Herne Bay 3-0 Whitstable Town - I think that puts us in the driving seat at the moment to be in the play-offs, says Herne Bay boss Ben Smith

Wednesday 01st January 2020
Herne Bay 3 – 0 Whitstable Town
Location Winch's Field, Stanley Gardens, Herne Bay, Kent CT6 5SG
Kickoff 01/01/2020 15:00

Isthmian League South East Division
Wednesday 1 January 2020
Stephen McCartney reports from Winch’s Field

HERNE BAY manager Ben Smith says his side are building momentum to become a dark horse in the race for the Isthmian League South East Division play-offs.

The Bay extended their unbeaten run to four games after beating their bitter rivals Whitstable Town 3-0 in front of a crowd of 831 at Winch’s Field to climb three places into sixth-place with 27 points from their 16 league outings, just three points adrift of the play-off zone but with a game in hand on fifth-placed Whyteleafe.

Whitstable Town have now suffered back-to-back defeats having lost 2-1 at home to Ashford United on Boxing Day and remain in eleventh-place in the pecking order with 23 points on the board from their 19 league outings.

Herne Bay claimed the local bragging rights courtesy of winger Tushaun-Tyreese Walters finding the bottom and top far corner with his two strikes, while their star striker Zak Ansah converted from the penalty spot to notch his 19th goal of the season.

“Winning when you’re not playing well.  We’ve played a million times better than that this season and to be fair we’ve played a lot better and not got anything out of it so yes delighted,” said Smith, 32.

“That puts the Bank Holiday August game (3-0 defeat at Whitstable Town) into a very, very distant memory – they won’t talk about that now!

“I’ve moaned about the fans’ not singing throughout the game and getting behind the boys when it’s 0-0 etc.  Today, from the off they were on it and supporting the boys which is fantastic and it gives them an extra lift when you’re not playing well and you’ve got a big support behind you, it’s incredible.

“We pushed for a thousand, let’s be honest it’s New Years’ Day and 831 is fantastic for the club and I think it’s a new Step Four record between the two clubs as well and I think it backs up what I said that Herne Bay is one of the biggest clubs in this league. Statistically when you look at attendances and look at the ground, it’s got to be right up there and hopefully we’re on the way of getting a team that can back that up.”

Whitstable Town boss Lloyd Blackman added: “It’s a very difficult one to take. There’s two clear and obvious points really. The fact it’s a local derby so it probably means a lot more to the supporters.   We’ve come away with no result and when you look at it from a performance point of view I don’t think it was a 3-0 game so you hear it from both sides really. The result against the performance, I don’t think we deserved that.

“They were clinical in their third and we weren’t! They defended things well and at times we didn’t and it was just the two ends of the pitch. If you look over the whole game as a whole over 90 minutes I don’t think that was a 3-0 defeat if I’m honest but it’s very frustrating.”

Whitstable Town’s threat during the first half was 14 rocket launched missiles from the two hands of centre-half Connor Sanders but Herne Bay’s defenders dealt with the long throws in the main.

Sanders was looking for his centre-half partner Tom Bryant around the penalty spot and Bryant rose to flick his header across goal and watched it drop just past the far post after 120 seconds.

Poor defending from Sanders, however, helped Herne Bay take the lead with only two minutes and 57 seconds on the clock.

A big kick from goalkeeper George Kamurasi should have been dealt with by Sanders as the ball dropped down from the sky but he sliced his clearance straight to Walters, who played a one-two with Kieron Campbell inside the box before Walters placed his clinically struck left-footed angled drive across the keeper and into the bottom far corner from a tight angle from eight-yards.

“With the way they play with the long throw they obviously commit a lot of bodies forward.  For us it was a case of just soaking it up and getting bodies behind the ball,” said Smith.

“We thought if we could defend the set-pieces well, we thought we’d always be a threat on the counter.  Ideally I’d like to have more possession in the game but when you get an early goal like that it gives you something to sit behind so it was a great start but you’re always wary in these games because it’s a local derby, anything can happen and form goes out of the window.”

