Larkfield & New Hythe 1-0 Staplehurst Monarchs - We said to the chairman back us and we'll get you promotion but I promised him and we've delivered, says Larkfield & New Hythe manager Danny Lye

Saturday 04th May 2024
Larkfield & New Hythe 1 – 0 Staplehurst Monarchs United
Location The Community Stadium, 251a New Hythe Lane, Larkfield, Maidstone, Kent ME20 6PU
Kickoff 04/05/2024 15:00

Southern Counties East Football League First Division Play-Off Final
Saturday 4 May 2024
Stephen McCartney reports from New Hythe Lane

LARKFIELD & NEW HYTHE manager Danny Lye says he promised his chairman promotion if he was backed - afer guiding the club to the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division for the very first time after winning an awful Play-Off Final.

Staplehurst Monarchs centre-half Grant McIheron scored a 61st minute own goal to settle a miserable game, which was watched by a record crowd of 828 at New Hythe Lane.

Big-spending AFC Whyteleafe claimed the league title by picking up 71 points from their 30 league games, while the play-off places were held by Larkfield & New Hythe (63), Staplehurst Monarchs (60), Rochester United (59) and Lewisham Borough (52).

The Larks beat Lewisham Borough 13-12 on penalties after Tuesday night’s home Semi-Final finished goal-less, while 24 hours later, Staplehurst Monarchs' beat Rochester United 1-0, courtesy of Caine Smith’s 40th minute header.

Larkfield & New Hythe have finished in third, fifth and second, in their three season's in the tenth-tier of English football and this was Staplehurst Monarchs' highest ever finish in three seasons at this level.

Staplehurst Monarchs were the better side of the two and created the better goalscoring chances in a hard-fought game of little quality.

The home club are likely to face charges from The Football Association as pyro was thrown onto the pitch in front of both sets of players’ as they lined up for the pre-match handshakes – and was also thrown on the pitch at the final whistle – and bringing pyro into a football ground (even in the tenth-tier) is a criminal offence.

Lye, with his winners medal around his neck, reflected on his second promotion as a manager.

“It’s very good. We’ve done what we’ve come here to do. We promised them promotion this year and we’ve delivered, so I'm very happy.

“They’re funny play-off games, aren’t they? It was a bit of a boring game first half.

“I said to the boys, if we play, we’ll be better than them.  If we come down to their level and go long, it’s a leveller and first half we done that. We didn’t perform great first half.

“But we said at half-time, ‘they’re playing at their best, we’re playing at our worse’.  Second half we upped our game, got a lucky goal but that came on for pushing on a little bit.

“They gave me heart and passion.  The big boys came through. The boys with experience second half were very good. Nathan Daly, Tyrell Richardson-Brown, Joe Bingham and Jerome Wade. They really lead the heart.”

Staplehurst Monarchs manager Paul Atkins added: “I think we all watched the cup final didn’t we.  We all knew what it was worth to both clubs, massively disappointed.

“I think if you look at the game, Steve Lawrence’s not made a save.  Big man has been in goal, he’s come for a few hasn’t he, he ain’t made one save.  We’ve just had a chat about it in there.  We had the three better chances and usually Caino (Caine Smith), as he does, he’s a goalscorer isn’t he, so look the lad’s come in (from the under 23s) and he’s done so well.

“Like I said in there, I’m so proud of them of what they’ve achieved this season.  Like I said to you last week, we’ve over-achieved. We’re a village club, we’re the underdogs and we’ve always been the underdog as a village club because we’re Staplehurst Monarchs so yes disappointed because it means so much to everyone doesn’t it.

“I thought we had them. I generally thought we had them.”

Staplehurst Monarchs were guilty of a glaring miss with 10 minutes and 41 seconds on the clock.

Visiting goalkeeper Steve Lawrence launched a big kick upfield with his left-foot, the ball was flicked on by a towering header from left-winger Daniel Ashton and a miss-kick from Larkfield’s centre-half Jack Clark gave Smith his big moment against his old club.

However, Smith controlled the ball with his chest before a poor touch with his boot ensured his right-footed chip from 12-yards went over the advancing Jordan Carey before dropping down onto the roof of the net.

“That’s not like Caine, he usually has very good composure.  The keeper’s come out. I actually think we’ll look back on the VEO and maybe the keeper’s floored Caino after the ball as well,” claimed Atkins, who was asked whether his side should have been awarded a penalty.

“I think so. In normal circumstances, if you watch that back on VAR – which we haven’t got, I know – that’s a pen, right, it’s a pen.  In my eyes it’s a pen but it is what it is, isn’t it.”

Lye added: “I said at half-time, other than that opportunity, they pushed and they were probably the better team but they didn’t really threaten us other than that one mistake, so we knew if we just could keep it tight, we’d get there in the end.”

