Phoenix Sports 1-0 Erith & Belvedere - I just hope our form lasts until April, says Steve O'Boyle

Saturday 27th December 2014

Southern Counties East Football League
Saturday 27th December 2014
Stephen McCartney reports from Mayplace Road East

ERITH & BELVEDERE boss Matt Longhurst admits missing seven players through injury and suspension killed his team for this top-of-the-table clash at unbeaten Phoenix Sports.


The Deres were without Lee Craig, Denzel Gayle, Charlie Hearn, Ryan Johnson, Billy Manners, Joe Minter, Bill Parkinson and they lost midfielder Steve Springett (cut-eye) during the first half following a clash of heads.

Phoenix Sports leapfrogged over Erith & Belvedere to reach the summit of the Southern Counties East Football League table, after grinding out a 1-0 victory, courtesy of Yacine Gnahore’s strike with 43:03 on the clock.

Phoenix Sports are now unbeaten in all 27 games this season (they were knocked out of The FA Cup by league rivals Deal Town on penalties following an enthralling 3-3 replay draw after extra time in the Extra Preliminary Round) and edged one point clear at the top of the table with 45 points from 17 games, with a couple of games in hand on today’s opponents.

This game attracted Phoenix Sports’ record attendance as a crowd of 286 flocked through the turnstiles at the Barnehurst-based club to witness Erith & Belvedere’s third league defeat of the season.

“That’s a nice feeling,” said Phoenix Sports’ manager Steve O’Boyle, whose side kept their seventeenth clean sheet in all competitions today.

“I actually feel I’ve played 90 minutes myself to be honest with you! That was probably one of our worst performances all season!

“If we’re going to do anything this season, we need to improve on that but a win’s a win and three points is what counts.

“I said (to my players) I can expect people playing badly, but what I can’t expect is when you’re playing badly and you don’t put a shift in so the good thing was they did put a shift in.  There were some players out there who had some bad days but they worked hard.

“It’s a clean sheet! I think we defended for our lives and to be honest with you they’ve chucked everything at us and not really created too much.

“We’ve had a few headed clearances and whatever. They’ve had a lot of the ball.  I think we were, I wouldn’t say comfortable, but they never had any real clear cut chances.”

Longhurst was right when he said that his side deserved to claim a point to keep them on top.

“Disappointed to lose the game, obviously,” he said.

“We’ve been top of the league for however many weeks it is and going into the New Year second is disappointing after the good start to this year.

“But I’ve said it all along nobody’s going to turn round and say they’re not disappointed (losing after) being top of the league for such a length of time because it’s a long season.

“We’ve started a process. We came in, we had a whole new club to build, rather than just a team. I think we hit the ground running properly.

“I didn’t feel we deserved to lose the game. They probably had one or two chances or one or two shots on target during the game and having said that we probably hadn’t created enough but it’s disappointing to lose the game, of course.”

Longhurst admitted losing three players to red-cards at home to Beckenham Town (3-0 defeat on 13 December) cost his side today.

“I could stand here and criticise the players. We’ve had seven missing today and in a Kent League squad that’s a large chunk of the playing team but I don’t want to really make that as an excuse because the players that have played today are good enough to win a game of football in the Kent League.

“But I felt some of the rhythm in our play probably wasn’t quite there today and that’s where the changes not so much the personnel, it’s the amount of changes that I had to make over the last couple of weeks due to suspensions and injuries – but it’s our fault! The injuries aren’t our fault.

“I don’t think most clubs in the Kent League will probably deal with that amount of players missing.

“They’ve beaten us 1-0 to a scrappy goal, a poor goal defensively from our point of view.”

But Erith & Belvedere were the better side for large chunks of the game and deserved a point.

The Deres created the first opening inside the opening six minutes, courtesy of one of Aaron Lacy’s nine long throws into the penalty area.

