Hollands & Blair 1-1 K Sports - When you've missed two penalties it's not going to be your night, admits Hollands & Blair boss Simon Halsey

Wednesday 22nd January 2020
Hollands & Blair 1 – 1 K Sports
Location Star Meadow, Darland Avenue, Gillingham, Kent ME7 3AN
Kickoff 22/01/2020 19:45

Sea Pioneer Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division
Wednesday 22 January 2020
Stephen McCartney reports from Darland Avenue

HOLLANDS & BLAIR manager Simon Halsey admits his side put in their poorest performance of the season tonight.

This poor game will be best remembered for the foggy conditions in Gillingham, a sticky playing surface and Hollands & Blair missing two penalties and each side scoring a late goal.

Visiting goalkeeper Haydon Chipping saved Ben Brown’s first half penalty, before Halsey brought on Harry Goodger and with his first touch he smashed his penalty against the underside of the crossbar with 22 minutes remaining.

Striker Goodger made amends, however, drilling a low free-kick into the bottom far corner to score his 15th goal of the season to give his side the lead with two minutes remaining, before K Sports snatched a deserved last-gasp equaliser through super-sub George Benner.

“Poor, poor from us tonight, totally poor,” admitted Halsey, whose side extended their unbeaten run to six games and are now a place above Chatham Town in fourth-place in the Sea Pioneer Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division table with 40 points from their 22 league games.

“There’s two penalties taken to take the lead, we’re down to 10 men and we’ve got 30-40 seconds to go and my goalie decides, we set ourselves going up the bottom left-hand corner and he just needs to kick the corner and he decides to kick to the right and they break and get a throw-in and they’ve had a bit of luck and stuck it in.

“That’s not us tonight! We were playing at 75%, every player, right across the pitch.

“It’s got nothing to do with the conditions. We know this pitch. It doesn’t matter if it’s sunny, boggy, raining or foggy, we know how to play this pitch. We never played the pitch tonight the way we like to play it and this is our pitch and we’ve dropped four points here this week (having been held to a 1-1 draw at home to Punjab United at the weekend).

“There was nothing in the game, we had no zest. We had nothing about us tonight and that’s the first time I’ve said that all season. We had nothing about us tonight, nothing at all. We took the lead with 10 men, game management was out of the window!”

K Sports manager Paul Atkins’ side remain in fifteenth-place in the table, having collected 24 points from as many games.

“We deserved it! I thought there were moments in the game that we deserved,” said Atkins.

“Either side didn’t create too many chances. It was a bit of a stalemate but I thought we were the better side in the first half. 

“I thought the penalty was a bit harsh, both penalties were a bit harsh. I was disappointed with some of the decisions.  I could hear certain people agree. Some of the penalties he was giving, I don’t know, it’s not a comment I really don’t want to make.  The ref took it on board afterwards but I thought a draw was a fair result.”

A crowd of 118 witnessed a hard-fought encounter between two physical sides and the foggy conditions and poor playing surface set-up an ugly battle with very few goalscoring opportunities.

Hollands & Blair created an opening inside the opening five minutes when roaming right-back Sam Welch played in a low cross from the right and visiting keeper Haydon Chipping smothered at the feet of Ricky Freeman, who was forced off through a hamstring injury a couple of minutes before the first goal, which saw the home side finish the game with 10 men as Halsey had used his three subs by then.

“That is exactly what I’m saying about being 75%,” added Halsey.

“The ball’s bobbled around the box and we’ve just not reacted, not just Ricky, there were other players around him. People were not reacting. We didn’t react tonight to situations in the game, we reacted five seconds after the situation occurred.”

K Sports then went on to play on the front foot, without really creating many goalscoring opportunities.

K Sports went close to scoring following their first of nine corners.

Connor Pring swung the ball in from the right and there was pin-ball inside the six-yard box before the ball was cleared out to centre-half Tom Penfold, who cut inside before curling his left-footed shot around the far post from 25-yards.

“We were better in possession. I thought we were better physically but chances were few and fair between,” admitted Atkins.

Atkins’ side created an opening in the 27th minute following a set-piece.

Penfold drilled a free-kick just inside the Blair half towards the far post where striker Matthew Gething found a pocket of space but his downward header was easily gathered by Adam Highsted at his near post.

“Everyone wants Gething at the moment and rightly so, he’s a decent player,” said Atkins.

“He loves the club. I have a great relationship with Geth. He works extremely hard, the boys look up to him and he’s now our skipper. I’ve made him skipper and you can tell by his goals, he scored a hat-trick (during our 5-1 win at Welling Town) at the weekend and he’s a threat in the air.”

K Sports almost took a deserved lead in the 33rd minute when number 10 Pring cracked a right-footed half-volley from 35-yards, aiming for the top left-hand corner, only for the ball to bounce right in front of Highsted, who got enough on the ball to scoop it over the top of the other post.

