Sheppey United 3-2 Chatham Town - They dug themselves a hole and it was a massive hole to climb out of but I've got to give them credit for their character, says Sheppey United boss Ernie Batten

Saturday 28th August 2021
Sheppey United 3 – 2 Chatham Town
Location Holm Park, St Peters Close, Queenborough Road, Halfway, Sheerness, Kent ME12 3BD
Kickoff 28/08/2021 15:00

Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division
Saturday 28 August 2021
Stephen McCartney reports from Holm Park

SHEPPEY UNITED manager Ernie Batten says his side dug themselves out of a massive hole before grabbing a victory against fellow title contenders Chatham Town.

Carl Laraman and Kevin Hake’s side were the dominant force during a one-sided first-half as an early Jack Evans penalty and a headed goal from left-back Charlie Dickens gave Chatham Town a two-goal advantage inside the opening 37 minutes.

However, momentum swung in Sheppey United’s favour as the introduction of Ben Wilson as left-wing-back became a tactical masterstroke by Batten as his side turned the game on its head with three clinical finishes inside the final 22 minutes.

Talisman striker Jack Midson, 37, prodded home to start the comeback before substitute pair Wilson and Michael Hagan scored to inflict Chatham Town’s first league defeat of the season.

Glebe’s 2-2 draw at Kennington keeps Harry Hudson’s side at the top of the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division table with 13 points from five games, while Sheppey United are now second place in the pecking order with the same number of points and games played, while Chatham Town are languishing in eighth-place with six points from three games.

Chatham Town sent Isthmian League South East Division side Ashford United crashing out of The FA Cup after the Preliminary Round Replay on Tuesday night ended 1-1 after extra time, before Chatham Town won 6-5 on penalties.

“Well, obviously it’s a great result for us,” said Batten.

“It’s early in the season, of course, although it’s nice to get a result against a side that are going to be up there. It’s still very early doors yet with only five games gone so it’s nice to get the points on the back of us doing well to do that.

“There were a few old fashioned tea cups got thrown around at half-time, not literally, but there were a few words said and I always want to put a side out there that are on the front foot and that are wanting to win football matches by playing football and taking chances and getting players forward and I felt we didn’t do that in the first half.

“I thought we were happy just to sit in and see what happens and not really take the game to Chatham.  We allowed Chatham to dominate possession and if you’re going to do that in a football match, then you’re not going to get anything out of it.”

Chatham Town won the midfield battle during the first-half as Sheppey United twice gave the ball away with sloppy play from holding midfielder Richard Hamill and then right-back Daniel Birch giving Chatham Town chances to shoot at goal from over 30-yards, but right-winger Ryan Hayes and attacking midfielder Jack Evans both cleared the crossbar.

Chatham Town deservedly opened the scoring with five minutes and 59 seconds on the clock, courtesy of a penalty.

Evans drilled in a cross from the left and referee Joseph Dann-Pye booked Sheppey United’s left-back Danny Smith for a shirt pull on striker Dan Bradshaw.

Evans stroked his right-footed penalty into the left-hand corner, despite goalkeeper Adam Molloy diving the right way, to score his second goal of the season.

Batten said: “I didn’t get a good view of it. I know the ball came in and Marcel (Nimani) said to me it was a penalty so we’ve got to take that on the chin.

“I think Dan Bradshaw’s good at that. He got on the wrong side of Danny Smith and Dan must’ve thought he was going to tuck it in so he was left with no alternative.”

Molloy pulled off a world-class save to prevent Chatham Town taking advantage of their dominance in the 16th minute.

Dickens fed Jon Pilbeam down the left and the winger cut inside and curled his right-footed shot towards the top far corner from 30-yards, forcing Molloy to dive full length high to his left and use a strong hand to push the ball over his crossbar.

“I thought Adam was superb today and he made a couple of good saves and that looked like it was in all of the way for me,” said Batten.

“Adam has had Covid in actual fact and he’s had a bit of a tough start to the season trying to get himself fit and back up to the levels he was last year but the last couple of games he’s really been starting to get his sharpness back and it was a great save.”

Evans, who was pulling the strings with some sublime one-touch passes, especially out wide to Hayes on the right, played his part in another decent chance, slipping Bradshaw, who went on the outside of centre-half Lex Allan but his angled drive was pushed around the foot of the near post by the busy goalkeeper.

“We were under a bit of pressure there. We weren’t playing particularly well ourselves.  I thought we gave the ball away and then they came onto us,” added Batten.

Chatham Town’s centre-half Chris Lawal travelled over the half-way line and once again no one in a Sheppey United shirt came to press him and his drilled left-footed drive from 35-yards bounced in front of Molloy, who dropped to his knees to make a comfortable save.

