Sittingbourne 1-3 Herne Bay - They know that second half performance isn't good enough. They've let themselves down and the fans down and we've limped out of another cup competition, says Sittingbourne boss Darren Blackburn

Saturday 09th October 2021
Sittingbourne 1 – 3 Herne Bay
Location Woodstock Park, Broadoak Road, Sittingbourne, Kent ME9 8AG
Kickoff 09/10/2021 15:00

The Buildbase FA Trophy Second Qualifying Round
Saturday 9 October 2021
Stephen McCartney reports from Woodstock Park

SITTINGBOURNE manager Darren Blackburn says his players let their fans down after suffering a FA Trophy exit at the hands of their league rivals Herne Bay at Woodstock Park.


Sittingbourne went into this Second Qualifying Round tie in seventh-place in the Isthmian League South East Division table with 13 points from seven games, while Herne Bay were in sixth-place with the same number of points but from one fewer game.

Sittingbourne opened the scoring through striker Johan Caney-Bryan’s fifth goal of the season, before Herne Bay clinically equalised through winger Adem Ramadan just six minutes later.

Herne Bay dominated large parts of the second half and ran out comfortable winners as talisman striker Zak Ansah notched his seventh goal of the season, from the penalty spot, before substitute Bode Anidugbe scored late on to send Herne Bay through to the Third Qualifying Round in back-to-back campaigns.

“Disappointing, I think first 20 minutes the boys stuck to the game plan, caused them all sorts of problems, probably could’ve had a couple of goals,” said Blackburn.

“I thought we were sloppy in transition, very laboured when they got the ball and picked the ball up and getting into our defensive shape and then after that, the rest of the first half, it was probably a bit more even.

“We still did alright and we still created plenty of stuff and then yes, I’m not sure what happened second half. It was like looking at 11 different players but we’ll look at our intensity at training.

“If a player can’t pass to a red shirt and can’t control a football and keeps making poor decisions on a football pitch, I’m not really too sure how much you can do about that at training, that’s an individual thing but we’ll go away and look at everything and sum it all up and come back fighting next week (for our friendly at Tonbridge Angels).

Herne Bay boss Ben Smith added: “A game of two halves, definitely a game of two halves!

“First 20 minutes they were really good, they threw the kitchen sink at us. We were nowhere near the side that we have been. We didn’t play anywhere near the philosophy that we’ve got.  We were literally complementing everything they were doing and we were helping it.

“I’ve got to say credit to them in the first 20 minutes. They were really good so you can’t argue with it but I think we were helping in that situation.

“We were much better (in the second half). We got in at half-time but in the first half we were doing a few real basic errors.”

Sittingbourne started the first 20 minutes on the front foot, creating their first opening after only 61 seconds.

Herne Bay centre-back Lawrence Harvey was penalised for handball and Sittingbourne’s central midfielder Ridwan (Toby) Ajala swung in the resulting free-kick from the left channel.

Herne Bay goalkeeper Lucas Hanley raised both of his hands above his head and pushed the ball up and Caney-Bryan’s overhead kick from eight-yards flashed past the right-hand post.

“Toby had a really good game today, probably one of his better games for us in fairness to him,” said Blackburn, who revealed the player was substituted at half-time after picking up a knee injury.

“He looked lively, sharp and looked up for it, particularly first half.  He got his knee injury. Hopefully, it’s nothing too serious. These things could be a week or two or they could be six-to-eight weeks or more, so we’ll find out in a week.”

On the overhead kick, Blackburn said: “I thought we could’ve brought the ball down and kept it in the danger area but that’s not a dig at Johan. He’s been brilliant for us but just one of those decisions when I look at it and we should’ve done something different there and would’ve caused the other team more problems.”

Another handball, this time from Herne Bay’s right-back Ryan Cooper, saw Ajala drill his right-footed free-kick in from the left towards goal and this time Hanley made a comfortable save, dropping down to his knees to smother the ball into his midriff.

Sittingbourne deserved their lead when it arrived with seven minutes and 50 seconds on the clock.

Holding midfielder George Monger slipped the ball into Ajala’s feet inside the Herne Bay half and Kane Rowland (who played as a wide striker over on the left) released Ajala down the left channel.

Ajala hung over a cross towards the far post where Caney-Bryan buried his downward header – which should have been caught by the keeper – into the bottom right-hand corner from inside the six-yard box.

“The keeper, I thought he struggled a little bit first half, he dropped a couple but second half I thought he did well,” said Blackburn.

“I thought we did well but part of a movement that we’ve worked on and spoke about before the game trying to isolate Kane Rowland against one of their full-backs.

