Sheppey United 2-1 Hollands & Blair - It's a dream to do something like the quadruple - that will be down to our performances in our next few games, says Sheppey United boss Ernie Batten

Sunday 10th April 2022
Sheppey United 2 – 1 Hollands & Blair
Location Gallagher Stadium, James Whatman Way, Maidstone, Kent ME14 1LQ
Kickoff 10/04/2022 14:00

Kent Senior Trophy Final
Sunday 10 April 2022
Stephen McCartney reports from James Whatman Way

SHEPPEY UNITED manager Ernie Batten says he’s feeling elated to have the chance of winning the quadruple within the next 22 days.

Sheppey United beat Isthmian League South East Division side Corinthian 3-1 to win the 2019-20 Kent Senior Trophy on 1 February 2022 and retained the silverware courtesy of two late goals to beat Gillingham-based Hollands & Blair in Maidstone today.

Batten’s men go into their final three games sitting two points clear of Chatham Town at the top of the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division table, while Kevin Hake’s side sealed promotion yesterday after humiliating Erith & Belvedere 10-1, which proved costly for joint-managers Danny Murphy and Marlon Patterson, who were both relieved of their duties by the Park View Road top-six outfit.

Sheppey United return to Chatham to contest the Challenge Cup Final against Crowborough Athletic on Monday 2 May and extended their impressive unbeaten run to 22 games, despite finding Hollands & Blair a tough nut to crack, with Blair coming into the game on a seven match unbeaten run.

Sheppey United beat Rochester United (4-1), Tunbridge Wells (4-0), Holmesdale (3-1), Welling Town (4-1) and Glebe (2-1) to reach the showpiece final.

Hollands & Blair defeated FC Elmstead (2-0), Erith Town (2-0), Rusthall (1-0) and Larkfield & New Hythe (2-1) and were on course of replicating Paul Piggott’s class of 2012 before Sheppey United’s late comeback.

The first half proved to be a cagey battle and referee Richard Joss sent off Hollands & Blair substitute Ricky Freeman in the 32nd minute.

Alleged homophobic comments were directed towards Sheppey United’s centre-half Jahmal Howlett-Mundle, who announced in July that he is bisexual.

Hollands & Blair set-piece taker Jack Simon produced a moment of sheer quality in front of the 1,168 crowd to give his side the lead early in the second half.

However, Sheppey United threw caution to the wind and Batten threw on left-winger Michael Hagan and with his first touch his sublime free-kick dropped into the left-hand corner to restore parity with 15 minutes remaining.

Dean Grant flicked in his sixth goal of the season with three minutes remaining to keep the silverware at Holm Park, the third time that Sheppey United have celebrated winning the Kent Senior Trophy in six years.

Both sides had a player sent-off for two yellow cards deep into injury time with Sheppey United’s right-back Daniel Birch and Hollands & Blair substitute midfielder Luke Exall both leaving the contest following separate incidents.

“It’s fantastic to get the win. It was a very, very hard game today, a very, very tough game.  The opposition were tough, gave you nothing, worked hard, battled for everything and made it extremely difficult for us to play consistently our game of football,” said Batten.

Hollands & Blair boss Scott Porter added: “We knew it was going to be hard.  They’re not at the top of the league and promoted for any other reason for where they are and we knew they like possession football and we knew we had to be at the races and I think we were.

“I thought we worked hard but two mistakes cost us two goals.   A free-kick, which could’ve been dealt with, Steve Smith lost the ball on the half-way line and put it back in our 18-yard box for them to go and attack.

“Two mistakes has cost us and I’m afraid at this level in big games you get punished for it and we were.

“I thought we had enough chances, especially when we went  1-0 up. We had a couple in and around the box.  I think fitness showed a little bit as well.  I’ve had a couple of players who haven’t featured in a little while coming back from injury and maybe this took its toll in the end there.

“But I can’t fault the lads.  Look where we were when we took over, to get to a cup final and be hugely disappointed just shows how far we’ve come.

“I’ve said to the boys these are the days that we want to be involved in next season, so hopefully it will be an experience for them but those two mistakes have cost us.  They didn’t really open us up, such like I thought they would do. They probably thought they would do as well. I thought we defended well.

“We’re disappointed not picking the trophy up but I’m immensely proud of the boys, just a game too far.”

