Herne Bay 0-3 Sittingbourne - There's so much more to come from the team, says fourth-placed Sittingbourne manager Ryan Maxwell

Saturday 27th January 2024
Herne Bay 0 – 3 Sittingbourne
Location Winch's Field, Stanley Gardens, Herne Bay, Kent CT6 5SG
Kickoff 27/01/2024 15:00

Isthmian League South East Division
Saturday 27 January 2024
Stephen McCartney reports from Winch’s Field

SITTINGBOURNE manager Ryan Maxwell says there is so much more to come from his team after claiming a comfortable victory at Herne Bay to consolidate their place in the Isthmian League South East Division play-off zone.

The Brickies remain unbeaten on the road this season (10 games) and put in a resilient performance at Winch’s Field, as Herne Bay’s run of scoring in each of their last eight games came to an end.

Sittingbourne opened the scoring through left-wing-back Bagasan Graham, 31, who swept in his fifth goal of the season following a mistake from Herne Bay goalkeeper Harry Brooks.

Herne Bay lost right-back Daniel Carrington, who picked up a straight red card in the 62nd minute for a professional foul and the impressive Mitchell May slotted in his ninth goal of the season from the resulting penalty.

Referee Billy Woods showed eight cards to Herne Bay players during the game, including Jack Richards, who wasn’t listed on the team sheet that the club secretary handed to the official before the game.

Sittingbourne wrapped up the comfortable victory through a classy 30-yard free-kick from substitute winger Stefan Illic, 25, born in London with Serbian heritage.

“I believe we played very well in patches and scorelines can be flattering but I do think we were good value for 3-0,” said Belfast born Maxwell.

“My keeper didn’t have much to do today, let’s be honest.  Overall, we deserved it, a comfortable win. I’m actually delighted with the result.  This was not an easy fixture, let me tell you.

“They’ve been very good here at home and they’re in great form, they’re fifth, so of course they’re a good side and obviously well managed with Steve so we had to be at our best.  I had to be at my best and I’m glad that we’ve come through it reasonably comfortably.

“I felt that we played a bit reserved in possession but not as crisp as we have but we are on our day a very good side. 

“Were we consistent in our play today? No.  I felt as though we were only playing in patches. There’s so much more to come from the team and I just want us to be a bit more fluid in our play.

“They gave the best they could but I do believe there’s a little bit of tension here today and I tried to emulate that. I wanted an extra pass, move it a bit more and that’s what I was looking for, so delighted with the result but I do believe we could do more.”

When asked about his unbeaten away league form so far this season, Maxwell replied: “We’re strong, aren’t we, away from home. I do think our pitch is a little bit of a leveller at times. We’ve only lost games there mainly because a little bit of that comes into play. Maybe the boys feel that, I don’t know.

“Ultimately we have to play well on every kind of surface, conditions etc and there will be a reason why we’re unbeaten away from home, of course, so there’s no way of getting away from that. Our away form is incredibly strong and long may that continue.”

Herne Bay manager Steve Lovell, a former Sittingbourne player and manager, said: “Nothing in the game first half.  We had a lot of balls in the box that we didn’t sort of attack, didn’t make the most off.  They got their goal, nothing much in it.

“Second half, I thought we came out and took it to them, which we did do but the sending off kills the game.  Two-nil, penalty, sending-off, 10 men. It’s hard to come back from but up until then, there was nothing in the game. It could’ve gone either way.

“It was a good decent game, local derbies are always the same. Just disappointed with the sending off and the way we conceded it. It was a mistake on the half-way line, which the referee gives a penalty and a sending off.

“The boys, they work hard, they give everything and they still continued to do that when we were down to 10 men, so it was always going to be difficult against a good side.

“They’re a good side, a very good side. They were well-organised and they didn’t cause us too many problems going forward but defensively they were very good.

“If you look at it, there’s not many games this season that we haven’t scored, so it’s one of five games that we haven’t scored a goal.  Sometimes you have to give the team’s credit and definitely from a defensive point of view they defended well.  We were limited to chances at goal. But we never created a lot. We got balls into the box but we never got anyone near the end of them.”

Sittingbourne created the first opening of the game after four minutes and 36 seconds, following a spell of pressure. 

The ball was cleared away by Carrington and Luke Woodward, who sits in front of the away side’s dominant back three drilled a first-time right-footed drive past the left post from 25-yards.

