Rusthall 3-1 FC Elmstead - The position that we're in means nothing at the moment, we've won nothing, we're not promoted, says Rusthall joint-boss Steve Ashmore

Saturday 18th February 2017
Rusthall 3 – 1 FC Elmstead
Location Jockey Farm Stadium, Nellington Road, Rusthall, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN4 8SH
Kickoff 18/02/2017 15:00

Southern Counties East Football League First Division
Saturday 18th February 2017
Stephen McCartney reports from Jockey Farm

RUSTHALL joint-manager Steve Ashmore says the club have won nothing yet - going into their last nine games of the season.


The Rustics remain top of the Southern Counties East Football League First Division table with 64 points, five points clear of Glebe, who have four games in hand, following their 3-1 home win over thirteenth-placed side FC Elmstead.

A crowd of 92 were at a sunny Jockey Farm and Andy Constable’s header – his 12th goal for Rusthall – broke the deadlock during an uninspiring first half.

FC Elmstead grabbed an equaliser on the stroke of half-time with their first shot on target – Aaron Guard drilling a shot into the top right-hand corner from 28-yards to score his first of the campaign.

Constable, 38, then scored his 327th career goal to give Rusthall the lead, before his strike partner Dan Mitchell scored his third goal of the season to keep their promotion push on track.

“Scrappy affair, probably missed quality at points in the game but for us importantly it’s another three points that we needed after the draw last week that we definitely needed to bounce back from,” said Ashmore, who runs the team alongside Steve Sands.

“We know the position we’re in and wins are vital for us now so yes, all in all pleased with the three points but there’s still lots of improvement we can still make in terms of how we play between now and the end of the season.”

When asked whether his side’s poor first half performance was down to feeling under pressure in being involved in a title race, Ashmore replied: “Not as yet, no.  We go about our business the same as we have done all season. It will be wrong for us to assume anything or to think we’re already there or to think we can be there.  It is most important we turn up on a Saturday, we compete against the team that’s in front of us and we’ll keep going.

“As you can probably understand, it’s been a marvellous season so far but we’ve got to now kick on to make sure that continues.”

FC Elmstead manager Fabio Rossi was forced into making five changes from his side that were knocked out of the London Senior Trophy by minnows Newham United last weekend.

“Same as every time really, bitterly disappointed when we lose a game but I have to say the boys done themselves proud today. It was a really, really tough game today and we done well,” said Rossi.

“All things considered with so many players’ out I was pleased and proud of what they did. I actually thought at half-time we might be able to get at them a little bit more but we didn’t. That’s credit to them and that’s why they’re at the top of the table.”

Rossi was without one unnamed player who watched Millwall’s 1-0 win over Premier League champions Leicester City in The Emirates FA Cup last sixteen tie at The Den.

“The captain’s away Louis Sprosen, there was five of them away. One of them was at Millwall for some stupid reason. One’s away working so there were quite a few changes but that’s taking nothing away from the lads that were out there, they done really well for me.”

FC Elmstead started the game on the front foot but despite having the pacy Jordan Samuels and Marcus Black up front, Rusthall keeper Sean Ingleson had an untroubled time.

“We had a game plan because of the players’ that were not available,” said Rossi.

“It made my mind up the way we were going to play. We decided that we’d play the fastest lads that we’ve got (up front) and try to press them high and get the ball in behind them as quick as we can do and it worked to a certain extent, I think.”

Rusthall created their first opening inside six minutes when John Phillips drove forward from the middle of the park and swept the ball out to John Sebbar, who sped past Dan Carpenter and dinked his shot past the foot of the post from 15-yards.

Rusthall left-back Calum Gallie then pinged a 50-yard diagonal pass which was brought under control by Mitchell and his left-footed drive was tipped around the post by the diving Dan Teeley.

Ashmore said: “We ask Calum to produce those kind of passes a bit more often. He does like running with the ball so to try to switch his game and ask him to look long occasionally. It’s not his strength at the moment. It was a great ball. Mitchell’s made something out of it and worked the goalie into a fine save.”

Rossi added: “Teeley’s done alright, he’s been around the block once or twice now. He’s a good goalkeeper at this level.”

Mitchell pinged a cross field ball from left to right where winger Ian Parsons was given oceans of space to whip in a cross which was headed over by a rising Mitchell from inside the box.

“We know what we get from Dan up front,” said Ashmore.  “He works his socks off, puts the defenders under all sorts of pressure and he won’t give the goalie any time so he’s an asset for us to have him up there.

