Hythe Town 2-2 Ramsgate - So many games in a short period of time could be the reason we don't get to the play-offs, says Hythe Town boss Steven Watt

Saturday 03rd February 2024
Hythe Town 2 – 2 Ramsgate
Location Reachfields Stadium, off Fort Road, Hythe, Kent CT21 6JS
Kickoff 03/02/2024 15:00

Isthmian League South East Division
Saturday 3 February 2024
Stephen McCartney reports from Reachfields Stadium

HYTHE TOWN manager Steven Watt says his players will have to show mental toughness to play 20 league games in the last 12 weeks of the season to grab a place in the Isthmian League South East Division play-offs for the second successive season.

The Cannons remain in 12th place in the table with 29 points (eight wins, five draws and five defeats) from their 18 league games after holding league leaders to a draw in front of 517 fans at Reachfields Stadium.

Ramsgate experienced being held to back-to-back draws for the first time this season and their lead at the top has been cut to six points as unbeaten Cray Valley (Paper Mills) do have a couple of games in hand.

Hythe Town grabbed the lead – against-the-run-of-play at the time - through a headed goal from centre-half Lex Allan, who scored his fourth goal of the season, before Ramsgate deservedly restored parity on the stroke of half-time through a clinical finish from impressive central midfielder Jack S Paxman.

Ramsgate winger Alfie Paxman lashed in his tenth goal of the season to give his side the lead, before Hythe Town striker Jake Embery also slotted in his tenth goal of the season ten minutes later to claim a point.

“I think it’s two points dropped, if I’m being honest,” said Watt.

“I looked at the chances that we had in the game, I think we had far the best chances, not even one, we had three or four clear-cut chances. We could’ve scored five or six on another day.

“I generally think we have dropped two points at home today.  Look, the squad that we’ve got, the suspensions today, obviously Ramsgate are missing a couple as well but they’ve got an abundance of quality in depth, we haven’t and people have come in today and done very well, so proud of the boys but I can’t help but think we should’ve won the game.”

When asked what his players gave him today, Watt replied: “The same thing they always give me, everything!  I think you can see that. They gave me absolutely everything again.  Great character to come back from 2-1 down.

“When you look at the chances, we created so many chances today. I can’t believe we’ve only scored two and I think that can go against you when you go behind.  When you’ve missed the gilt-edged chances we have and you go behind, it can zap you a bit more but the boys came back again.

“I’m glad that Jake (Embery) got his goal because you can tell he felt he should’ve scored in the first half when he was clean through. It was a good save from Tom (Hadler) but Jake’s got to score and I’m glad he got his goal in the end.”

Ramsgate manager Ben Smith said: “A great point.  It would’ve been an amazing point had we not been 2-1 up but yes, it’s a great point.

“They just run through a brick wall didn’t they.  I said to them before the game, ‘I don’t want any excuses.’  I don’t want any excuses about injuries, illness, whatever.

“I don’t want excuses about the pitch and it’s the same for both sides so we knew we couldn’t play a certain way on this pitch but I thought we adapted really well today, so hats off the players.

“This is a very difficult place to go. It’s horrible isn’t it.  They’re a good side at what they do. I don’t think they get enough credit for how they compete, they do well.”

Watt was serving the first of his three-match touchline ban, while Ethan Smith (four matches), Liam Smith (three matches) and Kane Phillip (three matches) were also suspended after the quartet were charged with misconduct by The Football Association following an incident at the end of their Isthmian League Cup tie away to Sittingbourne on 19 September 2023.

“Unfortunately it’s taken a while for it to all come through and it’s come through so we have just to serve it the best we can and try to come out the end of it with as many points as possible,” added Watt.

The Cannons lost left-wing-back Aaron Barnes to an ankle injury and he was replaced in the 49th minute by debutant central midfielder Kian Garlinge, who arrives on a month’s loan from Isthmian League Premier Division side Chatham Town.

“Kian’s a good player. I was really pleased how he did when he came on. He just met the group today, so not even had to work with him or explained a lot of what we do or how we do things but really pleased when he came on and he’ll be a big asset for us for the coming month,” said Watt.

