Phoenix Sports 5-4 Chatham Town - I threw them under the bus on purpose because I wanted to see how they'd react to it, says Chatham Town boss James Collins

Tuesday 31st July 2018
Phoenix Sports 5 – 4 Chatham Town
Location Mayplace Ground, Mayplace Road East, Barnehurst, Kent DA7 6JT
Kickoff 31/07/2018 19:45

Pre-Season Friendly
Tuesday 31 July 2018
Stephen McCartney reports from Mayplace Road East

CHATHAM TOWN manager James Collins says his side are ready to get their Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division campaign underway at Corinthian on Saturday.

Chatham Town seem to be the team to watch if you want to witness thrilling games, as they lost a nine-goal thriller at Phoenix Sports tonight.

Chatham Town started the game on the front foot during the first 20 minutes and winger Byron Walker slid in at the far post to score.

Phoenix Sports then fought back and Jack Barry came up from right-back to head home a corner, having worked on set-pieces in a training session the previous night.

Phoenix Sports striker Jeff Duah-Kessie curled home his first goal of the night in the 40th minute but Paul Vines – who scored 28 goals for Thamesmead Town last season – scored just before half-time with a well taken finish to snatch an equaliser.

Chatham Town deployed a disastrous untried 3-5-2 formation after the break and Phoenix Sports exploited it as Duah-Kessie went on to score his hat-trick before wing-back Tony Robinson gave Phoenix Sports a 5-2 lead in the 61st minute.

Chatham Town switched to a 4-3-3 formation and Vines headed home his second goal of the night before Walker slotted in when he was played in behind but couldn’t replicate their 5-5 draw at SCEFL First Division side Welling Town at the weekend.

Phoenix Sports manager Paul Bryon said: “I thought first 20 minutes we were poor! We didn’t work them out very well. They were on the ascendancy. We had a plan, we didn’t stick to it and we panicked a little bit.

“I thought after the first 20 minutes we took control of the game. We were 2-1 up and really on the ascendancy but a little bit immature of us to try to score a third goal with five minutes to go and we conceded a weak goal just before half-time.

“We then came out, I was really pleased with our reaction to that. We took the game to them, scored early second half and we were 5-2 up and I thought we were very, very comfortable.

“It’s pre-season so I brought on a lot of youngsters for the last 20 minutes and it opened up a little bit and they got a couple back but that doesn’t worry me at all!

“We had three senior players out but once we got through the first 20 minutes, we were in control of the game.”

“Good and bad,” said Collins.  “I said to the boys before the game we’ve done a lot of sitting in. We’ve played a lot of decent sides, Gillingham, Cray Wanderers, Faversham and Ashford when we sat in. We just wanted to try something different tonight.

“Pre-season has gone on too long for us. We’ve been ready since the Gillingham game (last Tuesday).

“Had we played in a Cup game we’d probably not have played how we played tonight but it was all about what we did on the ball. 

“Two-all at half-time, I went 3-5-2 because we haven’t done 3-5-2 and we were playing against 3-5-2 and we was all over the place! We changed it back and we scored another two.  We tried something that didn’t quite work.”

Phoenix Sports, who finished in eleventh-place in the table last season, were without three senior players for this game, including goalkeeper Steve Phillips, who was on holiday.

His replacement, Martin Grant flapped at a couple of Russell Bedford trademark long throws before Chatham Town opened the floodgates with five minutes and 10 seconds on the clock.

Bedford launched his third long throw towards the near post, the ball was flicked on by Taylor McDonagh and Walker slid in at the far post to find the bottom corner from six-yards.

Collins said: “We did it last season. We haven’t done any work on it. We just said to Byron go back stick, Taylor goes on the keeper, throw-it in and see what happens and we scored a goal! That needs plenty of work so that’s something that we can use.

“I thought we was in complete control of the game and we nearly went 2-0 up just before they scored a goal from a set-piece, which is disappointing. Goals change games and they scored a set-piece and then they got on top.”