“I got a chance to play with him for a few years and certainly there’s no other player that I’ve ever seen to hang in the air as he can.  When he heads the ball, he means it and he is a threat from anywhere. He puts a serious shift in for the side wherever we ask him to play, centre half or up front. Whoever he plays against he makes their life an absolute horrible one.”

Samuels cracked his right-footed drive from 30-yards high over the Rusthall crossbar in the 20th minute, before a sloppy back-pass by Sebbar was intercepted by Black, but his shot from the edge of the Rustics’ box was charged down.

Parsons swung in a corner from the left which was headed out to Mitchell, who hooked his left-footed volley over the crossbar from 12-yards.

Rusthall were poor during the first half as they found Rossi’s men a tough nut to crack.

Ashmore said: “They were, we knew that. We only just beat them 1-0 before Christmas and they’re a very organised side. They like to play when they can so we knew they would sit back like most teams that have come here. We just had to be a bit more patient against those sort of sides.”

Rossi added: “I was pleased for most of the half. I thought we were the better of the two teams.  The disappointing thing is that we didn’t continue that at half-time.”

But Rusthall finally broke the stalemate with 34 minutes and 41 seconds on the clock.

Dribbling left-back Gallie was fouled by Carpenter down the left-hand channel and Parsons swung in the resulting free-kick towards the near post and Constable glanced his header across the keeper into the far corner from six-yards.

“We had a few corners beforehand which we tried, a not too dissimilar thing, unfortunately the corners weren’t good enough but that time from that free-kick it was exactly what we wanted from Ian, whipped in with pace and really made AC’s job easy by just glancing it in,” said Ashmore.

“The keeper coming off his line helped it a little bit. It was the only bit of quality in the first half from our point of view.”

Rossi admitted: “A bit disappointed with the goal really. We made provisions to try to stop him (Constable) and deal with that kind of thing.  We just didn’t get tight enough but it is difficult when he is that tall and that big. It’s just what he does really. How do you stop that? We had one in front, one behind, a bit difficult to stop. He's just outmuscled us and headed it. He’s just taller than us. It is difficult but we had a game plan to try to stop him but it didn’t work.”

Gallie, John Phillips and John Sinclair linked up in the move that led to Constable sweeping his first time shot from 22-yards, which bounced into Teeley’s hands for a comfortable save.

Rusthall’s central midfielder Phillips floated a deep free-kick over the Elmstead defence and Mitchell cushioned his free towering header over the top of the near post from a tight angle.

Constable played a ball back to Rusthall’s right-back Richard Cole, who whipped in a first time cross but Parsons rose on the edge of the six-yard box to guide his header narrowly over the crossbar and nestling on top of the roof of the net.

FC Elmstead grabbed an equaliser 39 seconds into injury time through their first shot on target.

Left-back Ben Lockett, who won the free-kick after cutting inside and being fouled, rolled a short free-kick inside to Guard, who drilled his right-footed shot into the top right-hand corner from 28-yards, despite Ingleson getting a hand to the ball.

“It was a good goal and Guard really shoved it up me because he’s been having his problems with me,” revealed Rossi.

“He’s not always a regular in the team and that will probably have him putting two fingers up at me. He played well, a good goal, He done pretty well. He’s playing out of position really. He wants to play centre midfield but he’s having to do jobs in wide areas at the moment. He wants to play, like every player, they want to play. It’s not easy. I can only pick 11 and he’s quite in your face. He wants to play the games and when he’s not in the team, he’s not happy.”

Ashmore added: “As soon as the ball’s rolled to him we weren’t quick out to him. We gave him that far enough time for him to try and pick his spot. If anything, it was a good strike, put it into the stanchion of the goal.  If we reacted quicker there’s not way his getting that shot where he can and it stopes that goal.

“In fairness to Elmstead being level at half-time was probably the right result. We were nowhere near good enough in the first half in terms of our decision making, in terms of the quality on the ball.”

Both managers were asked their thoughts at the break.

“We went back to basics,” admitted Ashmore.

“I said decision making needs to be a little bit quicker, be a little bit quicker with our options.  We held onto it a bit too long in certain areas. We had to press a little bit higher as a team. We got caught out a couple of times when we didn’t go as a team.  Just a bit of belief. There was a bit of frustration because it wasn’t quite going their way in the first half so I just asked them to be patient, keep creating the chances because a couple of bits of quality that we did show first half we did manage to get in so we knew it would come and create chances.”

When asked if Guard’s strike changed his half-time team-talk, Rossi replied: “Yes and no! I still thought we tried to stick to the game plan but it didn’t work! I wasn’t expecting them to be as dominant as they were second half. Our game plan was to try to get in to the front two as quick as possible to try to spin them around especially as we had the slope and going downhill but they dealt with everything really well.

