Erith & Belvedere 0-4 Sittingbourne - As long as we're in touching distance then we'll be confident that we can get out of relegation trouble, says Erith & Belvedere joint-manager Jamie Phipps

Sunday 11th February 2024
Erith & Belvedere 0 – 4 Sittingbourne
Location Park View Road, Welling, Kent DA16 1SY
Kickoff 11/02/2024 14:00

Isthmian League South East Division
Sunday 11 February 2024
Stephen McCartney reports from Park View Road

ERITH & BELVEDERE joint-manager Jamie Phipps says he is feeling really confident that he can get out of the Isthmian League South East Division relegation zone, while Sittingbourne showed their true title credentials and are coming for Ramsgate and Cray Valley in a now three horse title-race.

Ben Smith’s Ramsgate suffered a shock 2-0 home defeat to Merstham yesterday and Ryan Maxwell’s Sittingbourne closed the gap to just six points with a convincing first half performance at Park View Road to make it seven league wins from their last seven league outings.

Sittingbourne’s dominant start to the game saw them race into a three-goal lead inside the opening 22 minutes, with holding midfielder Luke Woodward, central midfielder Harry Hope and impressive striker Mitchell May scoring past Millwall loanee Dillon Addai, who has conceeded 14 goals in eight games, keeping one clean sheet.

Donvieve Jones – Sittingbourne’s leading goalscorer with 12 goals last season, tapped in his fifth goal of the season in second half stoppage time to leave Erith & Belvedere inside the relegation zone but level on points with Steve O’Boyle’s Phoenix Sports, who host basement side Beckenham Town in a relegation six-pointer that is being covered by this website on Wednesday night.

“We started very well, we started on the front foot and we got ourselves in front and we were very good for the first half,” said Sittingbourne assistant manager Che Stadhart, 47.

“We kept our foot down to the pedal and by half-time the game was done.  Our first half performance was very good, very professional would be the word I use.

“You always want to have a positive start, if you can, in every game.  We got on the front foot and we won a lot of duals all over the pitch and when you’re doing that it gives you the impetus to go forward, which we did and it meant all round our front players got a lot of service today.  They were out of breath because there was so many balls going forward and the amount of runs they were having to make but that’s what we want.  We want them to be positive and the team being on the front foot for the whole time.”

Since ex-Stansfeld pair Phipps and Billy Hamlin have arrived at Park View Road, Erith & Belvedere have picked up seven points from five games, including a 3-1 win at Hythe Town in midweek.

“We didn’t start the game, got out-fought in the middle of the pitch a little bit. We didn’t get close enough to their men and then we let three goals in eight minutes, effectively game over them with a mountain to climb against a really good side,” said Phipps.

“The first half performance wasn’t good enough but we’re still evolving as a group.  That’s only our sixth game and the response from the boys has been good so we’re certainly not going to criticise the team.  We’ve got young kids out there as well.

“We’ve just been beaten by a better side today.”

Sittingbourne started this game in dominant fashion – roared on by about 60 travelling fans – while Erith & Belvedere have now got an awful statistic of failing to score in 17 of their 35 games in all competitions this season, scoring only 15 league goals this season, which is relegation form.

A long throw from Sittingbourne right-wing-back Alex Bentley was cleared away and Hope played the ball back to Bentley, who whipped in a first time cross from the right towards striker Danny Parish, whose diving header from six-yards was heading towards the top right-hand corner, only for Addai to claw the ball out, high to his left, with eight minutes and 28 seconds on the clock.

“I mean, that’s one of a number of instances that you could have brought up in that first half,” admitted Stadhart.

“The keeper’s done well. He had a lot of things flashing across his box.  Give them credit, a couple of their boys, their number seven (Cameron Andrews) did very well in there, was very game but certain days you have a game where from the start it just clicks and I felt that today. It was one of those days.”

Phipps added: “Dillon’s been good. He was here before we arrived but he’s a good kid.  His kicking’s improved and he’s made some important saves in the last couple of games that has benefited us and gave us three points.”

Sittingbourne called Addai into making a diving save (12:43) when left-wing-back Ayman El-Mogharbel stroked a right-footed angled free-kick towards goal from 30-yards and the home side allowed the ball go in behind them and forced Addai to stretch low to his left to push the ball around for the fifth of 10 Sittingbourne corners.

