Phoenix Sports 1-2 Ashford United - Champions take the knock down and you come back bigger, says Phoenix Sports boss Steve O'Boyle

Friday 10th April 2015
Phoenix Sports 1 – 2 Ashford United
Location Mayplace Ground, Mayplace Road East, Barnehurst, Kent DA7 6JT
Kickoff 11/04/2015 15:00

Southern Counties East Football League
Saturday 11th April 2015
Stephen McCartney reports from Mayplace Road Ground

ASHFORD UNITED boss Paul Chambers hailed his outstanding players after inflicting Phoenix Sports’ first league defeat of the season despite playing with ten-men for 77 minutes.

Phoenix Sports went into the game sitting 11 points clear of the Southern Counties East Football League table with 85 points from 33 games and they would have claimed the title had they beaten second-placed Ashford United today, after third-placed Erith & Belvedere were held to a 2-2 draw at Sevenoaks Town.

Ashford United were reduced to ten-men after only thirteen minutes when central defender Danny Lye was sent off following a challenge on Russell Bedford on the right wing.

Phoenix Sports had the better of a poor first half, but they took the lead through Yacine Gnahore’s 31st goal of the season to liven up a poor game after 53 minutes.

But Michael Phillips held his composure to equalise from the penalty spot just ten minutes later, before Kieran Byrne came off the bench to drill home a 35-yarder with 46:05 on the clock to give Ashford United a deserved victory.

“I thought we were superb today, what with ten men,” said Chambers after his side’s 23rd league win of the season, which closes the gap to eight points with four games left to play.

“I know my lads have been outstanding! They worked so hard and they’ve grounded out (the win) and they’ve been brilliant.

“I’m so proud of every single one of them and that’s all I’ve got to say really.”

Chambers added: “The thing is, you’ve got to remember they’ve been unbeaten all year. We’ve come to their place, we’re in their own back garden and we’ve had 10 men for 77 minutes and at the end of the day we were superb.”

Phoenix Sports’ manager Steve O’Boyle was bitterly disappointed after losing his first league game at the 34th attempt.

“Not good enough, from our point of view!

“They went down to ten men early doors and we should have capitalised on it and we never!

“We went 1-0 up and we should have seen the game out. We got done time after time by the long ball over the top and our defending weren’t good enough!”

Phoenix Sports should have broken the stalemate with only four minutes and 19 seconds on the clock.

Aaron Jeffery picked up Joe Mant’s goal-kick and Gnahore found Carl Cornell in the middle, who swept the ball out wide to right-winger Harrison Carneige, who cut into the penalty area and rolled the ball back to Jeffery, who swept his deflected shot over the bar from six-yards at the near post.

“It looks like it took a deflection,” added O’Boyle.

“Good work from Harrison. He’s (Jeffery) got the shot on target. It’s taken a deflection so he’s unlucky really.”

Bedford was sent flying following Lye’s challenge and after taking his time and speaking to his assistant, referee John Nazari showed the Ashford central defender a red-card and the visitors’ appeared to have a big mountain to climb.

Chambers was fuming about the decision.

He said: “I thought the referee didn’t have a very good game. I thought he was shocking! It was never a sending off. Even their bench…

“I felt sorry for both teams really because they should have appointed a better referee to referee a game like this.

“Fair play to my lads. Ten men. Billiant. Just absolutely every single one.”

O’Boyle added: “Didn’t see it, didn’t see it. Honestly. Ther was a clash. I don’t knew what it was for, whether it was an elbow. I don’t know if there was a clash of heads? I don’t know so I can’t comment because I don’t know what went on.”

Phoenix Sports almost capitalised on their man advantage after fifteen minutes.

Bedford launched a trademark long throw into the penalty area and Chris Hill came up from the back and his glancing header was clawed away by Mant at the near post.

Another throw came into the Ashford penalty area, this time from right-back Myles Keizer-Burrows, which Ashford failed to clear and Bedford took a touch before curling his deflected right-footed drive around the far post from 18-yards.

The league leaders posed a threat from long-throws and Keizer-Burrows smacked his right-footed volley high over the bar after the ball came back out to him following his initial long throw was cleared.

Ashford United 43-goal striker Stuart Zanone – who was playing with jet-lag after flying back from America on the day of the game – won his side a corner through tireless lone strike play in the 33rd minute.

When asked about Zanone’s tireless hard work, Chambers replied: “Without being horrible, you’re going to talk me through the game and I don’t really remember many.  All I know is we’ve won 2-1 and my lads’ have been outstanding.”

Jamie Collado dragged the resulting corner back to Tom Scorer, who drilled the ball back into the box and Phoenix keeper Steve Phillips pounced on the ball after Pat Kingwell flicked the ball on.