Sheppey United started the game on the front foot, keeping the ball on the deck and bossing the possession stakes as Hollands & Blair struggled to win the ball or keep it for the opening five or so minutes.

Batten said: “I thought our start was excellent. We started playing well. I think it was fits and starts a little bit after that and they slowed the game quite a lot. They won a lot of headers and tackles and made it very difficult for us to break through and they defended their box really well. I thought 0-0 at half-time was probably about right.”

It was to be a first-half of limited excitement but Hollands & Blair created an opening inside the opening seven minutes.

Right-back Joe Kane threw the ball into the box, the ball was flicked on by hardworking targetman Dean James and the ball came out to Louis Valencia, whose left-footed drive from 22-yards was charged down by Ashley Sains and was comfortably collected by Adam Molloy at his near post.

“I don’t think there was a lot to talk about in the first-half apart from maybe a few tackles, a few 50-50s and the referee really and that sums up the first-half,” admitted Porter.

“They gave me 100% and I said that from the start. They needed to be 10 out of 10 and 100% and don’t let yourself down, don’t let your team-mates down, don’t let me down, don’t let the club down.  We showed our commitment and our effort but just lacked that little bit of quality in front of goal.”

Hollands & Blair displayed the grit and determination and hard graft that Porter demands from his sides and they quickly stopped Sheppey United getting into their stride.

Porter said: “In these big games you want to go in at half-time still in the game, especially when you’re the underdogs.  We changed the shape after 15 minutes as well because we were getting over run a little bit, which worked and we frustrated them and you could see that today.”

Fourth official Michael Butcher called over referee Richard Joss, who pulled out a red card and Freeman would have no part to play in the game.

“It’s very disappointing, that sort of thing, quite personal, well, I believe, it will have to be confirmed, but I believe there were some homophobic comments,” alleged Batten.

“I think the fourth official heard them and they were quite loud, quite open.  I think obviously Jahmal is extremely upset but he’s very professional and he got on with the game.

“I believe the fourth official brought it to the referee’s attention and that’s why he got the red card.

“We don’t want to see that in football, it’s really gutting. As a club we do a lot of work in that regard and it’s so disappointing for somebody to let a club down with those sort of comments.”

Porter added: “He said something, I’m not too sure what it was but obviously the fourth official heard it and it was deservedly a red card so that’s all I can say on that matter.”

Hollands & Blair edged the stalemate and Kane clipped the ball down the channel over Howlett-Mundle’s head to release striker Stephen Smith, who played the ball inside to James, who lacked composure as Birch came out to press him, lashing his first-time drive over the crossbar from 16-yards.

Sheppey United’s only real chance of the first-half came in the 42nd minute.

Billy Bennett slid the ball along the deck from the left some 30-yards into Liam Gillies in space and he sprayed the ball out to right-winger Jefferson Aibangbee, who easily beat Hollands & Blair’s left-back Walker and put over a cross towards the near post where 28-goal striker Warren Mfula found a pocket of space and planted his header over the crossbar from 12-yards.

Batten said: “It wasn’t an easy header that for Warren. He was sort of going backwards a little bit and just lifted it over the bar. It was a good move by Jeff and a good cross.”

Porter added: “I think we kept all their key players quiet, simple as that. I don’t think he had a shot did he?”

Sheppey United dominated the corner count 9-1 but it was two-a-piece during the first-half and Hollands & Blair came close following their first flag-kick just before half-time.

Simon floated the ball in from the right, the ball came out to centre-half George Benner, who took a touch before hooking his half-volley towards the far post but a crowd of players ensured the ball was deflected past the far post instead of arrowing into the top far corner.

The crowd hoped for more excitement in the second-half.

Batten said: “I said to the lads’, I was a little bit disappointed that we didn’t consistently play our football and I was disappointed with the number of free-kicks we gave away.  We spoke before the game about giving free-kicks away in our own half of the field and I got one of my coaches to count the amount and we’ve given 10 away.

“There were a lot of unnecessary free-kicks we gave away and it played into their hands a little bit and of course, that’s Hollands & Blair’s bread and butter.

“I said to the lads you keep giving free-kicks away, it’s a percentage game, one of them is going to land on their heads and they’re going to score.”

Porter added: “We just needed to be better in the final third. We just had to take our chances, free-kicks and corners needed to be better, which they wasn’t good today and that’s normally a good plus side for us and just keep pushing them and stay in the game for large amounts of time and we did that.”

