Hollands & Blair 2-1 Fisher - There's a lot of people who want to be in our position tonight winning this competition and we've done it the hard way but we've done it the Hollands & Blair way, says manager Scott Porter

Monday 01st May 2023
Hollands & Blair 2 – 1 Fisher
Location The Belmont, Belmont Road, Whitstable, Kent CT5 1QP
Kickoff 01/05/2023 14:00

Southern Counties East Football League Challenge Cup Final
Bank Holiday Monday 1 May 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from Belmont Road

HOLLANDS & BLAIR manager Scott Porter says he was feeling emotionally drained but proud as punch after his club celebrated winning the Southern Counties East Football League Challenge Cup for the second time in seven years.

Paul Piggott’s class of 2016 beat Erith & Belvedere 2-0, thanks to Sam Prescott’s brace at Park View Road - and Porter’s men suffered disappointment in Maidstone when they lost 2-1 to Sheppey United in the Kent Senior Trophy Final last April.

Targetman Ben Brown gave Hollands & Blair the lead, against-the-run-of-play, before Fisher striker Isaac Thompson emphatically notched his 20th goal of the season, from the penalty spot, with the last kick of the first half.

Ben Brown headed in his fifteenth goal of the season following a corner with seven minutes remaining to send the Challenge Cup to Gillingham for a second time.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game like that before,” admitted Porter.

“I’ve won some stuff in my time but (it was a) topsy-turvy game. We wasn’t at the races in the first half and to get in and have what went on and 12 minutes of injury time, I think I’m emotionally, mentally drained because we know what it means.

“We fell short last year in the Kent Senior Trophy Final and we wanted to give everything today.  Obviously, to do what we did, to hang on, yes I’m immensely proud of everyone.”

Fisher boss Ajay Ashanike reflected on his side’s 59th game of the season.

“Gutted.  I thought we were the better team over 90 minutes. The decision killed us today but it is what it is.  We’ve made mistakes, the referee made a mistake. I didn’t think it was a corner for the winning goal.

“I thought over the 90 minutes, my boys did the club really proud.

“We huffed and puffed, there wasn’t clear chances but we huffed and puffed better than them.  They got an easy goal that we shouldn’t have conceded.  Their set-pieces as usual, we should be better than that but it is what it is.”

Hollands & Blair completed their Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division campaign in fifteenth-place in the table with 45 points from 38 games, while Fisher finished theirs in eleventh-place with 52 points on the board.

Porter’s men defeated Larkfield & New Hythe (2-1), Welling Town (6-2), Bearsted (6-5 on penalties after a 2-2 draw) and Kennington (5-4 on penalties) after the two-legged Semi-Finals finished 3-3 on aggregate to reach this showpiece Final.

However, Hollands & Blair arrived in Whitstable without a win in seven games since denying Dan Scorer’s side a place in the Final.

Fisher defeated Bermondsey Town (5-1), Phoenix Sports (3-2), Stansfeld (7-1) and beat Sutton Athletic 5-2 on aggregate in the last-four to reach their maiden Challenge Cup Final.

Ashanike made 11 changes to the side that completed their league campaign with a 1-0 home win over fellow Bermondsey side Stansfeld nine days ago.

Referee Marcin Indyk issued more yellow cards than there were clear-cut chances during a disappointing, cagey encounter on Whitstable Town’s artificial pitch.

Fisher started the game well and on the front foot and created their first opening inside the opening 10 minutes.

Advanced right-back Inesh Sumithran whipped in a cross from within the right-channel, which skimmed off the head of Blair centre-half John Walker.

Left-winger Cedric Nganga fed the ball into Thompson, who laid the ball off for Prince Imoru but the holding midfielder drilled his first-time right-footed drive high over the bar from inside the D.

“We started off really well, the energy was there. We moved the ball really well then after a while we couldn’t get hold of the game,” admitted Ashanike.

“Prince done us a favour today.  I thought he done really well but we should be testing the keeper there.”