“In fact, it wasn’t actually the best free-kick but I think one of the forwards made a run across it, which blinded the goalkeeper, which meant he had to tip it round, which is what we want,” said Stadhart.

“Ayman’s another one who came in at the start of the season, kind of unheralded but he’s been a very good player for us, consistently this year.”

Sittingbourne deservedly took the lead from the resulting corner, with 13 minutes and 11 seconds on the clock.

Hope floated the ball in from the right and giant centre-half Michael Turner easily flicked the ball on inside the box and the ball dropped for Woodward to sweep his left-footed shot into the bottom left-hand corner from within a crowd of players inside the six-yard box.

“That’s Luke’s first goal of the season. He keeps saying ‘I want to be in the box, I want to be in the box, I’ll score’, and he’s finally proved it to me now and we’re what two thirds through the season,” said Stadhart.

“What he does for us all over the rest of the pitch is fantastic so for him that’s really the icing on the cake for him today.”

Phipps admitted other teams will need a step ladder to reach Turner’s head at set-pieces.

“They’ve got some big boys there, so they were always going to be a threat from set-pieces.  We could’ve probably defended it better but once the big fella gets a little bit of a jump on you, you’re going to struggle to win it and it broke to them in the box and the geezer just swept it in.”

Erith & Belvedere’s back four lacked the quality to prevent whirlwind Sittingbourne doubling their lead with just 15 minutes and 35 seconds on the clock.

Hope and Parish both linked up well on the counter-attack inside the home side’s half before Parish’s left-footed rasping drive was beaten away by Addai at his near post.

The impressive El-Mogharbel kept the attack alive by feeding Hope inside the box, who placed his right-footed through a crowd of players and across the keeper to find the bottom far (left) hand corner from 12-yards.

“Really, really nice finish, a really calm, cultured finish. He had a few bodies around him and he seemed to pick out the bottom corner and roll it in there nicely,” said Stadhart, a striker who played for Gravesend & Northfleet, Margate and Welling United among others.

“A great flick from Ayman on the edge of the box, following in on the rebound to keep the ball alive before that.

“It was one of those days, it fell to one of our players who made the right choices.  They’ve made the right decisions today with the ball, which is fantastic.”

Phipps added: “Again, we could’ve defended it better and that’s just not the back four, that’s from the whole team.  We didn’t defend well as a team today, which we did really well (at Hythe) on Tuesday night.

“Sittingbourne’s front players were really good and strikers at this level can make a big, big difference.”

Sittingbourne who play with three centre-halves (Begasan Graham (left), Chis Arthur (centre) and Turner (right) slammed the door shut on the home side’s toothless attack -

Sittingbourne increased their lead with 21:02 on the clock.

Bentley hit a first-time 60-yard diagonal from the right over to El-Mogharbel, who cut inside before playing a reverse pass which released striker May in behind Billy Parkinson and the left-footed finish was emphatic, rifling past the keeper from 12-yards in a one-v-one situation, to score his 13th goal of the season.

“The passing into Ayman and Ayman drove at the defence and a great run and a great release at the right time to put Mitchell in and once Mitch gets in there, we know he’s going to score, he’s a very good finisher,” said Stadhart.

“The boy’s doing well. He’s still got lots to do and lots to learn but he’s coming on. He’s enjoying his football, which is the main thing.  As forwards, when you’re getting chances, it makes the game very enjoyable.

“He’s working very hard for the team as well.  You want service and he’s getting service at the moment and he's showing what he can do when he gets it.”

Phipps added: “A good little bit of football, a good run from the forward just in behind and then tucked it away well.  Again, it’s something we thought we could’ve done better with but the movement was really good.

“It must’ve been onside, it must’ve been fairly close I would’ve thought but he did look onside and once he’s through one-on-one you never fancied him to miss to be honest.”

At this stage Sittingbourne were on course of rattling a cricket score as Erith & Belvedere players looked completely out of their depth.

“What’s going through your mind is you’re going to get rolled over quite badly, so you’re thinking it can be six or seven and it undoes a lot of the good work that we’ve done with the group and the group have dome themselves since we’ve been here,” admitted Phipps.

“But we galvanised a little bit after that, nullified them a little bit and then did alright after that.

“We were glad to get in at half-time only three down, just so we could change a few things and get some ideas across on how we can do better in the second half.”