But Phoenix Sports really should have broken the stalemate exactly 60 seconds later following their fifth of six corners.

Carneige swung in the ball from the left and Bedford made space at the near post and his glancing header was plucked out of the air high above his head by an alert Mant.

O’Boyle admitted: “Yes, I thought we was on top at half-time, especially with them down to ten men. I thought we’d go on and win the game.”

Gnahore cut in from the left but unleashed his left-footed drive dipping over Mant’s crossbar from 25-yards.

Steve Phillips gathered the ball low to his left after his defence allowed Michael Phillips to clip a speculative free-kick into the penalty area from the edge of the centre circle – but Ashford were not a threat going forward during the first half.

Chambers said: “We played very well to be honest with you. We had a game plan. We came in at half-time.  We had a game plan at half-time and unfortunately they scored but then we got right back into it and we were superb, so credit to the lads.”

O’Boyle added: “Our half-time team talk was to keep our work-rate up, play a high intensity game, squeeze them up the pitch and try to run them off the pitch basically and it never worked!”

Referee John Nazari made a howler inside the opening three minutes of the second half when Hill appeared to have fouled Marsden inside the penalty box, only to award Ashford a free-kick a yard outside the box.

Zanone wasted the opportunity by blasting his right-footed free-kick over the bar.

Chambers said: “We should have had a penalty! Marzo said it was in the box. It could have been a penalty! A lot of people through it was.”

O’Boyle added: “Poor defending from the start really! We tried to take the forward on. We gave the ball away, a foul. I don’t know if it was inside or outside but you can’t defend like that!

“Our defending of late hasn’t been up to scratch!”

Ashford were closer when Michael Phillips’ swept in a free-kick into the penalty area and left-back Luke Cuthbert glanced his header across goal and past the far post.

But Phoenix Sports grabbed the lead through Gnahore’s fine finish to score his 26th goal for the club this season (two more were for Deal Town, three for Beckenham Town).

Collado was guilty of letting Carneige cut inside him down the right channel and the talented winger cut the ball inside to Gnahore, who took a touch before drilling his right-footed shot on the turn into the right-hand corner from 15-yards.

GOAL: Phoenix Sports striker Yacine Gnahore netted his 31st goal of the season to give his side the lead.
Photo: Alan Coomes

O’Boyle said: “Good goal! It was a good finish, a good goal!

“I wished we gone on from there and win the game, so it was a good goal, but if we’d stayed at 1-0 that’s us as champions tonight!

“We have to have a little look at it for Wednesday night because that weren’t good enough after the goal.”

When asked about Phoenix’s 89th league goal of the campaign, Chambers barked: “I don’t remember the goal! All I remember is the penalty and Burnsey’s goal and that’s it so whatever you want to talk to me through the game, I don’t remember!”

The introduction of substitute Gary Mickelborough galvanised Ashford United, who were the better side for the rest of the game.

Mickelborough and substitute Byrne linked up well down the right and Scorer was fouled by Hill inside the box and the referee pointed to the spot.

Michael Phillips maintained his composure to drill his right-footed penalty straight down the middle as his name-sake dived to his right.

LEVEL: Ashford United equalised through Michael Phillips' well-taken penalty
Photo: Alan Coomes

Chambers said: “To be fair, a great penalty from Micky. Yes definitely deserved. 100%. I thought we did well. Again, I can’t praise these lads up so much.

“So many times they’ve been behind in the last 5-10 minutes and we’ve won games of football – they’ve been superb.”

O’Boyle added: “Someone’s not tracked their runner and they’ve got in behind us. Lazy and that led to the penalty. 

“Good penalty, yes. What can you say about that?”

Phoenix Sports squandered a decent chance in the 68th minute when Carneige whipped in a cross and Yacine outjumped Mant to plant his header past the far post.

Phoenix Sports received a big slice of luck within a minute when Michael Phillips’ swept in a curling free-kick from the left and Jason Goodchild directed his back-header against his own post.

Chambers said: “Again, don’t keep talking to me about the game! I don’t understand the game. At the end of the day all I know is I’ve won! It doesn’t matter how many times you tell me. I’m going to tell you the same thing. At the end of the day we won 2-1 and the lads have been brilliant.

“All these bits and pieces, chances and that lot. We’ve had chances and they’ve had chances and it’s finished 2-1!”

O’Boyle added: “A little bit of luck there. It could have gone anywhere. It did come off against the post.  We’ve lost the game anyway, it doesn’t make no difference.”

But nothing was falling for Phoenix Sports and Ashford United were more the likely to go on and win this disappointing top-of-the-table battle.