Larkfield & New Hythe took 32 minutes to fashion a chance when centre-half Nathan Daly played a free-kick inside to left-back Luke Russell on the half-way line.

Russell’s floated cross was intended for 40-goal striker Matthew Day, but the ball was knocked away and dropped to winger Tyrell Richardson-Brown, whose right-footed hooked volley from 16-yards deflected over off the pressing McIheron.

Right-winger Clark Woodcock floated in his second corner from the right and Clarke came up from the back to guide his header looping over the crossbar and onto the roof of the net as the home side had a decent couple of minutes.

“I don’t really remember too many open chances for us to be honest today,” admitted Lye.

“We knew we had to match the battle but we didn’t play the ball.  I thought first half we had a few nerves; I think. I said play the simply five-yard passes. We didn’t do it.”

Atkins added: “You’ve seen us play a couple of times now and we’re very defensive minded and we’re also ugly aren’t we.  We knew we were going to be better than them today. We know that.  We had that focus, but disappointing.”

Larkfield & New Hythe won the corner count by 4-2 but Staplehurst Monarchs should have done better with their first flag kick in the 40th minute.

Holding midfielder James West floated the ball in from the left and centre-half Jack Bray sent his free-header across goal and bouncing past the far post  before trickling over the by-line.

Nineteen-year-old referee Ayden Gillespie blew his half-time whistle (49:07) and the record crowd hoped for better football during the second half.

Lye claimed: “I told them, ‘they were playing at their best and we were playing at our worse’.  I said to them if we up our tempo, move the ball a bit.  We switched formations, we went to a 4-4-2 because we was going long, tried to occupy the two centre-halves, that works and our subs made a big difference today.  JJ (Joshua Jackson), Timmy (Babington) and Jack (Sammoutis) coming on, they were big players to bring on and it really helped us.”

Atkins added: “Keep doing what we’re doing. I thought the three in the middle could’ve been a little bit tighter.  I thought if we do that well, turn them over in areas.

“I thought Harley (Gorse), he had a poor first half, outstanding second half and we lifted our levels.  Unfortunate enough to concede a goal and it changes the game, doesn’t it, so I just told them to carry on doing what they were doing because they were good.”

Ashton was a threat on the wing for Staplehurst Monarchs and was very good in the air too.  The only player that looked like scoring was Smith.  Every other attacking outfield player for both sides failed to impress.  This game would be the last one shown on Match Of The Day tonight if it was a Premier League fixture.

Smith had an opening after only 135 seconds into the second half.

Keeper Lawrence launched the ball forward, Ashton flicked the ball on for Smith, who snatched at his right-footed half-volley, which sailed over the crossbar from 22-yards.

Staplehurst Monarchs were to be denied by Carey’s outstretched right hand, a defining moment in this stalemate. (8:45).

Ashton played the ball inside to West, who rolled the ball back to the winger, who cut the ball onto his right-foot and whipped in a great cross towards the near-post.

Smith found a pocket of space inside the six-yard box and his free header was destined for the top left-hand corner, but Carey’s outstretched right-hand ensured the ball was tipped over the crossbar and behind for the away side’s second corner.

Lye said: “Very good save.  Jordan let us down early season. He got three red cards, I think, and it was one of them. The club was putting me under pressure ‘what will we do with him?’

“I said he’s either going to win us the play-off’s or he’s going to lose us the play-offs with his head and he delivered with an outstanding save.  It’s better when he uses his hands, when he doesn’t think about things, he’s much better.”

Atkins said: “He’s in the right areas all the time Caine Smith. He’ll be disappointed with himself because he’s that kind of lad. He’s an honest lad. He puts himself in positions where he’s a goalscorer in the six-yard box.  That’s where he comes alive.   Another chance, right, another chance.”

Lye put central midfielder Jerome Wade at right-back for the second half and Wade’s right-footed long free-kick was cleared out to substitute winger Timileyin Babington, who dug the ball out from under his feet and whipped in a cross which was plucked out of the air by Staplehurst goalkeeper Lawrence. Both goalkeeper’s handling was decent.

Larkfield & New Hythe grabbed the winning goal with 15 minutes and 29 seconds on the clock.

Central striker Joshua Jackson (who replaced right-back Daniel Lewis at the break) swept the ball out wide to Day out on the left and Day reached the by-line down the channel before whipping in a cross towards the near-post.

McIheron stretched and with his right-foot looped the ball over his goalkeeper (from inside his own six-yard box) and the ball dropped into the top far corner of his own goal to settle the game.

A poor game of football, settled by an own-goal, kind of summed up the poor quality on show today.