It should have been four in the 28th minute when Woodward and Bentley played a one-two on the right inside the Erith & Belvedere half.  Woodward then floated the ball into the box, the ball was flicked on by May before El-Mogharbel put it on a plate for Parish, who flicked his right-footed shot over the crossbar from the corner of the six-yard box at the near-post.

“I think he’s settled in really, really well with the group.  I mean we’ve got a really good group here and he’s just added to that,” Stadhart said of Parish, since his move from league rivals Ashford United.

“He’s added to the competition we’ve got in that forward line now.  You need competition all over the pitch and he’s brought that to our forward line now as well and I thought he had a really good game and although he didn’t get on the scoresheet himself, a lot of half-chances for him and his movement was very good.”

However, Erith & Belvedere battened down their hatches and produced a well-worked move in the 36th minute, which Sittingbourne keeper Bobby Mason made a comfortable save.

Left-back Billy French played a 30-yard pass down the line to winger Henry Arnold, who cut inside before Maxx Manktelow played the ball along the deck to Cameron Andrews, who cut inside and passed to striker Matt Neary, whose right-footed shot from 15-yards in a central position was meat and drink for the keeper.

“We can play, we have the capability of being able to play and open teams up but when you’re at the wrong end of the table, it’s more difficult to do because players are fearful of making a mistake that costs you too dearly, so you kind of tend to be a little bit more direct,” said Phipps.

“We have the capability and the players to be able to (create goalscoring chances) and we’ve done that in the previous games that we’ve been here. We just have to learn the balance between wanting to play and when to be a little bit more direct, which I thought they did really well today.”

Graham charged down the left (without Erith & Belvedere right-back Ernie Cheesman attempting to tackle him) before he whipped in a cross from within the left channel for Parish to steer his free header straight at Addai from eight-yards.

It was men-against-boys, especially for the first 25 minutes, as Sittingbourne dominated and went into the interval with a commanding three-goal lead.

Phipps said: “Just to get close to them, be a bit more physical. I don’t think we were physical enough around them in the first half – and to go and try to win the second half.

“At half-time the game’s done, so there was no point sitting back and thinking about damage limitation.

“They’re not our battles when we’re playing against teams like Sittingbourne and teams in and around the play-offs, so we just wanted to get a little bit more physical, get closer to them all around the pitch and try to win the second half.”

Stadhart added: “When you get into that sort of situation it’s ‘you want more of the same’, you don’t want to take off the gas against anybody.

“We saw they had a great result against Hythe in the week so who knows.  They scored three at Hythe in the week. If we didn’t come out and repeat our performance in the second half, who knows what could happen.  If they get the first goal, they can get themselves back into the game, so our thought was to make sure that didn’t happen, which we did very well.

“A clean-sheet was fantastic and I think we controlled the latter part of the second half.”

Sittingbourne started the second half well and created their first opening exactly six minutes into the half.

El-Mogharbel released Parish down the right and the striker reached the by-line before floating in a cross for May to plant his towering header over the crossbar from eight-yards.

Erith & Belvedere central midfielder Manktelow was well below the level required to compete in the ninth-tier as Hope and Woodward dominated the key engine room in the middle of the park.  Sittingbourne players are physically strong and Erith & Belvedere just didn’t stand a chance to produce a shock result.

Woodward picked the ball up in the centre circle and was allowed to roam into the penalty area before stroking a left-footed shot towards goal, which was comfortably saved by Addai, smothering the ball low to his left.

Rob Strachan – who is the only player of the 81 players that started the season under Matt Longhurst – opened the gate as he failed to cut out Parish’s diagonal pass that put May through on goal but he shot straight at the busy Addai from 10 yards out in the 56th minute.

“We carried on the momentum from the first half – that’s what we always wanted to do,” added Stadhart.

“We managed to do that and it’s given us the last 20 minutes or so, last half-an-hour, not an easy game but you can kind of tell the game was kind of dead by then and allowed us to control the game for the last half.”

Phipps added: “That’s the difference between the teams at the top and the teams in and around the bottom of the division. Their tails are up, they’re six unbeaten and they’re obviously a very good side but we just wanted to come out of the second half with something today, come out with something positive.”

Erith & Belvedere created a couple of goalscoring chances inside the final 13 minutes.

Obed Yeboah came off the bench on the hour-mark to join Macey Malyon in attack, as Neary was hooked and the big targetman proved more of a threat.

