Otford United 3-4 Halstead United - This is probably the best side I've had, says Halstead manager Bob Simmons

Sunday 22nd March 2015

Sevenoaks Charity Cup Semi-Final
Wednesday 4 March 2015
Stephen McCartney report from Otford Recreation Ground

HALSTEAD UNITED manager Bob Simmons says the players at the club are the best that he has ever managed.

THRILLER: Otford United's ground on the High Street staged a seven-goal thriller but it was neighbours Halstead United whom progressed through to the Final.

The Station Road outfit reached the Sevenoaks Charity Cup Final for the second time in five years after coming away from local rivals Otford United with a 4-3 victory to remain on course on the double.

Halstead United are in third-place in the NRG Gym Kent County League Division One West table with 30 points from 10 games.  They are eight points adrift of leaders Bexlians although they do have six games in hand.

Otford United are in fifth-place in the NRG Gym Kent County League Division One East table with 20 points from 14 games and have four league games remaining, although they are 15 points adrift of top and bottom place.

Both sides preparation for this Semi-Final were shortened as the key to the dressing rooms only arrived less than 45 minutes before kick-off.

But Halstead United drew first blood when Lewis Longhurst opened the scoring inside six minutes, before leading goalscorer Luke Blackaby stabbed home an equaliser for Otford United.

Ricky Simmons’ chip put Halstead United in the driving seat, before Dale Taylor scored the first of two goals against his former club to seal Halstead’s passage.

Otford United rallied and skipper Callum Hill powered home a rare headed goal early in the second half, before Tim Isles completed the scoring for the home side inside the final nine minutes.

“I’ve been in football a long, long time, been to a few clubs and this is probably the best side I’ve ever had in resilience and for everybody wanting to play and for everybody wanting to pull for each other - and determination,” said Simmons afterwards.

“I don’t think we played well tonight but they’re resilient and we very rarely have three goals scored against us.”

Otford United manager Jim Gillan rues his side’s lack of winning under the floodlights.

He said: “I’m gutted! I’m just gutted that that’s it! I actually don’t think we deserved to lose it. We didn’t deserve to win it so good luck to them.

“We was always behind. I suppose for a neutral it was quite good.

“I think (playing under floodlights) adds to it. It’s a detriment to us as well because players come here, the lights are on and the pitch looks good. There’s a few people here and the opposition tend to raise their game as well.  We’re more used to playing here but although tonight was a semi-final so we was up for it, but other teams get a little bit more up for it as well so sometimes it’s a little bit of a hindrance but it is nice to play under the lights. We all enjoy it. We just don’t win very often under the lights!”

Both sets of players were left waiting in the dark for the key to the dressing rooms to arrive – and Kent Police officers arrived at the ground before the game to investigate a recent death in the village.

Simmons said: “Where ever you are, whatever surroundings you’ve got as a player it doesn’t take you too long. It’s very difficult also coming from work and all the hustle and bustle and we couldn’t get in the dressing rooms early enough and the preparation wasn’t ideal.  We could have done with another half-an-hour.”

Halstead United keeper Alex Cooper failed a fitness test so Andy Lunn came in as a late replacement.

Their manager said: “We had a bit of a problem at the beginning because our first team goalkeeper dropped and done his calf in the warm-up. Andy Lunn did very well. He did play in goal but he doesn’t want to play in goal anymore!”

Halstead United opened the scoring inside six minutes when a mistake from Otford midfielder Scott Ellison was punished by Longhurst, who cut into the box from the left before drilling his shot across Jordan Busby from ten-yards.

Simmons said: “He’s a good lad. He’s been playing well all season. He blows hot and cold a little bit. It was a great finish!

“I thought we played pretty well once we got hold of the game. We struggled a little bit to start with getting used to the conditions. We don’t play under lights a hell of a lot!”

Gillan added: “Again, it was our mistake. I don’t think they created it really. I think we let the ball bounce. We didn’t attack the ball for the first 20 minutes and we got punished there.”

Halstead United right-back Jimmy Jorboson launched a long throw towards the edge of the penalty area, which was volleyed high over the bar by midfielder Danny Pledge.

Otford United equalised with their first attempt on goal after thirteen minutes.