“I think their desire and hunger to win the league that they got after us more. They got all of the second balls and we didn’t really compete.  We didn’t go up there, I don’t know where we was.”

Rusthall’s performance was vastly-improved after the break, their first opening arriving after only 54 seconds.

Cole threw the ball to Parsons, who flicked his pass inside to Sinclair, who stroked a weak shot towards the bottom far corner from 22-yards, forcing Teeley to dive low to his right to smother the ball into his hands.

“It’s exactly what we said to John before the game,” said Ashmore.

“John Phillips also plays in there, one of them might be looking to attack when we possibly can and get shots off when we can.  The fact that Sincs only had two or three efforts in that game and John Phillips was at the heart of everything as well is pleasing to see. They both take on board what we say to them and they’re the driving force in terms of our attacking play.”

Rossi added: “It wasn’t the most powerful of shots if I remember. It was an easy save, a save he should make.”

Louis Wright fed the ball into Samuels’ path, who went on the outside of Rusthall’s central defender Luke Stratford to drill his shot into the top of the side netting in the 51st minute.

“He was unlucky, I was behind that,” said Rossi.

“It probably looked further away from the other side (of the pitch) but it was only literally six inches and I don’t think the goalkeeper would’ve got it had it been on target!

“Jordan’s been really good since he’s come in. He’s been in and out for about five or six games. He’s very lively, very athletic and very pacy so he’s been very good.”

Rusthall took the lead in the 58th minute through Constable’s strength and clinical finish.

Phillips threaded the ball through down the middle, Constable shrugged off his shirt-pulling marker and burst through on goal before rolling his left-footed shot across the keeper, the ball nestling into the bottom far corner from 15-yards.

“It’s exactly the ball AC wants and out in front of him. He’ll probably want you to say it was his blistering pace that beat the centre half but I’m not quite sure I can,” said Ashmore.

“But to be fair to him it was exactly where he wanted it. He’s showed his experience to get the right side of the centre half, just to put a little bit of pressure in terms of being a little bit stronger than him and he did exactly what we expect him to do and that’s just find the corner. It’s almost an assured bet once he’s there one-v-one with the goalie.”

During a post-match interview with Constable, he revealed that he keeps a spreadsheet of all of his career goals, that one being his 327th strike of a 20-year non-league career.

Ashmore paid tribute to the striker, saying: “We know what we get, he’s all about scoring goals and working the keeper and it’s a big plus for me since he’s been here.  He’s got 13 for us now, which he’s been superb. He’s a real natural in front of goal and he’s naturally talented. As soon as he gets the ball in and around the box he’s going to work the goalie. You can’t really teach that in some people.  He’s been brilliant for us, his commitment, his work-rate, his effort, you can’t fault him for anything and the fact he’s showing how much he wants to be here since becoming a part of the squad, a lot of the boys have played with him and know his strengths and he’s given us a great return.”

Rossi added: “We switched off at that point. We probably knew we wasn’t going to get back. It’s difficult.”

Guard’s clever free-kick bounced down the slope and Black produced a poor finish, the ball bouncing comfortably wide of the target.

Rusthall’s substitute winger Chris Stoate linked up well with Phillips, who put in a low cross for Constable to stroke past the near post.

Black played the ball into Samuels, who cut inside and his shot bounced across the Rusthall keeper and past the far post from 22-yards.

FC Elmstead squandered a chance to grab an equaliser in the 66th minute.

Carpenter launched his fourth of his five long throws into the box from the right and Marcus Howell came up from the back to glance his towering near post header which forced Ingleson to pluck the ball out of the air above his head.

“Marcus was a bit frustrated he got a good header onto the ball,” said Rossi.

“We didn’t really create that much to be honest. Maybe we were missing Sprosen who has got that guile, not taking it away from the fellas that we’re out there.  It’s never going to be easy. They’ve only conceded 24 goals (before today) so probably done as good as we can.”

Ashmore added: “We knew their long-throws are a little bit of a threat. We dealt with it most of the time.  It was pinpoint onto their centre halves head. He would’ve done well to generate any power from it though because it was dropping so high. Our centre half done his job, got tight to him, made it as difficult as he could. He was never going to win that without committing a foul so he did his job, stayed tight on him and he got a flick on it sailing into Sean’s hands.  Sean has reacted well to it, he was on his toes, so not too much trouble there and he shouldn’t be getting beat by goals like that anyway!”

Ashmore was pleased that his side secured the victory with a third goal in the 67th minute – after being held to a 2-2 draw at Bridon Ropes last weekend.