The ball came out to Colin Richmond, who cracked a right-footed drive towards the top right-hand corner from 30-yards, which forced goalkeeper Steve Phillips to use both outstretched arms to push over the crossbar.

Longhurst said: “Probably a half chance.  He’s got it out of his feet, he’s hit it. It’s fairly comfortably for the goalkeeper. I think it might’ve looped over him. He’d be very disappointed had that gone in!

“Yes, I felt that was one of a few half chances that we had but if I’m honest they’ve let in seven goals all season – it’s phenomenal - and they don’t really try to play against you.  They don’t come out and attack you but that’s the way they set up but that’s fine.

“At the end of the day, they’re top of the league by doing it. There’s loads of ways of playing football and at the moment they’re doing the best at the minute so you can’t fault it.”

O’Boyle added: “He just pushed it over the bar to be sure.  I think he was pretty comfortable Steve to be honest with you. It was a half chance at best.”

Neither side created another goalscoring chance until the 25
th minute.

Phoenix Sports’ central defender Scott Whibley made a rare mistake when he lost the ball to Byron Walker, who played in Alfie May, who unleashed a left-footed dipping drive from 18-yards which narrowly cleared the crossbar.

Walker then produced a run from the halfway line to reach the penalty area but his left-footed angled drive from an acute angle sailed just over the far post.

It took Phoenix Sports 34 minutes to create their first chance.

Right-back Ryan Andrews looped his throw into the penalty area and Springett rose with Alex Nelson (the clash of heads cutting open Springett’s eye) to flick the ball on at the near post and striker Ricky Freeman cracked his right-footed volley straight at George Kamurasi from 12-yards.

O’Boyle said: “To be honest with you, I had a bit of a pop at half-time.  I knew we went in 1-0 but I don’t think we created anything going forward in the first half.  I thought we was very lacklustre and our play in the final third was pretty poor!”

Longhurst was pleased with his back four for keeping Freeman quite until then.

He said: “We controlled the game. I’m not saying we were particularly brilliant but I don’t feel we were under any real sort of threat whatsoever in the opening 35-40 minutes up until they scored.”

Lacy’s fifth long throw into the Phoenix box dropped kindly for Lee Hales, who sliced his right-footed volley just past the near post from 18-yards.

But Phoenix Sports grabbed the winner – against the run of play – when Gnahore scored his 11
th goal for the club.

The ball was clipped forward by left-back Danny Moore and Erith & Belvedere defender Sam Groombridge failed to control the ball, allowing the striker to cut in from left into the middle before producing a fine finish, drilling his right-footed shot across the keeper to find the bottom left-hand corner from 18-yards.

O’Boyle admitted the well-timed goal changed his half-time team talk.

He said: “To be honest with you, he’s had a quiet first half but he’s took the goal really well and that’s what he’s been doing for us.

“I wouldn’t say it was his best performance of the season but he’s a match winner and that’s what he’s done today for us so that’s what he’s there to do.”

When asked whether the goal changed his half-time team-talk, O’Boyle admitted: “A little bit! They still got a bit of a telling off I will say! We had a lot to sort out at half-tome but it did change a little bit.

“They had a lot of the ball in the first half. I would say they edged it and I did say we don’t have to score another goal. We can actually sit back and hit them on the break and let them come out and try to break us down, which two games now they haven’t managed to do that.”

Longhurst was clearly disappointed with the manner that his club lost first place.

“I think Alfie’s got to do better and get in front of Danny Moore at left-back when the ball’s played back in,” he said.

“Sam Groombridge has certainly got to deal with the ball better and that’s our centre half and our full-back (Aaron Lacy) can do better.

“But we’ve lost three games now and sometimes you’re going to get a little bit of the rub of the green and sometimes you don’t.

“Maybe we’re having a little spell at the moment where we’re not getting that tiny bit of luck where it will just bobble and bounce away.”

The goal stunned the league leaders, who created one further chance before the break when Alfie May released Walker down the left and his left-footed angled drive flashed across the goal and past the far post.

