Holmesdale 0-2 Hollands & Blair - I’ve never had an easy game up Holmesdale in any of the times I’ve played against them as a player, coach or a manager, says Hollands & Blair boss Darren Blackburn

Tuesday 24th July 2018
Holmesdale 0 – 2 Hollands & Blair
Location 68 Oakley Road, Bromley, Kent BR2 8HQ
Kickoff 24/07/2018 19:45

Pre-Season Friendly
Tuesday 24 July 2018
Stephen McCartney reports from Oakley Road

NEWLY-APPOINTED Hollands & Blair manager Darren Blackburn says he wants the club to return to their roots after predecessor Clint Gooding pulled off the great escape to maintain their Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division status.

Blackburn, 40, took charge of his fifth pre-season game and led them to their first win on their travels, courtesy of goals from brothers Manny and David Abe during an impressive first half performance from the Gillingham based outfit.

“The game on Saturday (4-1 defeat at Stansfeld), we had a few players missing but we added them back in tonight and I think they’ve made a big difference coming in, giving us more balance and more structure within the team, which is what we’re aiming for,” said Blackburn.

“We know we’re going to be up against it with the budget we’ve got bringing players in. They’ve got good spirit amongst them already. 

“We’ve picked up some good lads from Gravesham Borough, which has been brilliant for us. I’m gutted for them with what’s happened to their club, it’s a real shame at grassroots level that happens to a club but the lads became available and they’ve come to us and we’ll look after them.”

Holmesdale are also under new management with former Phoenix Sports Reserves manager Ben Kotey coming in and taking charge of his third warm-up game tonight.

Kotey admits there is still a lot of work to do ahead of their Southern Counties East Football League First Division opener at home to Sutton Athletic on 4 August.

“For me it’s pre-season and it’s about getting players fit, getting an understanding and just being ready for the start of the season,” said Kotey.

“Hollands & Blair in the first half caused us some problems, deservedly 2-0 up and we had to sort out some of the difficulties they caused us but in the second half I thought we were much better. It’s pre-season. I’m just trying to work on getting the team right for the start of the season.

“I had a good look at certain players, another run-out against a team in the division above us, so they were the two things we got out of it today.”

Hollands & Blair created their first opening after only 47 seconds when Holmesdale right-back John Akoto lost possession to David Abe, who raced forward, cut into the box to set up his younger brother Manny, whose rasping drive was held by James Boughtflower.

“When I spoke to Manny and Dave about six or seven weeks ago, they were the first two lads I phoned because we had two strikers (Rob Denness and James McDonald) leave and I needed to replace them,” explained Blackburn.

“I asked the question whether they’ve ever had the pleasure of playing together and surprisingly they hadn’t, just one or two games here or there but nothing over the course of the season.

“David’s 30 now and is back in the UK now after playing in Ireland (for Larne).  He’s enjoying it, he’s loving being around the club.  I think those two have got that connection you see that brothers have, they seem to work well together.”

Kotey added: “They had some quick players, intelligent play. They caused us a lot of problems in the first half but we stayed in the game.”

Hollands & Blair were playing a diamond in midfield and on the right-hand side Jack Simon was pinging some precise diagonal balls over the top of the Holmesdale defence and David Abe took a touch before dragging his shot across the keeper and past the far post from 25-yards.

Holmesdale switched off at a throw and Blair left-back Caleb Bearman-Dyce threw the ball to Simon, whose cross towards the near post was stabbed wide of the near post by David Abe, whilst challenged by his marker.

Bearman-Dyce stroked a free-kick towards the bottom corner from 22-yards, which was held by the former Phoenix Sports Reserves goalkeeper, diving low to his right.

Blackburn said: “I’ve asked Caleb to do a different role for me tonight.  He’s a left-winger or an attacking player by trade. I feel that he could possibly give us something at left-back. He’s played in there tonight because he can do his defensive duties and he knows what to do the other end as well and he gives us a threat going forward.”

Hollands & Blair were by far miles better during the opening exchanges but the Bromley based hosts should have grabbed a 16th minute lead following their first corner.