Ramsgate, meanwhile, were without Lee Martin (covid), Michael West (shoulder), Tijan Jadama (knee) and Jordan Green (out, hopefully back next week).

Ramsgate bossed the possession and created an opening on the counter-attack after only 36 seconds.

Jack S Paxman (number 16 shirt) broke down the heart of the pitch before he was tackled before Alfie Paxman hit a first time shot from 35-yards, which flashed harmlessly past the far post.

Ramsgate’s 36-goal striker Joe Taylor switched the ball out to Alfie Paxman, before Jack S Paxman (16) put in a cross from just outside the corner of the penalty area and Callum Moore raised his flag after goalkeeper Steven Phillips comfortably gathered after Wes Hennessey flicked the ball towards goal.

Hythe Town grabbed the lead against-the-run-of-play – with a set-piece – with 13 minutes and 7 seconds on the clock.

Allan planted a header forward and Ramsgate centre-half Sinn’Kaye Christie tripped Hythe Town’s hardworking striker Johan Caney-Bryan.

Holding midfielder Frannie Collin produced a quality delivery with his right-foot some 30-yards from goal and Allan’s towering header sailed across the keeper and dropped into the bottom far corner from 10-yards.

“A great header, a great free-kick. It’s something that we work a lot on. We take a lot of pride on our set-pieces and it was a great goal,” said Watt.

“A great ball from Fran and they are weak from set-pieces, they are and we’re strong from them, so it’s something that we worked on, on Thursday and spoke about and we looked to put as much as we could into their box and ask questions and I thought we asked them all sort of problems throughout the whole game and could’ve, should’ve had a couple more from set-pieces.”

Smith added: “I thought we were doing really well. It’s an innocuous foul and it’s obviously a free-kick. Honestly, some of the decisions today were baffling and they go and score from it.  Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got to defend the free-kick after that. That’s on us, soft as hell.

“I thought it was against-the-run-of-play.  I thought we started really bright.

“It was a great ball. Frannie’s deliveries all day were unreal. Fair play. A great delivery, a great header from them.  From their perspective, fantastic, from my perspective, it’s not good enough, so not impressed, but there you go.”

The Rams switched to three central defenders and Smith was asked why Jack Parter was deployed as a right-wing-back instead of his usual left-back berth.

“He’s right-footed but he’s always played left but we needed to get some real grit and energy in the middle and I put Jack Paxman (16) in there.  I thought Jack Paxman (16) had a great game, both Jack Paxman’s, I thought had a really good game, both for different reasons,” said Smith.

Watt added: “They’ve changed their shape to come here today, so that’s a massive compliment to us.  I’ve not known them to play a 3-5-2 (formation) this season and they’ve done that so it was a shock when we saw the team-sheet.

“Maybe it was personnel driven, they had three or four out, but they could easily gone to a four. It was something of a surprise but we still gelt we could hurt them down the sides, which I felt we did.”

Ramsgate took nearly 19 minutes to create their first real goalscoring chance.

Parter fed Taylor, who held the ball up on the edge of the Hythe Town box before Parter hit a first time pass into an unmarked Jack S Paxman (16), whose right-footed drive from 25-yards was comfortably held by Phillips in his midriff.

Smith said:  “I thought Pax was really good today. He started really brightly. I thought he was our bright spell in the first half.”

Watt added: “I thought we restricted them to very little, if I’m being honest.  I struggle to think of any clear-cut chances they had really. Steve (Phillips) was probably the quieter of the two keepers in the course of the game but teams like Ramsgate are going to create chances. It’s all about keeping those chances down to a minimum and then trying to capitalise when you get yours.”

Hythe Town’s left-wing-back Kai Garande escaped a booking for a challenge on Parter and Alfie Paxman whipped his left-footed free-kick just over the top of the right-hand post from 30-yards.

“I don’t think the angle was right for Alfie but to be fair to him, he does put them away, so it was a good effort. Just difficult to execute that from this range on this pitch,” admitted Smith.

Collin smacked a right-footed volley upfield from inside the Hythe half, which released Caney-Bryan, working the left-channel before the striker cut into the box and his cross came out to Collin, who unleashed a right-footed drive towards the bottom right-hand corner from 20-yards, the ball deflecting off Daniel Johnson and behind for a corner.

