Rusthall 0-2 Deal Town - We're going to keep fighting right until the end, insists Rusthall joint-manager Steve Sands

Wednesday 18th April 2018
Rusthall 0 – 2 Deal Town
Location Jockey Farm Stadium, Nellington Road, Rusthall, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN4 8SH
Kickoff 18/04/2018 19:45

Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division
Wednesday 18 April 2018
Stephen McCartney reports from Jockey Farm Stadium

RUSTHALL joint-manager Steve Sands insists his side are good enough to avoid relegation in their last four crucial games of the season.

The Rustics are playing Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division football for the first time in their history this season but remain trapped in the drop zone on 27 points after losing 2-0 at home to Deal Town, who climb up a couple of places into the top eight with 54 points in the bag.

Deal Town targetman Connor Coyne helped himself to a brace to take his tally up to 12 goals for the season, as Rusthall have now won only two games in their last 16 outings.

“Little bit tough to be honest, a little bit tough to swallow,” said Sands, who runs the side alongside Steve Ashmore with a zero playing budget.

“I think the killer point was going down 1-0 at half-time! Another 30 seconds we go in 0-0 and it’s a different story.

“The boys heads did drop a little bit but we live to fight another day.

“The second goal was worthy to win any game. We just need that rub of the green, it’s just not going our way.

“If we can get one early goal and start scoring a little bit more, I’m sure the results will come.  Four games left, it’s in our hands to win.”

Deal Town head coach Steve King said: “Really pleased.  We’ve had a lot of midweek away games in the last two months. We’ve had a two hour journey coming up here, the boys coming out from work.

“Rusthall were scrapping for their lives down the bottom and I thought throughout the game we were really professional, defended well and took our chances so yes I’m delighted with the boys.

“First half we went 4-4-2 and really tried to have a go at them and get the ball wide and scoring right on half-time meant the second half we could go a little bit more defensive and just sat in and hit them on the counter-attack so the game plan worked perfect, it doesn’t always but it did tonight.”

Deal Town started the game on the front foot, creating their first of many openings after only 139 seconds.

They utilised the flanks well during the first half as Coyne’s flicked pass released Sam Wilson, who played Jack Paxman on the overlap and his deep cross was poorly cleared out to Joe Reeves, who blazed his shot over the crossbar when left unmarked some 12-yards from goal.

Deal’s left-back Danny Smith pinged a crossfield pass over to right-winger Paxman, who cut inside before setting up Alfie Foster, the central midfielder hitting a first time drive dipping just over the Rusthall crossbar from 25-yards.

But Rusthall fashioned an opening in the 14th minute.

Right-back Daniel Mitchell played a low diagonal to left-back Calum Gallie, whose flicked pass went into Stephen Harper’s feet and he cut in from the left and his low cross was cut out by James Tonkin at his near post on his knees.

Deal Town produced a good move in the 17th minute when Wilson flicked the ball into Coyne, whose hooked pass released Paxman, who cut inside Gallie but was denied by a fine near post block from Steve Lawrence.

“He should’ve scored to be honest,” admitted King.

“We knew they were playing with a back three and we had two wide players.  If we could get the ball wide early we got Jack in exactly how we wanted but to be fair he’s a right-back and he gets excited and he had a heavy touch but I thought their goalkeeper was fantastic. He made three or four great saves tonight.”

Sands added: “Steve is a great keeper. Unfortunately we lost Callum Cristie for the rest of the season with injury and to have a replacement like that is first class in all fairness.  I thought Steve Lawrence was man-of-the-match tonight, absolutely first class out there today.”

Smith swung in the resulting corner from the right and Bigginton came up from the back to glance his free header past the post from the edge of the six-yard box at the far post – he should have scored!

“You said that, he’ll kill me if I say that,” said King.

“It was a great delivery. If he gets a full header on it, it’s a goal isn’t it, so we had those chances in the first half.  We should’ve scored earlier but that probably summed us up over the last few weeks, not taking our chances when we get them.”