Left-back Callum Flynn swung in the ball from the left and central defender Jack Barnes made space at the near post but directed his free header across the keeper and harmlessly past the far post of a crowded goalmouth from 10-yards.

“I felt we had a good chance, we should’ve scored from a corner kick and maybe that would’ve been a bit different in terms of the first 45 minutes,” added Kotey.

“At least make the goalkeeper make a save! Unfortunately, it was off-target and that was probably our best chance of the half.  You take that chance and the game’s a little bit different.”

Hollands & Blair deserved their lead when it finally arrived with 21 minutes and 43 seconds on the clock.

Centre half Charlie Plummer pinged a long diagonal pass in behind Flynn and Tamar Bilal to pick out Ed Morant and the right-back whipped in a cross from the by-line, which was dropped by Boughtflower as David Abe was close by and the ball fell at Manny Abe and the physically strong striker steered his left-footed drive into the back of an empty net.

“The big lad was there poaching in the box, which is not really what he’s there for but it was nice to see,” said Blackburn.

“I’m pleased for him to get a goal. He works his socks off Manny. He’s not the quickest man in the world, he’s there for his physical attributes. He brings a great size, he’s a menace, he’s difficult for defenders to mark and in this league there are some big boys out there defensively so we need to have that physical presence up there to create that chaos for defenders and hopefully to create chances for other people as well.”

Kotey admitted it was a mistake from his goalkeeper that cost them the goal.

“James is a young lad, I think he’s going to be a very, very, very, very, very good goalkeeper.

“I haven’t spoken to him about it.  I’m not sure whether he’s come out and haven’t seen anybody else. He should’ve held it. I don’t know, but I need to talk to him about it but it appeared to be an error and they capitalised on it.”

Hollands & Blair nearly doubled their lead just four minutes later.

The ball was rolling in midfield and Hollands & Blair midfielder Austen Edwards showed more desire than Ollie Lacey to slide in to win the ball fairly before getting back up off the deck to release David Abe, who stroked his left-footed drive past the stranded keeper and against the base of the right-hand post.

Blackburn said: “Austen was brilliant tonight. He’s been on holiday so he missed the first couple of weeks of pre-season so like any player it takes him a little while to get going but I think he’s now getting minutes under the belt.  I think this is the first 90 he’s played so that was great for him. He’s a creative player, he’s clever on the ball and he plays passes around the corner. He dissects midfielders and gets into our forwards and sees a pass.”

Kotey added: “They were causing us some difficulty. We were trying to figure out their strengths so it did take us a bit of time to do that but they created quite a few chances in the first half.”

Holmesdale striker Kieran Cole endured a frustrating 62 minutes out on the pitch and he drove into the Blair penalty area only to stroke his left-footed drive straight at Steve Branton from 15-yards on the half-hour mark.

Kotey said: “We did cause them some problems. Maybe we’re not as sharp as I’d like to be at this point in the season. When you get those chances, we’re looking to improve on our finishing.”

Blackburn revealed that Branton should be his first-choice stopper when they host Fisher on the opening day of the new season on Saturday 4 August.

“Steve’s been great. We juggled the goalkeepers around a little bit. Steve’s got the number one jersey at the moment. He’s done really well in the two games that he’s played. He did really well last week for us as well with some superb saves.  I thought his organisation and his talking that probably helped us out and his distribution from the back. He’s slightly older than a couple of the goalkeeper’s that we trialled and I think that showed, he’s an experienced lad.”

Hollands & Blair doubled their lead in controversial circumstances with 37 minutes and 47 seconds on the clock.

Bearman-Dyce whipped in a cross from within the left-channel and there appeared nothing of a concern as the ball bounced off Manny Abe’s chest at the near post but referee Jordan Whitworth adjudged Barnes to have committed a foul inside the penalty area.

David Abe stepped up to send Boughtflower the wrong way, slotting his right-footed penalty into the bottom right-hand corner.