Phil Perkins slipped the ball through Mark Lampard’s legs to release Isles down the right and he drilled the ball across the face of goal for Blackaby to ghost in at the far post to stab the ball into the net from two-yards.

Gillan said: “Luke’s been really good this year. He’s been what we’ve been missing as a striker. That’s what he does. He’s always there at the end of it.

“I’m thinking it’s there for us because I thought we had most of the play. The only attack they had they scored from. We got them pinned in the first six or seven minutes apart from the goal.

“I’m thinking ‘let’s be patient, let’s play our game. It will come. It will happen and I believed it would happen at that point.”

Simmons added: “A bit unfortunate but there you go! Once somebody gets to the line you do struggle with anything across the face. He did well. I thought the seven was a good player in the first half. He caused us a lot of problems. I don’t know what his name was (Tim Isles) but he was a very good player, probably their best player in the first half.”

But Halstead United regained the lead within four minutes.

Pledge played a sublime long ball over the top of the heart of Otford’s defence to put Simmons through on goal, who kept his composure to chip the ball over the advancing Busby into the empty net.

The scorer was forced off through a shin injury after being clattered by the Otford keeper, who started the game with an ingrowing toe nail on his left foot and struggled to finish the game with a right knee injury.

The manager looked on like a proud father by saying, “I’m a bit biased there because he’s my boy but he showed a lot of bottle to get in there and make sure he put in a finish.

“He took a late one off the keeper sadly. He always shows a lot of bottle. He always runs through a brick wall for the side. He caught a bad one on the shin late.

“He’s been there all season. He’s been ever-present, played in that position and I was pleased for him to be able to finish that.” 

Gillan added: “Again, to be fair to Jordan, if he didn’t come we’d be screaming at him ‘why didn’t you come?’ – and because he did come we’re thinking ‘why didn’t you stay on your line?’

“He did the right thing. He came and the guy took his chance well. It was a sloppy goal because again the defence hesitated and we didn’t go and attack the ball.”

It should have been 3-1 to Halstead when Longhurst released the impressive Taylor down the left, and his initial shot was blocked.  Lone striker, Matt Spears cut the ball back to Luke Clarke, who sliced his shot past the right-hand post.

Otford skipper Callum Hill was denied an equaliser in the 27th minute after Lunn made a fine save.

Rory Catt played the ball forward from left-back to release midfielder Hill, who only had the keeper to beat, but the keeper glanced the ball just past the foot of the far post with his legs.

“It was a good save, the keeper did what he was meant to do,” added Otford’s manager.

“Could Callum have put it away? It was a difficult angle for me to say from where I stood. It looked like a good save for me.”

Simmons added: “Andy’s a good keeper. To come in at that late stage and to do what he did, he said he lost the ball in the lights a few times. He struggled with distances because he hasn’t played in goal this season. He’s been playing for our reserves. He’s played a few games for us in goal early doors but I thought he did very well.”

Halstead went close following Taylor’s corner from the right which was met by Longhurst’s free-header, which he planted over the bar.

However, they eased into a 3-1 lead in the 40th minute when Pledge swept the ball out to the unmarked Taylor, who drilled his right-footed shot across Busby into the far corner of the net, despite the keeper’s attempt to give away a penalty with a heavy challenge on the talented winger.

Simmons said: “It was nice for Dale because he used to play for this club, he used to play for Otford.  We had two ex-players in Dale Taylor and Perry Hart who used to play at this club.

“I don’t know much of the history to that fact but they wanted to do well. Dale was a right-winger for us and we started putting him on the left in the last seven or eight games. He comes into games quite well coming in on his right foot. He done well.”

Gillan said: “Dale took his goal well. I like Dale, he’s a good lad. He did well really. A couple of good challenges Jamie Knight put in, a good challenge in on him and he kept the ball. He turned inside and because I know him I knew he was going to score. It was good for him really. He took it well.”

Lunn made another fine save when he dived to his right to tip Scott Ellison’s  right-footed angled drive around the post from the corner of the box after Isles cut back a corner from the left.

Callum Hill was given time and space to float over a cross from the right but Isles directed his free header over

With his side 3-1 down at the break, Gillan wanted his side to turn it around.

He said: “I wasn’t happy! Basically the score didn’t really reflect the game and it was there for the taking.