Yeboah played the ball inside to Dan Parkinson in the middle, who rolled the ball to an unmarked Arnold, who drilled his left-footed shot past the near post from 18-yards.

“I thought Obed did really well when he came on. He was a lot more physical up front, gave their three centre-halves something to think about,” added Phipps.

“We got in behind them a few times in the second half and Henry cut across it a little bit but it was a chance but only a half-chance.”

Bentley swept the ball out to El-Mogharbel, who cut in from the wing before drilling a right-footed angled drive from 30-yards, which was held by Addai, low to his left.

Erith & Belvedere’s third goalscoring chance arrived (44:49) when an unmarked Manktelow floated the ball into the box, Sittingbourne goalkeeper Mason flapped at the ball and failed to grab it and the ball fell to Arnold at the far post and he leathered a left-footed shot towards the bottom near corner, only for Mason to pull off a fine save by holding the ball to maintain Sittingbourne’s fourteenth clean-sheet of the season, which looks like to being their best ever campaign in the Isthmian League.

Phipps said: “He got down well, held it well as well with that much power on it.  He (Mason) would’ve been disappointed if he had got beat at his near post. It was half a chance, which I think is all we created during the game, half-chances.”

Stadhart added: “That’s what your keeper is here to do, if you can. He didn’t have much to do.  He made one half-save in the first half literally and then he made one, he came for one in the second half, made a decent save in the second half. Other than that, I don’t really remember him having much to do at all, which is a credit to the rest of the team around him.”

Sittingbourne’s fourth goal was definitely not flattering when it arrived with 46:15 on the clock, as both Erith & Belvedere full-backs allowed players to get in behind them at ease.

Theobalds’ diagonal pass was played in behind substitute right-back Matt Holness and Parish easily reached the by-line before cutting the ball along towards the far post where Jones ghosted in (behind French) to place his first time shot into the bottom far corner.

“Even that real bit of quality (from Dan Parish) with an assist for Donners’ goal at the end to roll it across to him to tap it in – he couldn’t miss,” said Stadhart, who was reminded that Jones was Sittingbourne’s leading goalscorer with 12 goals last season.

“Not as many (goals) this year, so far, which we keep reminding him off.  He’s doing well, he didn’t start today but he came on and got his goal, so I’m pleased for him as well.”

Phipps revealed: “Billy French, our left-back, was struggling. He took a kick around 20 minutes from the end and we already made our three substitutions.  We were telling him to come off but that shows a little bit of character that Billy wanted to stay on and see the game through.  Billy was just struggling at the end and the kid just tapped it in at the far post.”

Stadhart, meanwhile, was full of praise for the vocal support from the travelling fans.

“It wasn’t necessarily individuals that stood out, I thought it was a real team effort all the way round and I was pleased that all of the units worked rally well together in their teams.  The back-line together, the midfield, the midfield was very close together and the front two played off each other very well as well.

“I say it every time, the support that we bring, especially for our numbers, are fantastic!  Everywhere they go, they out-sing everybody.  They make so much noise, it’s great but also the boys really do appreciate the backing. Every time we look, however many are in there, the percentage of support is always fantastic and they are always so behind the team.”

Ramsgate went down to only their third league defeat yesterday and remain at the summit with 60 points from 25 games.

Steve McKimm’s Cray Valley remain unbeaten in 24 league games and have picked up 58 points, while Sittingbourne have only lost three league games and have now picked up 54 points from 25 games and have officially joined the title race today.

Lancing are in fourth-place with 47 points from 26 games, while Steve Lovell’s Herne Bay are in the final play-off berth with 43 points from 25 games.

Ernie Batten’s Sheppey United (40 points from 25 games) and Chichester City (38 points from 26 games) make up the top seven.

The bottom seven of this eight-tier league consist of Broadbridge Heath (25 points from 25 games), Littlehampton Town (25 points from 24 games),  East Grinstead Town (24 points from 24 games), Merstham (23 points from 25 games) and Phoenix Sports (19 points from 25 games).

Erith & Belvedere (19 points from 26 games) and Beckenham Town (13 points from 23 games) are still within the relegation zone.

Erith & Belvedere make the trip to ninth-placed Sevenoaks Town on Saturday and when asked what he knows about Mark Dacey’s side, Phipps admitted: “I don’t have any (thoughts) because I don’t know enough about any of the other teams in the division.