Hollands & Blair goalkeeper Dan Ellis showed a safe pair of hands at the halfway point of the first half.

Left-back Conor Darwish played the ball down the line and Nganga cut into the box and poked his right-footed shot towards the bottom near corner from a tight angle some six-yards out, only for Ellis to grab hold of the ball while diving to his left.

“We knew what Fisher were going to do, they’re going to come at us,” said Porter.

“We haven’t had the greatest run-in to the cup final but we’ve done so much work on them, Tuesday, today, we done so much work but sometimes you’ve got to ride your luck in a cup final and we did do that – I’m emotionally drained.”

Fisher produced a well-worked move when Nganga and central midfielder Michael Sarpong linked up and the ball was rolled out to Sumithran, who whipped in a cross and the ball came out to Imoru, whose right-footed drive from 18-yards was gathered by Ellis at the second attempt.

Fisher caught Hollands & Blair on the counter-attack in the 33rd minute when Sarpong’s through ball from inside the Fisher half released striker Jacob Katonia, whose pace took him past a couple of defenders before placing his right-footed shot past Ellis only for the ball to bounce off the foot of the right-hand post from 18-yards.

Ashanike said: “Jacob’s done really well. I think he beat two players on the half-way line and just ran past everyone. He does that every week and he was a massive loss for us the last 10-12 games he hasn’t played and this is the first game he’s played in three or four months.”

Porter added: “We rode our luck very much so.  They came at us proper, they were lively, they’re a good side, they’re a good footballing side.”

Hollands & Blair left-back Harry Brown launched a free-kick towards the edge of the Fisher box from the half-way line and Ben Brown (no relation) steered his header bouncing harmlessly wide of the goal.

However, Hollands & Blair snatched the lead with 36 minutes and 2 seconds on the clock, against-the-run-of-play.

Walker hit a long diagonal out of defence, the ball was flicked on by Harvey Welford – who plays down the left of a three-man attack – (his dad Shaun Welford was superb in the air) and Ben Brown clinically swept his right-footed shot across goalkeeper Samuel Amedu to roll his shot into the bottom far corner from 15-yards.

“We know they like to bomb on and we had to hit them areas (in the channel) but our contribution in the final third was poor, so yes, it was frustrating,” said Porter.
“Obviously, we got our goal, which took a bit of pressure off and then we gave away a poor goal again.

“You’re right, it was against-the-run-of-play.  We scored at the right time which gave us a lift – but we just couldn’t see it out.”

Ashanike added: “Ben Brown’s a good player. We planned for him. I think that was the first chance that he’s had all game and that’s the first chance he’s had and he’s put it away. He’s a top player and you’ve got to show respect to him.

“We fell asleep there and we left ourselves two-on-two and he took advantage of it. He’s a big man and he rolled him and he scored.”

Fisher missed a glorious chance to hit back, producing a well-worked move.

Hollands & Blair centre-back Rob Gillman floated a long ball into the left-channel, which was comfortably dealt with by Fisher centre-half Luke Thomas, who played the ball down the line to send Katonia on his way down the right.

After twisting and turning Harry Brown he fed the ball into Thompson, who picked out Tobon in space at the far post but the Fisher winger rifled his shot high up into the side netting from a tight angle inside the six-yard box.

“I thought he should be tucking that one in really. If he was where we told him to be, Andres finishes that. As I keep saying, it is what it is. We just live and learn from it,” added Ashanike.

Fisher deservedly equalised from the penalty spot, two minutes and 51 seconds into stoppage time.

Katonia twisted and turned Walker, who tripped the Fisher striker and referee Marcin Indyk pointed to the spot.

Thompson drilled his right-footed penalty emphatically into the roof of the net (almost the top right-hand corner) and Ellis, who dived underneath the ball was never going to stop it.

The referee blew for half-time as soon as Hollands & Blair re-started (48:40).