“A great little move. Again, it’s something that we spoke about, getting down the sides of them.  We felt we’ve got a little bit of mobility than they have in the forward areas, so it’s something that we spoke about the other night,” said Watt.

“Johan’s a self-less player, does everything for the team. You’ve got the contrast of the two nines’ today.  Joe Taylor is an exceptional forward and scores for fun but I wouldn’t say he works half as hard as what Johan does, that’s not taking anything away from Joe, like, fantastic striker.

“Maybe if Johan didn’t work as hard as he did, he might get more goal returns but Johan sacrifices himself for the team and does everything that he can for the team.

“To get 11 goals so far like he has is very good and over the course of the season he’ll get more. I’d like him to get up near the 20 mark if we can but it’s great having him up top.

“Johan and Joe Taylor are two different types of forwards and I think two fantastic players.”

Collin floated in the resulting corner – Ramsgate won the corner count seven-to-five – and Allan sent his header over the crossbar.

Ramsgate goalkeeper Tom Hadler made a couple of fine saves to deny Hythe Town in the 35th minute.

Phillips launched the ball up field and Johnson opened the gate to let in Barnes, who released Embery through on goal but Hadler came rushing off his line and made a vital save with his foot.

Seconds later, Barnes cut in from the right and his left-footed drive from 20-yards was superbly tipped over the bar by Hadler, high to his left.

Watt admitted: “Jake should score, Jake should score! I think it’s quite simple. Just the quality Jake is. Tom’s an exceptional keeper. I would say the best keeper at this level and probably the level above as well so you could say it’s a good save.

“I think Jake Embery should score. He’s tried to go through Tom’s legs, Tom’s got a good foot to it but then the second save is exceptional, it really is.  It was an outstanding save, the second one but that’s when I think we can go 2-0 up and I think we control the game from them onwards.

“You miss those chances and you just wonder if it’s going to come back and bite you – against a good quality side like Ramsgate.”

Smith added: “Very good saves. I thought Hadler did well today. I didn’t think he could do anything else with the goals.”

Jack S Paxman (16) played a short 20-yard pass into Jack A Paxman (8) but he lacked composure and dragged his right-footed shot past the left-hand post from 30-yards, while left in space.

Jack S Paxman (16) floated in a cross from just outside the corner of the penalty area towards the far post where Parter rose above Barnes at the back post but his header looped into Phillips’ gloves for a comfortable catch.

Ramsgate deserved their equaliser when it arrived with 43 minutes and 13 seconds on the clock.

A deep Taylor switched the ball out to Alfie Paxman with a fine 40-yard diagonal pass and the winger played the ball into Jack S Paxman (16), who took a touch before clinically finding the left-hand corner from 15-yards, capping off an outstanding performance with a good goal.

Smith said: “Unreal pass from JT (Taylor) out there, inch-perfect actually. He didn’t have to break stride and then it’s a good goal.

“I thought we deserved that. I didn’t think we deserved to be behind at that point. Before that you’re feeling sorry for yourselves for 10 minutes and then we got going again so it was a very good time (to score).”

Shades of Chorley, who equalised in the 44th minute before going on to win The FA Trophy Fourth Round tie 2-1 here on 13 January.

Watt agreed, adding: “It’s exactly what I said at half-time.  You’re right. I said ‘look boys, it’s another Chorley now.’

“We should be in front, could be in front. We’ve left them back in with a really bad goal. I don’t know where we are, the structure of a team, to allow them to break down the left and Pax takes it really well.  If you get Pax in the box, it’s difficult. We had enough bodies around to deal with it. I think we should defend it better but look, you’ve got to say it’s a good finish from Pax but it’s a really bad goal from our perspective.”

Parter threw the ball to a deep Taylor, before Jack A Paxman (8) played the ball to Jack S Paxman (16), who drilled a speculative cross-shot harmlessly wide of the far post from 35-yards.

Watt, who watched the game from looking out the boardroom window up on the balcony, was allowed dressing room access despite his touchline ban.

Watt said: “I thought they were there for the taking.  They didn’t like any type of balls or deliveries into the box. It’s something that we spoke about. 