Herne Bay’s first real goalscoring chance came in the 12th minute.

Centre-half Harrison Pont threw the ball from the halfway line down the channel and winger Gil Carvalho put over a cross for left-back Frankie Smith to nip in front of centre-half Chris Arthur and flick his shot over the crossbar from inside the six-yard box.

Lovell said: “It was kind of a game that was little that, local derbies. If you look at the other scores in the league today, when you play teams that are close to you, it’s always going to be tight, there’s not going to be many chances and it happened here today.”

Maxwell said: “There’s always half-chances in games. I don’t think my keeper’s done much today, if I’m honest, has he really?  Their guy made a couple of good saves as well.

“I’m actually pleased with the lack of activity, considering we’re away from home today, which shows we defended extremely well, I suppose.

“There were a few half-chances before there was a goal and we were good value for the win.”

Lovell insisted that his 17-goal winger Michael Salako should have done better with a great chance to break the deadlock in the 16th minute.

Pont fed the ball to deep striker Kane Rowland (who was otherwise living off scraps during the entire game), who played the ball to Archie Burnett, who played the ball out to Smith, now operating on the right.

Burnett received the ball back outside the box and floated in a deep cross towards Salako, who was in a pocket of space inside the box and he headed past the near-post from 10-yards out.

Lovell said: “Michael had a header towards goal where I think he could’ve brought it on his chest and brought it down and he’d be in on goal, so a wrong decision and that’s the thing, decision making today, we were off today.  Going forward we weren’t at our best, but you’ve got to give credit to the opposition. I think the way they defended was very, very well.”

Herne Bay’s defensive midfielder Mohamed Kamara dragged a right-footed shot past the left-hand post from 25-yards, as Sittingbourne’s back three of Joe Tyrie, the giant Michael Turner and Arthur were a tough nut to crack, which pleased Maxwell.

“Not a lot of goalmouth action, not a lot of scary moments either, so my backline must’ve had a good line. They must’ve stopped crosses and shots and that’s what I’m looking for. That’s what I train for.  They took that into the game today and I think defensively we’ve got to give ourselves a bit of a pat on the back because this was not an easy fixture.”

Kamara hit a first time pass to release Carvalho down the left and he cut the ball onto his right-foot before whipping in a cross but Rowland’s flick bounced into the grateful gloves of untroubled Sittingbourne goalkeeper Bobby Mason.

Sittingbourne grabbed the lead with 27 minutes and 16 seconds on the clock.

May, who had a quiet first half before this point, played in a lovely crossfield pass along the artificial turf from one side of the box to the other and nine-goal targetman Chris Harris latched onto the ball inside the penalty area.

Goalkeeper Brooks advanced towards the corner of his box and tried to smother the ball at the striker’s feet but spilt the ball and Graham was clinical, sweeping his left-footed shot into the bottom far corner with an angled shot from 15-yards.

“Mitchell has been fantastic.  Chrissy Harris has made that goal by his work-rate. He’s charged him down and not let him breath and then obviously the ball has spilt to Bags and there’s still a little bit to do but you expect a man of Bagssy’s class to finish that and he did it with aplomb and I was very pleased to see it go in,” said Maxwell.

Lovell added: “I thought it was a free-kick against Mo (Kamara) in the build-up and I think the ref didn’t give a free-kick and they went across the area.   Harry came out and tried his best to try to get there but they scored a goal.

“That was probably one of the only clear-cut chances, opportunities for both sides, the rest of them were sort of half-chances, balls into the box and nothing coming from it, so it’s disappointing.”

Herne Bay swiftly went in search of an equalising goal but their shooting lacked quality, as the chance (30:09) went begging.

Attacking midfielder Burnett played a 10-yard pass to play in Salako in a great central position but his left-footed shot from 18-yards lacked conviction and was comfortably picked up by an untroubled Sittingbourne keeper.

The Referee walked over towards the Herne Bay bench in the 37th minute and showed a yellow card to Richards – as confirmed by what is commonly known as the crime sheet, a document that the match referee hands to the club secretaries post-match listing cautions and sending offs.

Sittingbourne went close to doubling their lead on the stroke of half-time.

Goalkeeper Mason launched a big kick straight down the middle of the pitch, the impressive Harris flicked the ball on and the ball was controlled by May, who placed his left-footed shot just past the foot of the right-hand post from inside the D.