Ashanike said: “Jacob’s done really well to get the penalty.  We gave it to Isaac, Isaac missed the last penalty that he took for us against Lordswood and to put it away like that, he’s despatched it really well, really impressed.

“I wanted more of the same, just more of the same. We’ve done really well. You can’t ask for more.  We moved the ball really well, second half as well but I think we were a little bit shaky. Some of the decision making in the second half wasn’t good enough but it’s something that we got to get back on the training ground and make sure we do better next season.”

Porter added: “Johnny Walker’s held his hands up but we wasn’t good in the first half at all!

“It’s a penalty all day long, it’s a penalty, I’ve got no issue with that whatsoever. He should’ve stood up, he didn’t stand up and what a penalty that was.  You’re not going to stave that.

“We’ve got to be better, we’ve got to be better (in the second half), a lot better and I didn’t think we worked hard enough without the ball. 

“I want people to go out there and die for me, come off and they can’t walk no more.  You’re in a cup final, you’ve got everything to play for and I said that to them.  We needed a lot, lot more going forward and a lot more going the other way in and out of possession and I got it, I got it.”

The second half turned out to be a cagey stalemate, with Hollands & Blair creating their first chance in the 10th minute.

Louis Valencia played in a low cross from within the right-channel and Ben Brown poked the ball back and towards Jack Simon, the holding midfielder unleashing a right-footed drive just over the crossbar when left in space in a central position 25-yards from goal.

“We started brightly, we started ok.  I thought we were a lot better second half.  We tried to pinpoint their weaknesses by putting the ball in the channels, in behind them and we did that a few times. Jack Simon hasn’t hit the target but we were more threatening in the second half,” said Porter.

Both sides were lacking in quality in the final third, as both sets of defences, Gillman and Walker for Hollands & Blair and Thomas and Joseph Adewunmi were resilient.

“We made it 50-50. We made it into a personal battle and we allowed them to dominate that second half,” admitted Ashanike.

“Again, they were doing the long ball, the long ball that we expected them to do.  I don’t think they put five passes together but we tried our best to move the ball around, so I was really impressed with the boys, proud of them.”

Fisher should have done better following their sixth of eight corners, in the 70th minute but the final outcome was poor.

Sumithran played the corner short to Katonia, who fed Nganga (who was pressed by Simon’s sliding tackle on the corner of the box) but the Fisher winger scuffed his shot and rolled into Ellis’ hands for a very comfortable collection at his near post.

Praising his goalkeeper Ellis, Porter added: “He’s a leader and he hasn’t played for three or four games because he ran the London Marathon eight days ago but we missed him. He’s a massive part of this football club because he is a big, big lad and he’s a leader.”

Ashanike added: “The keeper was really good today. His presence was really good, his catching the ball really well, he done really well.”

Thompson cut the ball onto his right-foot before curling his shot around the far post from just inside the Hollands & Blair penalty area, before Hollands & Blair scored the winning goal with 37:40 on the clock.

Harry Brown slowly trotted over from his position at left-back to take their third and penultimate corner from the right.

He swung the ball in with his left-foot and Ben Brown found a pocket of space inside the penalty area to bury his header through a crowd of players to find the left-hand corner from 10-yards.

“It was the only decent ball that Harry Brown put in there today and that was so disappointing because we are so good from set-pieces,” said Porter.

“It the ball is right, we’ve got players who will get on the end of it. Ben Brown has been around this football club, it’s a great fairy tale for that man to score both goals and to be where we was, we only wanted Harry Brown to put one on the money and that’s all we ask for and we got the winner.

“Ben wasn’t good today and we’ve just had a laugh in there with him. We were going to bring him off because he was tired, he was gone but he’s a threat from set-pieces.  Our set-pieces were poor today, poor, poor. Harry Brown’s set-pieces were poor but he’s put one on the money.”