Bryon added: “A little bit of a lack of concentration in the fact that they’ve had two long-throws previous to that and looking for the flick on to the far post and we didn’t get someone at the front of him to stop the flick on but more importantly we’ve let a man go at the far post. It was a little bit of an error but it’s a pre-season error.  We spoke about it at half-time, we’re not going to dwell on it too much, it’s just a little bit of concentration there.”

Lewis Clarke, who played at left-back so that Ashley Probets could partner Danny Young at the heart of Phoenix Sports’ defence, played the ball into Duah-Kessie, who shrugged off McDonagh before playing the ball out to Robinson on the right.  He played the ball inside for Alfie Aldridge, who turned before stroking his low left-footed drive towards goal from 16-yards, which was held by Aaron Lee-Wharton, diving low to his right.

Phoenix Sports started to weather the storm after 20 minutes and started fighting their way back into the game.

But Chatham Town were to be denied a second goal halfway through the half when Pilbeam’s ball over the top released Louis Clark down the right and he cut inside and his teasing cross was cleared by Barry’s sliced near-post clearance.

Phoenix Sports immediately raced up the other end and Duah-Kessie crossed low for Zak Bryon, whose right-footed drive was tipped onto the base of the  post by Lee-Wharton, diving low to his left and out behind for a corner.

“That was a good move that we’ve been working on,” revealed the Phoenix Sports manager, who is preparing for his first full season in charge.

“We’ve been working on our attacking play a lot in pre-season and moving the ball and runs off the ball and supporting and after the first 20 minutes we got into that and we knew we’re going to hurt teams with that movement.

“It was a decent strike from Zak, whose not known for his shooting but it was a decent shot from him and a good save from the keeper.”

Collins added: “It was a good save. He’s come in to get some games from Ashford. Ben Nourse has been injured and that was the first time they threatened, I thought.”

Jason Thompson’s ball over the top released Clark down the right wing and the former Corinthian winger cut into the box and pulled the ball back for Pilbeam, whose drive was beaten away by Grant at his near post.

“We could’ve gone 2-0 up, that was a good move,” added Collins, who was impressed with right-winger Louis Clark during the first 20 minutes, a former Corinthian man.

“He done well. Someone recommended him to us. He hasn’t missed a training session, he’s done really well.  It was his first real start tonight  we’ve been bringing him on and I think he’s certainly going to be an asset for us this season.”

Bryon added: “They had a few chances in the first half but I thought we were dominating the game and we were hurting them and we were more and more into it and more control of it.  You’re going to get chances against you in any game of football and we dealt with them after that and I thought there was only one team that was going to score before half-time.”

Man-of-the-match Duah-Kessie turned Reece Butler and curled his right-footed shot towards the top far corner from outside the box, which forced Lee-Wharton to pull off a great save, diving high to his left to tip behind for a corner.

Phoenix Sports deservedly equalised following the resulting corner, timed at 31 minute and 46 seconds.

Probets’ left-foot swung in a great delivery from the right and Barry made space inside the box to glance his header across the keeper to find the far corner.

“We’ve been working on corners, I had them in for an extra session last night just on set-pieces and that was one of them and it worked,” revealed Bryon.

“I was really pleased with that and it’s good to get Jack on the scoresheet.  Jack and Danny Young should be scoring more goals with their heads from set-pieces. We have got two or three up our sleeve and we’ll change them each week so it’s not predictable.”

Collins said: “Jeff Duah-Kessie caused us problems all night to be fair.  I’ve been trying to sign him for a long time!

“JT (Thompson) put his hand up, that was JT’s man. There’s not much you can do about that. He’s put his hand up, he’s said he’s lost his man.”

Chatham Town went route one as they went in search of a goal.  Lee-Wharton’s big kick down the middle was cleverly knocked on by Vines, into Pilbeam’s path and after cutting the ball onto his right foot, he curled his shot around the far post from just outside the corner of the penalty area.

Kweko Ansah played Aldridge in behind the Chatham defence but the winger dragged his shot across the keeper and past the far post from a tight angle.

