Erith & Belvedere 1-2 Fisher - It is vitally important we retain our Isthmian League status, says Erith & Belvedere boss Matt Longhurst

Wednesday 25th October 2023
Erith & Belvedere 1 – 2 Fisher
Location Park View Road, Welling, Kent DA16 1SY
Kickoff 25/10/2023 19:45

London Senior Cup (Sponsored by Veo) First Round
Wednesday 25 October 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from Park View Road

ERITH & BELVEDERE manager Matt Longhurst says people need to have a reality check of where the club is, speaking before his side were knocked out by Fisher in a low-key London Senior Cup tie at Park View Road.

A lot was expected of Erith & Belvedere in the Isthmian League South East Division this season following promotion, but the club are struggling in the bottom four with seven points from eight games.

Longhurst revealed tonight that the club are going back to the drawing board in terms of their aspirations this season.

Longhurst’s press conference actually took place before tonight’s First Round tie, as he left before the game to take first-team training at Foots Cray Rugby Club, leaving Jake Goodman (Academy director), Peter Springett (head of youth) and first-team coach Andy McPherson in charge.

Longhurst handed 14 first-team debuts in his 16 man-squad, leaving 31-year-old striker Marcus Elliott as the home side’s most experience player, making his 15th career appearance for the club tonight, his second appearance of the season.

One bright spark for Erith & Belvedere was the impressive performance of left-winger Khemani Aiyanyo, 17, who volleyed in from a set-piece to give Erith & Belvedere the lead.

Fisher went into this tie in fifth-place in the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division table with 23 points from 12 games.

The Fish made seven changes to the side that lost 3-1 at home to Wembley in The FA Vase First Round at the weekend – and with a much stronger squad on paper than Erith & Belvedere, they actually went into this game as favourites.

Fisher put in a vastly improved performance during the second half and right-winger Teddy Jones slotted in an equaliser, before striker Thomas Ngegba’s fifth goal of the season gave Fisher a Second Round trip to either Cray Wanderers or Tooting & Mitcham United.

“To be honest, we earmarked this game right the way through from the beginning because when we brought in the Pro Director Academy to run our Academy for us and we sat down with Peter Springett in pre-season, we earmarked this cup for the young players to play under the lights at Park View Road,” explained Longhurst.

“The fact that they’ve done really well in The FA Youth Cup and got through the qualifying rounds and are now in the First Round proper and also the under 23s are now in, it’s important we show that pathway into the first team, so it was a great opportunity for us and also with the way that the club wants to go with young players.”

Longhurst was speaking on the phone to his chairman Adrian Deane following his side’s goal-less draw at Phoenix Sports on 11 October and revealed what the club’s plans are going forward.

“After the Phoenix game, having sat down with the board, you’ll see there’s been a couple of changes to the first-team squad and we’re going a little bit younger,” revealed Longhurst.

“It’s a different model to what we probably started with but we’ve looked at the bigger picture in terms of fan bases, facilities, grondsharing etc and looked at where we need to be as a club over the next 18 months.

“We need to see how far away these young lads are. Their doing well at youth and under 23s, how far are they from playing in the first-team?”

Erith & Belvedere travel to Walton & Hersham in The FA Youth Cup First Round on Saturday 11 November, as the last surviving Kent non-league club left in the competition.

“The lads have done brilliantly in The FA Youth Cup. We want to reward the young players with nights like tonight,” added Longhurst.

“It’s a case of people need to have a reality check of where we are, which we have done as a club and myself, the management team, the staff and the players know and we’ve got some really good young players here.

“We’re looking at the longer-term rather than the short-term.  People are expecting us to fly through the divisions.  We’re not Chatham Town, we’re not Sheppey, we don’t have that fanbase. We don’t have a 3G pitch, it’s not our own ground, so to try to keep up with those bigger clubs is at the moment, not where we are but there’s lots of stuff in place and being built behind the scenes.

“Tonight’s another great starting point for us in being able to build a under 23 and under 18 team in the London Senior Cup and see where we’re at against a strong Fisher team.”

Reflecting on tonight’s game, Fisher boss Ajay Ashanike said: “I thought it was a hard game. It was cagey. We knew it was going to be cagey because they’re such a young side.

“First half, I think we played into their game when we started to chase it around and we didn’t show the level that we should’ve showed but second half they listen to the instructions and what we said was going to happen and as long as the game goes on and we keep doing the right things, the goal will come and they did come.”