Coyne, who is a physically strong unit, drilled a left-footed shot from 25-yards, which was initially parried by Lawrence, who gathered at the second attempt.

Rusthall went close to grabbing a 25th minute lead, following their third of five corners on the night.

Winger Matthew Hathway’s outswinging corner came in from the right and Mitchell planted his downward header towards the corner and this was superbly turned around the post by visiting goalkeeper James Tonkin, diving to his right.

Sands said: “In all fairness I thought DP (Powell) got in the way of it but listen Mitchell is great in the air.  If we can get the right quality and get him on the end of a few, I think he scored 10 last year, nine with his head. We just need to improve the quality and give people like Dan a chance.”

King added: “When we played them at home (winning 4-2 on 16 December) the boy Mitchell was dangerous in the air.  You can pinpoint them before the game but when players are good in the air, that’s a great save.”

Foster played the ball out to Reeves, who cut into the Rusthall box and his quality delivery was met by Paxman’s free header from six-yards, which he steered across goal and past the far post.

Rusthall were keen to hit the ball down the right channel and winger Hathway saw plenty of the ball during the first half as he dominated 36-year-old Deal right-back Smith.

The Rustics built up down the right through Jack Humprey, Hathway and Daniel Powell and Harper hit a right-footed hooked volley looping past the right-hand post from 25-yards.

But when you’re struggling at the wrong end of the table, nothing goes for you in front of goal, as Rusthall suffered a double sucker punch.

Holding midfielder Humprey played the ball into striker Powell’s feet, who turned his man on the edge of the box, before stroking a low left-footed drive across keeper Tonkin’s outstretched fingertips and looked on in despair as the ball bounced off the outside of the base of the far post and Hathway’s follow-up angled drive stung the keeper’s fingers.

“That’s the rub of the green! That’s what we need a little bit more on our side,” admitted Sands.

“If that goes in we go in 1-0 at half-time and it’s a different story and you come out as a different team.”

King said: “It’s one of those nights, things haven’t really dropped for us recently and tonight they’ve hit the post and two minutes later we’ve gone up the other end (and scored).

“We played 4-4-2 first half and they’ve played two up front. It only took one mistake and they got in and that’s what happened there. It was a good shot and we got a little bit of luck so we’ll take that.

“I feel for these guys because to be fair to them Rusthall worked hard all night, they didn’t give in and they’ll look at that and say if that had gone in it’s 1-0 and it’s a different game.

“I would say on reflection on the first half we were the better side and we had the better chances so we probably earnt that little bit of luck.”

The post was struck with 42 minutes and 19 seconds on the clock and Deal Town deservedly opened the scoring with eight seconds of normal time left to play.

Deal right-back Liam Hark clipped the ball up to Wilson, who flicked the ball up for Coyne to flick the ball over the keeper’s head from eight-yards and saw the looping ball drop down over the line.

King said: “A bit of a scrappy one but when we play with a front two we can occupy the centre halves.  Liam played a good ball in, Sam is everywhere and he got a little flick on it and Coyne was there to lift it over the keeper but a great time to score isn’t it?  It changes your team talk so really pleased with that goal.”

Sands added: “I don’t think there was much confusion with Mitchell and Steve Lawrence the goalkeeper.  Steve has come and expect it.  Take your hat off to the striker, he’s taken a gamble with the toe poke and it’s paid off for him.

“It sums up our season to be fair in terms of a little bit of luck in front of our goal as well.  That’s where Mitchell needs to make the decision and clear it or Steve needs to be a bit stronger and take the ball and flatten everything in his way so just a killer blow right before half-time.”

Both camps were asked their thoughts at the break.

Sands’ side have scored 41 league goals this season and he said: “We were still in the game. We were creating with the two Dan’s up front in terms of getting in alongside the full-backs.  You’ve still got to go out and score and that’s something that we’re failing to do.

“Half-time didn’t change anything at all, maybe a little bit more motivation and it's just a sucker punch at half-time.”