Staplehurst Monarchs’ right-back Sam Wheeler received treatment for a knock just a couple of minutes before the goal and it was his area of the pitch that Day put over the cross that lead to the own goal.

Lye said: “The goal, although being an own goal, it was good build-up play. We put them under pressure and obviously the centre-half finished it for us.

“The build-up play for that was probably the best football we played in a spell, nice football and the cross came in and it’s one of those balls you had to defend, so just happy we scored.”

Atkins said: “It was only going to be one goal today. We said that in the changing room.  We knew there was only going to be one goal.

“I feel sorry for Macca because he’s got his body there and he’s tried to defend, like he does. I need to watch it back if I’m honest and make a further assessment on it but he’s tried to do what’s best for the team and he’s put his body in a position where, is it right or is it wrong? I can’t tell you.

“He’s an honest lad and he’s come over to me and said ‘should I have gone for it?’ and I said ‘ I’m not sure to be really honest with you. It’s happened so quick.’

“What a rubbish goal, rubbish goal, bitter pill.”

When asked how McIheron is coping with sealing his side’s fate, Atkins replied: “He’s alright. He’s a big lad. He’s a tough lad and he’s had a real good game today. He’ll  bounce back because he’s got that mentality, he’s confident.

“That’s the best part about it. My two centre-backs are two of the best players on the pitch, him, Jack Bray and West, those three were outstanding!”

Staplehurst Monarchs went close to restoring parity (18:38) after Wade fouled Smith and central midfielder Jack Hyslop stroked the resulting right-footed free-kick from 30-yards around the four-man wall and Carey dived full-stretch to his right and was relieved when the ball flashed just past the foot of the near-post.

“I thought it was in. I was celebrating,” revealed Atkins.

“The free-kick was decent.  We were all going, we were all celebrating because we thought it was in.  Unlucky again, right.

“Jack’s come in today, we got him from Kings Hill. A good lad as well, a great lad. I thought he did a really good job on the eight (Wade) today. I said to him sit in that area, don’t let him breath.”

Lye admitted: “To be honest, I can’t really remember that one but we defended well. They had some half-chances but the big players, like I said, Jordan (Carey) and Nathan (Daly) and Jack Clark, they defended very well today.”

Larkfield & New Hythe went close to scoring a flattering second (30:06) when Clark played a free-kick from the halfway line down the line to Wade, who fed Richardson-Brown, who cut in from the right and swept his left-footed shot into the base of the side-netting from 16-yards.

Richard Munn – who replaced cramp victim McIheron – launched four long throws into the Larkfield penalty area and the best chance bounce off the head of substitute Kieron Pallet, which was comfortably gathered by Carey (46:40).

Larkfield & New Hythe called Lawrence into making a near-post save (48:31) when the home side created a chance on the counter-attack.

Substitute midfielder Jack Sammoutis played the ball out to winger Richarson-Brown, who played the ball into Kwasi Amoah, whose right-footed angled drive from 18-yards was beaten away by Lawrence at head height at his near-post.

Lye said: “We switched Kwasi Amoah to right-back in the second half to deal with their physical presence and that made a big difference because we got the ball down and he made a couple of chances for Tyrell.

“Tyrell ran them into the ground. They were tired at the end and they started to make mistakes because of our levels of fitness."

Atkins added: “Do you know what, the most disappointing part of what we’ve done today, is the keeper’s not even been involved. He’s come for a couple of claims here and there.

“We all know football right and I’m an honest lad. We were the better side today and they’ve just got away with it.  Fair play to them, that’s it, they’re going up and up and I wish them all the best to go up but they got away with it, definitely, definitely.”

The referee brought this drab stalemate to the end (50:22) and more yellow and black flares were thrown onto the pitch as the pitch was invaded after the final whistle.

Atkins said: “I can’t be prouder.  I said to them as a group, amazing right, third in the table, better than both teams we played in the play-offs.   We’ve come short today by an own goal. I can’t be more proud of them.

“It’s a group I hope to keep together and we go again next year.  Why can’t we get promotion next year?  Why can’t we create what we’ve created?

“Any team that I’ve ever managed is going to have the same energy levels because I demand it.  What you see today is what we are. We work hard and we grind results out, so we’ll move forward, we’ve got to move forward as a club.

“It’s cruel, isn’t it.  Look, we knew Rochester was tight. We knew this was going to be tight. We don’t concede many and luck on the day, it’s a different day isn’t it.

“Lyesey’s been around football for a long time. I know Lyesey personally, I’ve played with him and obviously known him as a mate. He’ll know that he’s got away with one today.

“If we didn’t play very well, I kind of go to you ‘yes, ok they were the better side,’  but they weren’t, never the better side.  We’ve played them at their own ground and we should’ve been one or two.  Listen, if you put those chances in, that’s a different game isn’t it – but fair play to Larkfield, well done.”