“If I’m a Holmesdale manager, personally I think if it’s outside the box, it’s probably a foul, a soft foul that you get given. I think it’s a soft penalty,” admitted Blackburn.

“The referee probably makes up for the one that we should’ve had when Dave Abe flicks it over the goalkeeper and the keeper just completely took him out! I think they would’ve had no arguments if the first one had been given.

“It was a great pen. He’s a cool customer Dave. He’s experienced, he’s 30 years old now, he’s got pace and power but he’s got that discipline and organisation and professional head on his shoulders. He’s been to a few clubs. I think he’s been quite unlucky but he’s got a good home with us now and he’s enjoying it, he’s a family man and I think he’s enjoying where he is.”

Kotey said: “It was a harsh one! The lad is quite a physical specimen and for me maybe he’s trying to make the referee’s mind up for him but I think he’s a little bit stronger than that, the lad that went down, so I thought it was a bit harsh to give a penalty there.”

Holmesdale went close to pulling a goal back on the stroke of half-time.

Flynn fed winger Akinwale Akisanmi down the right and he sprinted on the outside of his marker to curl his right-footed shot across the keeper and around the far post from a couple of yards inside the box.

Holmesdale made six changes at the interval as Kotey got through 19 players in total tonight, while Blackburn used 17 players, including his assistant manager Damien Hodge, who was forced to play the final 11 minutes after Declan Wale picked up a knock.

Kotey explained: “I’m trying to give people minutes, trying to make sure they’re all at the same level in terms of match fitness. It’s pre-season and I want to give players enough game time so that come the start of the season all of the players are at the same level of fitness.

“I was disappointed with certain things, that was the reason why we changed it as well but also I’ve got a squad of players and I want to give them game time in a competitive situation.

“The changes I made I felt were effective and a much better performance in the second half and we created some good chances and I think if we’d had taken one of them it would’ve been a fairer reflection of the whole game.”

Blackburn said: “Not getting over excited if I’m honest because we’ve only done 45 minutes. I’m pleased because we got that second goal cushion so that’s a different team talk to 1-0 in my opinion.  We can be a little bit more relaxed.  I can encourage the lads to play a little bit in the second half.

“That’s the most solid we’ve looked at the back and have been trying to find that combination of players. In this league we’re up against some tough opposition.

“Charlie Plummer and Calvin Sedenu have played together, they know each other from their Gravesham days but I thought they looked solid. They’ve got great physical attributes.  Charlie’s great on the ball, Calvin is horrible to play against as a striker his physical and fast and he doesn’t give strikers a minute.”

Blair substitute Will Mawson stung Paul Agu’s fingers after latching onto a long ball over the top and hitting an angled drive straight at the substitute keeper.

Holmesdale’s best chance of the night, however, arrived in the 52nd minute when right-back Kemel Chakarto made progress down the line to play the ball inside for Chris Hubbard to turn and drill a shot towards the bottom near corner, which forced Branton to dive to his left to push towards safety.

“It was a good save from the goalkeeper,” said Kotey.

“We had a couple of other efforts that just went wide in the second half. We did create some more problems for them and felt we were the better team in the second half.  However, they got the two goals and they took their chances and when we had our chances, unfortunately, we didn’t take them!”

“I knew they were going to come at us. They were going to throw the kitchen sink, they had nothing to lose at 2-0 down and I expected them to come and have a go,” added Blackburn.

“I know Ben Kotey from a few courses that we’ve done together. He’s an organised guy, very disciplined, very well structured.

“We took 10 minutes in the second half to work out what they had done and then we decided to go with a 4-3-3 and we pushed the two wide men up to try to stop their full-backs from playing out.  I think it worked because we got more into the game in the second half of the second half.”

Cole swept a speculative first time shot in from the left-hand side of the penalty area, which curled just over the top of the far post as Holmesdale’s performance improved for the second half.

Hollands & Blair should have increased their lead further when in the 58th minute, Simon swung in a corner from the left towards the far post but the ball bounced off David Abe’s head at the far post and looped past the post from eight-yards.