Atkins said: “I thought it was going to go in to be fair. He’s hit it quite late and I thought the fog was a big thing for him, the keeper has seen it quite late. It’s easily skimmed off and you’re thinking if that goes in…”

Halsey added: “I wouldn’t say he’s fumbled, it’s hit a bobbly pitch right in front of him and he’s done well to get behind it and stick it over the bar. I don’t think either team created many chances, did they?”

Referee Matthew Grist awarded Hollands & Blair a controversial penalty, which they failed to convert with 37 minutes and 40 seconds on the clock.

Welch got into the final third and drove in a cross from the right and K Sports’ centre-half Ashley Cooper flicked the ball up with his boot, which then struck his hand and in today’s Laws that is not a penalty.

Both sets of players argued amongst themselves with Hollands & Blair’s Freeman and K Sports’ Dan McLaughlin allegedly getting involved in an altercation, although the referee spoke to Brown and Penfold instead.

The delay obviously helped Chipping more than Brown, smothering the drilled right-footed penalty, which was struck straight just right of centre.

“I’ve not seen Ben miss too many penalties to be fair, I’ve seen him miss one or two,” said Halsey.

“I just think the referee taking the period of time it took to sort it out.  He spoke to the wrong people as well, it was completely the two wrong people so it’s maybe taken one or two, two and a half minutes to sort that out.  I’m not making an excuse but you’ve got to score a penalty.”

Atkins added: “Do you know what? I think that’s justice! As you say, it’s not a pen. I think everyone knows it’s not a pen. If you ask them honestly, of course, the other side are going to say ‘yes, it’s a pen’, but in my eyes it’s not a pen and justice was served.

“Haydon’s a great shot-stopper, week-in-week-out he saves shots, that’s what he does and he’s coming on leaps and bounds and improving every game and I’m pleased that he saved it and we deserved that, I think.”

Both managers were asked their thoughts at the break, while the people watching this game craved for some excitement.

Halsey said: “I know that pitch, defending that half is always a hard task when it's bobbly, wet and muddy so we’ve done our job up until then and I thought second half we were slightly better. I thought we retained the ball a bit more and passed it a bit better but we haven’t created enough chances as far as I’m concerned.”

Atkins was delighted with his side who put in plenty of commitment, heart and desire during combat – but lacked quality where it really mattered until Benner’s sublime last-gasp strike.

“Just keep turning them! The pitch is – no disrespect – it’s poor! You’ve got that slope and I’ve played on it myself for years and it’s got that slope and it’s churning up out there at this time of the year,” said Atkins.

“We’re lucky to have what we have (3G pitch) with the facilities side of it and it does benefit when you’ve got tames like this.

“I thought it was a bit hit and miss whether the referee was going to call it off with the fog but he’s played it and I think it was fair.

“I just said to the boys, just keep turning them, we’re winning the battles and that was the most important part so just keep doing the right things and keep putting the ball in the right areas and I thought we were the better side second half.”

K Sports went close to smashing the deadlock inside the opening 12 minutes of the second half.

Right-back Connor Cheek delivered a deep cross for thirteen-goal targetman Gething, who found space some 15-yards from goal to glance his header across the keeper, which the referee deemed Highsted tipped behind the post, while diving to his right beside the upright.

Atkins said: “That’s Geth, he puts himself in the right areas. I’d like to say about Connor, he’s come in today.  Ollie Debnam has come back from a major injury so we didn’t want to play him tonight so Cheek’s come in. He’s a great lad and he had a stormer. He was probably the best player out there tonight. He’s young, he plays for Kent and he’s got a good future ahead of him and he listens and takes it all on board, so well done Cheek.”

Halsey added: “I don’t think he even tipped it around the post to be honest. If you ask Adam, if you ask my players, he hasn’t touched it.  I think that’s why they were remonstrating with the referee.  Gething got a free header, which I’m not happy about. We’re not at the races tonight!”

K Sports midfielder Pring swung in his side’s seventh corner of the game, deep towards the far post, the ball was headed away and gave Pring a chance to score, only for him to sweep his shot past the foot of the near post from inside the box.

Hollands & Blair striker Brown was sent to the ground by K Sports’ centre-half Ashley Cooper, so the referee awarded the home side their second penalty, which was missed with 22 minutes and 37 seconds on the clock.

Goodger came off the bench to replace Brown and drilled his right-footed penalty against the underside of the crossbar with his first touch, as he attempt to smash his shot into the top right-hand corner went horribly wrong.

“Another penalty, another chance to win the game, two penalties and it’s 2-0 and they’re out of the game,” said Halsey.

“I think if we’d have gone 2-0 up they would’ve folded but he’s gone full of confidence, which he’s about and he’s struck the bar and it’s come out and they nearly broke and scored from that.  We managed to thwart that one and managed to get ourselves back into the game.

“When you’ve missed two penalties it’s not going to be your night!”

Atkins added: “I’m going to be honest, no one knows (why it was given) because it was so far back and the fog and we were unaware of it and Coops is adamant he's made no contact.”