Reflecting on the first half, Longhurst said: “Over the first 45 minutes I was quite happy at half-time with the way we actually played but disappointed to be 1-0 down but you’ve got to accept that.”

Longhurst did, however, believe his side could force their way back into the game.

“We’re the highest scorers in the league (with 46 goals).  They beat Holmesdale 10-0 which was just a farcical result in all honesty.  Take that (Phoenix scored their 50
th league goal of the season today) out we’re the leading goalscorers in the league so we feel that we can go out and score.

“There’s not many games where we’ve drawn a blank. We drew a blank the last couple of times.”

Phoenix Sports went close to doubling their lead after only 125 seconds when Freeman swept the ball out wide to winger Harrison Carnegie, who cut in and curled his left-footed shot towards the bottom far corner, but Kamurasi dived to his right to push the shot around the post.

Groombridge was off the pitch receiving treatment for a knock and Phoenix almost punished their opponents but Kamurasi made a comfortable save to prevent Freeman scoring.

But Erith & Belvedere were denied an equaliser in the 55
th minute.

Hales played a short free-kick to Adam Marsh, who drilled a right-footed drive towards goal, which forced Phillips to dive to his right to push the ball against his post and towards safety.

Longhurst said: “He’s hit the target from a little set-piece.  He scored one like that in the Vase away from home.

“I don’t think we created enough opportunities today. They don’t give you a lot of room. They let you have a lot of room in your own half, which is fair play to them. That’s the way they set-up.

“You’ve got to be a little bit brighter and a little bit more patient and you’ve got to pass it a bit quicker and that’s where we let ourselves down today. We didn’t pass it enough at pace. I think our movement off the ball had to be better today and it wasn’t!”

O’Boyle added: “Steve’s a good goalkeeper. A lot of balls were put in the box today and he’s come and collects for us and eases the pressure. 

“I would prefer him to push that around the post but he pushed it onto the post. I think it was a comfortable save.”

Alfie May, who was looking to add to his remarkable 29 goals for the club this season, stroked a right-footed shot on the turn from 35-yards, which drew a comfortable save from the Phoenix keeper.

Phoenix Sports went close to adding to their lead when they hit Erith & Belvedere on the break again.

Carneige – whose talents are deserving of a higher level of football – released Freeman, who drilled a right-footed shot on the turn from the edge of the box towards the near corner, which forced Kamurasi to dive low to his left to parry and collect at the second attempt.

But Erith & Belvedere squandered an excellent chance to claim a deserved point with their last clear cut chance, in the 65
th minute.

Lacy launched his trade-mark long throw towards the far post and Alfie May directed his header straight at Phillips from six-yards out.

Longhurst said: “Anywhere else it goes in the goal!”

O’Boyle admitted: “That is a let off! I think he maybe should’ve scored in the first half really from a Scott Whibley mistake, which is out of character for him.

“You can’t really give Alfie May too many chances. He’s had a couple of chances today and he hasn’t taken them, which is good luck for us.”

Carneige picked the ball up on the half-way line and burst into the penalty area but steered his shot past the near post after outpacing debutant Lewis Clark, 17, who is a youth-loan from League Two side Dagenham & Redbridge.

Longhurst is friends with Daggers boss Wayne Burnett and was satisfied with the central defender’s debut.

He said: “I thought he done alright. I thought he done fine for a seventeen-year-old on his debut in men’s football.

“I don’t think they caused us any problems.  Ricky Freeman got taken off, Gnahore dropped deeper and deeper and played most of the game in his own half and I think they’re used a little bit of an escape route when the ball gets knocked longer in behind as they both have a bit of pace and the pair of them work hard.” 

O’Boyle felt his flying winger could have done better with that chance.

He said: “They took the left-back off (Ben Wilson) in the first half. He was on a booking and they didn’t want Harrison running at him. They boy they brought on, he (Harrison) took him to the cleaners a few times in the second half.  If Harrison can improve his final delivery that will improve him a lot.”