King said: “I thought the first half was really open and that goal just enabled us to match them shape wise second half and we went with a back three and got the sweeper in to stop that little one-on-one so it made our decision for us.

“At Corinthian last week we went 1-0 up away from home and just changed it and won 1-0 there as well, so the boys are really confident playing different shapes.”

Rusthall keeper Lawrence was called into action just 54 seconds into the second half when he made a low save to prevent Reeves scoring with a shot on the turn from 16-yards after Paxman put in a low cross from the right.

King said: “He done well there Joe, he’s hit the target.  Steve Lawrence, we’ve known him from Tunbridge Wells and he’s a good goalkeeper and until the second we found it hard to beat him but we hit the target plenty of times. Sometimes I criticise the boys and say we’ve had a lot of chances, how many good saves has their keeper made?  But has made some good saves, we’ve hit the target so we’ve worked him so I can’t complain too much.”

Sands added: “Steve has pulled out some great saves tonight. I think you’ll have a lot of other keepers from a lot of other teams in this area and you could’ve so easily conceded four tonight quite comfortably.”

Rusthall didn’t create too many chances on the night but they squandered their only second half chance in the 55th minute.

Gallie delivered a deep cross from his left-back position towards the far post and striker Daniel Hanshaw, who has scored 24 goals for Andreas Carter Joma Kent County League Division One Central & East side Cuxton this season, swept his first time shot across the keeper and past the far post.

“I think that’s where we need that little bit more quality and concentration,” admitted Sands.

“A clean connection and he hits the target, whether it goes in our not, he hits the target but it didn’t hit the target.  A little bit more quality in the final third is something that we’ve been striving for, for most part of the season.”

King added: “I just said to the boys on the pitch that’s probably their only clear cut chance of the second half.  We probably should’ve picked him up in the box. It was a good delivery and a couple of things have gone for us but if you look on the balance of play, we pin-pointed a couple of chances they’ve had and if we had taken ours it might’ve been different, even more flattering scoreline.”

Harper, who sat behind the front two, picked up a loose ball on the edge of the Deal box and his deflected drive was gathered by Tonkin at the second attempt, while Deal winger Reeves saw a 20-yard left-footed drive dip over the crossbar at the other end seconds later.

To their credit, Rusthall kept plugging away throughout the entire game but the lack of quality in the final third was clear to see.

“Listen, I’ve never questioned the effort and fight from these boys, which is absolutely first class,” insisted Sands.

“Every Wednesday I get everyone here at training.  They run and work their socks off.  The quality sessions that Alan Murray puts on are absolutely brilliant and they listen and take in everything.

“When you’re at the top luck goes your way, when you’re down the bottom it doesn’t go your way but you’ve got to make it happen.”

Deal Town wrapped up the victory with their second goal of the night with 38 minutes and 50 seconds on the clock.

Tonkin’s big kick up field was flicked on by Wilson and Coyne cut inside down the left channel to curl a sublime right-footed shot around the stranded keeper into the top far corner from 30-yards.

“It’s dropped to Coyne and he’s bent it into the top corner and he can do that, he's got that in his locker,” hailed King.

“He hasn’t been getting in the side recently, he’s just went through a little bit of a goal drought but he’s come back in tonight and proved a point really and that’s all you can ask for, a player that wasn’t in the side, come back in and take their chance and he’s done that, so brilliant!”

Sands said: “Can’t question the finish can you, worthy of winning any game and no keeper is going to stop it in all fairness to him.  You take your hat off to the finish. If you want to be picky, why aren’t we shutting him down?  But the finish was first class, fair play to him.”

Deal substitute Harry Alexander, who played down the left-wing, robbed the ball off Mitchell and strode forward and his shot was palmed over the crossbar by outstanding Rusthall keeper Lawrence.

“Danny Smith is 36 now so as the game got on he was starting to tire a little bit.  Harry’s only a young lad, great legs and he’s hit the target again. A good save, he done great, another day that goes in doesn’t it?”

Deal parked the bus towards the end of the game but they still created chances on the break.

