Fisher 2-2 Sheppey United - We're disappointed not to get the three points, our aim is to try to win the league but sometimes you've got to be happy with a point, admits Sheppey United boss Ernie Batten

Tuesday 01st March 2022
Fisher 2 – 2 Sheppey United
Location St Paul's Stadium, Salter Road, Rotherhithe, London SE16 6NT
Kickoff 01/03/2022 20:05

Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division
Tuesday 1 March 2022
Stephen McCartney reports from St Paul’s Stadium

FISHER manager Ajay Ashanike says he feels proud of his side’s character after holding title-chasing Sheppey United to a draw on a rain lashed night in Rotherhithe.

A tube strike, the closure of Rotherhithe Tunnel and localised traffic jams meant the game kicked-off 20 minutes late after assistant referee Alison Wade failed to turn up as she was waiting for a bus that never turned up at London Bridge station (a and had to be replaced at the very last minute by Ronald Albert.

All four goals were scored from set-pieces.  Fisher took the lead on the stroke of half-time through centre-half Sam Fitzgerald.

Sheppey United, who came here having won their last 11 games in league and cup, scored twice in the space of four minutes to wrestle back control with right-back Danny Divine sliding in an equaliser following a corner, before attacking midfielder Billy Bennett notched his seventeenth goal of the season, from the penalty spot.

Fitzgerald’s goalscoring record was one goal in 51 games before tonight but his half-volley following a 70th minute free-kick gave Fisher a point to climb up a place into thirteenth-place in the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division table, with 32 points from 27 games.

“If you look at this a couple of weeks ago just before we transformed the club fully, we would’ve lost this game massively,” said Ashanike, who can only offer his players’ a slice of pizza after the game as he works miracles without a budget.

“This kind of result has been coming.  We just didn’t have the cutting edge to score against Sheppey or Chatham but to push them all the way today and we could’ve actually nicked it at the end, I’m really proud of the boys.

“I asked them for character and hard work from them as well today and they gave it absolutely to me in abundance and I’m really, really proud of the team tonight.  From the goalkeeper to the subs that came on, they absolutely put a shift in today, really well done to them.

“The game plan was to frustrate them as much as we can but I believe in the first 30 minutes I thought we still had the better chances to actually get that first goal.

“Sam’s first goal in the 45th minute really pushed them to the limit and they came out fighting second half, which we knew they was going to do. We got carried away slightly for the first 10 minutes, we were still in the changing room. I believe they livened up after that and got the draw after.”

Sheppey United remain in second-place in the table with 75 points from 28 games, two points behind leaders Chatham Town, with only nine games left for the two big hitters.

Sheppey United manager Ernie Batten said: “I think on the basis that our performance wasn’t our usual levels, I’m satisfied with a point here tonight.

“It’s a very tough place to go and I think the conditions were tough. I’ve got to give full credit to Fisher, they worked extremely hard and closed us down and it was a tough evening’s football.

“We arrived, it was about 50 minutes before kick-off and I think a few of their players’ struggled in than us, even though they come a shorter distance and the kick-off was delayed.

“They started with very high energy and I think we struggled to get to our patterns of play and it was a game with not many chances. There were a lot of set-pieces tonight, a lot of corners and I think both teams were a little bit reliant on them.”

The game started in frenetic yet cagey fashion, watched by a crowd of 147, who braved awful conditions, watching a game played on the artificial playing surface at St Paul’s Stadium.

Sheppey United centre-half Jahmal Howlett-Mundle was guilty of giving the ball away and Isaac Thompson’s first-time pass from inside the Fisher penalty half released striker Nickal-David Luzolo down the right and his low cross was met by winger Thompson but his shot was charged down by a pressing Ashley Sheppard and the ball deflected over the Sheppey United crossbar in the 16th minute.

Sheppey United took 24 minutes to create their first opening when left-winger Michael Hagan whipped in a deep cross and Divine lacked composure when left unmarked and cracked his half-volley high over the crossbar from the edge of the Fisher penalty area.

Howlett-Mundle gave the ball away for a second crucial time and Luke Thomas intercepted the ball and released Luzolo, who took a touch but his driven shot from a central position deflected past the left-hand post.

Fisher continued to knock on the door and just before the half-hour mark, centre-half Joseph Adewunmi clipped a long ball down the left channel to release Thompson, who lacked composure and his scuffed left-footed angled drive from 25-yards rolled into Adam Molloy’s gloves at the near post.

“Isaac had the same opportunity on Saturday. It’s something that we’ve got to look at in training and start to punish teams a bit more,” said Ashanike.