Ashanike was asked how he felt when he saw the team-sheet before the game and realised that Erith & Belvedere were fielding a weakened squad.

“I was gutted, I was gutted, I was really gutted because I was looking for a massive challenge for us. I wanted to play their first team to match what we’re doing but it is what it is. We just have to play what’s in front of us but I think their youngsters done really well.

“I went to watch their first team the other day and that kid (Aiyanyo) moved the ball better than the first team.  I’ve got to admit, he was really incredible tonight, he was really good and there were really good players out there tonight.”

Goodman, meanwhile, said he was pleased with the performance of his young squad, who were experiencing first-team football for the first time.

“I thought it was excellent. I thought it was an excellent test for the 23s.  Obviously we had this plan three or four weeks in advance. That’s what we wanted to do," said Goodman.

“It’s a learning curve for the boys and a good experience.  I thought the attitude and application of the boys was fantastic and I think you can see by the end of it, a team like Fisher having their full-strength squad out having to do a bit of the old school dark arts (running the ball towards the corner flag and keeping it there for as long as possible), just to get over the line and get the win.

“I think our boys were a credit, until probably about 70 minutes and then I think they ran out of a bit of legs and a bit of energy, which is to be expected.  They haven’t played for a couple of weeks but I think they’ve done the club excellent.”

Erith & Belvedere’s 16-year-old debutant goalkeeper Kayden Abnett was called into action inside the opening eight minutes.

Fisher’s attacking midfielder Flavio Jumo released Jones charging down the right and the winger put in a cross, which was kicked away by Abnett.

“I thought he was outstanding. I think he’s got a bright future,” Goodman said of Abnett.

“I know a bit of his past. When I spoke to a friend of mine to ask about a goalkeeper, he gave me his number and he’s played with the 23s before.  I think he’s outstanding.  They want goalkeepers to be six foot players, he’s not that at the moment but he’s outstanding and I think he’s only going to go one way (in his career).

Fisher - five time winners of the London Senior Cup as Fisher Athletic - went close to taking the lead in the 12th minute.

Jones’ flicked pass went to Charles Yiadom-Konadu, who linked up well with Jumo and Tyron Mbuenimo in midfield before Ngega split open Erith & Belvedere centre-half Zac Dryden to play in Jones, who dragged his right-footed shot across the keeper and watched the ball trickle past the foot of the far post from eight-yards.

Ashanike said: “Teddy’s a player we need to build confidence on.  Teddy can be really good for us but we have to be more patient with him. He’s still a kid and he’s learning his trade in the first team and this is his first year in the first team and I think there’s more to come from Teddy.

“He should be putting chances like that away, if he wants to play in the first team.”

Aiyanyo impressed for Erith & Belvedere and his pace was a threat to Fisher right-back Luke Thomas for the entire first-half.

Aiyanyo was released before cutting inside and onto his right-foot before drilling a shot towards the bottom near corner, only for Fisher’s debutant goalkeeper Arthur Leblond to make a comfortable save.

Ashanike said of the former Haringey Borough and Hastings United stopper.

“I thought he done alright. Samuel Amedu’s injured and Justice Owusu was injured on Saturday.  Arthur’s been training with us for a few weeks now, so I thought today would be a good day to get his debut.  The boy has come in and done really well, so I’m really proud of him,” said Ashanike.

Jumo tried to play a short 10-yard pass to Thomas on the half-way line but the ball was intercepted by Aiyanyo, who drove forward at pace, before central midfielder Keval Sesay-Ince showed desire to win the ball back inside the final third and chipping a left-footed shot which was comfortably held by Leblond in his midriff.

Erith & Belvedere took the lead with 37 minutes and 40 seconds on the clock, following a set-piece.

Harry Smart floated a right-footed free-kick towards the back post and the impressive Aiyanyo ghosted into the six-yard box to volley his shot across the keeper to find the far corner.

Ashanike added: “We can’t be conceding goals like that! I went in there and I absolutely ripped them to bits because we can’t be conceding goals like that against a bunch of kids! We should be more mature than that and just clear that.  A basic ball in the box, we should be defending better than that!”

Longhurst revealed: “People like Khemani, who are standing out in the youth section, he’s the top goalscorer in The FA Youth Cup currently and he’s got a number of clubs watching him already. He’s in the first team and it was a tough test for him tonight to see where he’s at as well.”