Blackman added: “It was a clinical finish. I said to the guys the first phase our body shape, we had to deal with the kick first time and it ricochet off, we didn’t get the chance to clear it and then the guys danced on to his left-foot and struck a great finish in the far corner. It’s just disappointing. It’s come from one big route one ball and we’ve not dealt with it.”

Whitstable Town were kicking down the slope during the first half and they should have done better with an opening in the 18th minute.

Harry Stannard flicked a pass towards left-winger Marcus Elliott as Herne Bay’s holding midfielder Danny Lawrence failed to cut out.  Elliott played a fine through ball which split open Simon Kabamba (playing as an emergency left-back) but a weak shot from striker Aaron Millbank was comfortably controlled by Kamurasi’s feet as the ball trickled towards him.

Whitstable Town were on the front foot by the time Bryant missed with a header at the half way point.

Stannard, who took all of Whitstable’s eight corners, floated the ball in from the right and Kamurasi flapped at the ball at the far post and gave Bryant a chance from a tight angle but his header flew over the top of the near post.

Blackman said: “When we evaluated the chances we had, Steve Nolan (coach) was going through them at half-time, the statistics. We didn’t hit the target as many times that we should’ve done and that was probably a prime example. It is a difficult header, of course it is, but if it goes a yard another way it’s a completely different context.”

Smith said: “It’s a tough one for George because he’s got a lot of bodies in front of him and it’s harder to defend down the corner because it’s coming at a different angle and he’s got a lot of bodies in his way.  I think he got blocked off and couldn’t quite get there but I was quite pleased with the fact that he sort of learnt from that and for the rest of the game he trusted the back four and only dealt with it when it was on him, which was good for him.”

Herne Bay grabbed a second goal from the penalty spot with 25 minutes and 14 seconds on the clock.

Ansah cut in from the right and played in Walters, whose left-footed angled drive was pushed away by goalkeeper Dan Eason, diving to his right.  The ball rolled out to Campbell, who cut inside Bryant and was tripped just inside the box and referee Scott Rudd was in the perfect position to award a penalty.

Ansah planted his right-footed penalty past the diving Eason, who guessed the right way to his left but the low drive had too much power and nestled into the back of the net to the delight of the vocal Herne Bay fans.

Smith said: “They’re a good defensive side, the likes of Tom Bryant and Connor Sanders are two very good centre-halves but at that point Kieron’ss going to shoot, Bryant’s got to steam out at him and Kieron has been very clever to drop back and it’s a stonewall pen.

“You always worry when Dan Eason is in goal for a penalty because he’s a very, very good keeper particularly from penalties but Zak does what Zak does.”

Blackman said: “They hit us on the counter-attack and Walters done a tremendous bit of skill and it’s come back inside and he’s got his shot off and then it’s second phase of play when it’s come back out and maybe we could’ve defended that last bit a little bit better.

“Tom said he didn’t touch him so it’s frustrating but if you go to ground sometimes you give that opportunity. Tom was disappointed with himself so it’s those fine margins that don’t go your way.”

Whitstable Town should have been awarded a corner in the 36th minute when Herne Bay keeper Kamurasi made a fine low save following Sanders’ 12th long throw of the half.

Mobolaji Dawodu’s poor header at the near post didn’t clear the penalty area and Bryant hooked his shot towards the bottom right-hand corner from inside a crowded area, which forced the goalkeeper to stick out a strong left hand to palm the ball behind for a corner, only for a goal-kick to be awarded.

Blackman said: “Strange one! I don’t think we created as many chances as we wanted.  We know the throw is a massive, massive weapon and they defended the first phase really well and we got on the second phase.  I don’t know why the referee gave a goal-kick. I thought it was a really good save by the goalkeeper but on another day you’d like to think that one sneaks in because it was a half decent opportunity.”

Smith added: “It’s an absolute weapon and I’ve been around Connor previously and I think the throws got better. It was very difficult to defend and it proves a real attacking impetus for them.

“They’ll continue to cause teams problems because it is a threat.  I think Mobolaji Dawodu was outstanding today. It was a great win in the air there. It’s the second one that kills you half the time and thankfully George has made a good save.”