Ashanike added: “I don’t like talking about officials but that’s never a corner, that’s a goal-kick straight away!  If that decision was actually spot-on, that doesn’t happen but some of the decisions today absolutely let us down but it is what it is.  The decisions that we made on the pitch was absolutely terrible as well.

“We’ve worked on them we spoke about it in length. If you speak to any of my boys, I said to them today, the only way they were going to score is by set-pieces today. I don’t lie, I tell them the truth and that’s why they have to switch on.

“I know my players, as soon as it went for a corner, I knew they’ve got half-a-chance because we put so much in that they slipped, they slipped.”

Both manager’s were asked their thoughts on an incident behind the Hollands & Blair dug-out which saw Ashanike and Shaun Welford booked by the referee after Darwish was booked for a bad tackle.

Porter said: “It wasn’t the bench. It wasn’t our bench, it wasn’t their bench, it was the crowd. 

“It killed us a little but because I thought it was there. Once we scored that goal, it knocked the stuffing out of them but that happened. It’s been dealt with now hopefully but it knocked us back a little bit because it got all of those minutes on the clock, so I didn’t like that.  I didn’t want it but that’s part and parcel of people being involved, that’s fans’ for you.

“We tried to get involved, they tried to get involved to sort things out. There was no bad blood between the two benches.  Obviously, there’s passion, there’s fight but there was no bad blood at all. We were just trying to sort the problem out.”

Ashanike revealed: “The fans, there’s certain words that you shouldn’t be using against a woman as a man and that is absolutely embarrassing from a big club like that.  If there not dealing with them, then we’ve got issues at football.

“Things like this will not allow girls to watch football. We need to get more female fans and female players but if you’re going to be saying things like that to females then what’s the point in coming to football?

“That’s my wife.  No I didn’t react, other fans reacted on it.  I don’t know (what was said), I wasn’t involved with it. I don’t want to be a part of it but again it’s respect.  Respect goes both ways for females, kids, there were kids there. There’s certain words that people use, they need to be cautious of it.”

Fisher threw bodies forward in the search of an equaliser to take the game to penalties, during the 12:29 of stoppage time.

“I’m gutted for the fans. I think if it went to penalties, we would’ve won it.  They were leggy and we could’ve nicked it,” claimed Ashanike.

However, they couldn’t find a way through and Hollands & Blair almost added a third on the counter-attack (54:37).

Tom Walmsley fed attacking midfielder Sam Stace, whose through ball released substitute striker Sam Wright in behind Darwish and Emmanuel Brown but once inside the penalty area down the left Wright rolled his left-footed shot from a tight angle straight at Amedu, who comfortably gathered the weak shot at his near-post.

“When the ref said (there was going to be) 12 minutes (of stoppage time), it’s a long time, it’s a long time, especially when you’re under the cosh and then we broke away a couple of times and we could’ve dealt with it a little bit better but yes, I’m emotionally drained but I’m proud as punch,” said Porter.

“I don’t care how you play. You’re not bothered in a cup final, it doesn’t matter but as long as you win the game, I don’t care. I honestly don’t care what anyone thinks. We’ve deserved to win this competition because we’ve just picked the trophy up, it’s as simple as that.

“It’s been a long journey. We’ve had a difficult season, not being at Star Meadow, being at Lordswood and this, that and the other and to go and win a trophy with the money involved in this level of football and go and do it with the budget I’ve got – Fisher haven’t got big money – but to go and do it with what I’ve got and the players I’ve got and the experience I’ve got.

“We haven’t got the legs that the other teams have got but we’ve got character and we never know when to give up and that’s what I bring to football teams and I’ve got another bit of silverware on the CV.

“All the committee are brilliant and they deserve it because we’ve been to two cup finals since I’ve been here and we fell short last year and they deserve it and the football club deserves it as well.”

Porter was proud of returning to his former club Whitstable Town and landing some silverware.  Hollands & Blair were drawn to use the home dressing room too.

