Phoenix Sports 1-0 Croydon - Hopefully we can have a bit of a Vase run, says Steve O'Boyle

Wednesday 10th September 2014

The FA Vase First Qualifying Round Replay
Wednesday 10th September 2014
Stephen McCartney reports from Mayplace Road East

PHOENIX SPORTS’ manager Steve O’Boyle says his side had to work hard to knock their league rivals Croydon out of The FA Vase at the second attempt.

O’Boyle was indebted to midfielder Russell Bedford for his last-gasp leveller with a beautiful free-kick to force extra-time last Saturday as the two Southern Counties East Football League clubs finished all-square at 3-3 at the Croydon Sports Arena.

But Phoenix Sports clinched victory in their first ever home tie in the competition tonight, winning a tight, hard-fought affair courtesy of Alex Nelson’s first half volley.

Phoenix Sports were without strikers Ricky Freeman, Rikki Cable and Jon Main through injury so central defender James Brown was utilised as an emergency striker alongside Enoch Adjei.

Croydon pushed winger Ben Mankelow in a more advanced position alongside Tristan Toney, because Dan Jupe was once again ruled out through a foot injury.

O’Boyle said: “I thought it was hard fought. It was a close game. I don’t think they’re a bad side.  I think they’ve got some really good players. We had to work hard for the win.

“We were very close to going out on Saturday. I think it was the last kick of the game, a free-kick, to get them back here tonight.

“I thought we maybe edged it but all-in-all I’m really happy. We’ve got players missing for fun at the moment and James Brown’s playing up front again tonight. It’s not ideal but he’s doing it for the team and there’s players playing out of position.  We’re down to the bare bones at the moment.”

Croydon manager/chairman Dickson Gill was disappointed that his side’s four-match unbeaten record – and FA Vase run – came to an end.

“We’re not going to do nothing now are we in The FA Vase,” he said.

“Fair play to them. They had one chance, one good chance and they took it. They took their chance really well, but we had chances as well but we’re lacking up front a little bit today. We’ve got a few knocks from the other day and have not recovered yet so I made them play and we struggled really.

“We should have won at home. Our striker tried to score three goals instead of keeping the ball up there. He tried to score and they went up the other end and their guy scored theirs so really we should have won it then. It wouldn’t have come to this today.”

Phoenix Sports started the game on the front foot with Brown playing the ball inside to Bedford who scuffed his right-footed drive from 30-yards, which rolled into Francis Ameyaw’s gloves for a comfortable save after only 141 seconds.

Adjei penetrated Croydon’s left by going on a 40-yard run before playing the ball inside to Brown, who laid the ball off to Nelson, who drove his right-footed shot over from 25-yards.

Croydon created their first opening within five minutes when skipper Steven Cox played the ball inside to Mankelow, who sent his powerful right-footed drive just over the bar from 20-yards.

The Trams went route-one when Ameyaw launched a big kick down the middle and the ball dropped to winger James Fray, whose left-footed volley was caught by keeper Vincent Mansanet.

Fray then danced his way forward before a deflection took the sting out of his shot and was easily gathered by the Phoenix keeper.

Croydon central defender Adam Allen capped off an impressive performance and higher league scouts will soon be watching him if he continues performing like he is at present.

Allen charged forward through the middle with the ball before playing it into Toney, who flicked his pass back to Allen, who teed up Mankelow, who swept his right-footed shot straight at Mansanet from 20-yards.

O’Boyle felt winger Harrison Carnegie could have done better in the 20th minute when he received a pass from right-back Myles Keizer-Burrows, cut onto his left-foot but his shot from 20-yards was comfortably saved by Ameyaw.

He said: “I think he maybe could have done a little bit better with that one Harrison.

“There wasn’t much on goalkeeper action really all through the night. It was more of the midfield really. There wasn’t many saves on goal.”

Croydon started to get back into the game from the halfway point.

“That’s because we were late turning up here today,” explained Gill, who himself only drove into the car park an hour before the kick-off.

“The traffic killed us and the referee was a pain in the a***. He rushed us through it so we didn’t have a proper warm-up so we were slow starters.

“But second half we matched them in nearly all departments.  I felt we just didn’t score and we’re lacking up front at the moment because we’re missing Dan Jupe so I need to sign another striker maybe.

“We’ve got Badar Mohammed who’s off form at the moment but we have to try again.”

Cox released Mankelow who charged down the right before he cut the ball back to an unmarked Toney, whose right-footed angled drive from just inside the penalty box appeared to take a deflection as it curled around the far post.

Fray then cut in from the left before playing the ball inside to Mankelow, who struck a first time right-footed drive from 16-yards, which screamed agonisingly over the top of the left-hand post.

“You know, in football you have these little spells and if you don’t capitalise on it that’s what happens,” said Gill.