On the ball rattling the crossbar, Atkins said: “I think it’s justice again but I’m going to say that. I think it’s fair to say, it’s a good draw.”

With a goal-less stalemate looking to be the most likeliest of outcome, the game actually exploded into some excitement towards the end of this dour battle.

Hollands & Blair felt they had snatched the victory by taking the lead with 42 minutes and 7 seconds on the clock.

Visiting goalkeeper Chipping was at fault for not setting up his wall properly, which allowed Goodger to drill his right-footed free-kick past the four-man wall and across the keeper into the bottom far corner from 19-yards, sparking premature wild celebrations from the occupants of the home side’s dug-out.

“He’s scored a couple of them this year so fair play to him. He’s drilled it straight into the bottom corner. We’re down to 10 men and we’re 1-0 up, it’s about game management then,” said Halsey.

“I never thought the game was won. My bench was getting a little bit lively and I said ‘calm yourselves down, we haven’t got the points in the bag yet’ and I was proved right!”

Atkins added: “I think if you’re going to be honest, the wall’s in the wrong place. I think that’s something that we’ll work on in training, making sure the wall’s in the right area.

“Haydon’s positioned the other side of it but that’s a young keeper and Haydon understands that. It’s not his fault. We shouldn’t have given away the free-kick in the first place.  It’s all about game play and making sure we’re sensible in those areas and it’s a good goal, he hit it well.”

There were going to be four additional minutes but K Sports snatched a deserved point with four minutes and a second on the clock.

Left-back Adam Hooper threw the ball into the box and Benner, a centre-half by trade, who came on with 46:16 on the clock as an emergency striker, swept a beautiful curler around the keeper into the top far corner from 16-yards, just inside the corner of the box to silence their opponents celebrations.

Atkins said: “You always hope, don’t you, you really do hope.

“What a finish! He’s a centre-half to be fair and he’s been my skipper and he’s been injured and it’s the first time he’s played in two or three months and he said ‘go on gaffer, put me up there’, so we put him on and I played him up top.  He’s hit it, pros would’ve been proud of that. He’s hit it top right-hand corner. It’s what dreams are made of!”

A furious Halsey added: “I’m not worried about George Benner scoring. I’m worried about my wide-left player hasn’t kicked the channel and stuck it down the corner flag to kill the time.

“My goalie has got the ball on the left-hand side of his goal. We’ve set ourselves up down there. My biggest player Harry Goodger wins the headers and he’s gone and kicked it straight up there. They’ve broke, we’ve cleared our lines and they’ve got a throw-in and scored from it, so poor game management from my whole team.”

Hollands & Blair travel to Erith & Belvedere on Saturday, while K Sports host Deal Town.

“It does (feel like a defeat). We’ve lost four points at home this week, which is unheard of. I’m not happy at all about that but I’ve got to praise the lads what we’ve done prior to tonight and we move on and dust ourselves off,” said Halsey.

“I’m over the moon with where we are. We can’t moan, half a season together, cannot moan one little bit. We’re doing exactly what we want to do and tonight was a little bit off so we’ll dust ourselves off and we’ll reflect on what the season’s been and we’re six games unbeaten still.

“The players will go away and think what they didn’t do individually tonight and that’s a big thing. We didn’t make the right decisions and that collectively makes a team not functioning how we should’ve been and we need to get back to that on Saturday by making the right decisions, individually and collectively and hopefully get back to winning ways and put three points on the board, which we’re obviously aiming to do.”

Deal Town head coach Steve King was in attendance tonight, following two penalty shoot-out successes over Binfield (FA Vase) and Bearsted (Challenge Cup) during the past few days.

“We struggled with results because we wasn’t as physical, tonight we’ve showed that we’ve got that,” added Atkins.

“That’s what tonight was about, making sure we’ve come away, get a point, three points if we can and take it on to Saturday at home to Deal.”

Hollands & Blair: Adam Highsted, Sam Welch (Harry Kingdon 81), Lewis Mingle, Stuart West, Cameron Heffernan, Calum McGeehan, Jack Simon, Louis Valencia, Ben Brown (Harry Goodger 68), Ricky Freeman, Darren Cooper (Liam Stone 60).
Subs: Caleb Bearman-Dyce, Harrison Pont

Goal: Harry Goodger 88

K Sports: Haydon Chipping, Connor Cheek, Adam Hooper, Daniel McLaughlin, Tom Penfold, Ashley Cooper (George Benner 90), James Alderman (Omotunmise Akanni 76), Robbie Dolan, Matthew Gething, Connor Pring (Jordon Ababio 89), Flavius Marian Petrisor.
Sub: Boyan Grigorov

Goal: George Benner 90

Booked: Matthew Gething 73, Connor Pring 79

Attendance: 118
Referee: Mr Matthew Grist
Assistants: Mr John Quirke & Mr Christopher Bowdery