of centre-half Andy Pierce from the edge of the penalty area.

Dominant FC Elmstead went close to taking the lead in the 28th minute when centre-half Lucky Nwosu played a long ball along the frozen pitch up to Callum Keeble (who plays behind 16-goal central striker Kenan Fitton), who rolled the ball out to right-winger Cugas-Cowin, who cut into the box and into the centre before pulling his left-footed drive flashing past the foot of the right post.

Greenways only real goalscoring opportunity arrived in the 29th minute.

Left-winger Rhys Macfoy and striker Lewis Oduku linked up in the final third before the ball was worked into the middle for central midfielder Adam Sheepwash, who was left in space and his right-footed drive from 25-yards took a deflection and was comfortably caught at head heigh by an untroubled Ryan McCourt.

“We didn’t have a lot first half. I thought we were poor first half and I told the boys that at half-time,” said Jeffery.

“I thought it was quite an erratic first half in general.  I thought it was quite poor.  We turned the ball over a lot really quickly, so we didn’t maintain possession in any period of time and the way that they play, they play direct and they play off of that and I thought they did that well in the first half.  I was glad to get us in at half-time at nil-nil, put it that way.”

Nolan added: “Ryan could’ve had a cup of tea and caught that. It didn’t go at him at any pace. It deflected off our defender and he caught it quite easily. I wouldn’t even class that as an effort on target if I’m honest with you.”

FC Elmstead kept knocking on the door and another chance went begging on the stroke of half-time.

Left-back Luke Alliband switched the play and pinged a diagonal over to Gugas-Cowin (who gave Greenways’ left-back Ross Penrose a torrid time) and he put in a quality delivery to the back post where the wasteful Waite took a touch before drilling a shot into the base of the side netting from a tight angle inside the six-yard box.

Nolan said: “I think first half we were very good. We moved the ball. We played one-two touch in the right areas. I think we played 75% of that half in their last third. 

“When you talk to them at half-time you say go and do the same again and surely you’re going to score?

“I don’t think anyone saw us coming away with nothing tonight but that’s what happened."

Freezing cold midweek games in winter are the games that win's league's and promotions come the warmer months and Nolan admits his side came up short when it really mattered.

He said: "These nights are really important. These will be the nights that get you places and unfortunately we've got to learn to finish our dinner."

Jeffery added: “We needed to be braver on the ball. We changed formation slightly at half-time to give us more through the middle.  I don’t think we were maintaining or holding the ball well enough and we were playing too high.    There were big gaps between our defence and our forward line so we wanted to overload midfield in the second half and I think we did that well.

“We got a lot more of the ball and that in turn let us get back into the game a bit more.”

FC Elmstead started the second half in more profligate fashion, going close again to break the deadlock inside four minutes.

Alliband swung in a quality right-footed corner from the left towards the near post which was flicked on by Fitton, only to watch the ball trickle along the goal-line and beyond the foot of the opposite post from a tight angle.

Greenways were more of a threat on the counter-attack during the second half and were to be denied the lead shortly afterwards.

Reardon had to do it all alone and went on a mazy 20-yard run before cracking a right-footed drive from 25-yards, which forced McCourt to push the ball over his crossbar.

“That was when we were starting to get a bit more of the ball.  The more the game developed, yes, they were still creating but I thought we were more of a threat on the break and we were picking up spaces that could hurt them and it was a good save,” added Jeffery.

Nolan said: “I have to say and credit to their 17 (Reardon), he’s clearly their best player. I thought he was good all night. I thought he was their dangerous player. He’s quite quick, played on the shoulder and I like him. There’s a reason why he’s up there in the goalscoring charts, he’s a handful.”

James Teodorescu dribbled into the Greenways penalty area and reached the by-line before cutting the ball back towards the penalty spot for Fitton, who drove a first time shot through several legs and Stevens used his legs to make a vital save, in an almost kick the ball away motion.

A frustrated Nolan said: “One of those nights! Kenan Fitton is top goalscorer at this club at the moment. He was top goalscorer in the league for a while. I think he’s still up there. It’s just not our night. You back him to score. He didn’t score it, what can I say?”

