Rusthall 0-2 Sheppey United - I'm very grateful for this club to stick with me - we'll stay in this league comfortably and that's a huge achievement for this club, says Rusthall manager Jimmy Anderson

Saturday 26th March 2022
Rusthall 0 – 2 Sheppey United
Location Jockey Farm Stadium, Nellington Road, Rusthall, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN4 8SH
Kickoff 26/03/2022 15:00

Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division
Saturday 26 March 2022
Stephen McCartney reports from Jockey Farm Stadium

RUSTHALL manager Jimmy Anderson says he is grateful to his club for sticking with him with his side languishing just a point clear of the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division relegation zone with six games remaining.

The 36-year-old marked his 100th game in charge at Jockey Farm Stadium by setting his side out not to lose against title-challengers Sheppey United, rather than trying to win the game to ease their relegation fears.

Anderson’s game plan to bore the 323 fans was working until the 74th minute when holding midfielder Richard Hamill, 28, cracked a volley into the roof of the net from 35-yards to grab Sheppey United the lead.

Sheppey United striker Warren Mfula then slotted in his 21st goal of the season to give the second-placed side a flattering two-nil victory to extend their impressive unbeaten run to 18 games, with 87 points on the board from their 33 games.

Both sides finished the game with 10 men as Rusthall substitute striker Charlie Clover was sent off by referee Benjamin Marshall deep into injury time for a challenge on the visiting goalkeeper, while Sheppey United’s holding midfielder Helge Orome will miss the Kent Senior Trophy Final against Hollands & Blair on Sunday 10 April after getting his marching orders for violent conduct.

“A bit unlucky really. You can’t often say that when you play against a team like Sheppey with the quality that they’ve got in their team,” said Anderson.

“They changed their formation at the start and played a 4-4-2, they normally play a 4-3-3 so it didn’t take us by shock.  We didn’t change our formation seeing that and we stuck to our guns and in fairness I thought overall they found it very hard today to beat us,” said Anderson.

“Let’s be real, most people who came to the ground today probably our own fans probably felt Sheppey were going to win, with where they are in the league. They’ve lost two games. Where we are in the league, we’re fighting for our lives.

“All I wanted from the boys today, we’ve worked on a lot of shape work and we said ‘play with your hearts, play with passion, play together, play as a team, show us what you’ve got!’

“If we performed like that, two weeks ago when we played Fisher we turned them over 3-0 and I felt today we made it very hard for them to beat us.”

Anderson has lost 51 games (in all competitions) of his 100 in charge of Rusthall, since leaving Corinthian, where he was reserve team manager, and joining the club on 16 December 2018.

As a Premier Division club he has won only 12 games (in all competitions) and lost 38 of his 58 games while managing at Step Five, while in Step Six he has won 26 and lost 13 of his 42 games (in all competitions).

“It’s my 100th game for this club, I hope there’s many more. I’m very grateful to still be here with 100 games. At non-league level people chop and change managers really quickly. I’m very grateful for this club to stick with me.

“We’ve developed a lot of good young players’ and lost them over the last three or four years so we keep developing them.  We’ve got a few now who probably could have a few seven-dayers come in for them.

“The fact that the transfer window is closing soon is great so it’s lovely that we’ll have these boys until the end of the season. I keep trying to develop young players, I like that and I’m very grateful they gave me everything today.”

Sheppey United manager Ernie Batten said: “We got the job done, it’s exactly that.

“It was a difficult day for us today. When I arrived here I saw the pitch and I thought it was going to be difficult to play the football with a lot of sand on the ground today and they’ve explained to me they need to do that as it will become very bare, so you have to cope with that but I thought overall, we played in bits and bobs but the important thing today was to get the job done.

“You’ve got to give full credit to Rusthall. I thought they battled really hard, worked hard and made it really difficult for us.  I think they put their lives on the line, they headed and kicked everything away and of course they stayed in the game.

“Teams really do raise their game (against us) but you’re there to be shot at.  We would expect that.  If you’re going to be the team that wins it or get into the top two, then you’ve got to overcome those obstacles.”