“I’m a bit disappointed with Ben. He’s a lad who can hit a good ball. He snatched at it and he didn’t really get a grip of the ball. It was off his laces and it’s gone to the side really.”

O’Boyle added: “I don’t want any chances against my team! They had a couple of chances in the first half that I wasn’t happy about. They had a couple of shots on goal and we never pressed the ball. They had a couple of easy chances, shots under no pressure really and I said that’s got to change second half! We can’t let them have a free shot on goal.”

Bedford floated a free-kick in towards the edge of the penalty area and Nelson got to the ball before his marker, steering his deflected volley past the far post.

But Gill was angry in the manner that Phoenix Sports scored the only goal of the game in the 41st minute.

Adjei was pushed over by Croydon left-back Zachary Powell and a free-kick was given close to the corner flag on the right-hand side.

Nelson whipped in the resulting free-kick into the penalty area, which was cleared out to Bedford, who clipped the ball back in towards the far post where an untracked Nelson cracked a stunning right-footed volley into the roof of the net from 12-yards.

O’Boyle was full of praise for his 23-year-old match winner, who has returned to the club to make his second appearance after starting the season with Erith Town.

“Alex Nelson, he’s got that in his locker. He was in double figures (with ten goals) for us last season and he does break from midfield and he can finish the boy.

“It was a good goal. I would have taken any goal to win it to be honest with you.  I thought it was a good finish. Any goal would have done me tonight, off someone’s backside would have done.”

Gill added: “The build-up to their goal is a joke really because we were on the attack, we gave it away. Rather than recovering our full-back didn’t recover quick enough on the day. He stayed there and he tried to tackle there. He got turned inside out and they scored from it.

“It was a very good goal, but you can’t be in the penalty box and you’ve given him ten-yards, that’s disgusting. It cost us!”

Both managers were asked what was said during the half-time interval.

“What was said at half-time? Basically told them second half we may have to roll our sleeves up a little bit and we may have to grind this one out,” replied O’Boyle.

“I can’t see a two-or-three-nil. We may have to dig in tonight and work hard for your team mates and just make sure we defend properly. I think the boys done that tonight.”

Gill believed his side could still get back into the game.

“I just said to them, you’re in the game, you’re not out of it,” said the Croydon chief.

“One goal’s gone in and you’ve just got to have a go again.  They responded quite well. They played with a lot of spirit in the team but I never blame the referee for the goals going in because he didn’t score but he made a lot, a lot of bad decisions today.

“He ruined the game because they were taking the p***. They’re experienced players, they’re not getting the ball, slowing the game down. The referee said he’ll warn them, but he didn’t. When they kicked the ball away, he did nothing!

“That didn’t cost us the game, but it didn’t help towards it.”

Phoenix Sports created a couple of early second half chances to kill the game off.

Left-back Danny Moore clipped the ball forward for Carneige to chip the ball over the keeper’s head from a tight angle, but the ball bounced harmlessly wide after only fourteen seconds.

A poor clearance from the Croydon keeper went straight to Carneige, who cut in before stroking a right-footed shot towards goal, but Ameyaw made amends by getting back across his goal to make a low save to his right.

Croydon went close to equalising in the 56th minute when Michael Craveiro whipped in a great cross from the right towards the far post where Mankelow directed his header across goal and past the far post.

But the game then turned into a midfield battle after the hour-mark with both sides not giving anything away.

“Because it was a thing from Saturday’s game, no-one wants to give nothing away, so it was tight,” added Gill.

Powell cracked a left-footed volley from 35-yards, which sailed harmlessly over the Phoenix Sports crossbar as the game tip-toed towards its conclusion.

Phoenix Sports squandered an excellent chance to wrap up the game in the final fifteen minutes.

Carneige and Adjei linked up well down the left and Adjei flicked his pass inside to Brown, who drove his right-footed shot over the bar from 22-yards.

O’Boyle admitted he didn’t fancy Brown’s goalscoring chances.

“I didn’t fancy Brownie’s chances from there to be honest with you,” he said.

“I think he’s played really well tonight. He played the line well, he’s held the ball up, he’s made their two centre halves work for their game tonight. The only thing is Brownie getting the ball, turning and hitting the ball from 25-yards. I’m sorry, but I couldn’t see it (scoring).”

The home side were almost made to pay for that miss as Croydon cursed their bad luck with nine minutes left.

Mankelow was released down the left and the talented player beat Scott Whibley before drilling a right-footed angled drive over Mansanet from 22-yards, the ball agonisingly clipping the top of the crossbar on its way out for a goal kick.

Gill said: “It would have been great if that had gone in! He scored two good goals the other week, didn’t he?

“We just threw everything up, which we did. Fair play to their defenders, they stood up and be counted.”