FC Elmstead goalkeeper McCourt was called into action on the hour-mark.

Reardon fed the ball along the deck up to substitute winger Farai Maganga on the counter-attack and he cut inside Nwosu outside the box before his right-footed deflected shot was charged down and McCourt dived to his left to smother the ball at the second attempt to prevent the ball squeezing inside the bottom far corner.

Nolan admitted: “They had to be (good on the counter-attack), right, because we had the ball in their half the whole game!”

Greenways centre-half Pierce was lucky to receive a yellow card from referee Steven Tunnicliffe for a last-man foul on FC Elmstead striker Kyle Beckford and Alliband’s resulting right-footed dipping free-kick from 35-yards was tipped over the bar by the outstanding Stevens with 20 minutes remaining.

The introduction of central midfielder James Austin off the bench after 63 minutes appeared to make Greenways tick and he played a sublime through ball from within the final third that gave the away side a glorious chance to snatch a 72nd minute lead.

Oduku’s first touch inside the penalty area was sublime but his finish wasn’t, lashing a left-footed shot from eight-yards against the crossbar with only McCourt to beat.

Jeffery said: “I thought the through ball was good but Lewis’ first touch was superb and it gave him that opportunity because it was drifting out to the left. He took it on the inside and that allowed him to get his shot away.  He’ll probably be disappointed that he didn’t work the keeper at least but I mean it’s hit the bar and a good chance, a good bit of football.”

Nolan added: “I knew at this point, I just knew it. I knew they were going to get a snap-shot or a chance and I just had a feeling it was going to happen – and it did.”

FC Elmstead kept knocking at the door, however, and kept losing their composure once again.

Substitute midfielder Alex Arif recycled the ball back into the Greenways penalty area (after Alliband’s corner was cleared) and Beckford’s shot on the turn was held by Stevens, holding the ball low to his right.

FC Elmstead missed a glorious chance to claim the victory with 39:18 on the clock, with two of their substitutes combining.

Max Ash hit a deep cross towards the far post and Jerome Walker’s controlled the ball, did a couple of step-overs inside the box but drove his shot straight at the alert Stevens, who sprinted off his line to narrow the angle and held the shot.

“These players you’re talking about right, Kenan Fitton, Kyle Beckford, Jerome Walker, Max Ash, Nile Waite. We mention all of these players, these are top, Step Six players. They really are good, good players and you can’t say anything apart from we should score a goal tonight, we really should! Sometimes it doesn’t go your way tonight and that was that night, we’re disappointed.”

Jeffery said: “I think the save near the end of the game was the key one for me. The guy went through one-on-one and that was a big save from Dan and that goes in we’re 1-0 down with however many minutes left and it could be a very, very different game so he made one in the first half and one in the second that were particularly good for me.”

It was inevitable that Greenways would complete a smash-and-grab raid, sealing the deal with 40 minutes and 15 seconds on the clock with a quality finish.

Austin played a long ball up to Reardon down the left and the ball sat up nicely for the winger to smack a right-footed half-volley towards goal from 35-yards out. 

The shot screamed over the back-peddling goalkeeper and into the roof of the net, in the centre of the goal and the management team jumped out of their technical area to celebrate a goal that would grace the top-flight, a goal scored by an amateur player in the tenth-tier.

“It’s a moment of class which has settled the game,” hailed Jeffery.

“I think it was a moment of class that has settled a pretty poor game, I would say. Not a lot more you can say about it. It sat up nicely for him and he just caught it well and I don’t think the keeper had a chance really. As soon as it was on target it was always going to go in. it was a fantastic strike.

“Thirteen goals is a fantastic return from him and he deserves it as well. He had a very, very good pre-season, which I think has helped and he’s been clinical. He’s been vital for us this season. We’ve had a few injuries and he’s been one of the constants at the top of that line, which has helped us massively.”

“As a manager, it’s a dream situation. You score a goal four minutes to go, backs against the wall, so it was a nice time to score.

“What did they give me? A lot to think about.  We’ve got a big squad, a lot of injuries at the moment, people coming back so I think what they did do, they dug in, although it wasn’t our best performance by any stretch.