Sheppey United went close to grabbing the lead after only 35 seconds.

Holding midfielder Richard Hamill clipped a long ball, which sailed over Kane’s head and Grant cut into the box and from a tight angle his deflected shot flashed just past the foot of the far post and a corner was awarded.

Hamill’s resulting corner failed to beat the first man but he had a second bite of the cherry and put the ball back into the danger area and Blair keeper Mitchell Ware plucked the ball out of the air to prevent the ball sailing into the top far corner.

The game needed a goal to spring into life and Hollands & Blair made the breakthrough with two minutes and 28 seconds on the clock.

James drew a foul from Howlett-Mundle and Simon stroked his right-footed free-kick over the wall and into the top right-hand corner from 25-yards, helped by Molloy who helped the ball in with an outstretched left fist, high to his left.

Porter said: “He’s got that in his locker and it’s pleasing to go
1-0 up. 

“That’s the disappointment really today, he’s done that from a free-kick and put us in the lead but set-pieces and free-kicks in and around the box were not very good today. It summed it up, the last kick of the game when he’s kicked it out and we had everyone in the box.”

Batten added: “I was talking about free-kicks at half-time, what happens, within the first or second minute of the second half we give a free-kick away on the edge of our box and they score from it!

“I think if I said ‘keep giving free-kicks away’, we probably wouldn’t have done and we’ve been talking about free-kicks all week so it was really disappointing to give the free-kick away. The forward has spun one of our defenders and caught him so it’s a free-kick and it’s a good strike.”

Hollands & Blair missed a gilt-edged chance to double their lead with five minutes and 55 seconds on the clock and once again the hardworking James was involved in the build-up.

Simon cut the ball back from the right by-line and James held his head in his hands when he prodded a weak right-footed shot straight into Molloy’s grateful gloves from eight-yards out.

Porter knew it was a big fluffed chance.  One that cost his side claiming a big scalp.

“He does work hard but you’ve got to put that in the back of the net, simple as that!  He’s six-yards out and he’s hit it straight into the keeper’s hand with no purpose. Those are the opportunities in big games that you’ve got to take!”

Batten added:  “I’ve watched Dean James before and he’s a good striker, he works very hard to get in behind and he was a bit of a threat.

“It was (a big moment), he could’ve put it in the corner. He struck it and he got his foot to it and fortunately for us it went straight at Adam.”

Simon hung over a cross from the right and Molloy’s punch took ball and the rising James’ head as he cleared the danger and then reacted to make a comfortable save to prevent Valencia hooking the ball in from the edge of the penalty area.

However, Sheppey United upped their tempo and desire levels and played on the front foot for the final 20 minutes.

Batten said: “We upped the tempo, we had to. We were in the doldrums a little bit. I could see Blair were going to run the clock down so we made those couple of substitutions and the game burst into life, didn’t it?”

Hamill floated in a left-footed free-kick from 25-yards which appeared to be heading straight down Ware’s throat but the keeper flapped at the ball and flicked the ball around the top of the far post at the last moment.

Hollands & Blair were putting their bodies on the line and when Aibangbee’s shot on the turn from inside a crowded penalty area screamed past the right-hand post you got the sense that Porter’s men were going to hang on to claim a shock victory.

“That’s what I get out of my players and that’s what I try to get into players to do and that’s what my football teams do and we did that,” said Porter.

“We frustrated them, maybe they thought they were going to have it all their own way but I think we ran them right to the end and I think it showed that.”

However, you don’t want your centre-half Benner to slide in and send Mfula tumbling to the ground, with the resulting free-kick being taken inside the D, earning him a yellow card.

Batten made a double substitution and brought on Connor Wilkins at right-back (switching Birch over to left-back) and Hagan playing wide on the left.

Hagan’s first touch of the final was to bend his right-footed free-kick around the wall and screaming into the left-hand corner, leaving Ware rooted to the spot to bring Sheppey United back on level terms with 30 minutes and 10 seconds on the clock.

Batten said: “That’s a magnificent free-kick from that position. How he got it up and over, he was quite close to goal, you’re on the edge of the box. If you’ve got a bit more distance you can get it over the wall but he’s bent it around the wall, absolutely magnificently and that’s what we needed.

