Phoenix Sports 3-3 Hythe Town - We've got a group of players here who just keep going and never give in, says Hythe Town coach Steve Nolan

Saturday 17th November 2018
Phoenix Sports 3 – 3 Hythe Town
Location Mayplace Ground, Mayplace Road East, Barnehurst, Kent DA7 6JT
Kickoff 17/11/2018 15:00

Bostik South East Division
Saturday 17 November 2018
Stephen McCartney reports from Mayplace Road East

HYTHE TOWN coach Steve Nolan praised his players tremendous character after fighting back from being three goals down to claim a point in this thrilling promotion chasing battle.

Phoenix Sports raced into a 3-0 lead inside 58 minutes through attackers Kweku Ansah – no relation to Hythe striker Zak Ansah – and Alex Teniola scored two headed goals.

But a horrible mistake from centre-half Ashley Probets let in Hythe striker Junior Aikhionbare, who slotted in his fifth goal of the season to being the fightback in the 63rd minute.

Zak Ansah slotted in his 22nd goal to equalise before Nigel Neita – who struck the far post on two occasions – curled in a beautiful injury-time equaliser.

The Isthmian League haven’t made adjustments to the Bostik South East Division table so these points totals include the points taken off now defunct side Thamesmead Town but things will change shortly.

Unbeaten side Cray Wanderers lead the way with 37 points in the bag from 13 games, while the play-off places are filled by Hastings United (30 points from 12 games), Phoenix Sports (25 points from 14), Hythe Town (24 points from 13) and VCD Athletic (24 points from 13).

The game was frenetic and was high on quality, just a tad below the recent top-of-the-table clash between Cray Wanderers and Hastings United, which Tony Russell’s side won 2-1 at Hayes Lane last Sunday.

“I wasn’t very happy with it at half-time,” admitted Nolan, who was sent out for press duties by his manager Sam Denly.

“I didn’t feel we played particularly well first half but to come back to get a point, you’ve got to be pleased with that.  When we were 3-0 down in the second half, to come back 3-3 and we possibly could’ve won it at the end as well.

“Second half, I thought we played much better.  We moved the ball a lot quicker, we had less touches on the ball and the finishing with the three goals was excellent!”

Phoenix Sports manager Paul Bryon said: “Massively disappointed!  I thought for 60 minutes we absolutely controlled the game.  They didn’t really test us once for the first 60 minutes. We were in control and then we’ve given them a goal. A stupid back header and they’ve latched onto it and got their tails up and then we’ve panicked and just fallen apart effectively.

“Sixty minutes we’re 3-0 up and with half-an-hour to go you’ve got to see those games out and we’ve panicked, made bad decisions and everything we’ve done so well was undone, so I’m very, very disappointed.

“I said at half-time, the next goal wins the game. When we went 3-0 I didn’t see them getting back in it and the only way they got back in it was because we gifted them a goal and then their tails are up and we’re hanging on and they’re taking risks.

“I probably made a mistake taking the big fella (striker Jeff Duah-Kessie) off but he looked a bit tired so I brought a young lad on. It’s probably a big occasion for him (Kyren Mundle-Smith).

“It was a very open game, very fast paced in the first half.  To be honest for the neutral it was a good game of football. It was end-to-end, they’re very attacking – we knew that – and we dealt with them very well in the first half.

“We knew we’d hurt them going forward and we did that. I suppose they had half-an-hour and we had 60 minutes and they scored three in their half-an-hour and we scored three in our 60 minutes!”

Phoenix keeper Steven Phillips caught a cross into the box and threw the ball to Tony Robinson, but the ball was intercepted by Aikhionbare, who took a touch and flashed his right-footed drive past the right-hand post from a central position some 25-yards from goal, inside the opening seven minutes.

“I can remember it and I thought that was in but he pulled it just slightly wide,” added Nolan.

Phoenix Sports started the game with three centre-backs (Ryan Andrews, Danny Young and Ashley Probets) and two wing-backs (Lee Bird and Lewis Clarke) and Probets played the ball into Kweku Ansah, who teed up Teniola, who drilled his right-footed shot into Ryan Nicholls’ hands from 25-yards.

Bryon said: “We worked on that a lot with them linking up top, Kweku getting high and testing defenders and going past them and linking up with the forwards. It was exactly what I wanted and we proved it a little while later when we scored.”