“I didn’t scream and shout because I’m not a shouter but I said to the boys ‘it’s up to you. You’re 45 minutes away from a Cup Final. If you want to be in it you’ve got to play a lot better than you did in the first half and you’ve got to get stuck in and you’ve got to not hesitate and you’ve got to create chances and more importantly we’ve got to take them!”

Simmons admitted he wanted his defence to tighten up during the second half.

He said: “We felt that we weren’t picking the ball up in the middle of the pitch as well as we should have done. Part of that was with Ricky coming off. He generally puts a little bit more steal in that area.

“We wanted to look at the back four. We were getting caught a little bit by not coming up as a unit so we looked to improve that in the second half and bring the whole four up as a unit when we was leaving too much space and basically looking after runners.

“We found ourselves a little bit ragged at times. They weren’t working hard as a unit, which they all been doing all season but once they sorted it out we were fine.”

A fine save from Busby thwarted Halstead United after only 114 seconds into the second half.

Longhurst played a fine diagonal pass from the right to pick out Taylor on the left and his speculative right-footed angled drive from 25-yards forced Busby to go down on his knees and use his right hand to palm the ball away towards safety before the ball bounced over the line.

But Oftord United started to make a game of it by equalising in the 50th minute.

They won a free-kick on the left by-line and Catt swung in an inch-perfect ball towards the near post and Callum Hill beat his marker (Taylor) to plant his header into the top left-hand corner from six-yards.

Gillan said: “It’s good Callum got one from his head. It’s not often! I thought Callum’s performance deserved a goal as well. I thought he’s been off colour lately but that’s going to be a big boost for him with his Rep game coming up soon.

“He doesn’t score many headers but that was a good one!”

Simmons added: “We’ve given the guy whose responsibility it was a little bit of a rollocking! He could have got to that ball a little bit better and put a little bit more pressure on that ball.

“We knew he should have been marked but fair play to them, they put the ball in early, put it in at pace and it’s a great header from the guy.”

Lampard fed the ball into midfielder Catt, whose right-footed drive from 25-yards flashed wide.

Busby went down with his knee injury after he came rushing out of his area in the 65th minute to prevent substitute striker Perry Hart latching onto Simmons’ through ball and clearing the ball towards safety.

Busby could do nothing to prevent Halstead winning the game in the 68th minute when Hart played the ball to Taylor, whose right-footed drive deflected off Otford’s substitute defender Mike Cunningham to wrong-foot the keeper.

“It turned out to be happy days that we scored that seeing they came in and ran us a bit close,” admitted Simmons.

“When you look at the second half, the amount that we pressed, the results that we got out of it was half decent.”

But Simmons admitted his players failed to test a struggling Otford keeper.

“We did talk about trying to do it,” he said.

“It was a little bit backs to the wall in the last 30 minutes.  We didn’t press too much. We made a lot of substitutions which I really didn’t want to do but it was a game that made us do that because of injuries.”

Gillan added: “He was wrong-footed and he knew it. I suppose that was one that was down to him. He’ll take it on the chin.

“Jordan was injured before the game. He’s got a very bad ingrowing toe nail which is why he didn’t take any of the kicks.

“He struggled tonight. In hindsight maybe I should have had another keeper on the bench as well and I would have changed Jordan but he did well to stay on.

“He didn’t really have a lot to do. I think he had five shots.  It was his right knee but the limping side of it was toe that hampered his movement because everything was centred on his right because it’s his left toe that was hurting him so when his right knee went it made it difficult for him.”
But to their credit, the Otford defence protected their struggling keeper and went out in search of a goal at the other end of the pitch.

Jamie Shield curled his shot just around the far post from the left, before Lunn make a low save to his right to prevent Blackaby scoring from 25-yards with his left-foot.

But their attacking play was rewarded with a deserved third goal inside the final nine minutes.

Pledge produced a 40-yard mazy run from midfield towards the edge of the Halstead penalty area, before playing the ball out to Isles, who drilled his right-footed angled drive into the near corner – via a helping hand by Lunn.

Simmons said: “I think he got to it a little bit late. I felt we was being put under pressure and I felt that we was scrapping a little bit in that last 15 minutes but I think going into the last final five minutes I felt we started to get out from the back and we weren’t really put under pressure after that.”