Chambers rallied his troops clapping and demanding “a big ten minutes,” and his side delivered.

Carneige had a chance to win it for Phoenix Sports when his skill easily took him past Adam Cuthbert and rolled his shot straight into Mant’s gloves, who comfortably picked up the ball beside his near post.

O’Boyle admitted: “We’ve had a lot of chances around the box and we haven’t pulled the trigger. I think we need the goalkeeper to be making more saves!”

Ashford United went route one inside the final four minutes when Mant launched a big kick straight down the heart of the Phoenix back four. Zanone flicked the ball on with his head and Byrne’s header was clawed away by Steve Phillips, high to his left.

Carneige whipped in another decent delivery from the right but Yacine directed his overhead kick looping over the bar.

But Chambers ran onto the pitch in delight following Byrne’s brilliant goal, only the seventeenth league goal that Phoenix Sports have conceded this season.

There appeared to be little danger when Byrne picked up the ball in space, but he cut inside and drilled a stunning left-footed drive high over the diving Steve Phillips, the ball sailing into the top far corner from 35-yards to send the vocal travelling fans housed inside the home club’s new stand into raptures believing they can snatch the league title with four games left.

Chambers added: “Great goal, great goal. Top goal. A good enough goal to win any game so that’s my time, thank you very much!”

O’Boyle added: “Good finish! No pressure on the ball and to be fair if he hit it 100 times how many times does it go in?

“But from my point of view, no-one was tracking the runner and he had a free shot on goal, which I’m not happy about.”

Phoenix Sports have a tough looking run-in, starting with a trip to Erith & Belvedere on Wednesday night, before hosting Beckenham Town next Saturday.  They then travel to Ashford United (21 April) and Lingfield on the final day of the season.

Ashford United host Sevenoaks Town on Tuesday might, followed by Crowborough Athletic on Saturday, then Phoenix Sports, before completing their campaign with a final day trip to Fisher.

“We’ve just said in there, it’s still in our hands. We’re still eight points clear with four games to go,” said O’Boyle.

“We’ve still got to believe we can still win the league. I think they’ll rather be in our position than theirs.

“We need to screw our heads back on and go Wednesday night against Erith & Belvedere.

“They (my players’) need to look at themselves don’t they?!

“There’s no point feeling sorry for ourselves. They need to turn up on Wednesday and beat Erith & Belvedere.

“There’s no point feeling sorry for yourself. Winners don’t do that. If you want to be a champion, you take the knock down and you come back bigger and that’s what we’ve got to do.

“As long as we’re holding that cup at the end of the year I don’t care.”

Sittingbourne retain their invincible record of going the entire Kent League campaign unbeaten in 40 games (32 wins, 8 draws) back in 1990-91.

“That’s done and dusted now,” O’Boyle said of English football’s last unbeaten league run.

“I ain’t really interested. I’ve said it all along, I ain’t worried about unbeaten runs and going the whole season undefeated.  I’m not really interested in that.

“For us to win this league will be fantastic. We’re making hard work of it at the moment but we’ve still in a good position and if you’d given me this position at the beginning of the season, I would have snatched your hand off!

“We’ll dust ourselves off and go again Wednesday. It’s a big game, local derby, looking forward to it.”

Chambers admitted Phoenix Sports will have to severly implode if they don’t claim the league title later this month.

He added: “It’s still in their hands and we’ve just got to do what we’ve got to do.  We’ve just got to keep winning and that’s all we can do.”

Phoenix Sports: Steve Phillips, Myles Keizer-Burrows, Danny Moore, Russell Bedford (Ryan Andrews 75), Scott Whibley, Chris Hill, Harrison Carneige, Jason Goodchild, Carl Cornell, Yacine Gnahore, Aaron Jeffery (George King 62).
Subs: James Brown, Andy Constable, Jack White

Goal: Yacine Gnahore 53

Booked: Aaron Jeffery 17

Ashford United: Joe Mant, Adam Cuthbert, Luke Cuthbert, Jamie Collado (Gary Mickelborough 58), Danny Lye, Pat Kingwell, Gary Clarke, Michael Phillips, Stuart Zanone, Darren Marsden (Kieran Byrne 62), Tom Scorer (Michael Smissen 88).
Subs: Liam Walsh, Lloyd Blackman

Goals: Michael Phillips 63 (penalty), Kieran Byrne 90

Booked: Tom Scorer 17, Michael Phillips 18, Adam Cuthbert 66

Sent off: Danny Lye 13

Attendance: 171
Referee: Mr John Nazari (Battersea, London SW11)
Assistants: Mr Dan Proctor (Dartford) & Mr Kenan Dogan (Dartford)