“I know he’s a right-sided player playing on the left doing a good job now but he’s got to get a bit more composure.

“To be in a good spot in the league we’ve got to have the right attitude there to carry the ball on and score. If they get a chance like that they’ll put it away and it’s 1-0 to them.”

Batten added: “I thought they were dangerous on the break and they worked extremely hard and they had a few opportunities. I think on a few occasions we were guilty of giving the ball away and they made the most of that and capitalised on it.”

Sheppey United started to find a way back into the game going into the final 10 minutes of the first-half.

Divine drove over the halfway line before playing the ball out wide to right-winger Dean Grant, who whipped in a cross, which was sliced clear by Fitzgerald at the near post.  Bennett brought the ball down and under control before putting it on a plate for 13-goal striker Warren Mfula, who sliced his shot across the keeper and wide of the far post.

Fitzgerald was booked by referee Joshua Gilham for fouling Mfula after he was turned and Sheppey United created their best chance of a poor first-half showing in the 42nd minute.

Faced with a five-man wall, Bennett stroked his right-footed free-kick around the wall and the ball bounced just in front of goalkeeper Tommy Taylor, who dived to his left to push the ball away before blocking the rebound from close-range.

Batten said: “I think we were starting to get into the game at that point and I think they got the goal just after that.”

Ashanike added: “Tommy made a good save from the free-kick and it’s something that we spoke about before the game as well, about their set-pieces.  Tommy did really well. Since Tommy’s come back from injury in January, he’s been really, really superb for us.”

Fisher won the corner count by eight-to-seven and opened the scoring following their sixth flag-kick of the game, timed at 44 minutes and a second on the clock.

Thompson swung in a corner from the left, which bounced at the near post and Fitzgerald reacted ahead of a static defence to flick the ball into the bottom left-hand corner from very close range.

Ashanike said: “We’ve been speaking about this for, I don’t know, forever, that Sam doesn’t score enough goals and he’s popped up today and scored a vital goal against a top team, so I’ll take that all day long.

“I believe we had enough to knock on the door and ask the questions and we asked the right questions and I think we deserved the lead going into half-time.”

Batten added: “I think we’re disappointed with both of their goals tonight from set-pieces.  The corner came in and there was a cry of ‘away’ and I think we could’ve got it away at the near-post. It could’ve been cleared near-post but we couldn’t get it away and it rebounded to one of their lads and he stroked it home.”

At half-time, Ashanike said: “I said just settle down, don’t get carried away.  They’re going to come out blazing, which they actually did and they came out blazing and we knew it was going to happen.”

Batten added: “I think the first-half was pretty even. I think nil-nil at half-time would’ve been a fairer reflection, although there were a couple of opportunities for each team.

“I think we were playing in too tight areas. I thought we could’ve switched play a lot more so we were asking the players to once we’ve made a few passes to make triangular movements.

“We were laboured in certain areas and we over-played in certain areas instead of making the most of a narrow pitch.”

Fisher missed a glorious chance to increase their lead just 38 seconds into the second-half.

Central midfielder Jacob Katonia split open Divine to release Luzolo down the left and the Fisher striker cut into the box and along the by-line but lacked composure as Molloy stood tall to narrow the angle and the chance went begging.

“David is a new signing. He’s come in fresh from Sheppey as well actually and he's done well tonight,” said Ashanike.

“I think it was tired legs when he hasn’t had enough games in his locker all season.  The tired legs got to him and we had to take him off and I believe once he gets sharp, he’ll put those chances away because he’s a really good player.”

Batten added: “I thought that was a dangerous move and I thought Adam did well to save that.”

Sheppey United grabbed the equaliser following their third corner, timed at four minutes and 3 seconds on the clock.

Bennett drove a corner in from the right, Grant flicked the ball on at the near post and Divine slid in to prod the ball past Taylor into the centre of the goal from the six-yard line.

“It was pretty similar to their goal, I thought.  It was a near-post corner and it came in and eluded everybody and it’s dropped down and Danny’s poked it home.  I think it needed something like that tonight,” admitted Batten.

Ashanike added: “That’s kind of a goal that we concede against the top sides. If you look when we played against Sheppey at their place, it was the same set-piece.  They’re well-drilled with the things they do. When we’re playing the top teams we have to be so switched on and make sure that we defend it and organise early.”

Sheppey United grew in confidence and produced a fine raid when Divine fed Sheppard, who split open the Fisher defence and played the ball in behind Adewunmi to put Mfula through on goal and after attempting to skip past Taylor, he was brought down by the goalkeeper who was booked.

Taylor stepped to his left and Bennett stroked his right-footed penalty just left of centre to give Sheppey United the lead, with eight minutes and 15 seconds on the clock.