Herne Bay were a threat on the counter-attack and were to be denied a third goal in the 39th minute.

Campbell was given Whitstable right-back Jake MacKenzie a torrid time with his pace and cutting in to the box from the left wing and his right-footed angled drive was parried away by Eason, diving to his left and Tom Carlton’s follow-up, which he tried to bend into the bottom right-hand corner was blocked by Bryant.

Smith said: “I know we’ve got another player whose scored a couple of goals and people talk about Zak Ansah.  I think Kieron was superb today, not just his work going forward, defensively he was getting in really good areas and just getting in the right place at the right time.  When he’s one-on-one with you it’s very difficult to defend and he gave us real impetus for us today.”

Whitstable Town missed a glorious chance to bring themselves back into the game just before the interval.

Elliott played a sublime diagonal pass towards right-winger John Ufuah and this should have been cut out by Kabamba, but poor control of the ball let in Ufuah, who wasted the chance by sweeping his right-footed shot across the keeper and past the far post from 15-yards.

“John’s a young kid learning and I can’t be too critical but we should be hitting the target there,” admitted Blackman.

“That’s probably the difference, it’s probably an identical phase from their goal in a strange way and unfortunately we haven’t hit the target and from a chances point of view it’s a very similar one that they took and we didn’t and I think that probably sums up the whole game.”

Smith revealed: “I had Simon Kabamba playing at left-back today instead of Patrick Nzuzi.  Simon is a right-footed player and he showed a little bit of naivety to go on his right-foot there when he’s facing the goal. He’s played right into the hands and got clean through but I think we got away with one there but I was really pleased with the way that Simon recovered in the game and went on to have a really good game.”

Whitstable Town kept creating the goalscoring chances and were to be denied a goal by some fantastic defending from Herne Bay’s right-back.

Sanders’ 13th throw of the game wasn’t controlled by anybody and was recycled back into the box by the impressive Liam Gillies. The ball was knocked back across goal by Elliott at the far post and Millbank was denied his 10th goal of the season by a brilliant goal-line headed clearance from Ryan Cooper.

Blackman said: “A tremendous bit of defending, it really was! It’s an open goal and Millbank struck it well and the guy dived in and blocked it with the back of his head and threw his body in the way.  Ninety-nine times out of 100 that gets buried and it didn’t today.

“I said in my report of the Ashford game when we had chances to get back into the game or even to go ahead in the game and we didn’t take them and that was almost a carbon copy what happened on Boxing Day at Ashford, so you get back in at half-time after that opportunity that probably gets us back into the game. I thought we were the team on the front foot and the ascendancy and it just didn’t quite happen.”

Smith said: “We’ve been really good defensively, we’ve thrown bodies on the line where a couple of months ago they would’ve scored there. 

“The club went, I think it was, nearly two years without keeping a clean sheet at home and we’ve got two on the bounce now and that’s without having Callum Adonis-Taylor, who pulled out in the warm-up today injured and Patrick Nzuzi is away. They’re two players that have been instrumental in our defensive performances recently and it didn’t matter what we changed, we were excellent at the back today.”

Both managers were asked their thoughts at the break.

Smith admitted: “We weren’t good enough! We weren’t good enough at all!

“I can go in there and be pleased with 2-0, which we were but we were nowhere near and we had to raise it.  If we didn’t raise it they were going to score, they would’ve scored. 

“You could tell we haven’t played for a few weeks (a goal-less home draw against Haywards Heath Town on 14 December) and we did look rusty and we looked a yard short all over the pitch but we’ve played a lot better and been beaten in games at half-time so you’re not going to turn that down whenever we attacked them I thought we would score.”

Blackman revealed he had to pick his troops off the floor.

He said: “They were all just bitterly disappointed that they couldn’t believe they were 2-0 down and nor could we, the management team.

“We said make sure we don’t concede early on in the second half and we’ll get a chance or two and we take it then it’s game on.  We just tried to remain upbeat and positive knowing that the first half performance didn’t warrant being 2-0 down - but it was.