“We caused them a few problems and got our just rewards in the end. It was a good run from Toby and a good ball in and a good downward header by Johan.”

Smith admitted: “It was coming, weren’t it? Let’s be honest, it was coming. They threw a lot of bodies forward when the ball was wide. It was coming. We had to accept it and then move on to the next one because they deserved to be 1-0 up.”

Herne Bay were clinical in front of goal when they grabbed an equaliser with 13 minutes and 44 seconds on the clock.

They produced a slick move along the deck as Ansah played the ball into Chinedu McKenzie, who laid the ball inside to Ramadan, who took the ball in his stride as Sittingbourne centre-half George Crimmen opened the gate for Ramadan to run through and place his left-footed shot underneath the keeper.

“The one passage of football that we played in the half and we scored from it, which then fed our team-talk at half-time,” said Smith.

“Adem’s got a little bit of magic in him. He often finds the back of the net. He’s calm in those situations and he showed that just then.”

Blackburn added: “I thought defensively we were at sixes and sevens for most of the game today, I think the whole game really looking back at it.  I thought we looked off the pace. 

“I think their front three are good, their movement is good ish. They’ve got pace but I thought we were slow without the ball. We were laboured. We’ve been really good without the ball this season. After today, it was probably the poorest we’ve been without the ball.”

The game then turned into a cagey stalemate for the 247 crowd before the game flickered into life with both sides creating a chance each just before the hour-mark.

Monger stole the ball off Herne Bay midfielder Tom Phipp inside the centre-circle before releasing Ahmed Abdulla down the heart of the pitch before he fed Caney-Bryan down the right inside the box and he swept his shot across keeper Hanley, who held the ball comfortably low to his right.

Blackburn said: “It was a good little counter-attack. Johan’s hit the target, which you want your strikers to do.  We didn’t get Ahmed Abdulla in those positions today.  You look at individuals and what they can bring to the team and we need to get Abdulla on the ball in areas where we can hurt teams and he can get shots and create things and we didn’t do that enough of that today.”

Smith said: “I wasn’t happy with the gaps they were getting and we’ve looked very strong defensively this season. I’m not pinning that on the defence actually, it was from front-to-back. We made a few cardinal sins really and it showed because they were getting chances.

“We just made sure we had to stay in the game until half-time so we can make the changes that we needed to make.  There was a lot that we needed to change and the information we had to get across to the lads, which we couldn’t do from the side of the pitch.”

Herne Bay created an opening just 39 seconds later when Herne Bay central midfielder Hamilton Antonio hit a diagonal over to left-winger Kieron Campbell, who cut inside right-back Chukwuemeka (Samuel) Okoye-Ahaneku but dragged his shot past the near post while inside the penalty area.

“It was the sort of move we wanted to make earlier on in the game. We didn’t get Kieron in the game first half,” admitted Smith.

“It was just the kind of opening you’d expect to see during the game and that’s something that I wanted to see. It didn’t quite happen in the first half but obviously things changed quickly.”

However, both sides often lost possession off the ball and both sides cancelled each other out for the remaining 15 minutes before the interval.

Blackburn said: “More positives than negatives at half-time. I thought we dropped off in the last 20 minutes of the first half but other than that I thought we gone out and stuck to the game plan.

“I had a little tactic in mind to give us a little out ball with Kane up against their full-back, which worked for us. We got plenty of crosses and some good opportunities in the first half and should’ve really done more in the final third but we didn’t, we were sloppy.”

Smith added: “I just took them back seven or eight weeks ago when we started pre-season, what we were buying into this year as a philosophy of how we play. 

“The break of two weeks without a game and then playing on a pitch (at East Grinstead, the game being abandoned at half-time last weekend) where you could barely pass a ball, it was so heavy with the water.

“I think that had kind of given people memory loss and we made it really clear what we expected of them and the changes we made and second half they did exactly what I asked of them and it was comfortable in the end.”

Herne Bay got into their stride during a much better second-half performance from Smith’s men.

They created an opening after only 50 seconds when right-back Noel-Reion McFarlane hit a long ball forward, which was cleared by Harrison Pont’s diving header.  However, the ball ricochet off Ansah’s leg and he sped down the heart of the pitch before hitting a deflected drive off Taylor Fisher and just past the right-post from 22-yards.

Sittingbourne goalkeeper Joe Docherty was called into action in the ninth minute of the half.

Ramadan was in a central position in the middle of the park and carven open both of Sittingbourne’s centre-halves (Crimmen and Pont) to put McKenzie through on goal and the striker’s chip was blocked by Docherty, who had rushed out of his penalty area and used his upper body to make a vital block.