O’Boyle added: “It was a good strike, wasn’t it, a good strike. Maybe we could have got out to him a little bit earlier but I’ll be honest with you, it was a good strike and he’s a good player. I would have been disappointed if that had gone in. It was a very good strike. Sometimes you’ve just got to hold your hands up and say look it was a good strike but it didn’t go in and we move on.”

Brown slotted back in his more natural defensive position as the men in green protected their slender lead.

They almost snatched a second goal on the break at the death when Nelson’s rolling pass released substitute Steadman Callender through on goal but his left-footed shot was blocked by Ameyaw’s outstretched right leg.

Gill has high hopes for his loyal goalkeeper.

“He’s improving every year. He’s been with us a while now. He’s not the finished article. If we can improve him a little bit more I’m sure a higher league club will probably take him on.  We’ll prefer a pro club. We don’t want him to go to a Ryman club. That’s not very good because he’s been with us, we’ve invested money in him so we want him to move to better things eventually.”

O’Boyle added: “He done exactly the same on Saturday in extra-time. We was three-all, Steadman’s one-on-one with the goalkeeper and he stuck out a leg.

“I’ll like to see him put that in the back of the net. We only had a couple more minutes to play after that and if it goes in the back of the net it’s game over.

“He’s a good player, he works hard. I think he’s got a bright future but I’d like him when he gets in front of goal to maybe start putting them away.  He does score regularly in the reserves. I’d like to see him put the ball in the back of the net when given an opportunity in the first team.”

Croydon attacker Karl Douglin held his head in his hands when his right-footed speculative drive from 35-yards was comfortably caught by Mansanet as he realised his Wembley dream was over.

Phoenix Sports banked £600 in prize money and can now look forward to a home tie against Sussex County League side Lancing in the next round on 4 October.

O’Boyle said tonight’s win made up for their FA Cup exit at the hands of league rivals Deal Town, who won here 8-7 on penalties (20 were taken in the shoot-out, after the game finished 3-3 after extra time).

“The FA Cup game for us, I think we robbed the club. No disrespect but I thought Deal were one of the worst sides that we’ve played this season. We were terrible and we put in a lacklustre performance at home and I was really disappointed with that performance going out on penalties.

“We should have won the game baring the team (in the following round) was a league below us. It could have been a few thousand pound maybe for the club so I thought we robbed the club so hopefully this softens the blow a little bit and maybe we can have a bit of a Vase run. I can’t see why not!

“We got knocked out last season by Eastbourne United and they were no better than us.  We ran them close and we got beat 5-4 in extra-time and we felt disappointed we went out and they ended up getting to the semi-finals.

“I actually think we’ve got a better squad this season and once we get our players back from injury, with one or two I’ve got coming in, we’re only going to get stronger.

“I can’t see why we can’t put a half decent run together because when we are fit and we’re firing on all cylinders on our day we’re good enough to beat anyone. When we’re not on it we can get beat by anyone so we do need to keep on our toes.”

Looking ahead to Lancing’s visit, O’Boyle added: “I don’t mind them playing away, it’s quite a nice ground, it’s run by the Sussex FA.

“It’s a nice cup tie for the club again, a home tie in the Vase on a Saturday.  Hopefully we’ll get a nice crowd down here. I think their midtable in the Sussex League. It’s a winnable tie and that’s the way that we’ve got to approach it.”

Croydon, meanwhile, can now concentrate on Saturday’s FA Cup First Qualifying Round tie at home to Burgess Hill Town, who are unbeaten at the summit of the Ryman League Division One South table.

“We’ll get over it tonight. It takes a day or so to get over it and then we’ll take Saturday, brush ourselves down and go again,” said Gill.

“Our main aim is defend properly and hopefully we can frustrate them and break out and score. That will be our plan but we’ll just wait and see and see how strong we are.”

Phoenix Sports: Vincent Mansanet, Myles Keizer-Burrows, Danny Moore, Russell Bedford, Scott Whibley, Chris Hill, Shaquille Richards, Alex Nelson, James Brown, Enoch Adjei, Harrison Carnegie (Steadman Callender 79).
Subs: Jake McIntyre, Sean Rowson, Louis Valencia, Danny Kemp

Goal: Alex Nelson 41

Booked: Myles Keizer-Burrows 77

Croydon: Francis Ameyaw, Danny Akers, Zachary Powell, Adam Allen, Dave Waters, Michael Craveiro (Justin Hemmings 69), Ben Mankelow, Steven Cox, Tristian Toney, Karl Doughlin, James Fray (Lauris Chin 65).
Subs: Badar Mohammed, Jamie Atkins, Rhys Martin

Booked: James Fray 45, Danny Akers 59, Lauris Chin 85

Attendance: 84
Referee: Mr Clifton Richards (West Norwood, London SE27)
Assistants: Mr Steve Roots (Tunbridge Wells) & Mr Zoltan Konkoly (Maidstone)