Nolan added: “I thought the front two for them was causing us problems in the first half and Kweku Ansah did very well dropping in behind.  They’ve had a couple of chances and he scored the first goal I believe.”

Kweku Ansah was released down the left-channel and he cut inside and from the corner of the penalty area he whipped his shot straight into the hands of Nicholls, the on-loan Dartford keeper who has featured for Cray Valley and Sevenoaks Town already this season.

Hythe right-back Salvyn Kisitu clipped a long ball over the top to release Aikhionbare down the right channel and he linked up well with Zak Ansah and the ball was played inside to Jack Sammoutis and his low drive was held by Phillips, moving smartly and getting down low to his right.

“That was a good shot from distance and they restricted us a little bit to shooting from distance in the first half,” said Nolan.

Phoenix Sports keeper Phillips was in great form and he pulled off a great save to frustrate Hythe in the 25th minute.

Sammoutis swung in a corner from the left and Nathan Daly jumped to flick the ball on at the near post.  Zak Ansah retrieved the ball on the right-hand side of the penalty area and teed up Kieron Campbell, who turned Zak Bryon and cracked a stunning left-footed rasping drive from 22-yards, which was palmed over the bar by Phillips.

Bryon said: “They’re good footballers and they moved the ball well. When they get overloaded in midfield, they nip in and get it back. We knew they had chances but I was absolutely really pleased at half-time that was down to one chance, one real chance.”

Nolan added: “That was a good effort as well from Kieron and he’s capable of doing things like that and it was a good save.”

But Phoenix Sports grabbed the lead – against the run of play – with 28 minutes and 57 seconds on the clock.

Zak Bryon stabbed the ball forward and Teniola did well to flick a reverse pass around the corner from the corner of the penalty area to put Kweku Ansah through on goal and he drilled his right-footed shot clinically past Nicholls from 19-yards.

Bryon said: “That’s it, we’ve worked on that.  Alex got the ball from Zak and he drew three defenders out and flicked it around the corner and he’s making that run and latched onto it and a good finish. It was exactly what we’ve worked on so I’m happy with that.”

Nolan revealed the two Ansah’s on the pitch are not related.

“I don’t think they are related but it was a great finish.  Disappointed for us because their front two had split and allowed Kweku Ansah to come in and it was a good finish from him. Disappointing from our point of view but a good finish by them.”

Zak Ansah issued Phillips a warning when his attempted lob from 30-yards was gathered by the keeper, who was then called into action again.

Zak Ansah fed Campbell, who cut inside down the left-channel before playing Elliot Capel on the overlap and the left-back’s low angled drive forced Phillips to parry low to his right before gathering at the second attempt.

The outstanding Phillips pulled off another save in the 38th minute as Hythe continued to press on the front foot.

Zack Fagan played a one-two with Zak Ansah, who scuffed his low angled drive towards the bottom far corner.  Phillips saw it late and dived low to his left and stuck out his left hand to turn it behind for a corner.

Bryon said: “I thought Steve maybe a bit slow to move to that. There was not a great deal of pace on it.  Zak Ansah, he shoots on sight and he’s got a great strike on him and he knows where the goal is and we knew that if he had space he’d have a dig but that’s why we’ve got a keeper for.”

Nolan added:  “Zak’s had a few good chances today, not just chances but good efforts that he’s created for himself. In fairness to the keeper, it was a good save.”

Nicholls was called into action just before Phoenix Sports scored their second goal of the game.

Sammoutis floated a free-kick into the Phoenix box and Phillips caught the ball and launched a big kick straight down the middle for Jeff Duah-Kessie to hold up.  He cut the ball back to Bryon, who crossed deep and Kweku Ansah cut onto his right-boot to drill a right-footed shot towards the top far corner from 16-yards, forcing Nicholls to palm the ball over the bar, high to his left.

Probets swung in the resulting corner from the right with his left-foot and Teniola found a pocket of space to plant his header into the net from a couple of yards out at the far post.

Bryon is delighted with the former Aveley striker’s early form for his new club.

“We’ve worked on corners as well, their movement at corners and I think there was two of them queuing up for that and the movement was good and they couldn’t live with that.

“He scored two today and assisted on one. Happy days for me. You can’t moan at me signing him because that’s three goals out of three now and two assists, so he’s doing very well.”

Nolan added:  “Disappointing from us. Teniola has lost his marker and crept in just a couple of yards out so disappointing from us conceding from a set-piece and not at an ideal time for us either.