Batten said: “I thought we started to play a little bit better at that stage. We got ourselves on level terms and it was a good ball through to Warren. It was good build-up and Tommy’s upended Warren.

“It was a good penalty. There was a little bit of pressure there to go ahead and Billy’s stroked it home well.

“We got a grip of the game at that point. We got our noses in front. It looked like at one point we might get a third but kept labouring away and kept working away.”

Ashanike added: “It was a pen all day long. Tommy’s come out late, I think his starting position should be five yards from where he was. It was a pen so we can’t say nothing about it.

“Because we were on top first-half, I still believed that we could still get something from the game.  As soon as we went one-all, the boys tend to drop off. We tried to encourage them to push on a bit more, which they did and yeah, it worked for us.”

Sheppey United almost scored from their next corner in the 62nd minute but this time Divine smashed his first-time shot just past the foot of the far post after another Bennett corner from the right.

Fisher didn’t create anything until their equaliser, timed at 24 minutes and 31 seconds on the clock.

Left-back Temiloluwa Oladejo clipped a left-footed free-kick close to the centre-circle inside the Sheppey United half into a crowded penalty area and Fitzgerald hit a left-footed half-volley across Molloy from a tight angle and the ball rolled into the bottom far corner, to the delight of the vocal Fisher fans behind the goal.

“It was a great finish. You’d think he was a striker, the way he finished it,” said Ashanike.

“The big man has had a good game today, a very, very good game but since January he’s been immense for us.  He’s kept Aaron Glasgow out of the team and he was one of the best centre-backs in the club.  Sam and Joseph have been doing really well but to get two goals in a big game like that is credit for him for all of the hard work he’s been putting in all season.”

Batten added: “Unfortunately we gave away a couple of free-kicks in dangerous areas and sometimes if you don’t attack the balls into the box they can end up in the back of your net.

“I was very disappointed with that but full credit to Fisher. They kept plugging away but very disappointing for us because it’s not just the back four. All the defensive players that are in there were either not picking up or we’re not attacking the ball, once they won the ball on the far post. Football being football, if you don’t do your jobs, it ends up in the back of your net!”

Both sides created chances to snatch the victory following the fourth goal of the game.

Fitzgerald launched a long ball out of defence and Howlett-Mundle slipped outside his penalty area to open the door for Thompson, who cut the ball back for Vincent Follea, whose left-footed drive from just outside the D forced Molloy to dive to his right to hold onto the shot.

“So what we’re working on is trying to push as much as we can and try to be at the level of being in the top five next season,” revealed Ashanike.

“The league is going to open up a lot next season and chances like that, we have got to be punishing a lot of teams and getting a lot of three points like that because we do create chances but it’s just putting them in the back of the net.

“It’s something that we’ve got to look at and work on in training on Thursday.”

Batten added: “I thought the game kind of opened up, they’re obviously were going for the three points. They’re throwing caution to the wind and they got back in the game at that point and they’ve got nothing to lose so they’re trying to win it as well.”

Former Fisher player Richard Hamill was given a nice reception from the home fans when he replaced Sheppard for the final nine minutes.

The holding midfielder floated in a corner from the right and Grant’s near-post header sailed towards the top far corner, only for Fisher right-back Thomas to jump up and head the ball off the line beside the opposite post.

Batten said: “That was another chance, a good corner by Richie there and it came across and it looked like it was going in but it was a good clearance by the defender.”

Ashanike added: “The chance off the line was really scary!  We knew that was coming as well but it’s something that we’ve worked on with Luke Thomas on his positioning sense and it was really good and he’s cleared it off the line, so credit to him as well.”

Hamill could have snatched victory for Sheppey United inside the final four minutes but his weak left-footed free-kick (towards the top right-hand corner) from 30-yards was comfortably caught by Taylor.

Batten said: “I think Richie’s capable of scoring from those distances but the keeper was well-positioned.”

Ashanike added: “We know what Richie’s about but Tommy’s position was really good and he saved it easily, it was a comfortable save for him.”

Follea started a Fisher attack when he played the ball out to Thomas, who fed substitute winger Fidan Fejziu, who whipped in a cross towards the near post but Follea planted a free-header over the crossbar from 12-yards.

“It was a massive chance again. If you look at the amount of chances we’ve created today, we should be winning games like that against a top side,” admitted Ashanike.

“If you look at it, we’ve not lost, it’s a point gained. If you look at the bottom 10 teams, as I said to the boys this morning, of the bottom 10 teams we’re the only one who can go into the top three and take anything from them and we’ve shown it again tonight that we’re not scared to play anyone.”

