Hollands & Blair 1-2 Ramsgate - You come to these places, you win the game and you leave and that's what we've done, says Ramsgate boss Matt Longhurst

Saturday 21st August 2021
Hollands & Blair 1 – 2 Ramsgate
Location Star Meadow, Darland Avenue, Gillingham, Kent ME7 3AN
Kickoff 21/08/2021 15:00

The Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round
Saturday 21 August 2021
Stephen McCartney reports from Darland Avenue

RAMSGATE’S full-time manager Matt Longhurst complained about the playing surface after his players struggled to beat Hollands & Blair in this poor FA Cup Preliminary Round tie at Darland Avenue.

Hollands & Blair is rated by rival Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division managers as “a tough place to go,” and Isthmian League South East Division side Ramsgate failed to impress during this poor, slow tempo game.

Hollands & Blair got off to a dream start by taking the lead after only 54 seconds through Jack Simon before target man Harry Goodger had a penalty saved in the 26th minute during a dominant spell from the home side.

However, referee Zac Moules awarded his second penalty of the game in the 65th minute which was converted by Ramsgate striker Jordan Chiedozie before winger Joshua Ajayi slotted in a winner with nine minutes remaining.

Hollands & Blair went into this game in 12th place in the table with four points from four games and beat league rivals Holmesdale 3-0 in the Extra Preliminary Round a couple of weeks ago.

Ramsgate kicked-off their campaign with a 2-2 draw at Three Bridges last weekend and arrived in Gillingham in the top eight after 90 minutes of football.

Hollands & Blair manager Simon Halsey said: “Daylight robbery! Daylight robbery! They got away with daylight robbery today!

“We’ve gifted them two goals. We had the game in the bag and we have done everything that we asked them to do in the first half, everything right in the second half and then we made fundamental errors.

“We gave it away, they get in the box, is it a pen? I don’t know. It’s too far for me, so I’m not going to comment on that and it gets them in the ascendancy then.

“Other than that, they’re rattled. Their manager is moaning at the referee at half-time and got in the referee’s ear but the game plan against a side that’s in a league above, on our pitch, they were pretty decent to be fair as well, but we had them rattled.

“They couldn’t get at us at all apart from two goals, the goalie has only made a couple or three saves but I’m over the moon with them, pleased, delighted with the boys.

“I’m disappointed with the two mistakes. We made two mistakes (in our 2-0 home defeat) against Deal and one last Saturday. I know people say that’s where goals come from, mistakes, they don’t actually. They come from good play but they were fundamental mistakes today.

“The boys gave me absolutely everything, graft. I’ve just said to them if they take that work-rate, the shape of the side, listening to the instructions I gave them and take that into the league, we won’t be far off winning games of football but we’ve got to emulate that again and take that on.”

Ramsgate manager Longhurst clearly didn’t enjoy his Saturday afternoon in Gillingham.

“Not very good! I don’t think it was a very good game. I didn’t expect it to be a very good game. I thought we were the better team. We started slowly, they scored but in general is it going to be a good game here?  No! It’s not going to be a good game. I don’t think you’ll watch one good game here all season and that’s not being disrespectful. 

“They’re changing the pitch to 3G so they’re not doing anything with it and at the end of the day you come to these places, you win the game and you leave and that’s what we’ve done.”

A FA Cup upset was on the cards when Hollands & Blair scored following their first attack as a big kick from goalkeeper Mitchell Ware was controlled by Louis Valencia, who placed a through ball in behind the last defender to put Simon through on goal and he swept his right-footed shot across the keeper and into the bottom far corner from 16-yards.

Halsey said: “A great finish and Jack Simon’s been getting on the end of them all season. We’ve asked him to do that this year and he’s been doing it. It was a great finish.

“We still had a long way to go, against a good side, 89 minutes still to go but they were rattled, they were rattled!”