Out-played Sheppey United created just the one goalscoring opportunity in the first-half and it came in the 33rd minute, courtesy of a slick seven-man move inside the final third.

Luke Griffiths, Taurean Roberts, Birch and Roberts all linked up outside the Chatham box before Midson teed up Hamill, who unleashed a low left-footed drive which flashed just past the foot of the left-hand post from 35-yards.

Batten said: “We had one chance in the first half and it may have gone in. I think it was a decent effort but we were disappointed that we haven’t asserted more pressure on the Chatham goal.”

Molloy was called into action again when Evans’ first-time hook went out to Hayes on the right and he waited for Luke Rooney to join the attack before Rooney racked a left-footed drive towards goal from 30-yards, which Molloy dived to his right to push over his crossbar.

However, Chatham Town notched their second goal from the resulting 37th minute corner.

Evans hung the ball in from the left and Dickens rose unmarked to bury his powerful header, which clipped the underside of the crossbar and in to give the home side a mountain to climb.

Batten said: “It was a great header. That was good movement in the box and I think Richie (Hamill) was picking him up and I think he got blocked by a Chatham player and that’s part of gamesmanship and he got in front of him and it was a great header off the underside of the bar.

“We had an absolute mountain and if someone walked in at half-time you couldn’t have predicted the turnaround but we’ve got great ability in this team and when we play our football and when we’re brave we can win a lot of football matches.”

Chatham Town were miles better than Sheppey United during the first-half and thought the job was done - but Batten’s tactical switches at the second half changed that.

Billy Bennett, who played behind Midson in the first-half, dropped back into a holding midfielder role after the break and this gave Sheppey United insurance and made them defensively secure.

“There were some harsh words said,” revealed Batten, who worked wonders to pick up his players’ from their first-half slumber.

“I’m a manager that does like my team to be brave on the ball and get forward in numbers and link play up and I felt the players sat back. They watched what was going on, we didn’t get enough players in advanced areas to assert any pressure and of course by doing that you’re handing the game to the opposition.”

The second half started in a cagey fashion and in an attempt to salvage something from the game, Batten made the vital switch with his second (Wilson) and third substitution (Hagan) turning the game.

Wilson came on for Smith and played in more of a left-wing-back role as Sheppey United switched to a back-three with Allan, Hamill and Sains in the centre and Birch moving into a right-wing-back role.

Lawal gave the ball away to Roberts in the channel and the left-winger exploded into life by cutting in and cracking an angled curling cross-come-shot which only just cleared the top of the far post.

Sheppey United pulled a goal back in the 68th minute when Wilson’s free-kick from the left was cleared and Midson’s first attempt on goal was blocked and after a spell of pinball inside the Chatham Town penalty area, Tenyue put in a great cross from the right towards the far post and Midson prodded the ball into the bottom left-hand corner to score his second goal of the season.

“I thought it was a good move.  I think today it was all about the final ball at the time and the opportunities we had earlier on in the game our ball was poor but we went through a purple patch there when we started getting quality balls into the box and Midson is going to stap those up. He’s clever and he came off at the far post there and he was there to prod it over the line,” said Batten.

Sheppey United won a free-kick on the left by-line and Bennett cut the ball back to Roberts, whose shot took a deflection from within a crowded penalty area and flashed behind for a corner with goalkeeper Henry Newcome diving to his left as his goal was threatened.

Chatham Town rode the storm, however, and went close to sealing the deal inside the final 10 minutes after Sains tripped Evans some 30-yards from goal and Rooney’s right-footed free-kick cleared the three-man wall in front of him and Molloy’s crossbar.

Batten added: “They’re going to be a threat and you’ve got to defend particularly well.  I said before the game you can’t give anything away and it’s all about not making mistakes and not handing them anything and that didn’t seem to work because we were doing all of the mistakes but that’s football sometimes.”

Sheppey United had belief in abundance and drew level in the 82nd minute when Bennett played the ball out to Birch, who drilled in a deep cross from the right and Wilson hooked the ball across Newcombe and into the far corner of the net from a tight angle.

Batten added: “It’s a great goal really, the quality of the balls in and Ben pushed on and it gave us that extra man down the left-hand side and that was all important in that last 20 minutes, it gave us fresh impetus.”

The excellent Molloy made another superb save when he got down swiftly to his left to push away a stroked left-footed free-kick towards the bottom right corner from Hayes from 25-yards after Hamill blocked off Rooney as he charged towards the penalty area.

Batten added: “Adam’s hands were very safe today, he played very well today.”