Goodman said: “It was a good first half.  I think every time Khemani got the ball, he was looking a threat. He was always trying to make something happen.  He was always trying to get a shot off. I think he had four or five shots in the first half and he nearly scores in the second half as well.

“He’s fantastic and a great addition to the squad and to the club.”

Both camps were asked their thoughts at the break.

Goodman (a centre-half, who plays for Folkestone Invicta in the Isthmian League Premier Division) said: “I said to the boys in there, I was happy but I was actually unhappy at the same time because I know and I expect and I demand a bit more and I think the boys in there actually demanded a bit more of themselves.

“You have to take reflection of what type of game it is. It is a completely different set-up when you’re playing against a first-team and they showed a different side to themselves, which is the most pleasing thing for me.

“We expected a reaction (from Fisher). I wanted our boys to be a little bit braver with our defensive line. I think we made the gaps a little bit too big.

“If you see the two goals we’ve conceded, they were mistakes. They weren’t opened up at any point. I don’t think we looked over-run bar probably the last five minutes when we just left three up front and even left our two wing-backs high as well. I think that was the only time we looked exposed at any point. I never felt in any danger at any point and that’s a credit to the boys,”

Ashanike added: “I believe they feel like I was going to come in and just shout at them and raging but I wasn’t really.

“We just have to stick to the game plan and they have to listen. The key thing about football is listening skill. If it goes wrong with my tactics, then I hold my hands up and say ‘I messed up,’

“But if you go out there and you do exactly what you want to do out there, you will lose your place in the team and I think they took it on board.   They went out second half and they worked the game plan to a tee, just work the flanks and it showed and we got two goals by working the flanks.”

Erith & Belvedere created a decent chance to double their lead within six minutes into the second half.

Abnett’s right-footed free-kick was flicked on by Elliott and this released Aiyanyo, who reached the left by-line before drilling a left-footed cross towards the back post but substitute striker Stanley Mills’ stabbed the ball but the ball went towards the back of the penalty box rather than towards goal.

Fisher restored parity by equalising with nine minutes and 33 seconds on the clock.

Thomas threw the ball short to central midfielder Yiadom-Konadu, whose sublime through ball split open left-back Amadeus Addotey to put Jones through on goal, who heled his composure to slot his right-footed shot underneath the keeper and into the back of the net, much to the delight of the small band of Fisher fans behind the goal.

“Charles makes everything easy for everyone around him. He makes it so easy for them, it’s a great ball,” said Ashanike of the central midfielder.

“They backed off him and I think it was a mistake to back off and he’s just put the ball over the top. Teddy’s run was good. We told him to keep his width and come in late and he did that and we got a goal from it, a really good goal, well taken.”

Goodman added: “They’ve scored a goal. It’s something that we need to look at and it’s a learning experience.  Maybe Kayden can do better but it’s something that we need to look at.

“I’m not going to have any arguments. Our boys were a credit and you’ve got a full side out who are fifth in the SCEFL Prem and they’ve come off the pitch knowing they’ve had to be in a game.  They’ve actually had to step on and be at their best just to beat our under 23 side, which is a credit.”

Yiadom-Konadu cut inside both Emmanuel Kambala (holding midfielder) and Smart (central midfield) before playing in left-back Kaylan Burgess, but home goalkeeper Abnett came rushing out to make a vital block.

Fisher had to work hard to book their place in the next round, scoring their winning goal 20 minutes and 53 seconds into the second half.

Ngegba fed the ball into substitute winger Tobi Irefin, who split the two centre-halves by playing in Ngegba, who drove his right-footed drive across the keeper (who was going down to his right) and into the bottom of the net.

“Thomas has been scoring goals for us since he’s come in.  He’s brought his time and Eni(yelayefa Amgbaduba) was my number one striker but Thomas has got his chance a few weeks ago and that’s his fifth goal this season,” said Ashanike.

“He just needs love and he needs the right manager to manage him and I think he’s in the right club and I feel there’s a lot more goals in him.”

Goodman added: “I think it was another mistake by us. We ran out a little bit of steam. I think we just needed to have a little bit more game management at that point because we conceded just not too long before.

“These kids are going to make mistakes. It’s good because they’re going to learn because next time when it comes to it, they’ll know what to do next rime.  There will be information given to them to make sure they don’t do it again but they’ll learn from it, which is the most important thing.”