Longhurst added: “That’s just a poor goal. Their goalkeeper drops it, it bounces down, we win the first one and the second one and it drops down over midfield and they kick it over the top. The left-back (Sheminant) is far too high up the pitch, the midfield player should’ve dealt with it and it’s just a poor goal. There’s no more really to say about it.  It’s just not good enough!

“I think we were fitter than them but I think just playing matches that are competitive, you can’t change that. They’ve had five games and we’ve had one. It took us a little while to get going but we’ve only played one game whereas they’re already out of the traps now. When we’ve five games in, if we played a team that had one game I would expect us to start brighter so that’s why we probably started a little bit slowly. It’s hard to have the FA Cup away from home. We’ve played twice away from home so far.”

Ramsgate kept calm, however, and created their first opening with only four minutes and 21 seconds on the clock.

Former Rusthall winger Danny Lear fed central midfielder Denzelle Olopade through on goal down the left-hand side and from a tight angle his drilled shot was blocked by the keeper’s elbow at his near post.

“I thought Danny Lear and Joshua Ajayi were a threat throughout really if I’m honest,” said Longhurst.

“You can’t dribble the ball on the pitch, you can’t pass it so realistically as you can see you just have to come to these places and win and the least said about it the better.”

In true FA Cup spirit, Hollands & Blair were putting their bodies on the line as they went about their business to protect their early lead.

Lear cut in from the left and drilled his shot towards goal from 22-yards, but Blair’s right-back Luke Exall (who also put in two strong but fair challenges in the first-half) and Chris Saunders slid in to charge the ball down and the ball deflected past the left-hand post for a corner, with Saunders requiring treatment after being hit in a delicate area of his body.

Hollands & Blair squandered a glorious chance to double their lead in the 14h minute, following a second phase of a set-piece.

Valencia had a second bite of the cherry to put the ball back into the Ramsgate box and centre-half George Benner rose above George Sheminant to plant his header over the crossbar from 12-yards.

Benner was forced off through a calf strain ten minutes later so Halsey had to make a tactical switch with Ben Brown dropping back into centre-half alongside Kieran Sharp and diminutive substitute Sidney Hopkins coming on in a holding midfielder role.

Halsey said: “Another one, another great one, another great chance, an opportunity which I expected us to score, someone of Benner’s stature and quality and his presence. I expect him to hit the target and give us something to work off but another chance gone missing.”

When asked why Benner was substituted, Halsey revealed: “He’s had a bit of a calf (tweak) for a week now so it was a little bit of a gamble today but that’s the decision I made so I took it.  We had the personnel to change our shape and keep it how we wanted and we didn’t really change much.”

Hollands & Blair were a threat from set-pieces and Goodger was a threat to the Ramsgate defence as he ghosted in at the near post to flick his header towards the far post, forcing goalkeeper Jacob Russell to push the ball towards safety.

Ramsgate went close to grabbing an equaliser in the 21st minute, again from a set-piece.

Sheminant swung in a corner from the right and the ball was cleared out to Lear who waited for the ball to drop onto his right boot before hooking his volley over a crowd of players from inside the penalty area and against the crossbar as he aimed for the top far corner.

“Look, you’re not going to create a great deal because you can’t pass it so it’s just balls dropping down. He’s hit the bar.  Like I say, you can talk for as long as you want about the game, the game wasn’t a great spectacle,” admitted Longhurst.

“First half we weren’t very good, I don’t think they were great but we weren’t very good at all. We didn’t really carve out any openings but as I say you can’t play.  They talk about non-league, this pitch is, in my opinion, dangerous, it’s dangerous, it’s not even, it’s not cut. It’s got grass laying all over it and realistically that’s made the game very difficult and I’m just delighted (to win).

“We’ve got a lot of young players out there that have never been to places like this that have been playing in professional football academies over the last three or four years and this is great learning for them. This is a tough place to come.”