“He’s got to score, he’s got to score. It was a great chance. He did well to get the opportunity, but he’s got to score and he’ll say it himself,” added Smith.

Blackburn added: “That happened too often in the second half for me. You can drive a bus between our two centre-halves at times. I’m not sure what the problem is there, whether the full-backs weren’t tucking in enough or whether we were just sleepy. 

“We seemed a bit dozy if I’m honest all-round second half and it cost us ultimately in the end.”

Sixty-three seconds later and Sittingbourne created an opening when Monger floated a deep cross with his left-foot for Caney-Bryan to run into the box but he failed to keep his header down from eight-yards out.

Phipp played a first-time defensive splitting pass in behind Pont to put McKenzie through on goal down the heart of the pitch and his right-footed shot was smothered by Docherty, to his left, when he only had the goalkeeper to beat for a second time.

“He’s got to score,” added Smith.

“Chinedu had a couple of weeks not playing, if he gets those chances regularly he will score.  He’s proven, he’s scored goals wherever he’s been and at a higher level, so he will score goals, I have no doubt about that.

“I think after he missed the first one suddenly you feel the pressure on the back of your shoulders and it was getting heavier and heavier so we decided to make a change from that.”

Blackburn added: “Docherty has done well for us today. I know he’s made a bit of a mistake at the end but he’s been brilliant for us this season and he’s a great lad.  I feel for him more than anybody because he did pull off hose couple of good saves and he’s been so good in all of the other games and he was absolutely outstanding for us last week (1-1 draw at Chichester City) as well in those awful conditions.”

Herne Bay deservedly took the lead, from the penalty spot, with 18:01 on the clock.

Firstly, Anidugbe replaced McKenzie and made a swift impact on the game, playing the ball on the diagonal over to Campbell down the left.  He easily cut past Okoye-Ahaneku to reach the by-line and Pont was harshly penalised by referee Lawrence Torz-Brown for a handball on the corner of the six-yard box close to the by-line.

Ansah stepped up to stroke his right-footed penalty into the bottom right-hand corner, sending Docherty the wrong way.

“It was a sort of situation that we wanted to get Kieron in, in the first half. We didn’t do that for a lot of our enforced errors and poor decision making,” said Smith.

“Second half we did the basics very well and then you’re suddenly getting Kieron Campbell one-v-one on the edge of people’s boxes and that’s a dangerous situation.

“Zak’s cool and calm, when everyone’s not. He missed a couple in the past but you back him every time and it never fazes him. It’s always onto the next one. He’s got a good elite-level mindset.”

Blackburn said: “It was from their goal-kick, we were sloppy from their goal-kick and we didn’t win the first header and we didn’t win any first headers all day today.

“I think if you look it back on video, we were walking, which really summed us up today. When the ball went past us there were too many players walking and then one-v-one the lad is decent, he’s got to the by-line. Harrison has slid in to block it. I’m not sure what he’s supposed to do, I really don’t.

“His arms are not away form his body, it is into his body and the rules are if the arms are away from the body, it’s handball so I don’t really know if it’s handball but I’ll look it back on video.”

Sittingbourne left-back Fisher threw the ball to substitute Sam Flisher, but the holding midfielder dragged his right-footed shot harmlessly past the left-hand post from 30-yards in the 65th minute.

Docherty was called into action at the other end, however, following a set-piece.

Ramadan drove in a right-wing corner and Harvey rose at the far post and buried his header straight at the goalkeeper from 12-yards.

“He made a good save from Lawrence Harvey’s header as well, which he made it look a lot easier than what it was,” added Smith.

Cooper and Ramadan linked up well before Ansah played the ball out to Samuel Naiwo and the substitute cut in from the right-wing and played the ball inside to Anidugbe, who swept his first-time shot over the crossbar from 20-yards, aiming for the top far corner.

Herne Bay sealed their progress with their third goal of the game, timed at 38 minutes and 14 seconds on the clock.

Right-winger Naiwo released Anidugbe down the right and his weak shot should have been gathered low down at his near post by Docherty, however, the former Cray Valley goalkeeper allowed the ball to slip through his fingers and roll through his legs to nestle into the back of his net.

“The keeper will be disappointed with that,” said Smith.

“He’s had a good game and I think people will now probably judge him on that one mistake, which is the life of a keeper I guess.  If you think about it he’s kept them in the game three or four times before that, so hats off to him.”