“The most disappointing thing was we spoke about the throw-ins that seemed to keep going into Joe Taylor’s feet. We addressed it, spoke about it and then for the second goal we allowed it to happen again, so that was a really disappointing thing from that second half.”

Smith added: “Keep doing what were’ doing. We’ve done really well in the game.

“First half, I thought we battled really well. That’s the concern when you come down here, you might get over-run, over-powered and beaten up a bit and I didn’t think we did that. I thought we done alright.”

Hythe Town created the first chance of the second half after 109 seconds, following a triangle of passing out on the right involving Bradley Schafer, Barnes and Collin, which resulted in Collin taking a touch and floating in a cross where Caney-Bryan towered over Ramsgate centre-half Craig Stone and the header was comfortably saved by Hadler.

Johnson launched a long ball out of Ramsgate’s defence, Taylor flicked a pass into his strike partner Wes Hennessey and his right-footed drive was comfortably saved by Phillips in his midriff in the 53rd minute.

“I thought Wes and Taylor looked a threat together.  It’s the first time we’ve started with them as a pair and having JT next to Wes helps Wes through.  I thought they looked quite bright together,” said Smith.

Watt added: “I expect Steve to make those saves.  We try to restrict teams with shots from distance. We’ve got the height to deal with balls in our box.  I thought it was a very comfortable day for Steve today.”

Jack Steventon – who played in the heart of Hythe Town’s back three with Allan and Sam Flisher either side of him – launched eight long throws into the Ramsgate box.

His fifth was flicked on by Caney-Bryan at the near post, Collin stabbed the ball to Allan, who flicked his shot over the top of the near post.

Referee Benjamin McDonald awarded the home side a free-kick after Parter made a strong challenge on Schafer just inside the Ramsgate half close to the centre-circle.

Collin floated the resulting free-kick into the box, Allan flicked the ball on, Steventon swept the ball to Embery, who lacked composure by lashing his first-time right-footed drive over the crossbar from 15-yards.

Watt said: “You’ve got to hit the target! I think if we hit the target, it’s a goal.  You don’t want it to fall to anyone else, you want it to fall to Jake Embery in the box to finish them. That’s why I’m happy he got his goal at the end because he had a few opportunities where on another day, he takes them.”

Ramsgate took a deserved lead, however, with 23 minutes and 17 seconds on the clock.

Parter threw the ball to Taylor (closely marked by Steventon), who played the ball back to Parter, whose left-footed shot took a deflection inside the box and fell kindly to the unmarked Alfie Paxman at the far post, who lashed his left-footed shot into the roof of the net from four-yards out.

Smith said: “We had a couple before that where we were just a yard away. It wasn’t quite falling for us in there but eventually we did get one and at that point you’re thinking ‘right, can we hold on now?’

“Alfie’s been excellent. He was playing left-back last year and he took a little spell through pre-season and the start of the season to get his baring’s playing left-wing again. It’s not just his goals, his assists as well. He’s contributing really highly.”

Watt added: “Disappointing.  You can argue we were really unlucky, which we were.  Parter actually goes to shoot, it’s not a cross and he goes to shoot and it’s a big deflection and it falls in their favour.  It comes off someone and it falls to him, very, very kindly but the ball should never get there.

“We spoke about it in length after the game.  The throw in should never get into (Joe Taylor’s) feet there.  The fact that we spoke about it at half-time, which is disappointing.  I just think we’ve given them two really cheap goals today, which I don’t think they’ve had to work for either of their goals.”

Ramsgate were on course of grinding out a 2-1 win and Smith brought on right-winger Benedict Bioletti in the 74th minute and he was a threat with his pace.

Bioletti reached the by-line inside the penalty area but the home side got bodies back and swarmed around him before the ball came out to Christie on the right and he floated the ball back into the box for Taylor’s header to be comfortably caught by the Hythe Town keeper.

Hythe Town grabbed an equaliser with 33 minutes and 39 seconds on the clock, following another set-piece.

Goalkeeper Phillips launched a big left-footed free-kick from outside his penalty are straight down the middle of the pitch.  The ball was flicked on by Steventon and Embery swept his right-footed shot from 16-yards underneath Hadler’s legs, the ball crossing the line in the centre of the goal.