Halsey added: “They didn’t trouble us because it’s hit the bar and we dealt with it afterwards.  They were neat and tidy but we rattled them today, we out grafted them and everything and they just had that little bit of quality and our stupid mistakes have cost us the game.”

Ramsgate left-back Sheminant and centre-half Jamie Coyle opened the door to let Goodger to bulldoze his way in to drill a shot towards goal, which was beaten away by Russell.

The danger was not over, however, as 14 seconds later Sheminant tripped Goodger inside the penalty area and the referee awarded his first penalty.

Goodger wasted the glorious opportunity to put the game to bed, hitting a right-footed penalty, which Russell dived low to his left to make a fine penalty save.

“Harry’s made a decision what to do today, he’s struck it well and the goalie’s made a half-decent save. Usually he just smashes them down the middle with power, but that’s football for you, that’s football,” said Halsey.

Longhurst wasn’t happy with Sheminant’s performance for the 30 minutes that the former Chatham Town man struggled to cope with Goodger’s physicality.

He said: “I don’t know what he’s doing! Terrible defending. We can’t blame anyone. We can’t blame the pitch, we can’t blame the officials, that’s just poor and he did it again about five minutes straight after which is why we made the change and took him off.

“We had to change it. They were getting the ball out wide to Goodger who was dropping and pulling on George and staying away from the two centre-halves.

“We swapped Jake McIntyre out there and we knew if we could get our two centre-halves out on the ball that Goodger would run out of steam.  Goodger is a threat and he’s done great for them. I thought he was a constant threat against us and I felt by the time we tired him out their threat was nullified.”

Longhurst had seen enough and hauled Sheminant off the pitch and on came right-back Jerald Aboagye, as Jake McIntyre switched from right-back to left-back and this did the trick in keeping Goodger quiet until he was substituted in the 59th minute.

Hollands & Blair goalkeeper Ware will soon have the nickname Dracula as he hates crosses and stays on his line instead of dominating his penalty area - and was almost embarrassed in the 37th minute.

Ramsgate’s holding midfielder Lee Prescott whipped in a free-kick from within the left-channel, aiming for the top near corner, which forced Ware to dance to his right to push the ball onto the top of the crossbar before dropping behind for a corner.

Halsey said: “Mitchell’s got two big centre-halves, a shielding midfielder in front of him, they can usually deal with all of the long balls in. We don’t need him coming, he’s not a great stature so we don’t need him coming for things that are in the mix. Our two centre-halves and our holding midfielder can generally deal with them so that’s the reason why (he stays on his line).”

Longhurst said: “We knew that he doesn’t come for crosses, which is the reason why. We normally play quite a lot of short corners but we can’t play short corners on there, which we knew in the week and we obviously put balls in the box and we knew he doesn’t come for much so we knew we’d try to pick up knockdowns because they’re quite a big team and they win their headers and it drops down and that was kind of the game plan.”

Aboagye played the ball in from the right and the otherwise quiet Tijan Jadama teed up Olopade on the edge of the Hollands & Blair penalty area but a weak shot was charged down and Ware stepped to his right to easily gather.

Ramsgate keeper Russell was called into action at the end of the first half.

Blair left-back Darren Cooper swung in a free-kick from within the right-channel towards the near corner, forcing Russell to dive to his left to push the ball away.

Halsey added: “We knew how we had to play. We had to suck it in, especially the first half, defending the bottom goal. We had to have a lot about us with our shape, which we did. When we counter-attacked them, we scored and their goalie’s made two great saves and we got a penalty out of it, so the game plan worked superb until people made silly mistakes.”

Longhurst demanded more from his players for the second half.

“It was not acceptable! We needed to win. Look, this is a different type of game to say Hastings away or Hastings at home. It’s a different type of game so you’ve got to treat each game as they come and fair play to Hollands & Blair, they play the pitch and conditions well and they’ve got players that suit what happens.