“We had to say if we can get ourselves back into it and don’t concede a silly goal and defend a little bit better and be a little bit more clinical in the final third we might get ourselves back into it but saying that wasn’t the case.”

Herne Bay created the first opening of the second half inside 10 minutes when the ball was worked in from the left to Carlton whose angled drive was comfortably held by Eason.

And at the other end, within 38 seconds, Stannard drilled a right-footed shot towards the top far corner from 25-yards, only for Kamurasi to grab the ball high to his left, although the ball was going to fly behind for a goal-kick.

Herne Bay scored their third goal with a strike of high-quality from Walters with 15 minutes and 55 seconds on the clock.

Dawodu did superbly on the edge of the penalty area to hold off his man before spraying the ball over to Walters on the right. He easily cut inside Whitstable’s left-back James Brown and curled a sublime left-footed 25-yarder, which curled into the very top far corner of the goal giving Eason no chance, or any other goalkeeper in the world, any chance to make the save.

Smith was full of praise for the former Chelsea and Greenwich Borough winger, who on finishes like that should be playing at a higher level of football.

“Not much you can say about that! This kid has got so much ability,” he said.

“He was touch and go whether he was going to play today. He’s been ill over the Christmas period and really struggled.  We made a couple of changes and we didn’t really want to make another change so we managed to get him out there and we got a good 67 minutes out of him.

“I mean it was an amazing finish, that just shows why he’s been at a level at Chelsea and I’m sure he’ll go back to that level.

“It weren’t his best performance today but he’s picked up two goals and he’s really flying at the moment.  The good thing about him he’s not a one trick pony. He can go down the right-hand side of you, he can go both ways and he’s a nightmare to play against and I’m just pleased that we’ve got him with us and hopefully for the boy somebody comes in for him because I think he’s got the ability to play at a much higher level and hopefully that happens for him.”

Blackman admitted: “It was a great goal. I was standing right behind it and it was a yard or two outside the post and bent it on a postage stamp.

“The players will know me and I say things to try to improve them in that area and the thing I don’t want is a player dancing inside. We should be showing him out wide and James Brown’s body shape was to show him out wide but he’s done him for half a yard and put one in the top corner and you kind of think it’s deflating because the boys didn’t deserve that. That’s probably the difference today – they were very clinical and we wasn’t!”

Nothing in front of goal was falling for Whitstable Town and an example of this came when Millbank’s hooked shot sailed over the crossbar after Gillies put the ball into the Herne Bay penalty area.

Whitstable Town’s best chance of the second half came at the halfway mark.

The impressive Gillies played the ball out to Ufuah out on the right and he cut inside and his angled drive was parried away by Kamurasi, diving to his right. The ball came out to Stannard, who swept his first time drive looping over the crossbar from 12-yards, putting his head in his hands in despair.

“Do you know what, they was the time when we looked across the bench and sort of shook our heads and think Christ,” admitted Blackman.

“Some good piece of work from John. It was saved and it’s come back to Harry and it’s gone a yard behind him and where he’s had to try to flick it it’s agonisingly over the bar and you can’t write that stuff, you can’t coach that stuff. It’s sometimes the way that the ball falls half a yard behind you instead of on your right foot and Harry done really well to be able to get a shot off. It came back and he flicked it from behind him.”

Smith added: “They were pushing bodies forward and they’re always going to get a chance but I thought we defended well and I thought George was good in goal today as well.”

Carlton played the ball inside to Ansah (who often dropped deep) and space opened up in front of him before his right-footed drive from 35-yards flashed past the left-hand post.

Ansah turned his man in another deep role and played the ball out to substitute right-winger Ryan King-Elliott, who shifted the ball on the outside of Brown before drilling his shot over the top of the near post, lacking composure with only the keeper to beat.

A pacey run straight down the heart of the pitch from the highly-rated Carlton ended with Eason making a low save to his right to push the ball behind for the home side’s fourth and final corner of the game.

Smith said: “I asked Tom to make a couple of adjustments to his game today and he made some fantastic runs going forward, which weren’t quite picked out and the ball wasn’t played at the right time. I felt for him because his runs deserved better service but they’ll come for him. He was unlucky, he ran 40 yards to get on the ball and nicked it and Dan Eason has made a good save.”