Holmesdale created a glorious chance through some good football on the hour but were denied by a goalline clearance.

Chakarto sprinted down the right and played the ball on the outside to central defender Bilal, who whipped in a deep cross while on an overlapping run and the ball was palmed away by Branton.  Holmesdale’s left-winger Jo Jo Ogyunbiyi took a touch and swept his shot towards goal but Sedenu showed desire to stretch to clear the ball off his own goal-line.

Kotey said: “Again, good defending, energetic defending by the defender to get there and save it on the line but we have to take our chances when the season starts. When we get opportunities we have to take them.  We had several good chances this evening and we didn’t take them and Hollands & Blair were effective in taking their chances when they arose.”

Blackburn added: “Just great anticipation, great awareness, that’s what I’m looking for. Great anticipation from the big man and that’s what we said tonight.  The recent games the covering side of defending hasn’t been there. We haven’t been disciplined, we haven’t been organised.  Tonight I thought that was a perfect example of someone pressing the ball and putting pressure on the ball and Calvin reading the game and taking the responsibility of getting himself in there and almost John Terry like and clear it off the line. It’s fantastic and kept us 2-0 up!”

The final 20 minutes was uninspiring with too many substitutes on the pitch and no real pattern of play.

Holmesdale created a couple of chances when a long ball over the top was chased by Lewis Afflick, who played the ball inside for Ramell Lake to drill his shot past the post, as did Donell Shyngle later on after Hubbard’s pass.

Hollands & Blair have a couple of warm-up games left to play before the visit of Fisher on the opening day.

“We’re whittling the numbers down a little bit.  I know some teams are still experimenting. I knew what I wanted,” said Blackburn.

“I’ve been at Blair a long time and I know what’s made us a successful team. I’ve tried to go back to those roots finding players with similar attitudes and similar personalities and similar ability to what we’ve had before.

“Yes, we’ve lost some great players, we’ve lost some very good players in the summer and it’s disappointing but money talks in this league sometimes and you’ve got to get over that and get on with it!

“Tonight, for me the biggest plus was the clean sheet,” added Blackburn.

“We’ve come to a real tough venue. I’ve never had an easy game up Holmesdale in any of the times I’ve played against them as a player, coach or a manager. They’re always tough, physical, pacey, well-drilled.  To keep that discipline and keep that clean sheet, even with the number of substitutes that both teams made, keep that concentration up that is the difference between winning or losing games in this league.”

Kotey takes charge of his first Holmesdale league game when Sutton Athletic visit Oakley Road on 4 August. The Dale’s new 100-seater stand should be in place this coming Thursday.

“We’re building to be in a situation when we’re ready for the first game of the season against Sutton, which will be a really tough game. We’re at home, we’ve got a couple more games and a few more sessions and we’ll be ready for the start of the season,” added Kotey, who said he has 80% of his team in his head tonight.

Holmesdale:  James Boughtflower (Paul Agu 46), John Akoto (Kemal Chakarto 46), Callum Flynn (Khalidu Sesay 46), Ollie Lacey (Souleman Karche 46), Tamar Bilal, Jack Barnes, Akinwale Akisanmi (Jo Jo Ogunbiyi 46), Shaquille Richards (Donell Shyngle 46), Kieran Cole (Lewis Afflick 62), Chris Hubbard, Ramell Lake (Curtis Afflick 76).
Sub: Malik Ouani

Hollands & Blair:  Steve Branton, Ed Morant (Jordan Payne 63), Caleb Bearman-Dyce, Lee Irvine (Declan Wale 46, Damien Hodge 79)), Calvin Sedenu (Aaron Sharpe 63), Charlie Plummer, Austen Edwards, Jack Simon, David Abe, Rosham Morgan (Travis Jackson 65), Manny Abe (Will Mawson 46).

Goals:  Manny Abe 22, David Abe 38 (penalty)

Attendance: 30
Referee: Mr Jordan Whitworth (Catford, London SE6)
Assistants: Ms Reanna Rhodes (Chelsfield) & Mr Ryan Larkin (Sydenham, London SE26)