“I just said we needed to raise the bar in terms of the physicality of the game. We need to deal with what they were going to throw at you, which is part and parcel of the game. I don’t moan about that side of it, absolutely no problem at all.  There are direct teams, there are teams that play, you’re not going to have it all of your own way and I felt that we really dealt with all of the stuff that they threw at us really.

“They haven’t caused our goalkeeper a great deal of problems in the second half and we’ve had the ball for the whole of the second half and they just needed to be told at half-time that they needed to raise the bar because one thing we needed to do was win the game. I didn’t care how it happened, we had to win.”

Halsey added: “We’re playing the bottom goal, although it’s usually the easier half. It was actually the harder half because we were 1-0 up against a team that were above us.

“I said to them (at half-time) we’ve got to graft hard now, do the right things in the right areas, don’t let them get on a foot in the game and unfortunately the penalty got them into the game.  Once they got into the game they’re in the ascendancy but other than that the longer it stays 1-0 they would’ve been beat. They had nothing about them at all.”

Halsey explained why his side failed to have a right good go at Ramsgate, kicking down the slope during the second half, as Longhurst’s side dominated possession after the break.

“In the second half we weren’t going to go gung-ho and push three up top, playing down towards the bottom goal. We still had our shape and we still had our jobs to do, so it was going to be a cause of every now and then hit them on the counter-attack,” revealed Halsey.

Coyle often launched long balls out of defence and he found Ajayi with one such punt who played the ball inside for Olopade to have a go from 22-yards, but the ball was charged down and failed to trouble Ware as he gathered after 200 seconds into the second half.

Ramsgate did not move the ball quickly and struggled to raise their tempo as Hollands & Blair were satisfied to soak up pressure and failed to create any chances at the other end.

Prescott’s corner from the right was met by an unmarked Coyle, who glanced his header harmlessly wide of the target.

After a cagey stalemate, Ramsgate salvaged an equaliser with 65 minutes on the clock when the often isolated Chiedozie sprung into life and had three Hollands & Blair defenders swarming around him inside the box before cutting past them and being tripped by Sharp.

Chiedozie rifled his right-footed penalty into the roof of the net – just right of centre – despite Ware diving low to his right – to bring Ramsgate back into the game.

Longhurst said: “It was a great penalty but he’s a good player. We didn’t really get a great deal of service to him but it’s hard to but what he did do today was good.”

Halsey added: “It was too far away from me to see but we’ve created it. We played the ball out into someone’s feet and he should set and let my full-back (Cooper) deliver it into the channel like we have been but they nicked it off and I’m too far away to see if that’s a pen.

“I’m not sitting on the fence. If it’s a pen, it’s a pen. If it ain’t, it’s done but I can’t really comment on that. It was so far away, lots of bodies, I couldn’t really see.”

Ramsgate slightly upped their energy levels after Chiedozie opened his goalscoring account for the season and they went close to doubling their lead just 85 seconds later.

Coyle, who came up for a set-piece, retrieved the ball on the left-hand side of the pitch and floated in a cross, which sailed over Lear’s head at the near post and bounced off Ajayi, who prodded the ball across the keeper and bouncing just past the foot of the far post from inside the six-yard box.

“The front players for us, when they have got the ball, they looked a threat,” said Longhurst.

“Josh looked a constant threat throughout but you put him on our (artificial) pitch, not just our pitch but pitches in general where it’s far easier to run with it, he’s even more of a threat.

“The pleasing thing for me is you’ve got to come to places like this, cope with what they do and cope with the conditions.”

With Hollands & Blair hanging on,  Ramsgate were the side who looked the more likely to score and the stalemate was finally smashed with nine minutes left.

Coyle played a long ball up to Chiedozie, who played the ball to Olopade, who linked up well with Ajayi throughout the game.

Ajayi played a lovely one-two with Olopade just outside the box in a central position before Ajayi slotted his right-footed shot across Ware to find the bottom far corner from 12-yards.