“Ryan’s done well.  He’s come in to us on loan, had a really good last game but sprained his ankle so he’s come back in now and he’s done well for us.”

Zak Ansah – who often dropped deep – hit a 30-yard drive, which forced Phillips to save low to his left as Phoenix Sports went in at the break with a 2-0 lead.

“I said this game is far from over,” revealed Bryon.

“I said if we do exactly what we did in the first half, we’ll win the game. I said the first 15 minutes of the second half were important. If we get the next goal we will win the game – but how wrong was I!

“I said you have to go out there, it’s like the beginning of the game, nothing’s done now. It’s 0-0. Keep moving the ball. There were a couple of situations we spoke about technically where we were getting in the wrong positions defensively and how to deal with their midfield movement and stuff like that – but it didn’t work!”

“I wasn’t too pleased with the first half at all,” admitted Nolan.

“I thought our shape wasn’t right. We wasn’t working hard enough off the ball and we were having too many touches so we addressed a couple of those things at half-time.

“We said the next goal was important, ultimately we conceded.  Full credit to the lads 3-0 down, I thought we played exceptionally well second half.  If we had another five minutes we could’ve gone on and got another.”

Phoenix Sports created the first opening of the second half after only 62 seconds but Probets’ left-footed free-kick from 28-yards was comfortably gathered in Nicholls midriff whilst dropping down to his knees.

But Phoenix Sports squandered a glorious chance to score their third goal eight minutes in.

Bryon hit a long ball down the left channel which released their 14-goal striker Duah-Kessie, who turned his man and cut onto his right-foot to curl his shot agonisingly around the foot of the far post from 18-yards.

Bryon said: “He’s a great lad Jeff but he’s got to be hitting the target there really. I thought that’s it, game over!

“He’s done well, turned his man. We know he’s got really good feet and can turn on a six-pence. I knew he’d just pull it out and whip it in but it just didn’t happen for him.”

“I think it was (a let-off). We were having a good spell then and we got caught on a little bit on the break,” added Nolan.

Hythe Town were always a threat going forward and they struck the far post for the first time in the 56th minute.

Campbell and Zak Ansah linked up in the final third and Neita cut inside and onto his left foot and curled a low shot around the keeper only to see the ball bounce off the foot of the far post.  Following up, Sammoutis’ shot was blocked and the ball came out to Zak Ansah, whose low drive was gobbled up by Phillips.

“He hit the post a couple of times in the second half.  Nigel’s got that sort of ability. He did well to manoeuvre the defender, beat another one and he was unlucky to hit the post,” added Nolan.

Phoenix Sports defensive weakness in the second half was not pressing out from their defensive line and allowing Hythe’s players time and space to have pop shots at goal from outside the box.

“He’s a good player and again we’re not getting out quick enough to him and we’re sitting off and hoping he doesn’t score and he’s hit the post,” Bryon said of Neita.

“The writing was on the wall a little bit then but I still felt comfortable.”

Lee Bird swung a free-kick into the Cannons penalty area but Teniola ghosted in to steer his free-header across the keeper and past the far post.

But Phoenix Sports were in a commanding position after scoring their third goal with 12 minutes and 28 seconds on the clock.

The ball was worked out to left-wing-back Clarke who was given time and space down the channel to whip in a great cross for Teniola to bury his downward header across the keeper to find the bottom far corner from six-yards.

“Brilliant move, stuff that we know we’ve got in us. We’ve switched the play, we’ve gone out wide and he’s whipped it in and Alex is there with his header,” said Bryon.

“He could’ve had a hat-trick today with another header but that’s what you’ve got to be doing to win games like this.”

Nolan said:  “Another one where we were pushing forward and we got caught a little bit on the break.  We pushed more players forward so we were a little but caught out but it was a spell, it was a little bit against-the-run-of-play and we was playing well.

“If you’re 3-0 up you think it’s good enough and it’s game over but 3-0 down normally that would be the case but we’ve got a group of players here who just keep going and never give in and we were starting to play well at that time.

“I didn’t think it would finish three-all. I never foresaw that but we were still confident we could get back in the game. We’ve got a good group of players here, good personalities and we thought we could get back into the game.”

So, where did it go wrong for Phoenix?  Firstly, they lost holding midfielder Robinson to a cut shin in the 50th minute and Conrad Lee came on in his place.  Probets made an error of judgement in defence which let in Hythe for the first goal and replacing Duah-Kessie through tiredness with a 3-2 lead with 14 minutes left backfired.