Sheppey United now had the momentum and Hagan and Birch linked up before Bennett played the ball out to Birch before Hagan’s right-footed drive from outside the penalty area was spilt by Newcombe before finally gathering.

Chatham Town are an impressive looking side but that’s if opposing players allow them to play out from the back and dominate the middle of the park but Sheppey United threw caution to the wind with 25 minutes of this game remaining and Laraman and Hake had no answer tactically.

Sheppey United sealed the victory with 41 minutes and 51 seconds on the clock, stunning the visiting fans’ into silence with a late sucker-punch.

Roberts played the ball inside to Bennett, who was in oceans of space so he drilled his 30-yard shot from a central position towards goal. Newcombe dived to his right to push the ball straight towards Midson, who clipped the left-hand post and the ball fell nicely for Hagan to rifle his first-time shot into the roof of the net to notch his second of the campaign.

Batten said: “It was a fantastic finale to the game wasn’t it?   Bill picked it up, we dropped him back in there a little bit because we needed a little bit of play making and we needed someone to start the moves off with some clever moves and passing into feet and Bill goes and links up again and then he makes the third pass with third man running.

“It was a great move and as it came in I thought the chance was gone and the ball came back out to Michael.

“Michael Hagan has got a bit of a record in the SCEFL scoring goals. He’s a player that I think is a little bit underrated and when it came to him, I could see him scoring!

“What did they give me? Well, they gave me two different halves today. More importantly, what I said to them at the end, they dug themselves a hole and it was a massive hole to climb out of but I’ve got to give them every credit for their character for the way they fought and the way they held their nerve. They didn’t give anything else away and I asked them a question at half-time and they fully answered it.”

There was still time for Chatham Town to create one final chance but 36-year-old winger Hayes put in a quality delivery from a set-piece into a great area but Molloy gathered the ball before dropping to his knees before the referee blew his final whistle to extend Chatham’s winless run to three games, while Batten was delighted that his side are unbeaten in six, winning their last three.

The crowd of 734 was the highest attendance at Holm Park since Sheppey United reformed and Batten now looks forward to Monday’s trip to Gillingham to take on fourteenth-placed side Hollands & Blair.

Simon Halsey’s side have collected four points from their five league outings and suffered a 3-0 home defeat to Tower Hamlets today.

Batten said: “A very tricky game, a different type of game because the environment there and the surface there.  I believe you can still play football on it. I think you can play in the right areas and if you’ve got quality players you can play football and that’s what you’ve got to do to win football matches.

“League tables after five games don’t really mean a lot but it’s early doors. When you’ve got a head-to-head, it’s pleasing to get the points. It’s very early, we’ve got a tricky game on Monday and if we don’t go and perform there then this one becomes a little bit, I don’t know, it doesn’t mean so much if you don’t go to Hollands & Blair and get a result.

“It’s a great result but it’s just the start of the season and we really need to keep going and treat every match individually and work towards getting points in each and every game.”

Sheppey United then welcome Isthmian League South Central Division side Marlow to Holm Park in The FA Cup First Qualifying Round next Saturday, 4 September.

Batten said: “Really looking forward to The FA Cup game. It’s a free hit really. We’re playing a side a league higher who have had a good start I believe and think that we will get another big crowd in. There’s no reason at all we can’t get through to the next round.”

The Ites were knocked out of The FA Cup in the Second Qualifying Round last season, losing 3-1 at Vanarama National League South side Eastbourne Borough in a game that was played behind closed doors due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Sheppey United: Adam Molloy, Daniel Birch, Danny Smith (Ben Wilson 64), Richard Hamill, Ashley Sains, Lex Allan, Taurean Roberts, Luke Griffiths (James Jeffrey 58), Jack Midson, Billy Bennett, Renford Tenyue (Michael Hagan 76).
Subs: Ryan Freeman, Liam Northwood

Goals: Jack Midson 68, Ben Wilson 82, Michael Hagan 87

Booked: Danny Smith 6, Taurean Roberts 90

Chatham Town: Henry Newcombe, Ikechukwa Orgi, Charlie Dickens, Jordan Robins (Robert Brown 87), Chris Lawal, Fikayo Ajayi, Jon Pilbeam (Matt Bodkin 76), Luke Rooney, Dan Bradshaw, Jack Evans, Ryan Hayes.
Subs: Harvey Brown, Charlie Weston, Joshua Strouts

Goals: Jack Evans 6 (penalty), Charlie Dickens 37

Booked: Charlie Dickens 63

Attendance: 734
Referee: Mr Joseph Dann-Pye
Assistants: Mr Steven Goldup & Mr Rhys Jeffery