Herne Bay created the final chance of the game inside the final nine minutes when Campbell came to life and unleashed a left-footed angled drive which screamed past the far post from 30-yards.

On claiming the local bragging rights, Herne Bay manager Smith said: “It’s a lot especially as I grew up a 30 second walk from the ground in Whitstable literally.  I’ve played for both clubs so I know what it’s like either side. It does mean a lot.”

Smith wants his Herne Bay side to gate-crash the play-off party at the end of the season.

Hastings United are top of the tree with 38 points from 17 games, while the four teams in the play-offs tonight are Ashford United (34 points from 18 games); Cray Valley (32 points from 17 games), Whitehawk (30 points from 15 games) and Whyteleafe (30 points from 17 games).

“I think that puts us in the driving seat at the moment to be in the play-offs,” said Smith.

“It is very early and the club hasn’t spoken about play-offs for a long time so why not speak about it now?! Let’s not be afraid of the word, it’s what we’ve got to be aspiring to this season or moving forward.

“Did we expect to be challenging for the play-offs this season? Probably not. When you consider the huge transformation of the club what’s coming and going and off the pitch we’re in a much better position that what we expected at this point, so I’m delighted.

“Building momentum is the phrase for it. We’re getting stronger as the season goes, which I predicted. When it was doom and gloom and everyone thought I was the worst manager in the world earlier on.  I always knew that the group was going to get better.  If we can get through a couple of months of the season picking points up we might be in with a shout of being a dark horse.

“Haywards Heath weren’t really fancied last year and suddenly they got in the play-offs and when we played them the other week they showed what a good side they are, so for us we’ve gone under the radar and made some marquee signings at this level with the likes of Zak Ansah and that probably puts more pressure on where the club was.  We’re slowly getting there and I think the club can only get better, the support is growing and it will continue to grow with wins and it’s a good time to be at Herne Bay Football Club.”

Both sides are back in action on Saturday with Herne Bay travelling to Eltham to play third-placed Cray Valley (Paper Mills), while Whitstable Town host seventh-placed Sevenoaks Town.

It’s never easy to lose a local derby against your bitter rivals and Blackman had this message to the travelling Whitstable Town support.

“They’re marvellous.  I just hope they looked at the performance and I’ve spoken to quite a few of them after the game and we’re all sitting there seeing it the same way thinking it’s a horrible result but the performance, if the boys give a performance like that then you’re going to pick up a lot of points more than we’re going to lose.

“The difference was they were able to take their chances and we didn’t and sometimes that doesn’t go your way for little periods of spells during the game.

“We probably had the better chances throughout the game. I don’t know what the statistics were.  I’m probably looking at it through rose tinted glasses but everyone else I’ve spoken to has said the same thing. Sometimes those things don’t go your way and you have to dust yourself off and go again on Saturday against Sevenoaks.”

Herne Bay: George Kamurasi, Ryan Cooper, Simon Kabamba, Danny Lawrence (Chris Saunders 83), Joe Nelder, Laurence Harvey, Kieron Campbell (Kyron Lightfoot 87), Mobolaji Dawodu, Zak Ansah, Tom Carlton, Tushaun-Tyresse Walters (Ryan King-Elliott 67).
Subs: Callum Adonis-Taylor, Victor Aiyelabola

Goals: Tushaun-Tyresse Walters 3, 61, Zak Ansah 26 (penalty)

Booked: Joe Nelder 6, Simon Kabamba 65

Whitstable Town: Dan Eason, Jake MacKenzie, James Brown, Liam Gillies, Connor Sanders (Leonardo Mazzone 86), Tom Bryant, John Ufuah (Marshall Wratten 71), Tijan Jadama, Aaron Millbank, Harry Stannard, Marcus Elliott.
Subs: Charles Etumnu, Josh Spencer, Mohammed Cham

Booked: James Brown 29

Attendance: 831
Referee: Mr Scott Rudd
Assistants: Mr Kennedy Kikulwe & Mr Ross Mortimer