A handball from Mfula close to the centre-circle gave Fisher a last-gasp chance.  Oladejo floated in the free-kick and Fitzgerald’s towering header cleared the top of the near-post.

Ashanike, meanwhile, admits he faces a challenge to rally his troops to replicate tonight’s performance for the visit of bottom-of-the-table side Lordswood here on Saturday.

Richard Dimmock has lost seven of his eight games in charge since taking the helm and the club are eight points adrift of safety, with 10 points on the board, with 11 games left.

“So if you look at tonight and if you look at the games against Chatham and Glebe, that’s my days off. I don’t say much. I keep it cool.  My job actually comes in when we play teams like Lordswood,” said Ashanike.

“We know what (my players’) abilities are like and I know how good they need to be so that game is me actually doing overtime to make sure they’re actually switched on.  If they can get the right mindset and I don’t see any team in the bottom 10 beating us.  That’s just me and that’s the way that I look at my team. No team in the bottom 10 should be able to match these set of boys in the changing room.

“We’re still looking to finish in the top 10, like we said at the beginning of the season. My aim, if we can finish in the top 10, I believe we’ve had a very, very good season for a club like Fisher with no budget at all, competing against big boys with big budgets like that. It will be credit to the boys and the club and the work that the volunteers put in. I believe we deserve to be in the top 10 with the hard work that people put in every game and every training session.”

Fisher are only two points adrift of tenth-placed Tunbridge Wells, who do have three games in hand.

Ashanike heaped praise on his players for their attitude, considering some live over the other side of the River Thames and had to endure delays en-route.

He said: “Massive, massive credit to the boys. Some of them kept their car on the other side (of the River) and got a train down.  The boys aren’t getting paid and are putting a shift in like that.  We have to recognise that. We have to praise them as much as we can because that’s the only thing we can do for them.  I believe a lot of them will be playing Step Two and Step Three come next season.”

Batten takes his side to fifth-placed Erith & Belvedere on Saturday and wants to claim the league title away from Chatham Town’s grasp.

“We’re disappointed not to get the three points. Obviously our aim is to try to win the league but sometimes you’ve got to have to be happy with a point and on our performance this evening it didn’t merit more than a point in all honesty,” said Batten.

“Erith & Belvedere are fifth in the table so we’re expecting to go there and it will be another tough game and we’ll have to be at our best to get points there.

“Well, I mean as it stands now, I think we’re two points behind Chatham. We’ve played the same number of games. Glebe (are 14 points behind us with four games in hand) so it’s going to be an interesting next few weeks.

“There might be a couple more twists and turns so we just have to look after ourselves and make sure we get the points.

“We want to get promoted and get into Step Four, that’s our priority. If we can win the league or come second, as long as we achieve our aims. We’ll be happy (to go up as runners-up) but our aim is to win the league.”

Tonight just proves that winning promotion from this division is never easy.

“It’s an exciting league this season, there’s some very good teams in it and it proves that it doesn’t matter where you go, I mean Glebe have found that this season and Chatham have had a couple of draws recently and we’ve drawn tonight, all tough games and even sides that don’t really have a lot to play for and are midtable are still going to give you a very, very tough game. They’re not going to hand you anything,” added Batten.

“Every time I’ve come here it’s been tough. It’s a very hard place to come and get the points.

“When you’re at the top everybody’s gunning for you. They’ve got a point to prove that they’re as good but the teams that are going to get promoted and win leagues are teams that can overcome those obstacles.”

Fisher: Tommy Taylor, Luke Thomas, Temiloluwa Oladejo, Jacob Katonia (Pedro De Brito Moco 76), Sam Fitzgerald, Joseph Adewunmi, Isaac Thompson, Vincent Follea, Nickal-David Luzolo (Esteban Salgado 68), Emmanuel Shoderu (Fidan Fejzi 82), Darnelle Bailey-King.
Subs: Prince Imoru, Joe Connor

Goals: Sam Fitzgerald 45, 70

Booked: Sam Fitzgerald 41, Tommy Taylor 53

Sheppey United: Adam Molloy, Danny Divine, Daniel Birch, Ashley Sheppard (Richard Hamill 81), Jahmal Howlett-Mundle, Helge Orome, Michael Hagan (Max Oldham 58), Liam Gillies, Warren Mfula, Billy Bennett, Dean Grant.
Subs: Ashley Sains, Jack Marsh

Goals: Danny Divine 50, Billy Bennett 54 (penalty)

Attendance: 147
Referee: Mr Joshua Gilham
Assistants: Mr Thomas Marshall & Mr Ronald Albert