Watt said: “Great finish! That’s what Jake does, that’s what he’s been brought in to do, to score those goals.  On another day Jake gets two, maybe three goals today. He should definitely have two.  I think the difference between that one and maybe the one when he went through in the first half is he didn’t have time to think. He just took it really quick so Tom couldn’t get set, so it was a great goal from Jake.

“I’m happy for him to get his goal because I think you can see at half-time that miss, he knew he should’ve scored so I was happy that he got his goal in the end.”

Smith added: “They looked a threat going forward didn’t they?  What they did well was Johan’s a big boy, puts himself about and it’s second ball. Jake’s nicked on the second ball, we’ve gone asleep there a little bit.

“I didn’t think we did (deserve to be drawing then) but the game was getting stretched. I don’t think they deserved that goal then but then I thought they were better after the goal.”

A long ball from Jack A Paxman (8) released Bioletti, whose pace took him past Joshua Wisson (now playing in the back three, with Flisher now pushed up as right-wing-back) but his left-footed chip from 20-yards dropped past the foot of the far post.

“He was unlucky. He got in didn’t he, showed his pace. It was hard to judge the bounce and stuff. I thought he got a good contact on it. That’s the first thing you look for, a good contact. He got a good contact, just went wide,” added Smith.

Both sides wasted chances to win it inside the final five minutes.

Firstly, Collin whipped in a cross from within the left-channel towards the far post and Allan held his head in his hands after glancing his header across Hadler and past the far post.

Alfie Paxman played the ball inside to Taylor inside the box, who cut the ball onto his right-foot and curled the ball around a crowd of players and past the far post (40:47).

“The curler, you’re just waiting for that net to bulge aren’t you but today’s game was never going to be about JT – it was more about the team and the work-rate,” admitted Smith, whose side were held to a goal-less draw at home to Sheppey United last weekend.

“He’s fuming. He wants to score. That’s what he lives off but we’ve got a lot of games to go and certainly add to his tally.”

Watt admitted: “He should score.  When Joe’s opening up in your box and getting time to have a shot off, I thought ‘goal,’ because that’s what you expect from Joe.  I don’t know how close it was but you expect Joe to take that chance.

“I would say that was probably their best chance of the game and when you think he’s not hit the target and when you balance that on the chances that we’ve had, like I keep coming back to, I can’t help but sit here and think we should’ve had three points.”

Stone tripped Caney-Bryan just outside the D and Hadler lined up a four-man wall for Collin’s right-footed free-kick from 25-yards, which was comfortably caught at head-height by the Ramsgate goalkeeper (43:11).

Watt said:  “You just think is it (going to be the winner?) Frannie did it at their place and scored. He pops up with important goals at important times.

“It’s two points dropped for us.  I thought Ramsgate were good. We created the much better chances.  I thought we deserved to win with the chances we created and when you create clear-cut chances against top-of-the-league, you have to take it because they don’t need a lot to score because of the arsenal they have but we take pride in the point.”

Smith added: “You’re waiting for the next to bulge aren’t you.  He’s been such a great player Frannie and he’s someone who steps up in big moments and against us he has, against me he’s scored quite a few goals, the times I’ve played against them.

“He got it on target by the way, in a good area.   I think Tom’s done well to read it.”

Ramsgate remain at the summit (60 points from 24 games) tonight but the play-off places are held by Cray Valley (54 points from 22 games), Sittingbourne (48 points from 23 games), Lancing (44 points from 24 games) and Sheppey United (40 points from 25 games).

Ready to pounce for a ticket to the play-off lottery are Herne Bay (40 points from 24 games), Chichester City (37 points from 25 games), Three Bridges (37 points from 23 games), Burgess Hill Town (32 points from 23 games), Ashford United (32 points from 24 games), Sevenoaks Town (30 points from 23 games) and Hythe Town (29 points from 18 games).

Down at the bottom, Beckenham Town (13 points from 23 games) and Erith & Belvedere (16 points from 24 games) are trapped inside the relegation zone, with Phoenix Sports (19 points from 25 games) and Merstham (20 points from 24 games) looking over their shoulders.