The goal seemed to lift Fisher’s confidence as they played on the front foot for the rest of the game.

Fisher – who dominated the corner count by 12-0 – called Abnett into making a comfortable save at the halfway point of the second half.

Dominant central midfielder Yiadom-Konadu played it short to Irefin, before the ball was worked into the middle to Jumo, who cracked a right-footed drive on the turn, which stung the keeper’s fingers with an effort from 16-yards.

“It’s really good to have Flav back.  Flav hasn’t played since the Stansfeld game. He’s come back tonight and he looks like he’s been playing every week. He’s very dominating and I love working with him and I’m glad he’s back at the club now,” said Ashanike.

Erith & Belvedere hit Fisher on the counter-attack in the final 13 minutes, with Aiyanyo exploding back into life and once in the final third, his cross was met by Fisher centre-half Namory Kane, who was relived to see his sliced clearance comfortably caught by his goalkeeper.

Fisher left-back Burgess had only just crossed the half-way line and noticed that Abnett was way off his line and tried to score with a speculative left-footed effort from 45-yards, which drifted off target and the Erith & Belvedere goalkeeper comfortably gathered the ball inside his penalty area without any concern.

“Since Conor Darwish’s been injured, Kaylam’s come in and he’s done himself justice as well – but Conor’s a massive miss for us,” said Ashanike, who signed the youngster from Chatham Town.

“I think Kaylam can do it and I think he will do it. He just needs to mature more and mature into the first team. He just needs to take that chance, like he did tonight again.

“Kaylam is a massive part of our plans. He’s the only left-back that we’ve got at the club so he’s massively part of our plan and he just needs to grow into men’s football very quick.

“As far as I know Conor has done his ACL and I think he’s out for the season, which is really gutting for the young man, so we’ve just got to move on from it but he knows we’re here when he needs us.”

Ashanike was impressed with centre-half Kevin Toualeu’s performance tonight and his long clearance was hooked towards goal by substitute left-winger Emmanuel Brown, which was comfortably gathered by Abnett.

“I thought Kevin at the back was really good tonight. Kevin was really outstanding.  He won his headers, won his personal battles.  You could say he was only playing against the 21’s but I think that 21s beats a lot of teams in our league.

“Kevin done himself really good tonight, especially with Joseph (Adewumni) out injured and Mark Chidi, so he’s really put himself in the window to say ‘I want to start in this team.”

Goodman heaped plenty of praise on Elliott, who was Erith & Belvedere’s captain for the night.

“I think he was excellent. He led the line really well. His attitude and application to the game was fantastic and he’s perfect for the youngsters to learn off.

“Players like Khemani, Tyller Davis-Whitlock and Stanley Mills, who are attacking players to learn off players like Marcus, which is good and perfect.  Marcus helped the boys on the pitch. That’s what you need in any team at any level, you need players on the pitch leading them and sort of being like managers and coaches on the pitch.”

Fisher had a chance to breath a lot easier just 92 seconds into stoppage time, following their tenth corner of the game.

Jones floated the ball in from the right towards the back post for towering target man (substitute) Eniyelayefa Amgbaduba to steer his header towards goal, only for Abnett to comfortably gather to his right.

Erith & Belvedere almost snatched a last-gasp leveller with the last kick of the game (52:36).

A big kick upfield from Abnett saw Fisher centre-back Toualeu penalised by referee James Keane for tripping substitute Adam Nsubuga some 35-yards from goal.

Smart floated the ball over the two-man wall and the ball dropped inside the Fisher box.  The ball was half-cleared to Mills, who worked the ball to substitute defender Pierce Ellis, who lacked composure and sent his right-footed shot over the crossbar from inside the box.

Goodman said: “I think he just needed a little bit of composure. He’s a natural defender. I think in an ideal world you’d like someone like Khemani, little Stanley, Marcus on that but unfortunately it went to Pierce. He’s had an attempt. Alright, he didn’t get the connection he liked but we’re still going after them. 

“We didn’t step off. We didn’t go off our game plan. We didn’t come of our philosophy of playing, which is a credit. They knew they had to be in a game and switched on.”

Longhurst would be foolish not to give more Isthmian League minutes to Aiyanyo and when asked which others will be knocking on Longhurst’s door, Goodman replied: “That will be a discussion for me and Matt to have but there will be a few who I think deserve the chance because they’ve earned it, not just because of one game, because of what they’ve done in three or four months because anyone can have a good game at one day, but it’s the work they’ve done for two or three months so far – but they’re not done!”