Maxwell added: “There were chances as the game grew and I felt we were going to score again and we were unlucky with that one but we had every faith in Mitch that he would go on and score.”

Lovell added: “They’re a decent side, they play to their strengths. They’ve got a good centre-forward, who held the ball up well and won his headers but most probably it’s the most our centre-halves have worked.  It was the hardest game they’ve had (Liam Friend and Harrison Pont) this season, so you’ve got to give credit where credit’s due and they were a decent team, decent side.

“Overall, did they deserve their three points? They did in the end because they got them but I think when it was only 0-0 and 11v11, I think it was a chance for us in getting back into the game – but the sending off killed us really.”

Both managers were asked their thoughts at the interval.

Lovell said: “What I said was keep doing what they’re doing. All I wanted to do was get people on the end of balls that we put into the box.  I’d like to see how many balls we put in the box first half? No-one got on the end of them!”

Maxwell added: “Just keep going! I said the game will get bigger and more chances will come and I said make an extra pass just five yards, five yards, move it, move it and hopefully it will open up and switch it. That was the information that I gave them.

“I know they’re good footballers in there and I want them to be good footballers and get on the ball and move the ball.  I thought we could’ve passed it a bit better.”

Maxwell lost Tyrie during the interval, so he went with three at the back, with Graham (left), Arthur (central) and Turner (right) and Sittingbourne created the first opening of the second half after only 101 seconds.

Turner launched the ball forward with a bullet header before Harris played in Mitchell in behind but Brooks made amends by coming off his line and making a fine save with his legs, as he was faced in a one-v-one.

Maxwell’s reply was swift, adding: “Good save, I felt, that one, so it was a good chance, yes.”

Lovell added: “Harry made a good save there but I think it was the only ones he made really throughout the game.  I don’t think after that he made too many. Obviously, he’s got to try to save the goals but the penalty was a good penalty and the third goal was a great free-kick from Stefan, so he took it well and it was a good goal and you can’t do anything about them.”

Sittingbourne were a well-organised outfit, while Herne Bay huffed and puffed and Rowland was lacking in service and cut an isolated figure for most of the game.

With Carvalho operating in a central position, Herne Bay failed to create anything and Smith was guilty of making a bad mistake on the centre spot which lead to Sittingbourne doubling their lead (17:26) and Herne Bay losing Carrington.

Last defender Smith controlled the ball on the halfway line and slipped over and had his pocket pinched by a pressing Ayman El-Moghaebel, who strode forward before releasing May through on goal straight down the middle of the pitch.

Smith and Carrington tried to get back and Carrington brought May down inside the box and referee Woods pulled out a straight red card and sent Carrington off (he was booked in the 13th minute for a foul on Graham).

May clinically placed his left-footed penalty into the bottom right-hand corner, despite keeper Brooks going the same way.

“Brilliant from Ayman.  He steals it on the halfway line and plays in Mitch,” said Maxwell.

“Mitch has got a lot to do. There’s a long way to go, people were chasing you down and Mitch has shown fantastic composure hasn’t he.  He knows what he’s doing as well. He has to cut across and he’s brought him down and he’s done that perfectly well, so it was real mature play from Mitchell. I was very pleased with it.

“A great penalty. Mitchell is a great penalty taker. He shows real calm, composure and every striker needs that.”

Lovell said: “I was just speaking to the ref about it now. He said ‘he didn’t think he went to play the ball, he just played the man.’

“It’s one view against the other, isn’t it.  If he went to play the ball – which he tried to do – then it’s only a yellow card but he’ll still be sent off, he’s already been booked.  It doesn’t make much difference with that.

“At 2-0 down, we’re down to 10 men. We went to a 3-4-2 (formation) brought on a sub and got Theo (Osinfolarin) on and still had a go and we did, we had a go.

“We worked hard and still created a few little half opportunities but when you’re down to 10 men against a team like that, it’s quite difficult to get back into the game and they saw the game out.

“It was a good third goal, I suppose 3-0 flatters them a little bit but 10 men, 11 v 11, it’s a different game.”

Herne Bay went close to pulling a goal back following a set-piece (19:16).

Walder delivered the free-kick in from within the left-channel, keeper Mason punched the ball away with both of his hands, and Pont’s swept shot on the turn deflected just past the foot of the far post and went behind for one of six Herne Bay corners.