Ramsgate, meanwhile, play Merstham at home next Saturday. 

“It will be a different game to this. It’s on the 3G so we have to approach it differently. We’ve got a week to get some bodies back and go again,” said Smith.

With Steve McKimm’s Millers winning 1-0 at Merstham today, Smith was asked about the title race, which after today’s results, may make Cray Valley favourites from here on in.

Ramsgate had an eleven point lead (or two points if the Millers win their games in hand) over Cray Valley after winning 2-0 at Three Bridges on Tuesday 23 January, which proves how quickly a lengthy lead can be cut down in a title race.

“We’ll see it in six games time.  Exciting? For everyone else.  Of course (I’d like to) be in our position because they (Cray Valley) have to go and win their games.  I’m sure Steve (McKimm) will say the same thing but six games time, we’ll look again at the league and see where we are.”

Hythe Town welcome Erith & Belvedere to Reachfields Stadium on Tuesday night, the first of eight midweek games and a congested end to their campaign.

“It could be the downfall, if we don’t get there. If we don’t get to the play-offs that could be the reason, so many games in a short period of time with a thin squad, that’s the one thing I fear,” revealed Watt.

“We’re about to go into this gauntlet of games but when I spoke to the boys on Thursday night, I said ‘boys, this is where we are.’  You have to show your mental toughness. We have to stand up and be counted and if it means you’re playing on one leg for 20 minutes in a game, you might just have to bite down your gum shield and get through that 20 minutes.

“We don’t have that luxury of (a large squad) like a lot of other teams have in our league who are going for the play-offs.

“One thing we will do, we’ll give it our best go.  That’s what the boys will do, like you’ve seen it today. You won’t often see a Hythe team come off and not leave everything out there.”

Despite making £21,144 in FA Cup and FA Trophy prize money this season, Watt was asked whether he can bring in new players into his thin squad.

“Not really, without people coming out, no I can’t no.  Kian Garlinge has been brought in now and that’s it really, so we’ll probably won’t be doing an more.

“We might look to do some dual-registrations possibly, so if we can borrow some people in key moments, we might look to tap into that in the next couple of weeks or so.

“We’ve got a couple dual-registered as it is, Ollie Gray at Whitstable. We’ve still got Marvin Hamilton dual-registered so that’s another route. If any players come in now, players will have to go.”

Contracted players are sent out to other club’s on loan, while non-contracted players can be dual-registered and play for two different clubs in two different League’s.

“Erith & Belvedere will be a tough game.  Those teams that are down there, it’s not an easy game just because they are down there. They are fighting for their lives down there and it will be another tough game,” added Watt.

“I’ve just got to concentrate what I’ve got available, the boys will have to rest, we’ll patch people up and see if we can go again on Tuesday.

“We’re not in a bad position (in the league table). I’d rather not have the games in hand. I always say about cup runs, yes they’re good, good for revenue and memories but they can be detrimental to your season.  Yes, we’ve had the cup run but unfortunately the weather we’ve had down here and the pitch is playing its part as well.

“You get dealt these cards in seasons and there’s no point moaning about it, you just have to get on with it.”

Hythe Town: Steven Phillips, Aaron Barnes (Kian Garlinge 49), Kai Garande, Jack Steventon, Lex Allan, Sam Flisher, Bradley Schafer, Frannie Collin, Johan Caney-Bryan, Jake Embery, Joshua Wisson.
Subs: Jarred Trespaderne, Oscar Webb, Harry Rowland, Josh Stirman

Goals: Lex Allan 14, Jake Embery 79

Ramsgate: Tom Hadler, Jack Parter (Medy Elito 85), Alfie Paxman, Craig Stone, Sinn’Kaye Christie, Daniel Johnson, Jack A Paxman, Bode Anidugbe, Joe Taylor, Wes Hennessey (Benedict Bioletti 74), Jack S Paxman.
Subs: Jack Hawkins, Archie Simmons, Tristan Holden

Goals: Jack S Paxman 44, Alfie Paxman 69

Attendance: 517
Referee: Mr Benjamin McDonald
Assistants: Mr Benjamin Marshall & Mr Callum Moore