“I’ve still got my signs in there that I put up there many years ago. It meant a lot to be in that changing room today and it meant a lot to win here today because I had good times here and there’s good people here and the facilities are great here. 

“To win this with the resources we’ve got makes it more special than what it had done in the past.

“No one talks about people who don’t win cup competitions.  After the disappointment of last year against Sheppey, was hard to take because of what we had, what me and my management team had.

“At Whitstable we won both cups so to go and do that today with the resources I’ve got and the committee round me and the fans’ involved, to do it here is a special moment.

“I’ve said to the boys we have to enjoy it tonight because these things don’t happen often.  There’s a lot of people who want to be in our position tonight winning this cup competition, a lot of people, a lot of teams and a lot of managers and we’ve done it.

“We’ve done it the hard way but we’ve done it the Hollands & Blair way.  We’ve got character, we’ve got leaders and we’ve got a lot of heart, desire and passion in there and that’s what we bring to this football club.”

Ashanike has produced a talented team with a zero budget and revealed that many will be leaving for pastures new during the summer months.

“It’s been a great season. We’ve done really well and the boys should be proud of themselves,” said the Fisher boss.

“There’s going to be so many offers for them but as I said to them in there, pick the right gaffer to play for.  I don’t really mind where they go but just pick the right person to play for.

“The boys have done really well for the club. They’ve put their heart into everything they’ve done this season and I can’t fault them. 

“The only thing I could say is again thank you to all of the boys who actually supported me, my coaching staff, the chairman, the fans. I’m gutted. I’m speechless. I’m gutted. I don’t know what to say.”

Fisher have a tough job to keep the highly-rated Ashanike at the club during the summer and when asked whether he will be staying for next season, Ashanike replied:  “We got to go back in the summer and review and see where it takes us. It’s been a good season for us. I feel we could do well as a team and as a club and see where it leads us really.

“Joseph Adewunmi is outstanding. He’s not on Welling United’s list for no reason and he showed that today again, absolutely outstanding.  Raised to the occasion, done really, really well, was vocal, was aggressive in the challenges, headers, he done really, really well.  Really impressed with him, really, really impressed with him.

“Hopefully he picks the right offer for him because he’s got a lot of offers on the table and I will help him out with that and who’s going to come in and step in and do the same job that he’s done for us really, who’s next?”

Ashanike had this message to the vocal Fisher faithful.

“Thank you for all of your support, it’s been absolutely appreciated. Just apologise that we couldn’t get it done.  At the start of the season, I asked for a good cup run. I think we gave them a great cup run in several cups and what we asked for was to finish above what we did last season and we done it.”

Hollands & Blair:  Dan Ellis, Tom Loynes, Harry Brown, Jack Simon, John Walker, Rob Gillman, Tom Walmsley, Louis Valencia (Lewis Allan 77), Ben Brown (Sam Wright 90), Sam Stace, Harvey Welford.
Subs: Elbie-Joe Boichat, George Hall, Alfie Hawkins

Goals: Ben Brown 37, 83

Booked: Ben Brown 18, Tom Loynes 62, Jack Simon 74, Shaun Welford 86 (coach), Sam Stace 89, Tom Walmsley 90

Fisher: Samuel Amedu, Inesh Sumithran (Emmanuel Shoderu 90), Conor Darwish, Prince Imoru (Emmanuel Brown 79), Luke Thomas, Joseph Adewunmi, Cedric Nganga, Michael Sarpong, Jacob Katonia, Isaac Thompson, Andres Felipe Losada Tobon (Darnelle Bailey-King 65).
Subs: Justice Owusu, Nader Zeddini

Goal: Isaac Thompson 45 (penalty)

Booked: Michael Sarpong 35, Isaac Thompson 57, Conor Darwish 86, Ajay Ashanike 86 (manager)

Attendance: 755
Referee: Mr Marcin Indyk
Assistants: Mr Kieran Williamson & Mr Ben Wright
Fourth Official:  Mr Harry Phillips