Phoenix Sports took a 2-1 lead, timed at 39 minutes and 33 seconds.

Right-back James Fray hit a ball out of defence which was headed back towards him by Probets.  Lewis Clarke was in an advanced position down the left-flank and he played the ball square into Duah-Kessie’s feet and he shrugged off McDonagh to curl a beautiful right-footed shot over the diving keeper into the top far corner from 18-yards.

“I thought Jeff was outstanding today,” said his manager.

“Lewis Clarke is a new signing but I’ve known the lad for a long time. He’s brought a new dimension to our game, he’s a good footballer, he understands the game.

“Jeff, it was a typical centre forward’s goal. He backed into his man, turned and pulled the trigger and that’s what you want from people like him. I was pleased with that.”

Collins said: “It was a really good goal from him. It was our possession of the ball. Louis had given him an option and he ended up just clearing the ball into no-mans land and they broke and scored.  They still had a lot to do. 

“I would have liked us to defended that better but it’s a good bit of play from the striker but you always going to fell you could have done better!”

Chatham Town showed character to equalise with 42 minutes and 11 seconds on the clock through goal-machine Vines.

Fray cut in from the right wing and hit a crossfield pass over to left-back Matt Parsons, who twisted and turned Robinson, leaving him on his backside before whipping in a cross into a crowded box.  Vines used his feet to flick the ball into space, turned before drilling an angled drive through the crowd to find the bottom far corner from 12-yards.

“I thought Matt Parsons is very good going forward for us, he’s been very good all pre-season and Vinsey is just banging in goals for us and he took his goal well,” said Collins.

“I said to the boys, we’ve got someone up there who can score goals.  I thought he won a lot of headers and he was very, very good today.  I thought he played really well and another good finish from him.  We look like we’ve got goals in us and we’ve scored a lot of goals in pre-season.”

Bryon added: “If you look at that goal back, we had two chances to clear the ball!  Danny Young just made a misjudgement and thought it was going wide and let it go in when he could’ve cleared it but it went in the corner.

“It’s one of those things, pre-season stuff. It’s an individual error, well three individual errors in one.  You’ve got to take it on the chin. It was a poor time, we could’ve killed the game but we didn’t but we still had 45 minutes and I was still confident at this stage.”

Both managers were asked their thoughts at the interval.

Bryon said: “I said you’ve worked it out! We were dropping too deep. We were playing three at the back and we had five people making three.

“I know the lad (Thompson) in their midfield and you can’t give him time on the ball because he’ll pick a pass so we got tight to him but I said if you keep moving the ball like we have, especially in the final third, we’ll hurt them and I wasn’t too displeased.”

“There was good and bad,” admitted Collins.

“We set ourselves up differently, if we were playing in a competitive game we maybe played a bit differently but it was more about what we did on the ball.

“We haven’t gone 3-5-2 this season. I felt they were playing 3-5-2. We’ve been ready for a while just give it a go at 3-5-2 and it didn’t work! It’s probably my fault! When you’re playing 3-5-2 against a team who knows how to play that formation it’s probably not the best way to do it but we learnt a couple of things and we switched it at 5-2, it just wasn’t working so we switched it back and we looked much more comfortable.” 

Chatham Town brought on Josh Bray at the interval and sat in front of three centre halves and two wing-backs and this experiment failed miserably as Phoenix Sports took only 32 seconds to score their third.

Ansah found space down the right to whip in a cross for Duah-Kessie to hit a right-footed shot on the turn which looped up towards the roof of the net.  Lee-Wharton got fingertips to the ball but couldn’t prevent the bouncing over the line.

Bryon admitted: “Slightly fortunate. I thought he slightly mis-hit it but he makes his own luck and he’s played really well today and he deserved it. He gave them trouble, they couldn’t handle Jeff today!”

Collins admitted: “I don’t know what to make of it? What’s gone wrong there? I don’t know! We didn’t have enough pressure on the ball and we looked outside the box when he shot. I thought it took a deflection and Aaron tipped it and it’s one of those spawny goals.  It rocked us a little bit, I think.”