“I took Kweku off because I went 4-4-2 just to solid it up a little bit,” explained Bryon.

“Taking Jeff off probably was a mistake. He looked tired and he just wasn’t affecting the game in the way I wanted him to but in hindsight maybe I should’ve left him on. I know he was very disappointed but I’ll have a chat with him. It’s my job to make decisions, sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.”

Hythe Town began their fight-back with 17 minutes and 38 seconds on the clock.

Centre-half Mitchell Dickenson launched a long ball out of defence and Probets’ poor back header was pounced on by Aikhionbare and he kept his composure to slot his shot into the bottom right-hand corner from 16-yards when he only had the keeper to beat.

Nolan said:  “It was a great finish. I’ve just been speaking to him in the dressing room. He does that really well. He’s out-paced the two centre-halves and there was a lot of composure there to finish past the keeper. He had a lot of work to do then but it was a very good finish from Junior.”

Bryon said: “They’re obviously going to go for it at 3-0.  They’ve got nothing to lose and they’re going to push us but I didn’t feel we were in any danger.  We didn’t really look like we were panicking.  We weren’t defending for our lives. We were in the game, it was still an even game and I felt fine.  I actually felt quite comfortable.”

And then the Cannons exploded into life.

Bryon said: “He just had a knock on the head Ash and I was asking if he was alright – he was alright. He’s a good, experienced player Ash. 

“That’s a poor decision. If he heads that back to where it comes from we probably win the game but I can’t knock Ash. He’s brilliant for us but that was a massive turning point gifting them that.”

Kweku Ansah slipped in Duah-Kessie in space within the right-hand side of the penalty area but Nicholls saved the day, by using a strong left hand to turn the ball behind for a corner.

Zak Ansah saw the Phoenix keeper off his line and used his right-boot to chip the ball towards goal from 35-yards, but the back peddling Phillips ensured he grabbed hold of the ball on the line.

“I think Zak has seen it early, he’s seen him off the line and it was a good effort from distance. That’s the sort of enthusiasm and flair we’re playing going forward,” said Nolan.

Hythe Town’s luck was out again when in the 75th minute Zak Ansah teed-up Neita, who unleashed a left-footed angled drive from 20-yards, which took a deflection en-route to bouncing off the foot of the far post, almost in the same spot as before.

“I was certain that was in! I was already running down the touchline and I couldn’t believe it’s hit the post. It took a deflection because we got a resulting corner from it,” added Nolan, who watched the first half sitting in the stand before joining the bench for the second half.

Bryon said: “I think it was less close that one, a little speculative shot. I thought we had a good shape at that time. I don’t think if it had been on target it would’ve got to the goal.  Their tails were up and they were putting us under a lot of pressure.”

The momentum was with the Cannons and they deservedly pulled a second goal back with 32 minutes and 14 seconds on the clock.

Substitute left-back Aziz Lyoubi pushed forward and released Campbell down the left channel and he cut into the penalty area before putting it on a plate for Zak Ansah to take a touch before drilling his right-footed shot through a crowd of players to find the bottom far corner from 16-yards.

Nolan said: “It was a well-worked goal from our point of view. We were patient. It went down one side, came back in, went down the other side and Kieron’s taken his player on and pushed it into Zak firmly and Zak’s had one touch and finished. It’s all he needs, so another great finish from us.”

On his star-man scoring his 22nd goal of the season, Nolan added: “It’s nice when your striker gets 20 goals – but I think we were still in October when he did that!

“He was dropping a little bit deeper when we were pushing players forward so there was a little bit of rotation in there where players were running further advanced of Zak but he can play in that role.”

Bryon added: “Again, he still had a lot to do but he’s put it right in the corner but we’ve got to get out and get tighter to him. We know he’s going to shoot, just get out and stop him shooting! You can’t give people like him that time!”

Phoenix keeper Phillips pulled off a world-class save inside the final 10 minutes as his side were hanging on at this stage.

Sammoutis fed Campbell, who was now in a central position and he unleashed a right-footed drive towards the top right-hand corner from 35-yards, which forced the keeper to fly high to his left to tip the ball over the bar with his left-hand.

Nolan added: “Give credit to Phoenix, the goalkeeper has made some great saves.  Their defence has blocked a lot of shots when we put them under a lot of pressure, although we created a lot, they did defend well.”