Ashanike added: “I thought they’d score from it.  I was prepared for a penalty shoot-out.  We got away with it.  We can’t be giving free-kicks away from the last kick of the game, so we have to be more mature than that. It doesn’t matter how you win, as long as you win and you’re into the next round.”

Fisher return to League action and welcome Lordswood to St Paul’s Stadium on Saturday (15:00)

Matt Barman’s side lost 1-0 away to Roffey in The FA Vase First Round on Tuesday night.

“They’re going to be gutted but they’re going to be a wounded animal,” warned the Fisher boss.

“Wounded animals are really hard to play against.  I’m expecting a good game, I’m expecting a tough game. I’m expecting the tackles to be flying in as normal but we have to ride it and do what we do best, especially when we’re at home as well. I believe we can beat anybody at home, when we’re at our best and I believe we’re going to be at our best on Saturday.”

When asked about their next opponents in the London Senior Cup, Ashanike replied: “Whoever they give us, we’ll take. Cray Wanderers are a good team.  Tooting & Mitcham are a good team as well.  I think they’re doing really well now as well, but it doesn’t matter who we play. We just want to play football. As long as the boys are up for it, they can beat anybody on our day.”

Longhurst, meanwhile, takes his side to third-placed side Herne Bay in the Isthmian League South East Division on Saturday.

The Deres have now extended their winless run to five games in all competitions.

“Really tough. We’re in tonight, training the first team and we’ve got a tough game,” said Longhurst.

“Steve Lovell was top of the league at Ramsgate and got the sack and he’s gone to Herne Bay this year and they’re at the top end of the table.  He’s a very experienced Football League manager but we know everything that we need to know about them and it’s a tough test.

“That’s where the club wants to be. We wanted to be going to these places and that’s what I’m talking about.  We’re playing a club that’s just come out of the Isthmian League Premier, they have got a fan base of 400 plus and are playing on a brand new 3G pitch.

“We’re playing in front of crowds of about 100 people, on a shared ground and we need to catch up with those clubs before we start trying to go way and beyond that.

“The club is being sensible and we’ve sat down as a club, myself and the board and we’ve looked at what we need to do and I think it’s a sensible approach and I think it’s a good approach to take moving forward.

“Making sure we retain that Isthmian League status over the next 12 months is vitally important. I listened to Steve O’Boyle’s interview at Phoenix Sports the other day, talking about retaining their status and making sure they stay at that level and I don’t see any reason why Erith & Belvedere can’t be thinking along the same lines.

“We don’t have a sugar daddy, as much as people might think we have.  There’s a heavy amount of sponsorship at the club and we’ve got to grow it massively with the things like the soccer schools and the Academy that I run and the youth section and that takes time to do.

“They did really well to get out of the SCEFL Premier and if you look at that league now it will be much harder to get out of that league this year with the likes of Faversham, Snodland, Lydd and Whitstable. There’s some big teams in there now and I think now it’s vitally important that you don’t end back in it.  You need to make sure you retain your Step Four status.”

Erith & Belvedere: Kayden Abnett, Bailey Smith (Pierce Ellis 75), Amadeus Addotey (Liam Skeiky 57), Emmanuel Kambala (Adam Nsunbuga 73), Zac Dryden, Jay Jackson (Simon Osomo 57), Tyller Davis-Whitlock (Stanley Mills 29), Harry Smart, Marcus Elliott, Keval Sesay-Ince, Khemani Aiyanyo.

Goal: Khemani Aiyanyo 38

Booked: Zac Dryden 35, Liam Skeiky 90

Fisher: Arthur Leblond, Luke Thomas, Kaylam Burgess, Tyron Mbuenimo, Namory Kane, Kevin Toualeu, Andres Felipe Losada Tobon (Tobi Irefin 25, Prince Imoru 82)), Charles Yiadom-Konadu (Brandy Makuendi 70), Thomas Ngegba (Eniyelayefa Amgbaduba 71), Flavio Jumo (Emmanuel Brown 71), Teddy Jones.

Goals: Teddy Jones 55, Thomas Ngegba 66

Attendance: 92
Referee: Mr James Keane
Assistants: Mr Jack Heath & Mr Felix Gralton