Parsons, Butler and Bedford seemed lost in their new formation as Duah-Kessie’s through ball put Ansah in behind but all he could do was rifle the ball high into the side netting from a tight angle.

Duah-Kessie released Ansah and his cross from the right was hit deep and Clarke’s header from a tight angle was caught by the Chatham keeper.

Phoenix Sports notched their fourth goal of the night, 11 minutes and 11 seconds into Chatham’s experiment.

Probets clipped the ball out of defence and a magical touch from Duah-Kessie saw him turn Butler before slotting his right-footed shot across the keeper into the bottom far corner to score his hat-trick.

Bryon said: “The movement was quality.  They were coming off their men, joining up, linking up the play and they were deadly in the box.

“Alfie Aldridge today, I know he didn’t score but his work-rate and his movement created so many opportunities for us. I was really, really pleased with him. He’s had two good games on the bounce now and he’s really coming on to his own and I was very happy with him and I’m glad Jeff got his hat-trick.”

Collins said: “We was getting stretched all over the place at that time! I was a little bit disappointed that no one tried to problem solve, everyone looked over. 

“I threw them under the bus on purpose a little bit because I wanted to see how they’d react to it. Obviously when we weren’t reacting right I changed it. It’s something you can work on when you decided to go with it eventually and it’s good to be exposed to it.”

Phoenix Sports raced into a 5-2 lead, with 15 minutes and 26 seconds on the clock, following a fine three-man move.

Aldridge shifted the ball in from the left to the middle for Ansah to lay the ball off on the outside to an unmarked Robinson, who kept his composure to slot the ball past the advancing keeper to find the bottom far corner.

“We’ve worked on our movement in training,” revealed the Phoenix Sports manager.

“We moved it across where defenders get across and our wide-men, our wing-back gets in and helps the strikers and he’s sitting there on his own, one-v-one with the keeper and that’s exactly what we worked on so it’s pleasing when it comes straight from the training ground.”

Collins said: “Look, more of the same at that stage, we were just all over the place!

“We were trying to press and the back four weren’t getting close enough to the midfield and the midfield weren’t getting close enough to the strikers. The back three were all over the place. When you play 3-5-2, you know what the weaknesses are of 3-5-2. We haven’t done any work on it in pre-season so we probably weren’t quite ready for it, we certainly weren’t ready for it!”

Hopkins split open Chatham’s woeful defence to put in Aldridge, whose right-footed low drive from 16-yards was saved by Lee-Wharton, low to his right.

Collins switched his formation again and with Michael Hagan coming on and playing down the right wing, troubling substitute left-back Lee Bird, Chatham fought back with a third goal, timed at 25 minutes and 59 seconds on the clock.

Bray played the ball out to Hagan, who raced down the wing before whipping in a great cross for a great striker, as an unmarked Vines buried his header into the roof of the net from 12-yards, from the centre of the penalty box.

“When we brought Michael Hagan on, we went back to 4-3-3, which we’ve been playing all season and we looked so much more comfortable,” admitted Collins.

“Hagan came on and he’s done well in pre-season. He’s scored a couple of goals, good cross, good goal.”

Collins hailed the arrival of Vines, whose goals will make a difference in Chatham Town’s bid for the title.

“I think we’re lucky to get him really, a massive signing for us. He’s been brilliant around the changing room. He scores goals, wins headers. I’d imagine he’d be up there with the top goalscorers this season.”

Bryon explained: “I was starting to make the changes. I brought a lot of our reserves and youngsters in today on the bench and once we were 5-2 up, I knew we were comfortable in the game and I wanted to give other people minutes and I changed it. People were playing out of position. It opened us up a little bit and we switched off a little bit at the back because they knew the result was sort of immaterial at that stage. The performance was nice and Vinsey got away. He’s a good player Vinsey and he deserves his goal.”

Phoenix’s played started getting younger as time wore on.  Replacement striker Kyren Mundle-Smith released Ansah but Lee-Wharton smothered the shot at his near post and McDonagh made a vital block to prevent right-winger Tarik Ibrahim notching from the rebound.