Sinclair slipped the ball into Constable’s feet in the final third and he swept the ball out to Parsons on the right in acres of space.  He flashed in a low cross across the face of the penalty area and Mitchell stabbed his shot into the bottom right-hand corner from inside the six-yard box.

“The most pleasing thing about that, we kept going after the second goal,” said Ashmore.

“The thing we didn’t do last week when we went 2-1 up against Bridon was we probably took our feet of it a little bit which 1-0, 2-1 is always a dangerous scoreline and all it took was Bridon to have one chance and they equalised.

“We kept pressing, we kept playing the tempo, we stayed high. They were trying to commit, bigger gaps started to appear in their defensive set-up which allowed us to get a good move going. Mitchell deserved that goal. The work he put in all game he deserved that towards the end, so he could tap that in.”

“We had a bit of a row after the game,” revealed Rossi.

“We’re not totally sure, we’re still trying to work it all out. I wish I could have a review and a reply of it. We don’t think there was enough pressure on the ball.  Tom O’Reilly has tried to go and win the ball, which has left us a bit bare with three of them running in. If you don’t win the ball you’ve got to do something but we just didn’t get our shape right on that occasion and if wasn’t a good goal from our point of view.”

Gallie sent over a hanging cross from the left, which was punched by Teeley and the ball dropped to Sinclair, who hit a first time volley, which deflected off Tom O’Reilly and flashed just past the foot of the left-hand post.

Parsons swung in the resulting corner from the left and Mitchell planted his header wide.

Ashmore said: “Unfortunately John went for the volley and he probably could’ve had a touch! He’s probably trying to play quickly, so I can’t knock him for that. Again a deep cross by Calum, that’s something we’ve asked him to improve his quality into the box a little bit.

“Mitchell will compete for anything or anything in the box, which he did.  No one thought it was a foul on the goalie, it was a good clean challenge. It comes to Sincs, it’s such a shame he didn’t put it away.”

FC Elmstead left-back Lockett clipped the ball down the line to quiet winger Lewis Gregory, who cut inside and his right-footed drive from 25-yards was saved comfortably by Ingleson.

“I thought defensively we were pretty spot on today, we didn’t give them any freebies,” said Ashmore.

“First half we were probably a little fraction of them but we were still good.  All the boys worked so hard for each other, even if things aren’t going right, they are still working and competing as hard as they can to make sure we get the results.”

Rusthall created their final chance in the last minute. Good play from Gallie, saw him shrug past Howell, get in a cross which was met by Mitchell’s hooked volley, which he skied high over the crossbar from 12-yards.

Rusthall host Sporting Club Thamesmead next Saturday, and travel to Lewisham Borough (4 March), before their home game against Glebe on Wednesday, 8 March.  That game will be Rusthall’s biggest game in their history, as it could settle who wins the league title.

“We’re competing with some clubs in this league with some big budgets and we don’t have one,” insisted Ashmore.

“We’ve got nine games to go, we’ll take nothing for granted. The position that we’re in means nothing at the moment, so it counts for nothing. We know how switched on we need to be for those nine games.  We’ll use all the experience we’ve got in the squad, players that have been there in these situations to keep us going.  We’ve won nothing, we’re not promoted, we can still finish fourth and it will be all irrelevant, so we’ll look at Thamesmead, Lewisham and we’ll go from there.

“Everyone at this club, management, players and committee will do everything they can and I’ll do everything I can to push the club as far as we can go.”

FC Elmstead travel to Lewisham Borough on Wednesday night and Rossi said: “This could be tricky, they’ve done really, really well of late so we’ve got a really difficult situation now, which ones of the players’ that were missing today and they’re all regular first teamers, whether I bring them back or not?  I’ll have to think really hard between now and then and see what kind of team I put out. It won’t be easy down there.” 

Rusthall: Sean Ingleson, Richard Cole (Alex Rich 77), Calum Gallie, John Sinclair, John Lord, Luke Stratford, Ian Parsons, John Phillips, Andy Constable (George Rogers 75), Dan Mitchell, John Sebbar (Chris Stoate 54).
Subs: Jack Rusbridge, Steve Ashmore

Goals: Andy Constable 35, 58, Dan Mitchell 67

FC Elmstead: Dan Teeley, Dan Carpenter, Ben Lockett, Louis Wright, Tom O’Reilly, Marcus Howell, Aaron Guard, Dexter Babalola (Jack Jeffrey 68), Jordan Samuels (Jordan Gallifant 72), Marcus Black (Jude Lecoiwte 86), Lewis Gregory.

Goal: Aaron Guard 45

Attendance: 92
Referee: Mr Paul Franks (Sittingbourne)
Assistants: Mr Stephen Luke (Pembury) & Mr Mark Moore (Tunbridge Wells)

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