Bryon said: “Great save from Steve.  Again, it’s that old thing of getting out to the ball. We were panicking a little and we were sitting in and not getting up on the ball and pressing them high and it hurt us.”

Phoenix also had a chance to win it too. Bird’s left-footed shot on the turn from just inside the Hythe box sailed just over the top of the crossbar.

It was only a matter of time when dominant Hythe Town notched a deserved equaliser, timed at 44 minutes and 24 seconds.

Billy Lewins made an immediate impact when he came on and released Aikhionbare down the right channel and he waited for support before cutting the ball back to Neita.  He cut inside and curled a beautiful left-footed shot into the top far corner from 30-yards, which screamed across the keeper to sail into the top far corner.

“That was a great finish and how hard we had to work today to score three outstanding goals as well,” said Nolan.

“Normally when you score three goals away from home you expect to win the game so there’s a little bit of disappointment there but disappointment has been taken away by being three-nil down second half away from home and coming back to get a point.”

Bryon added: “It’s a great finish and not a lot we can do about it.  The centre-half dived in and he just shifted it and banged it.  If the centre-half stays where he is maybe he doesn’t shoot, I don’t know. At that time we were sort of hanging on.”

Phoenix Sports had a chance to win it just 53 seconds later as this classic game came towards its climax.

Substitute striker Kyren Mundle-Smith whipped in a cross from the right and Teniola nipped in front of his marker to plant his header straight at Nicholls, which frustrated his manager.

He said:  “Once they equalised, we started doing what we were doing in the first half because we wanted to win the game and we started passing the ball better, getting the ball wide and we put a cross in and Alex has jumped and headed it straight at the keeper. Had he got a bit of an angle on it, it’s a goal.”

Zak Ansah’s free-kick from the right was hit towards goal by Dickenson, which was painfully blocked by Probets and Kisitu lashed the follow-up over the crossbar from eight-yards with a crowd of players in front of him.

Probets went up the other end to whip in their fifth corner of the game but Teniola guided his header wide at the far post.

Hythe Town almost snatched the win when Lyoubi’s low cross was cleared out to Neita, who took a touch and flashed his low right-footed shot just past the foot of the left-hand post from 15-yards.

Nolan said: “It’s one of those things, do you settle now for what you’ve got after being three-nil down or do you think you can actually go on and win the game?

“I had the belief that we could actually go and score another one because we were playing well. We were moving the ball well and I had the belief that we were more likely to score than concede.”

Phoenix Sports travel to sixth-placed surprise package Haywards Heath Town next Saturday, while Hythe Town have to wait until Saturday 1 December for their next game, a flight to Guernsey.

“I think it’s definitely a point gained.  I think the players showed tremendous character and a good fight-back and we thoroughly deserved a point today,” added Nolan.

On today’s result, Bryon added: “Look, they’re a good attacking side and we said if they get a gust of wind in them and get a bit of confidence they’ll hurt us and we had to nullity them and we did for 60 minutes and for me I have to say the first goal had we not done that I don’t think they’ll get anything out of the game.”

Phoenix Sports: Steven Phillips, Lee Bird, Lewis Clarke, Danny Young, Ryan Andrews, Ashley Probets, Zak Bryon, Tony Robinson (Conrad Lee 50), Jeff Duah-Kessie (Kyren Mundle-Smith 76), Alex Teniola, Kweku Ansah (Jack Barry 79).
Subs: Kehinde Aileru, Tarik Ibrahim

Goals: Kweku Ansah 29, Alex Teniola 43, 58

Booked: Ashley Probets 42, Alex Teniola 60, Jeff Duah-Kessie 66, Ryan Andrews 73

Hythe Town: Ryan Nicholls, Salvyn Kisitu, Elliot Capel, Zach Fagan (Aziz Lyoubi 65), Nathan Daly, Mitchell Dickenson, Nigel Neita, Jack Sammoutis (Billy Lewins 89), Zak Ansah, Junior Aikhionbare, Kieron Campbell.
Subs: Jack Negus, Charlie Webster, Chris Kinnear

Goals: Junior Aikhionbare 63, Zak Ansah 78, Nigel Neita 90

Booked: Jack Sammoutis 61

Attendance: 135
Referee: Mr Matthew Pollington (Maidstone)
Assistants: Mr Daniel Friar (Rainham) & Mr James Paternoster (Bexley)