Atkins had this message to the Jubilee faithful going into the summer break.

“They’ve been outstanding this season. It gives you a confidence and a little bit of you want to go again because they support us through thick and thin, rain and snow.  They’re there every game.  The same faces every game.  We’ve had good support. I’ve had a lot of lovely messages from people. It meant a lot to a lot of people today, especially at the club.

“I’ve said to the boys before we started, ‘make a good account of ourselves’ and I think they did.  I know that they did.

“If you said to us at the beginning of the season, ‘you’re playing in a play-off final, I’m taking your arm off, right.  I’m disappointed now, we’ll have a couple of beers, show our face (in the clubhouse) and then we can move on and re-group.”

Lye, 43, who has been out of football since winning the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division title and Kent Senior Trophy by beating Cray Valley (Paper Mills) 2-1 as Ashford United’s manager back in 2017, has high hopes for his current club next season, having replaced Kris Browning in the New Hythe Lane hot-seat in March 2023.

Lye said: “I’ve not been in the game for a long time, had a nice break and this one and hopefully we’ll do the cup final on Tuesday.   As a player I had quite a lot of promotions, a couple of relegations, so the feeling of winning is good.

“I’m just saying to the chairman, we’ve had our top finish, second is the highest they’ve finished. We’ve won the play-offs, that’s not been done. A record crowd as well, so we need to build on that and we need to get more supporters down here because it is a good club. We do need some more local guys to come and be a part of it.

“Recruitment will be easier because recruitment has been hard trying to persuade (players to drop down to this level).  A lot of our boys are SCEFL Premier or Isthmian sort of level.

“I’ve had to persuade them to get them down to drop a couple of levels to do it. Next year it’s not quite so hard to do that, so recruitment, we’ve got a basis of the side.  We need to add a few but same as when I was at Ashford when the budget got cut and me and Don Crosbie had disagreements and I quit (two games into Ashford United’s Bostik League South Division season).

“I can’t settle for finishing down the bottom half of the table. I have to be up there winning. I don’t find an enjoyment in survival, so if the club back us, we’ll go and push again for next season.”

When asked what tools he needs for the Premier Division next season, Lye replied: “I give the boys’ freedom. A lot of people manage different but I give them freedom.  I’m their pal. You’ve got to be mentally strong.  You’ve got to be a leader and you have to have trust in the players you have and all the boys here, they love being here because we look after them and we protect them but we also let them have freedom. There’s no strict rules, I’m very relaxed.

“Some of the boys are going out, the boys will celebrate. They’ve got the job done.  The cup’s a bonus, the league was the thing, so they’ll be happy, but I’m going to go home with the kids and the girlfriend and have a relaxed evening.

“I’m a changed man.  I’m a lot laid back (since my last time managing) at Ashford when we got promoted from the SCEFL Prem.  There was more passion. Now I’m relaxed a little bit more but it’s a good feeling.

“We said to the chairman, back us and we’ll get you promotion and you can’t guarantee that but I promised him and we’ve delivered. We’ve done everything we could. It’s nice, it’s a nice feeling.”

Larkfield & New Hythe – who have beaten Staplehurst Monarchs three times this season – play Lewisham Borough to contest the Division One Cup Final on Tuesday night (at Corinthian FC).

“They’re a tough team to be honest.  They’re one of those teams that hurt us because they’re quite unorthodox, they play methodical. They are hard to break down, so it’s going to be a tough one,” added Lye.

Larkfield & New Hythe: Jordan Carey, Daniel Lewis (Joshua Jackson 46), Luke Russell, Kwasi Amoah, Jack Clark, Nathan Daly, Tyrell Richardson-Brown, Jerome Wade, Matthew Day (Jack Sammoutis 69), Joe Bingham, Clark Woodcock (Timileyin Babington 56).
Subs: Tyler Ibe, Harry Rowland

Goal: Grant McIheron 61 (own goal)

Booked: Clark Woodcock 22, Jerome Wade 70, Timileyin Babington 79

Staplehurst Monarchs: Steve Lawrence, Sam Wheeler (Toby Sargeant 62), James Delaney (Stanley Oldfield 65), James West, Grant McIheron (Richard Munn 78), Jack Bray, Daniel Ashton, Jack Hyslop (Harry Beech 77), Caine Smith, Harley Gorse, Omar Elmantawy (Kieron Pallet 90).

Booked: Jack Hyslop 74, Jack Bray 74
Attendance: 828
Referee: Mr Ayden Gillespie
Assistants: Mr Michael Marsh & Mr Oliver Storey
Fourth Official: Mr Matthew Williams