“I think the boys were shouting for a handball. It came off his arm in the box but you’re not going to get them are you? You’re not going to get them.  We still had opportunities, half opportunities but nothing came around.

“A good result for them. They’re a good side, they’ll cause a lot of teams problems in the league and they’ve done well.”

Maxwell threw Ilic into the action in the 71st minute and he cut in from the left before a strong challenge inside the D sent him crashing to the ground, before seconds later, Theobalds dragged his shot past the foot of the left-hand post from inside the D.

Maxwell brought on debutant striker Danny Parish in the 79th minute and Maxwell revealed why he has brought the former Ashford United striker to Woodstock Park.

“He’s got experience, he’s got goals, he understands the level. He knows this league inside and out and I’ve always rated him,” said Maxwell.

“I wanted to bring him in when I was at Braintree and he’s got a proven record and also I like his character as well.  That’s really important, the right character is in this group is very honest, hardworking group and whoever comes in has to be the same and Danny is.”

Sittingbourne sealed the deal by scoring their third goal with 37 minutes and 51 seconds on the clock, after Herne Bay centre-half Liam Friend gave away a costly free-kick.

Ilic whipped a high-quality right-footed free-kick over the wall and sailing into the top far corner from 30-yards, which gave Brooks, or any other keeper, no chance.

Maxwell said: “Super player. If there’s a player that can do that, it’s certainly him.  He put it straight in the top corner. It’s a fantastic strike. No keeper’s going to save that. Stefan’s got that about him, he’s able to do that.

“The problem with Stefan, he is his own worst enemy. He’s got all the ability in the world and we’re going to have to coach some things in him because I want him to be even better than what he shows at times. If he does that then there’s no limit what Stefan can do.”

Lovell added: “It’s right in the top corner. I know Stefan. I had him when I was at Welling United. He’s a really good player, good footballer and it was a good goal, right in the top corner, really good goal.”

Sittingbourne almost notched a flattering fourth goal (45:58) when May danced his way into the Herne Bay penalty area, skipped past the keeper and his shot was destined to roll into the bottom far corner, only for Herne Bay substitute winger Theo Osinfolarin to show desire to clear his lines.

“Great feet, wasn’t it? He was dancing through, fantastic. He told us he got tired at the end but Mitchell has got so much ability and it’s great to see a man develop so quick and a young man, just turned 21,” said Maxwell.

“I was hoping he’d score that because that would’ve been a fantastic goal.”

When asked what pleased the Sittingbourne manager today, Maxwell replied: “The clean sheet! The clean sheet. I’m a stickler for clean sheets. Maybe it’s my background defending and keeping clean sheets are vital to me and I build on the back of those and delighted we came here, a difficult fixture and won 3-0.”

The referee played two seconds shy of seven minutes of stoppage time at the end of the second half and Mason made a comfortable save to prevent Walder scoring from a right-footed free-kick from 30-yards, which bounced once and was comfortably gathered.

The Football Association fine each club £12 per yellow card.  Herne Bay will pick up an additional fine for having at least six players booked.  It wasn’t a dirty game, however, and Lovell was very critical of referee Billy Woods in the manner that he applied the Laws.

“Ridiculous! He gives Dan Carrington one early on, which is ridiculous. The first foul of the game near enough, books it so then the cards have got to come out then,” said Lovell.

“I think the standard of that kind of refereeing is ridiculous.  A little bit of common sense. It’s early on in the game, it’s a local derby. It’s a tackle, a fair, it’s a foul. It’s not a booking at the end of the day.

“There’s eight cards, I think. It was never a dirty game. That’s the only thing I’m disappointed about, the level of cards that are dished out for things.

“I was talking to Ryan (Maxwell) through the game and there’s things that have been booked for that in previous years’ you would never have even got a foul for and that’s why players start to lose their rag and start having a go at referee’s and linesmen because I think it’s ridiculous all these cards are given out.

“We’re going to get fined for something, we’re playing a game of football and because we’re trying to win balls and we’re miss-timing them slightly, in a game that we’re trying to win, you’re going to get yellow cards.”

Ben Smith’s Ramsgate – who were held to a goal-less draw at home to Ernie Batten’s Sheppey United today – remain at the summit with 59 points from 23 games.