Rusthall went into this game with a dismal record.  Since winning 2-0 at Lordswood on 8 January, they lost their next 10 games before beating Fisher 3-0 here in their last game 14 days ago and have won three of their 13 games in 2022 before today.  Talk of having to win half of their last six games to stay up seems impossible, especially when you don’t call the visiting keeper into making a single save during a home game.

Batten’s side last tasted defeat in a 2-0 defeat at Glebe on 18 January and are fighting it out with leaders Chatham Town, who are now also on 87 points with five games remaining, for the title.

Rusthall created an opening after only 66 seconds when right-wing-back Louis Anderson played the ball in from the right and set up Tom Lawrence (one of three central midfielders) who took a touch before lashing a right-footed drive high over the crossbar from 22-yards.

Manager Anderson said: “We felt we had the best chances in the first-half in the game. Tommy had that chance and we started really well.

“We said to them come out and have a go at them, don’t fear them, don’t sit back and build and play defensive and we had that chance and then the handball incident in the first half where the referee has kind of apologised to me after saying he wasn’t close enough. It was a clear handball (by Helge Orome in the 14th minute).  Those moments change games.”

Rusthall’s tactics was evident through team selection as nine-goal striker Luke Adams and pacey winger Armando Luis Pires Costa were both left on the bench, coming on after 57 and 72 minutes respectively, whereas Clover’s only action of the game was to be booked for a challenge on Jahmal Howlett-Mundle and getting sent-off in an incident that lead to a penalty box melee at the death.

Sheppey United took 15 minutes to create their first opening, after coming to terms with the heavily sandy pitch.

Hamill’s corner from the right was cleared back to him and his cross was cleared out to left-winger Max Oldham, who cut the ball onto his right boot before putting the ball back into the Rusthall penalty area.

Centre-half Ashley Sains threaded the ball through a crowd of players for Orome whose back-heel rolled just past the left-post from eight-yards.

“Of course, if one of them goes in, it can change a pattern of the game because they’ve got to come out a little bit more and they haven’t got something to hang on to,” said Batten.

“I’ve got to give credit to them because they’re fighting for their lives down there and you expect that type of performance. It was a gritty performance by them and it nearly came off for them.”

Sheppey United’s left-back Renford Tenyue linked up with a deep lying Dean Grant, before Tenyue floated in a cross into the Rusthall box.  Mfula flicked the ball over to Oldham, who drilled in a low cross from the right and Jefferson Aibangbee’s first-time shot from the outside of his right-boot sailed over.

Sheppey United who dominated the corner count by eight-to-nil, called Rusthall goalkeeper Charlie Wealands into making a comfortable save following their fourth flag-kick.

Hamill’s corner was delivered deep, Orome knocked the ball down and Sains hooked his shot into the ground and wasn’t going to trouble the goalkeeper.

Oldham’s wayward back pass was intercepted by Rusthall striker Louie Clarke, who played Josh Biddlecombe in behind Sains but a woeful touch down the middle ensured the ball bounced into Molloy, who easily gathered on the edge of his penalty area in the 23rd minute.

“Josh Biddlecombe in the first-half has gone through with great link up play with Louie Clarke. It’s bobbled up and it’s run through to the keeper but he was one-on-one with the keeper and it was a bit unfortunate – another day, hopefully that goes in,” added Anderson.

The best chance of the game, however, shortly arrived and it came Sheppey’s way.

Hamill turned Clarke in midfield before floating in a deep cross towards the back post for Mfula, who planted his header over the crossbar from four-yards out.

“You probably counted them.  I think we had five corners in the first-half and we do work on set-pieces and it was a little bit disappointing that we didn’t hit the target on a few occasions and sometimes it needs to fall for you in the correct manner,” admitted Batten.

Rusthall gave everything in defensive areas and showed a lot of grit and determination – but that alone will not keep this side in the Premier Division – especially as they lack quality in attack.

An example of this desire came in the 37th minute when Molloy’s huge kick was hit down the right and Grant came alive to hook the ball over Wealands from 15-yards and the ball was destined to drop into the top near corner, only for Jake Hampson – who plays on the right of a three-man defence – to get back on his line to save his team-mates bacon.

Sheppey United were to be denied the lead in the 43rd minute when the top of the crossbar saved Wealands.