Gillan added: “Tim says it was a shot. It looked like a cross for me but he says it was a shot so fair play and the keeper couldn’t hold it and it went in!

“From that point then I just thought we was in the ascendancy and the game was there for the taking and unfortunately we missed a couple of chances late on and that was it.”

Otford’s attacking play deserved to take the game into extra-time on a chilly night but substitute Mike Cunningham sliced his volley wide after Jamie Knight launched a long throw into the penalty area, before substitute Adam Bunyan curled his shot agonisingly past the far post at the death.

Knight is clearly a talented player but he regularly blows a fuse and was lucky to escape being sent-off on more than one occasion tonight.

Flash points included a scissor kick on Mark Casey after producing a dazzling run down the left. Later, he was then guilty of throwing the ball at opposing players (but missing his target) some 30-yards away when Luke Clarke was being booked - and he made strong challenges on opposing players.

If he curbed his emotions and concentrated on letting his football do the talking then he could play at a higher level of football.

Gillan defended his local hero, by saying, “Yes, I’ve spoken to him about it! It’s because he loves this football club and it hurts him and that’s how he deals with it. 

“When he just plays he’s a fantastic player. He’s a good little player and he’d get in most sides. He’d get in every side in this league for sure and he’d get in most sides in the Premier I would think.

“I’m pleased he’s still here. I work on him all the time but he’s very passionate about Otford Football Club. He’s born and bred in Otford, played from six-years-old. It’s understandable but we are working on him together. It is part of his game. It’s just passion. He’s a real passionate lad. He loves the football club and we love him so sometimes you give him a little bit of free reign.

“What he did tonight with the ball, I will be having words about with him. That’s not something we do at Otford.”

Simmons said: “He actually threw a ball at somebody when there was a booking, which I thought was a little bit naughty but there’s players there that are a little bit passionate and just take it a little bit too far.  He was having a little bit of a moan up but don’t we all in those situations I suppose?

“That (scissor-kick) was on Mark Casey. You can’t moan about things like that but there’s always situations like that and some are a lot worse than that.

“We had a chat at the end of the game and he was alright.”

Halstead United can look forward to a Final against Sevenoaks Town’s Under 21’s, Farnborough Old Boys Guild or Ide Hill on Good Friday.

“It’s great to be in the final. As you see we’re running pretty well in the league. If we win all of our games, we win it, but that’s a long way off. We’ve got ten games to play and they’re all very hard games in that division.

“I think Farnborough and Ide Hill in the Quarter-Final will be tough. We’ve played both of those sides and we went out to Ide Hill in the Inter-Regional Cup on penalties.

“We played Farnborough earlier on in the season and beat them 4-1. They’re not a bad side, they’re a good side. You can never tell on the day who they put out and if it’s Sevenoaks’ under 21s there’s a bit of history there because one of their players, their brother used to play for is.

“If we end up playing Sevenoaks that will be a hard game because they’ll be playing on their home patch but I’ve played three times at Sevenoaks Town, once on the league and two cup finals and I ain’t lost yet so fingers crossed!”

Otford United: Jordan Busby, Jamie Shield, Sean Ellis (Tom Johnson 69), Phil Perkins, Scott Ellison (Mark Lampard 82), Rory Catt (Mike Cunningham 63), Tim Isles, Callum Hill, Mark Lampard (Adam Bunyan 69), Luke Blackaby, Jamie Knight.
Sub: Steve Knell

Goals: Luke Blackaby 13, Callum Hill 50, Tim Isles 81

Booked: Jamie Knight 49

Halstead United: Andy Lunn, Jimmy Jorboson, Sean Merron, Steve Hill, Henry Bangerter (Scott Howard 70), Luke Clarke, Ricky Simmons (Mark Casey 19), Matt Spears (Perry Hart 52), Danny Pledge (Ricky Simmons 52), Dale Taylor (Tom Bangerter 75), Lewis Longhurst.

Goals: Lewis Longhurst 6, Ricky Simmons 17, Dale Taylor 40, 68

Booked: Lewis Longhurst 4, Luke Clarke 79

Attendance: 52
Referee: Mr Rob Peters (Sevenoaks)
Assistants: Mr Chris Goulborn (Otford) & Mr Warren Boswell (Tonbridge)