“It’s not like when we were at our previous club (Stansfeld) when we knew a lot about the league and the teams in the league. 

“I know Sevenoaks play on a 3G pitch but we do have people out and about who gives us information, so we’ll get some information on them.

“We’ve set ourselves a target that we need to reach to hopefully keep us in the division at the end, so we’ll approach every game the same way and try to win them.  There’s no point trying to sit back and nullify people. That won’t work, so we’ll try to win every game.”

But there is a sign of life in Erith & Belvedere’s salvage operation as they bid to avoid the drop.  The club suffered the drop after finishing bottom of the Isthmian League North Division in 2013-2014.

“We certainly don’t think it comes to us, Beckenham and Phoenix. I think there’s other teams that can easily be dragged into it (the relegation dog-fight),” said Phipps.

“There’s only six points from fourteenth-place down, so you only have to pick up a few wins on the bounce and teams not pick up wins then it throws it all open again so we certainly not only targeting the team above us.  We’re targeting beyond that as well.

“We only need to take over one team at the minute, so as long as we’re in touching distance (of safety), then we’ll be confident that we can get out of it.

“We’re grateful for the opportunity that we’ve been given to come here and try to get the club out of the relegation zone and we still think we can do it.

“We’ve given ourselves a chance to get out of trouble with the points we’ve picked up since we’ve been here.  There’s a long way to go, a lot of points still to play for and we’ll see where we come at the end of April.

“We’re really confident that we can do it, so we’ll certainly be giving it our best shot, you know us, we never go down without a fight!”

Sittingbourne welcome Chichester City to Woodstock Park on Saturday, a side that held Cray Valley to a goal-less draw in Eltham yesterday.

“That will be a tough game. They’re a decent side.  We won down there earlier on in the season 2-0 (Tuesday, 21 November).  They’ve got some good players but it’s all about focusing on ourselves really. 

“They went to Cray Valley yesterday and got a very good draw.  That’s a good draw and Cray are a good side as well, so we won’t take anything for granted by any means but we’ll be our usual hardworking honest self and we’ll just concentrate on what we do and do the best that we can.”

When asked about the title race and closing the gap to six points, Stadhart replied: “It’s interesting but there’s a long way to go. Honestly, we’ll just focus on the next game because whenever you look too far ahead, you slip up once and the gap’s big again. Honestly, it’s the next game for us, it really, really is.

“Honestly, I’m thinking of the next game, that’s how it is.  I don’t look at it like that. (winning the league).  We focus on what we do the next game and if we do that and rest will take care of itself.”

Stadhart believes Ramsgate, Cray Valley, Sittingbourne and Lancing will make it to the play-off lottery with one place still up for grabs at the end of the 38 match campaign.

“I think the teams that are in it already, I don’t think there will be too many massive changes.  For me personally, I think it will just be that last spot in the play-offs (that is still up for grabs).  I don’t know what order it will be in but I think those four will make the play-offs. That’s how I see it at the minute.”

When asked what success is for Sittingbourne this season – the club has never finished in the Isthmian League Play-offs before - Stadhart replied: “What’s success? Good question, good question. There’s two other teams in a better position than us right now and a six point gap, so I can’t say we’re going to win the league.  I wouldn’t say anything like that.  We want to do as well as we can. Honestly, collect as many points as we can and let’s see where it takes us.”

Erith & Belvedere: Dillon Addai, Ernie Cheesman (Matt Holness 53), Billy French, Dan Parkinson, Rob Strachan, Billy Parkinson, Henry Arnold, Maxx Manktelow, Matt Neary (Obed Yeboah 60), Macey Malyon, Cameron Andrews (Ross Morley 68).
Subs: Lee Friend, David Martin

Booked: Cameron Andrews 26, Dan Parkinson 64, Rob Strachan 90

Sittingbourne: Bobby Mason, Alex Bentley, Ayman El-Mogharbel, Chris Arthur (Joe Tyrie 75), Begasan Graham, Michael Turner, D’Sean Theobalds, Luke Woodward (Donvieve Jones 55), Danny Parish, Mitchell May (Stefan Ilic 61), Harry Hope.
Subs: Joshua Snell, Correy Davidson

Goals: Luke Woodward 14, Harry Hope 16, Mitchell May 22, Donvieve Jones 90

Attendance: 145
Referee: Mr Jake Woodman
Assistants: Mr Nik Garside & Mr Paul Agyei-Tabi