“A lot of heart, a lot of desire and I actually thought defensively we were solid.  We were put under a lot of pressure today and I don’t think they created too many clear-cut chances.

“To play like that and get three points is important because there are going to be games and occasions when you don’t play well and to go away and pick up points when you do that is big, so it’s a massive win for us.”

Nolan added: “Fair play to him. If any of their players deserve to have a bit of joy tonight, it was certainly him because he’s their best player from what I can see by a mile.

“Look, they were delighted. I would’ve been delighted if I was them.   They can’t feel like they deserved much out of tonight but they’ve come away with three points and at the end of the day that’s what it’s about.”

Reflecting on Greeways being in the top five tonight, Jeffery replied: “We’re punching, we’re punching. We’re a team, we’re a one club team with no budget, no ambitions to have a budget and we’re very happy doing what we’re doing and we’re happy to be in and amongst it and we’ll give any team a game and on our day we’ll beat any team.

“Today was a good example in the way we’ve grown. One or two seasons ago we would’ve lost that game and today we didn’t. Same again on Saturday, we didn’t play particularly well but we came away with a 2-1 win so that’s shown a different side to us.

Nolan’s men welcome Lydd Town (Saturday) and Larkfield & New Hythe (Saturday 18 February) to Lower Road.

Nolan said: “Lydd have played two or three more games than everybody else so they’ll be delighted with the way the scoreline has gone tonight.

“We were down at their place a couple of weeks ago and actually quite a similar story. We battered them as well, we really did and we were the better side on the day and we were 1-0 up and they scored a late goal and we drew 1-1 and we dropped points there as well.

“We’re just not scoring at the moment when we’re on top and that’s something that needs to be addressed.

“We don’t have a training session between now and Saturday so we have to pick them up. They’ll be disappointed. We go into it full of confidence without a doubt.  We’ve just done that to Greenways tonight. I know we got zero points out of it.  We know what we did against Lydd. We trust our players, we’ve got some great players down here at the moment and we’re lucky to have them.”

Nolan hasn’t given up on grabbing a play-off place in their final 12 games.

“It now becomes an important game on Saturday. There’s no pressure, of course, you want to get into the play-off places and you want to do that but crikey there is a long way to go.

“I can really see a lot of sides still in it right up until the end. I don’t think that fourth play-off spot will be called until very, very late at the end of the season.  Both of these sides here tonight have got a chance.”

Meanwhile, Jeffery’s men return to Ladywell Arena on Saturday to play Darryl Queeley’s Forest Hill Park – a side that are in the bottom three with 20 points from as many games.  Lewisham Borough are beneath them on 18 points from 18 games, with Bermondsey Town rooted to the basement with six points from 22.

“We’ve got a double trip to Ladywell.  It’s not a nice place to go. It’s not a great pitch. It is what it is.  It’s going to be a tough game, a scrappy game and we’re going to need a lot of what we’ve shown in the last couple of games to get something,” added the Greenways gaffer.

FC Elmstead: Ryan McCourt, Lewis Alliston (Max Ash 82), Luke Alliband, Connor Dobson (Harry Sheridan 86), Lucky Nwosu, Jacob Skelly, Nile Waite, James Teodorescu, Kenan Fitton (Jerome Walker 67), Callum Keeble (Alex Arif 62), Joedon Gugas-Cowin (Kyle Beckford 62).

Booked: Jacob Skelly 88

Greenways: Daniel Stevens, Adam Cooper, Ross Penrose, Oscar Saxton, Andy Pierce, Matt Atkins, Rhys Macfoy (Farai Maganga 46), Adam Sheepwash (James Austin 63), Rhys Abioye (Jack Jeffery 83), Lewis Oduku, Tom Reardon.
Subs: Simon Walton, Marcel Brown

Goal: Tom Reardon 86

Booked: Oscar Saxton 62, Andy Pierce 69, Ross Penrose 77

Attendance: 32
Referee: Mr Steven Tunnicliffe
Assistants: Mr Adam Clayton & Mr Kenechukwu Aghasili