Longhurst said: “Josh’s got three in two now. Josh is a good player, he’s 19.  Our movement in midfield to work an opportunity to play forwards and get the ball to those three players because those three players are better than the three that they’re playing against – that’s not being disrespectful – they are and eventually, that paid off because Jordan scores.”

Halsey added: “I think one of my centre-halves stepped out and he shouldn’t have. He should’ve stood his ground and kept the ball in front of him, so a little bit of a mistake but yes it was a great finish.”

Hollands & Blair failed to give any service to striker Ricky Freeman, who came on in the 59th minute after Goodger ran himself into the ground.

A disappointing second-half performance from Hollands & Blair almost saw them snatch a last-gasp leveller after throwing bodies forward.

Hopkins prodded the ball out to ineffective right-winger Samuel Itauma, who came alive to float in a cross into the box, which was flicked on by Freeman at the near post and Harvey did well to keep the ball in play on the by-line but his cut-back was gobbled up by Russell.

Halsey said: “We had a little go in the last six minutes. We changed it around a bit, got a few bodies higher, got Ben Brown up there. A couple of deliveries into the melee, just couldn’t get on it, that’s football.”

Hollands & Blair are here at home for their next two games, against pointless Tower Hamlets next Saturday and second-placed and unbeaten Sheppey United on Bank Holiday Monday.

Halsey said: “I don’t really know much about them and we’ve got Sheppey on Monday as well at our place and if we can alleviate the silly mistakes and put the graft in and keep our shape then I can’t see why we can’t win games in the league without a doubt.”

Hollands & Blair are going to follow in the footsteps of Ramsgate and many others here in Kent and install an artificial surface at Darland Avenue.

Halsey said: “I want to get my 18-year-olds and 16 year-olds that I have with us developed into the side mid-season to push on for next season. Hopefully, the 3G pitch will be down before then and hopefully, we can get these next batch of youngsters into men’s football and they will do.

“I’m not really up for it (artificial pitches). I love that out there but I think I deserve a year to be able to train on a great surface which I’ve never had my whole time in football, so I’m looking forward to that part of it, not the game day.”

Ramsgate, meanwhile, are at home to Hastings United (Saturday), before travelling to Hythe Town two days later.

Hastings United came away from Beckenham Town with a 3-0 win in The FA Cup today, while Hythe Town were held to a 3-3 draw at home by Woking-based side Westfield.

Longhurst wants to face more lower league opposition, at Southwood Stadium, in the First Qualifying Round in two weeks’ time.

“You’d love to be at home, of course, because you want a home crowd.  Ultimately you want to get through and see who you get. There’s some teams in the Step Five divisions. I’d love to have a home game against a Step Five team.”

Hollands & Blair: Mitchell Ware, Luke Exall, Darren Cooper, Ben Brown, Kieran Sharp, George Benner (Sidney Hopkins 24), Louis Valencia, Chris Saunders (Luke Harvey 79), Harry Goodger (Ricky Freeman 59), Jack Simon, Samuel Itauma.
Subs: Jason Hayward, David Chandler, Jack Hardy, Harry Kingdon

Goal: Jack Simon 1

Booked: Ben Brown 36

Ramsgate: Jacob Russell, Jake McIntyre, George Sheminant (Jerald Aboagye 30),, Lee Prescott (Mitchell Chapman 82), Callum Emptage, Jamie Coyle, Danny Lear (Ashley Miller 72), Denzelle Olopade, Jordan Chiedozie, Tijan Jadama, Joshua Ajayi.
Subs: Maliq Morris, Tom Cousins, George Baker-Moran, Liam Hill

Goals: Jordan Chiedozie 65 (penalty), Joshua Ajayi 81

Booked: Lee Prescott 57

Attendance: 152
Referee: Mr Zac Moules
Assistants: Mr Nick Monkman & Mr Ryan Andrew