“We actually told him to go on and take the free-kick. He did the same at Sutton Athletic (in Wednesday night’s 5-2 win in the Challenge Cup Semi-Final Second Leg).  He went on and after about five minutes we had a free-kick and in a similar position. That was his first touch so I don’t know whether that’s credit to us, me and Marcel Nimani as the manager and coach, or a bit of both I shall think and credit to Hagan.”

Porter added: “The wall’s one side. I’ve heard a shout with Mitch. I’m not a goalkeeper but first touch but if you don’t make a silly foul, you don’t have the free-kick and it could’ve been avoided.”

There was only going to be one winner at this moment and true champions always find a way of winning when not playing particularly well.

Wilkins threw the ball to Aibangee, who whipped in a cross from the right and the otherwise quiet Mfula nipped in front of his marker to head over the Blair crossbar from 10-yards out.

Mfula then cut in from the right into the centre before cracking a left-footed drive which screamed over the crossbar, although Ware had it covered.

Sheppey United kept knocking on the door and the winner duly arrived with 41 minutes and 13 seconds on the clock, courtesy of good link-up play down the right.

Walker held up Aibangbee’s progress down the right but he waited patiently for Wilkins to join him and played a short pass on the overlap and Wilkins played in a low cross towards the near post.

Grant – who started the game as an ineffective left-winger but sprung into life up front beside Mfula after Batten went 4-4-2 after his double substitution – was closely man marked but managed to flick his first time shot past Ware to roll the ball inside the bottom near corner from a very tight angle from three-yards out.

Batten said: “It was a great finish. We found our rhythm at that point when we got it back at one-all and started playing our football and I thought it was coming because we were getting good balls in good positions.

“I thought Connor Wilkins did really well when he came on, even though he came on at full-back, he gave us that width.  Connor and Jeff linked up, a great cross and Deano’s on the near post. He’s a predator. He’s a good striker.

“We had a few balls near post during the game and nobody was there so we changed the formation a little bit and went 4-4-2 so Deano was more naturally central and I think that was one of the catalysts of getting back into the game.”

Porter added: “It could’ve been avoided. Steve Smith’s brought the ball down 40-yards from our goal, instead of kicking it down the channel and taking the pressure off, it’s gone into our 18-yard box. They got the ball and they’re on the front foot and they’ve gone one side to another and it goes in. We could’ve avoided it, it’s just one of those things.”

Porter was disgusted at the referee for issuing two red-cards inside injury time.

Exall – who picked up his two yellows after the 90th minute for fouls on Hagan and Grant – and Birch followed him down the tunnel a couple of minutes later.

Porter claimed: “He wasn’t strong though was he? Come on, let’s me honest.  I’ve known the bloke 20 years and too big a game for him, no respect for players, nothing.  There was not a sending off out on that pitch today, not a sending off and he’s not good enough at this level, simple as that!

“There was no consistency in what he did out there.  One of their players fouled someone four times and didn’t get booked and he wants to send my player off to do two simple easy fouls and he’s had two yellow cards. Where’s the consistency in that? He’s not strong enough or good enough!”

A more diplomatic Batten, added: “I think it’s difficult for the referee because if the benches are constantly screaming and the players’ are constantly berating and getting around the referee after every tackle it makes it hard for referees.

“I think a few years ago they’re fouls and you get on with it. I think today if there’s a foul and a bit of drama attached to it, the referee variably shows a yellow card so once you’ve got one, you’re on a tightrope and that’s exactly what happened to both of them today.”

Sheppey United goalkeeper Molloy pulled off save-of-the-season to prevent Hollands & Blair taking the game to extra-time with 51:51 on the clock.

Substitute Tom Loynes hurled his second long throw into the penalty area, a handball appeal from inside a crowded penalty area fell on deaf ears and the ball was cleared out to Simon, who cracked a right-footed volley screaming towards the top right-hand corner from 25-yards.

Molloy dived high to his left and used a strong left-hand to tip the ball over the crossbar and Bennett held aloft the silverware in Batten’s 301st game in charge of the club.

“It was a good save, it was a great save,” added Batten.

“You need people to perform don’t you if you’re going to win trophies, anything. People have got to perform, so Adam may not have a lot of saves to make but when he does then we need that quality.”

Porter added: “We didn’t stop and I can’t fault that and we gave a good account of ourselves. We’re just disappointed that we didn’t win the cup, that was all.