Hamill swept in a high hanging quality left-footed delivery from the right touchline and the ball bounced inside the Rusthall penalty area and bounced up and over the struggling keeper, only for the ball to kiss the top of the crossbar before dropping over.

“How many times are you standing on the touchline thinking is it not going to be your day today when things won’t go in but obviously we were happy in the end,” said Batten.

Anderson added: “I think one of their defenders got a nick on it. It’s bounced and we had a go at Charlie at half-time saying he should’ve gone for that because it was in the six-yard box.  Other than that, they were only punishing us from set-piece, we nullified their attack quite well.”

With Rusthall fighting for their lives they had no quality in attack and that was evident during a first-half that lacked tempo.

Anderson said: “It was a blessing in disguise that they benched Billy Bennett today and tried to do a different formation. Whether or not it worked or not I don’t know.  When we saw the line-up we thought we could have a real go today.

“At half-time, we could hold our heads up high. We’ve had the better chances, we were unfortunate with referee’s decisions but chances will come. We’ll get more chances in this game and just keep trying and don’t come out and sit back and be all negative and come out and have a go at them.”

Batten added: “I think sometimes they’ve got to commit players to defend against us and teams are going to come out and we’ve got the quality to hurt teams so I think their game plan would be to try to contain us and sit in and try to hit us on the break.

“It is frustrating because there’s not a lot of space. Most of the space is in the last third in the opposition’s final third and most of the players are in that so you’ve got to work the ball to get crosses in and hope that you can get on the end of something.

“I just said to the lads I thought we could’ve upped the tempo a little bit and passed the ball a little bit better, the simple things. We weren’t doing particularly that well and consistently in that half.  I just asked them to raise their game and get the ball down and try to play in that last third.

“The players’ gave us great application, good effort, kept going. You’ve got to show a lot of character.  You’ve got to hold your nerve. It only takes a second to score a goal, a correct pass, a good bit of quality, a correct finish and you get that goal, that can happen anytime over the 94 minutes.

“Credit to the boys really. We’ve worked hard this season keeping 28 clean-sheets, which is fantastic because it gives you a chance of winning football matches when you’re keeping clean-sheets and it’s been a catalyst to build our football around.”

Sheppey United created their first second half opening following their sixth corner inside the opening six minutes.

Hamill swung the ball in from the right with his left-foot towards the near post and Sains’ glanced his header across a crowd of players and flashing past the far post.

“At that point you’re thinking we just need to get something on target and things we’re flashing past the post and they were defending well, it was another opportunity,” said Batten.

Anderson added: “It was a good chance for them.  Sains’ got rested in the week and we were hoping he’d miss today but if they didn’t have him in their team it might’ve been a different game today. He’s vital for them, he’s probably the best defender in the league and he played a massive part keeping it 2-0 today.”

Rusthall didn’t have a go at Sheppey United during a non-event of a second half but Sheppey United were always going to win this game as they have better players.

“Not in the second half, they came out better. We were trying to get them on the break,” admitted Anderson.

“The longer the game goes on you’re thinking a 0-0 will be a blessing in disguise, a confidence boost for the boys but no one in their right mind felt like Rusthall would win today.  We’ve got to be realistic, we’re third-from-bottom, anyone could beat anyone in this league but realistically all the pressure was on them today.”

The stalemate was smashed to pieces with contender of goal of the season when Hamill notched his third goal of the season with 28 minutes and 20 seconds on the clock.

Hamill cracked a sublime left-footed volley from 35-yards, which sailed over a stranded Wealands’ head and sailed into the roof of the net before the former Fisher man ran over to the travelling fans behind the goal before slotting in at left-back for the remainder of this drab game.

Hamill said: “I don’t score many these days, so it was nice to chip in and help out the lads so I’m happy to score.

“I thought Billy Bennett was going to take it off me, so I pushed him out of the way and has a shot and I’m just happy it went in.

“It was a good win in the end. It was a tough game, we didn’t really create much but it was a tough pitch, tough conditions. They made it quite hard for us so we’re happy to get the win in the end.”

Batten was naturally delighted with the wonder-strike.