Steve McKimm’s Cray Valley have closed the gap to nine points and have three games in hand, and the other play-off places are held tonight by Lancing (44 points from 23 games), Sittingbourne in fourth-place with 42 points from 21 games and Three Bridges have reclaimed a place, in fifth with 37 points from 21 games.

Sheppey United (37 points), Herne Bay (who have slipped from fifth-place to seventh-place with 37 points from 23 games) and Chichester City (33 points from 23 games) make up the top eight tonight.

Both sides are in league action on Tuesday night, with Lovell taking his side to 12th placed Hythe Town (28 points from 17 games and came away from Sevenoaks Town with a point in a 0-0 draw today).

Lovell said: “Different game now, down on their pitch, it’s a battle, it’s a battle of a pitch. It will be tight again.  They play a certain way, which they’ve been successful with because on their pitch they’ve got is not a footballers pitch, so we’ve just got to go there and just continue doing what we’re doing.

“You can’t legislate for things that happened today when players get sent off so we’ve just got to go there and give it everything and see what happens.”

When asked how he sees the promotion race tonight, the Welshman replied: “I take every game as it comes. We’ve had a good season so far. People didn’t expect us to be up where we are and we’ve done well to get there. We’ll continue trying to win games and get points. If at the end of it we end up in the play-offs, brilliant. But if we don’t then we don’t, but we’ll be aiming to win as many games as possible, that’s all we can do.”

Meanwhile, the visit of Ramsgate on August Bank Holiday attracted Herne Bay’s largest crowd of the season (1,039), while the visit of Sittingbourne for this play-off chasing clash attracted the second largest crowd of the season at Winch’s Field of 687.

“They’ve got great supporters down here. We’re trying to get Herne Bay back to where they should be. The local people are doing their best to try to support the football club. We’re trying to put on a decent standard of football to coincide with that,” said Lovell.

“I’m really disappointed today with the way we lost the game through the sending off, I really am. Just a mistake because I think if we carried on at 1-0, we would’ve got ourselves back into the game but never mind, onwards and upwards.”

Maxwell, meanwhile, takes his side to play thirteenth-placed side East Grinstead Town (24 points from 21 games, after a 1-1 draw at home to Broadbridge Heath).

“We’ve just got to keep going.  Listen, when we took over here, we were third from bottom and I look at that today and we’re fourth so at the end of the day there’s many games to play, so many points to play,” said Maxwell.

“I’ve seen teams choke in the past. I’ve seen teams come from nowhere and end up in the top three, so I’m not getting carried away.  I just approach it, very, very cliché, game at a time.

“I won’t take any one any different.  East Grinstead will be same as this, no easy games.  Full respect to East Grinstead, they can hurt you if you let them play and we have to make sure that we are at our best. Nothing less will be accepted. We have to make sure that our attitude was the same as it was today.”

Maxwell revealed that Alex Bentley (bruised foot) will be added to the squad that travels to West Sussex.

“We’re not where I want us to be or where I think we should be. I think we deserve more points than what we’ve got,” added a reasonably pleased Maxwell.

Herne Bay: Harry Brooks, Daniel Carrington, Frankie Smith, Mohamed Kamara, Liam Friend, Harrison Pont, Michael Salako, Danny Walder, Kane Rowland, Archie Burnett (Theo Osinfolarin 71), Gil Carvalho.
Subs: Finlay Whitton, Sam Wright, Mobalaji Dawodu, Tom Hanfrey

Booked: Daniel Carrington 13, Michael Salako 33, Jack Richards 37, Frankie Smith 50, Liam Friend 82, Mohamed Kamara 87, Gil Carvalho 90

Sent off:  Daniel Carrington 62

Sittingbourne: Bobby Mason, Donvieve Jones, Bagasan Graham, Michael Turner, Joe Tyrie (Harry Hope 46), Chris Arthur, D’Sean Theobalds, Luke Woodward (Stefan Ilic 71), Chris Harris, Ayman El-Moghaebel (Danny Parish 79), Mitchell May.
Subs: Chris John, Joshua Snell

Goals: Bagasan Graham 28, Mitchell May 63 (penalty), Stefan Ilic 83

Booked: Luke Woodward 39, Joe Tyrie 42, Bagasan Graham 82

Attendance: 687
Referee:  Mr Billy Woods
Assistants: Mr Marian Stoichitoiu & Mr Chandon Chapman