“It was a good save, you would expect him to save that but we’ve given everything today.

“We were getting tired out there.  We’ve had players coming back from injury who haven’t had a full season, haven’t had big games lately so they’re a fit side. I can’t fault the lads. I thought we might have nicked it at the end and get one but extra-time would’ve been tough.

Promoted Sheppey United (93 points from 35 games) lead Chatham Town by two points, while Hollands & Blair are in ninth-place with 50 points on the board.

These two sides lock horns again, in the league, at Holm Park on Saturday, before Batten faces his sons George and Ian in the opposite dug-out for the first time as Sheppey United travel to K Sports on Easter Monday, 17 April.

Sheppey United complete their league campaign at home to basement side Tower Hamlets on 23 April, before facing Sean Muggeridge’s Crowborough Athletic for a shot at the quadruple.

Batten said: “It’s a tough one, isn’t it because if we had lost the game will they come to us as winners with a bit more confidence but now we’ve beaten them like we have, do they come to us and say we’re going to spoil your party attitude and really work hard towards in our quest for the title.

“We can’t worry about anybody else. We’ve got to enjoy ourselves tonight and I’ve said to the lads, from tomorrow morning we start preparing for Saturday.”

When asked about retaining the Kent Senior Trophy, Batten replied: “I’m absolutely elated, I really am to do that twice in a short period of time and be in with a shot of the title and in the Challenge Cup Final as well. It’s what you work for as a manager, to have success, which is a hard thing to get. It’s very elusive. 

“You have to work a long time and keep going and believe in what you’re doing, try to play football the right way, that’s what I believe and if you’re lucky, because luck plays a little part in it as well, then you can get that bit of success.”

When asked about potentially winning the quadruple, Batten added: “I mean it’s something, it's a dream to do something like that. You work so hard and you never think it can happen because football is a funny game and you keep working at it and maybe it will happen.  That will be down to our performances in our next few games.”

Hollands & Blair, meanwhile, also welcome Canterbury City to Lordswood’s ground on Monday 18 April (as Star Meadow is having a 3G pitch installed over the summer), before they travel to Bearsted on the final game of the campaign.

Porter said: “Saturday is Saturday, we’ll reflect on today but in my eyes we’ve missed out an opportunity to win a cup final today.”

(Sheppey United had better) “Fitness maybe and quality and didn’t make mistakes. We made two mistakes and we got punished. How many mistakes did they make and we didn’t punish them?!  We’ve made two mistakes when we were winning 1-0, which could’ve been avoided and they capitalised and punished us.

“I said to the boys, we’ve got three games left. I want to finish as high as we can.  We want to finish eighth now.  I think that’s realistic where we want to be and when I came in that was the goal we set, get to a cup final and finish in the top 10. I won’t let it peter out so we’ll go and try to turn it around. Today was a big one for us.”

Hollands & Blair are four points adrift of eighth-placed side Tunbridge Wells, while Isthmian League bound pair Sheppey United and Chatham Town can reach 102 and 100 points respectively by winning their last three games.

Sheppey United: Adam Molloy, Daniel Birch, Renford Tenyue (Connor Wilkins 75), Richard Hamill (Michael Hagan 75), Ashley Sains, Jahmal Howlett-Mundle, Dean Grant, Liam Gillies, Warren Mfula, Billy Bennett, Jefferson Aibangbee.
Subs: Henry Dasofunjo, Max Oldham, Luke Griffiths

Goals: Michael Hagan 75, Dean Grant 87

Booked: Billy Bennett 39, Daniel Birch 66, Dean Grant 82

Sent Off: Daniel Birch 90

Hollands & Blair: Mitchell Ware, Joe Kane, John Walker, Ben Brown (Tom Loynes 90), George Benner, Robert Gillman, Louis Valencia, Chris Saunders (Luke Exall 59), Dean James (Harvey Welford 74), Stephen Smith, Jack Simon.
Subs: Harry Brown, Ricky Freeman

Goal: Jack Simon 48

Booked: Chris Saunders 15, Jack Simon 70, George Benner 75, Luke Exall 90

Sent Off:  Ricky Freeman 32, Luke Exall 90

Attendance: 1,168
Referee: Mr Richard Joss
Assistants: Mr Stephen Roots & Mr Graham Scott
Fourth Official: Mr Michael Butcher