“You’re thinking somebody needs to come up with something.  We’ve scored quite a lot of late goals, quality goals, so many times this season and Richie came up with one hell of a strike,” said Batten.

“Fantastic strike. Richie’s got that in his locker. He’s got a great left-foot, a cultured left-foot and it didn’t surprise me to see it flying in.

“We’ve just changed the shape because we wanted to try to win the game so we went with three at the back virtually seconds before Richie struck, so Richie’s gone from a (holding) midfield player, a fantastic strike to immediately slotting in at left-back and the new switched Renford Tenyue to the right-hand side to restore the back four.”

Anderson added: “A great strike, great strike. It’s what you need in a game like this.  That’s why they are where they are and we’re where we are. It’s a tremendous strike.

“Our positioning, our shape was perfect. He’s caught it sweet on the volley outside the box, maybe 35-yards, gone in the top corner. Charlie my keeper couldn’t do nothing about it. It changes the game.”

Batten explained why he dropped 18-goal attacker Billy Bennett before bringing him on in the 60th minute.

Hamill swung in the away side’s final corner of the game in from the right and Bennett glanced his header across goal and past the far post.

Batten said: “We’ve got a lot of games coming up and we do these stats every 10 games and Bill’s played the most minutes out of any of our players this season, so it’s just a matter of trying to pick times trying to rest him and I thought today, with the conditions, they wouldn’t have suited him, although I thought he did well when he came on.”

Sheppey United’s flattering second goal came with 35 minutes and 34 seconds on the clock.

Mfula played the ball out to former Rusthall winger Jefferson Aibangbee who whipped in a cross from the right.  Rushall failed to clear their lines inside the box and Mfula placed his right-footed shot into the bottom far corner from 16-yards.

“We started to make inroads then, getting the ball down.  I thought once we scored, I thought we settled quite well after that and we played a bit more football and started getting some quality crosses in,” added Batten.

Anderson added: “We’ve given him that goal because Jack Smith, my captain, he's won the ball and Myro (Armando Luis Pires Costa) tackled him for some mental reason. It’s a mix-up from us so we’ve given it to him and he’s put it away.”

Rusthall’s Lewis Unwin clipped a long ball into the Sheppey United penalty area and Clover jumped up to challenge Molloy, who took a bang to the head and fell to the deck.

That resulted in a melee and referee Benjamin Marshall consulted linesman Darren Wilson (who sent-off two Rochester United goalkeepers in their 4-0 First Division defeat to Stansfeld on Wednesday night).

Clover picked up his second yellow and was sent off for the initial challenge on Molloy, while Orome was shown a straight red card to become the first Sheppey United player to be sent off this season, therefore picking up a three-match ban.

Anderson said: “I feel like it was there to be contested. I felt like the keeper’s gone down, whether he’s got touched or not, Charlie’s saying he didn’t but he’s got to compete for it. We’re trying to get something on the break. There wasn’t many chances.

The Rusthall manager claimed: “Charlie’s obviously received a second yellow, which is fair enough.  The referee said to us that he didn’t actually deem it a foul so why he’s given him a yellow card? I don’t know because Charlie hasn’t swung out.”

Batten said: “It’s very rare for us to get anybody sent off, it’s the first of the season. I do talk about discipline a lot of the time and the lads know that.

“It’s just a flashpoint, they’re all good mates and they see their team-mate get elbowed and they react to it. Before they know, Helge’s sitting in (the changing room) and he’s virtually in teams, inconsolable so he knows what’s happened there and he knows he possibly going to miss three games from next Saturday, which I think one of them will be the cup final, so it’s the (Challenge Cup) Semi-Final (Second leg at Sutton Athletic) and Final in two of the three games. He’ll be really gutted about that but I’m afraid it’s football.”

Richard Dimmock’s third win in 13 games in charge of Lordswood saw them beat Tower Hamlets 2-0 in the basement battle and they have closed the gap to just a point on Rusthall and they could jump over Anderson’s men with a win at Tunbridge Wells on Tuesday night.

Rusthall (20 points from 32 games) travel to bottom-five side K Sports (32 points from 32 games) next Saturday – and Anderson has earmarked their next two games to ease the pressure.