The impressive Hagan cut in from the right wing to curl his shot around the far post as an open second half entered the final 13 minutes.

Aldridge’s diagonal put Mundle-Smith in down the right and after cutting inside he played the ball inside to Frederick Olafsen, but the central midfielder cracked his dipping drive just over the crossbar from inside the D.

Grant conceded his fourth goal of the night as Chatham Town pulled another goal back, timed at 36 minutes and 11 seconds.

Chatham produced a slick move as Walker played the ball into Pilbeam, who put Walker in on goal and the former Sevenoaks Town striker slotted his right-footed shot past the keeper from 12-yards.

“That was the one thing with Pilbeam,” explained Collins. “We’ve been playing him wide right. I was in the car today, I rang up Brad (Sandeman, my assistant) and I thought what do you think? Why don’t we look at Pilbeam in the 10 role and I thought he was excellent in there.  It’s more food for thought so that was a positive out of that and Byron, it’s his first game for us and he’s scored two goals, there’s positives for us.”

Bryon said: “I changed four or five in our midfield and we weren’t sharp or tight and we weren’t as organised and they’re going to create chances with that and that’s what they did.”

Eddie Allsop took a touch before hitting a left-footed drive towards the Chatham goal from 25-yards, which was comfortably saved by a goalkeeper hired out from Ashford United.

Substitute keeper Liam Rankin had a six minute cameo to ensure he didn’t concede the game’s tenth goal.

A deep cross from right-back Marvin Okundalaiye was headed wide by an unmarked Hagan inside the Phoenix box and quick thinking and bravery from Rankin ensured he smothered the ball at Walker’s feet on the very edge of the box after Pilbeam’s ball in behind.

Looking ahead to Saturday’s opening day trip to his old club, Corinthian, Collins insists Chatham Town are “ready! I think I’ve known my starting 11 for a while. We were ready after the Gillingham game. 

“Last season, I was thinking towards this season when I took over and we were trying to plan. We reduced our budget a little bit to save a little bit for this season.  We played out the last season, looking at who we wanted to keep and our results suffered a little bit.

“Everyone else has done six weeks of pre-season, I’ve done about six months of it so we’re ready!

“The last three games we’ve tried things out, I’m disappointed with certain aspects but I will take responsibility for the last three results but we’ve tried things and not reading anything into it but I’m just happy that we can score goals this year!”

Phoenix Sports will have to wait until 11 August before travelling to play Matt Longhurst’s East Grinstead Town.

Bryon said: “So what I got our of tonight is that they’ve been listening in pre-season, they’ve been taking on what we’ve done on the training ground into the games.  I think we’ve got good attacking options and we can be solid when we want to.  I think we’re still a little bit rusty and we’ve got two games left and that will probably get us out of it but I’m relatively pleased with that.”

Phoenix Sports:  Martin Grant (Liam Rankin 84), Jack Barry, Lewis Clarke (Lee Bird 65), Jack Hopkins (Frederick Olafsen 64), Ashley Probets, Danny Young, Tony Robinson (Tarik Ibrahim 70), Zak Bryon (Eddie Allsop 73), Jeff Duah-Kessie (Kyren Mundle-Smith 66), Alfie Aldridge.

Goals: Jack Barry 32, Jeff Duah-Kessie 40, 46, 58, Tony Robinson 61

Chatham Town:  Aaron Lee-Wharton, James Fray (Marvin Okundalaiye 80), Matt Parsons (Alfie Spires 84), Russell Bedford, Taylor McDonagh, Reece Butler, Byron Walker, Jason Thompson (Michael Hagan 64), Paul Vines, Jon Pilbeam, Louis Clark (Josh Bray 46).

Goals:  Byron Walker 6, 82, Paul Vines 43, 71

Attendance: 70
Referee:  Mr Ryan Whitaker (Bexleyheath)
Assistants: Mr Jamie Paternoster (Bexley) & Mr Steve Perry (Bexleyheath)