Blackburn added: “Docherty will put his hands up, his big enough and brave enough to put his hands up and have that, he’s an honest lad. 

“I don’t care about that mistake, it doesn’t change my opinion of him. He’s a fantastic keeper and he’s been brilliant today and last week.  That’s not what’s lost this football game.

“The lack of character in the second half when things weren’t going for us so much, we stopped doing the things that we’re working for us in the first half and basic decision making all over the pitch cost us the game.”

Sittingbourne kept plugging away, however, and created a late chance when left-back Fisher clipped a 20-yard cross with the outside of his boot which was controlled by Rowland’s chest before smacking a volley towards the top right-hand corner from 16-yards, which was clawed around the post by Hanley, high to his left.

Blackburn said: “It was a good effort from Kane.”

Smith added: “I think it was going wide but Kane Rowland is a quality striker so he is someone who can provide that type of moment in a game.

“It was a good test for Lucas today, a 17-year-old keeper, never played at this level before. We’ve thrown him in. He was always going to play in the cup games and he done well.

“He came through a tough test. There’s things we’ve seen from him today that are areas for improvement, which is what these games are about.  The two games beforehand he’s not made one save to make for the two games so it’s really hard to judge him.”

Herne Bay are one win away from reaching the First Round for the first time since winning promotion to this level back in 2012.

Smith said: “Hopefully we get somebody outside this league. I would much rather this had been a league game than a cup game and I’m sure Sittingbourne would prefer to play somebody random as well.  That’s the beauty of these cup competitions. You play teams further afield that you’ve never played before.

“The one thing I would say, although the fans will want an away day, we’ve not been drawn at home in The FA Trophy for three years, surely we’re going to get a home draw at some point?”

Blackburn was clearly upset with his players' disappointing performance during the second half.

He said: “I think there’s a bit of fitness issues if I’m honest. I think we need to take some personal responsibility for the decisions we make. If a player makes 70-80% good decisions in a game at this level you’d probably take that. If a player is making 20-30% good decisions in a game that’s either a problem for the player, a problem for us with our instructions on what we’ve asked them to do.

“I don’t know what was wrong (in the second half).  They’ve been brilliant this season so I don’t want to slate them too much. They know that second-half performance isn’t good enough. They’ve let themselves down and the fans’ down and we’ve limped out of another cup competition, which I’m disappointed about.”

Sittingbourne, meanwhile, have a day off next weekend but are at home to Keith McMahon’s Whitstable Town on Tuesday 19 October, while Smith takes his side to league leaders Haywards Heath Town next Saturday.

Blackburn said: “It’s good to see Keith back in the game.  He’s been out for a while. I know he was keen to be back in because I played against his kids’ team a few weeks ago and he made no secret that he wanted to get back in, so I think it’s a good appointment for Whitstable.

“Lloyd Blackman was a great guy, really liked him, he’ll be missed from this league. He’s one of the good ones and they’ve got Keith coming in so I’m sure they’ll ring the changes I’m sure. It will take him a couple-three weeks but he’ll make that team his own and I’m sure they’ll start doing well so it will be another tough local derby.”

Looking ahead to playing the league leaders, Smith added: “A good test for us, they’re smashing teams, we’ll certainly won’t go there as underdogs by any stretch.  They’ve got some good players this year and have started similar to East Grinsted last season. Their form looks ominous but we’re not bad either so it should be an exciting game.”

Sittingbourne: Joe Docherty, Chukwuemeka Okoye-Ahaneku, Taylor Fisher, George Monger, Harrison Pont, George Crimmen (Tom Loynes 83), Kane Rowland, Ridwan Ajala (Sam Flisher 46), Johan Caney-Bryan, Ahmed Abdulla (Yao Aziamale 83), Michael Akin.
Subs: Emmanuel Dasho, Toby Bancroft

Goal: Johan Caney-Bryan 8

Booked: Kane Rowland 48

Herne Bay: Lucas Hanley, Noel-Reion McFarlane, Ryan Cooper, Tom Phipp, Dan Johnson, Lawrence Harvey, Adem Ramadan (Daniel Carrington 85), Hamilton Antonio, Zak Ansah, Chinedu McKenzie (Bode Anidugbe 62), Kieron Campbell (Samuel Naiwo 72).
Subs: Jack Parter, Jordan Perrin

Goals: Adem Ramadan 14, Zak Ansah 64 (penalty), Bode Anidugbe 84

Booked: Lawrence Harvey 37, Adem Ramadan 55

Attendance: 247
Referee: Mr Lawrence Torz-Brown
Assistants: Mr Ryan Calver & Mr Terence Dawkins