Barry Morgan’s young side lost 2-1 at Crowborough Athletic today and have now lost their seven games and have extended their winless run to 10 games in all competitions.

Rusthall then play Welling Town (4 April), Kennington (9 April), Chatham Town (16 April), Tunbridge Wells (18 April) and Erith & Belvedere (23 April).

Lordswood play Tunbridge Wells, Glebe, Deal Town, K Sports, Kennington and Holmesdale, with the bottom two sides facing the drop.

“We knew that Lordswood would close the gap with them playing Tower Hamlets but we have no doubt that we’ll stay in this league.  We’ll stay in this league comfortably and that’s a huge achievement for this club,” said Anderson.

“We’ve already started planning for K Sports today. That game was preparation for K Sports, then we’ve got Welling on the Monday, two games in quick succession. We want as many points as we possibly can.

“It’s in our hands. I don’t know how many points we need. All we need to do is take it game by game. We’ve got K Sports, K Sports is the next game where we possibly can get three points.

“Lordswood have Tunbridge Wells on Tuesday so when we play K Sports they could be two points ahead of us, great, fine, pressure’s on.

“A lot of people put a lot of effort in behind the scenes at this club, they do at every club. Pressure in winning? Playing football should be about enjoyment. I should be turning up and enjoying it. I believe in these group of boys. If they believe in themselves then the pressure ain’t here. The pressure’s at home, when you’re trying to provide for your family, to have a settled life, pay for your house. That’s pressure.  This is enjoyment, let’s enjoy it.

“I loved it today because we’ve competed against a team that’s going up, so well done.”

Sheppey United travel to eighth-placed Crowborough Athletic on Tuesday night, before playing Deal Town, Hollands & Blair, K Sports and Tower Hamlets in the league with two, possibly three more cup ties to fit in.

Kevin Hake’s Chatham Town play Punjab United, Erith & Belvedere, Rusthall, Deal Town and Erith Town during the last month of the season.

“It’s another one ticked off and five to go starting at Crowborough on Tuesday night.  Crowborough have got a good young side, I’ve watched them a few times this season and that will be a real hard game so we’ll have to apply ourselves again,” said Batten.

“It could go to the last game.  We have lots to play for. Our season, if you could define a season and say five league games (left), you could possibly win the title, one semi-final, you could be in the final and possibly win that and we’ve won the other one (beating Corinthian 3-1 to win the Kent Senior Trophy 2019-20) and we’re in the Kent Senior Trophy Final again, so it could be one hell off a season but we’ll take one game at a time and our focus, as always, is promotion.”

Both Chatham Town and Sheppey United could finish the campaign with 102 points each – although Chatham have a far superior goal-difference of +21.

“I think that will be crazy because I was looking at the past seasons, it went back to 2010 and the average winning the league is somewhere between 85 to 93-94 points and you’re guaranteed to win the league I think - but you could get 102 and be runners-up which is nuts really,” admitted Batten.

Rusthall: Charlie Wealands, Louis Anderson, Lewis Unwin, Callum Adonis-Taylor, James White, Jake Hampson, Tom Lawrence, Jack Smith, Louie Clarke (Charlie Clover 64), Josh Biddlecombe (Armando Luis Pires Costa 72), Conor Johnson (Luke Adams 57).
Subs: Rory Salter, Ryan Styles

Booked: Josh Biddlecombe 59, Charlie Clover 76

Temporary Dismissal: Tom Lawrence 41

Sent Off: Charlie Clover 90

Sheppey United: Adam Molloy, Daniel Birch (Henry Dasofunjo 73), Renford Tenyue, Richard Hamill, Ashley Sains, Jahmal Howlett-Mundle, Max Oldham (Billy Bennett 60), Helge Orome, Warren Mfula, Dean Grant, Jefferson Aibangbee (Michael Hagan 82).
Subs: Liam Gillies, Ashley Sheppard

Goals: Richard Hamill 74, Warren Mfula 81

Booked: Dean Grant 28, Jahmal Howlett-Mundle 30, Marcel Mimani (assistant manager) 30

Sent Off: Helge Orome 90

Attendance: 323
Referee: Mr Benjamin Marshall
Assistants: Mr Stephen Roots & Mr Darren Wilson