Erith & Belvedere pressed for a deserved equaliser.

The closest that they came was when Hales played a fine diagonal pass out wide to Alfie May, whose intended cut back towards Walker was well read by Phillips, who held on to the ball.

Visiting keeper Kamurasi came up for a couple of late corners but Erith & Belvedere were not going to score past a mean defence, of Moore, Chris Hill, Whibley and Andrews, one that has conceded only seven league goals this season.

Despite sitting top of the tree going into the New Year, O’Boyle wasn’t entirely happy.

“We haven’t had a great day today. We haven’t played well,” he admitted honestly.

“We haven’t have to play pretty all the time. It wasn’t like that today but one thing you do when you don’t play well is just grind the result out and that’s what we’ve done.”

Reflecting on their unbeaten run, their fourteenth win on the bounce and conceding only seven league goals, the Phoenix Sports boss replied: “It’s a fantastic record! I like the stat that we’re going into the New Year top of the league. We’re in every competition – apart from The FA Cup – and seven goals conceded as you can see. They do defend as a unit.

“It’s good times at the club. I think the tide has changed. Everyone’s saying we’re the underdogs but I think that changes a bit now. People are actually saying we’re favourites – I’m not having that either! I’m not having that at all!

“We’re on a good run of form, we’re a decent side with good players and good lads and I just hope that form carries on until March – or April.”

Longhurst added: “Did we deserve to lose the game? No. I don’t think we did! Did we do enough to win it? Not sure! I’m not sure they did enough to win the game but the only real stat that makes any difference is they’ve scored one and we didn’t score so we have to accept that and take it on the chin.

“In terms of the title race, I haven’t spoken about it since the start of the season. To be involved in the title race already at such an early stage of being at a new club is a fantastic achievement for all the players.

“Steve (O’Boyle) has been (at Phoenix) for 3-4 years’ now. It takes time to build what you want and get the right players in.

“My players’ have been fantastic. I’m not going to fault any of the boys. They just kept doing what we’ve asked them to do but as soon as you’ve seen the team sheet today that hasn’t been the team that’s been playing and the team that got us to the top of the league and it wasn’t the team winning games comfortably and playing fluent football but that’s down to us mainly suspended and the injuries.  That told today mainly because of suspensions and injuries.”

O’Boyle is delighted that today’s game attracted the club’s record crowd.

He said: “It ain’t bad is it? I said I wanted 300 plus here.  There was a big crowd here today, which I’m happy about. It’s something that I want to happen more often.

“This club has got so much potential and the better we’re doing that will happen even more.

“I’m hoping some of those people that have come today have enjoyed it. There is a good social side here, friendly people.  People come here and they do get addicted to the place and I’m hoping a few of them will come back.”

Phoenix Sports: Steve Phillips, Ryan Andrews, Danny Moore, Shaquille Richards, Scott Whibley, Chris Hill, Harrison Carnegie, Alex Nelson (James Brown 73), Ricky Freeman (Louis Valencia 73), Yacine Gnahore, George King.
Subs: Myles Keizer-Burrows, Enoch Adjei, Richie Hamill

Goal: Yacine Gnahore 44

Booked: Ricky Freeman 27, George King 51, Yacine Gnahore 55, Alex Nelson 66, Louis Valencia 82

Erith & Belvedere: George Kamurasi, Aaron Lacy (Allan Matthews 79), Ben Wilson (Lee Hursit 46), Colin Richmond, Sam Groombridge, Lewis Clark, Lee Hales, Paul Springett (Luke May 36), Alfie May, Byron Walker, Adam Marsh.
Subs: Harlan Basker, Joe Jackson

Booked: Ben Wilson 12, Colin Richmond 87

Attendance: 286
Referee: Mr Sikiru Idris (Denmark Hill, London SE5)
Assistants: Mr Tim Amans (Ramsgate) & Mr Aaron Waters (Herne Bay)