Alexander’s corner from the right, which was Deal’s tenth and final flag-kick, was not cleared and Wilson’s hooked shot was caught by Lawrence.

Coyne was denied a hat-trick at the death after Lawrence pulled off a superb double save.

Foster cut in from the left and was on the verge of falling to the ground as he tried to dig a shot from out from underneath his feet but he managed to poke his shot towards the bottom right-hand corner, which Lawrence dived to push out and then the agile keeper got swiftly up to dive in the opposite direction as Coyne drove a low angled drive towards the bottom far corner.

Sands said: “In all honesty from my view I had as he spills from the first save you kind of think goal. He goes to strike it, goal!  Steve’s a big kid for him to get up and get down again, he’s agile and it’s first class.  I’ll say it again, man-of-the-match by a mile!”

King said: “I thought when it dropped to him, I thought goal! But Steve Lawrence is a good goalkeeper.  They’ve got an experienced side here and I think a lot of people have said it, the quality this year of this league is very strong.  You look at a side like that and they are second bottom and they’re not a bad side.  They go for 90 minutes.  They’ve got experienced players, a good goalkeeper and you really have to work for those three points and I thought we had to tonight.”

Rusthall travel to Hollands & Blair on Saturday.  Clint Gooding has turned around the Gillingham based outfit since coming in and they are one place and one point above Rusthall going into the must-win showdown.

Blair have one more game after that, a trip to Beckenham Town on 28 April.

Rusthall go in to play Lordswood (home, Monday 23 April), Croydon Athletic (away, Wednesday 25 April) and a home clash against Croydon on 28 April.

“It will be a really big game on Saturday now,” admitted Sands.

“The boys have had it in their eyesight for quite a few weeks now knowing that if results carry on as they are that’s going to be a big game. It’s a chance for them to go four points clear, it’s a chance for us to go two points clear. We’ve got two games in hand but Blair’s massive but it’s no bigger than any other game that we’ve got left!

“We’ve got to keep fighting right until the end.  This is the league we want to be in.  This is a league we’re more than good enough to be in and we will keep fighting, there’s no two ways about that!  We’re good enough to stay in this league. We just need a little bit of luck and maybe a little bit more quality in the final third.”

Deal Town, meanwhile, travel to Croydon on Saturday, host Cray Valley next Tuesday, travel to Glebe two days later before completing their campaign with a home game against AFC Croydon Athletic.

King said: “In terms of season, delighted with where we’re at.  That’s 54 points now and I think we’ve left plenty out there.  When I look at some of the last minute goals that we’ve given away across the season.”

Croydon are in the top five in the table with 59 points but with a couple of games left to play and King revealed Deal want their position in the table.

“Croydon will be a really tough game. I’ve seen them and I’ve been really impressed with them this year. They play great football.  They’re a side we want to catch,” added King.

“We’re still looking at that fifth place. We’re still in it but we have to beat Croydon on Saturday if we want to get there.  We’ll go with a game plan, we know all about them but that will be very tough but looking forward to it especially after tonight.”

Rusthall: Steve Lawrence, Daniel Mitchell, Calum Gallie, Paul Butler (Ryan Waterman 85), Stewart Gostlow, Luke Stratford, Matthew Hathway, Jack Humprey (Yannick Tchoundjin 74), Daniel Powell (George Rogers 85), Daniel Hanshaw, Stephen Harper.
Subs: Jacob Wright, Jordan James

Deal Town: James Tonkin, Liam Hark, Danny Smith (Harry Alexander 65), Alfie Foster, Kane Smith, Luke Bigginton, Jack Paxman (Dean Hill 77), Stephen Butcher, Connor Coyne, Sam Wilson, Joe Reeves (Ben Chapman 72).

Goals: Connor Coyne 45, 85

Attendance: 93
Referee: Mr Andrea Timpani (Ashford)
Assistants: Mr Daniel Blades (Wrotham) & Mr Josh Smith (Tunbridge Wells)

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