Snodland Town 0-1 Hollands & Blair - Maybe the play-offs is a too big of a call to try to achieve it, we'll keep going until the end, says frustrated Snodland Town boss Luke Wallond

Wednesday 07th February 2024
Snodland Town 0 – 1 Hollands & Blair
Location Potyn's Sports Field, Snodland Community Centre, Paddlesworth Road, Snodland, Kent ME6 5DP
Kickoff 07/02/2024 19:45

Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division
Wednesday 7 February 2024
Stephen McCartney reports from Paddlesworth Road

HOLLANDS & BLAIR manager Luke Jessup hailed his side’s character after claiming a shock win to inflict a damaging defeat in Snodland Town’s attempts to seal a play-off place at the end of their maiden Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division campaign.

Striker Robert Dennes, who scored 16 goals in all competitions last season to help Snodland Town win the First Division title, headed in his 95th career goal for Hollands & Blair to settle an awful stalemate at Potyns.

Hollands & Blair substitute Aaron Simpson replaced Denness in the 67th minute  but he lasted only 108 seconds and was deservedly sent off by referee Myles Newson for a lunge on Snodland Town profligate winger Francis Babalola.

Snodland Town remain in eighth-place in the table with 41 points (12 wins, five draws and now eight defeats), six points adrift of the play-offs, while Hollands & Blair are now 13 points clear of the relegation zone on 29 points (eight wins, five draws and 13 defeats) from 26 games and leapfrogged over Tunbridge Wells to return to fifteenth-place in the 21 team ninth-tier division.

Goalkeeper Scott Andrews returned in goal for the home side, replacing Sam Freeman (neck), who kept a clean-sheet in a 4-0 win at struggling Stansfeld on Saturday, while their Gillingham based opponents made three after losing 3-1 at VCD Athletic.

“Over the moon, absolutely over the moon.  I can’t fault the players’ work-rate, going down to 10 men, penalty saved.  We defended for our lives a little bit like the Alamo at the end, a bit of a siege, but I’m so, so proud of them,” said Jessup.

“That’s a big three points for us. We know that. Our first three points.  You can see what’s going on in that changing room but honestly, what a great bunch of boys, you can’t fault them.

“They gave everything and more and you saw when we went down to 10 men and then we had a couple of injuries but even before that I thought you saw some character today.

“Hopefully there’s a new Hollands & Blair, that’s what we’re about now, new regime, new belief.  We saw that pitch today and we slightly changed it up, different formation, different strategy but I’d like to think when we go back to our pitch on a smoother carpet we’ve got, we’re going to play a bit more attractive football.”

Snodland Town manager Luke Wallond added: “Gutted.  Everyone’s gutted to lose.  They battled hard first half. I thought we lost 45 minutes out of 90 tonight.  I don’t think we got going in the first half and probably didn’t get going probably until 20 minutes to go and that’s when we started to get going.

“We’ve missed a penalty. I mean how many chances did we have? Lots and lots and lots.  Whether they were clear chances or not, you have to take your chances. Chances make a difference in a game.

“End product was missing and the first 45.  It was like we didn’t get started. We done well on Saturday and it was just a different performance than Saturday.”

Hollands & Blair scored the winning goal following their first of six corners, with only 12 minutes and 34 seconds on the clock.

Holding midfielder Frank Griffin swung the ball in from the left with his right-foot towards the far post for Denness to guid his downward header through a crowd of players into the right-hand corner of the goal to seal the victory.

“Maybe it was written in the stars that one,” said Jessup.

“Rob didn’t need any motivation to be here today, I think he had it all and a lovely finish.

“We’ve brought him back to the club. I had him in the reserves about a month ago, maybe six weeks ago.  We brought him back and instantly you saw what he brings to the changing room, what be brought to the training pitch but he’s just that old head, experienced.  He’ll admit himself he’s nowhere near fit enough but we’re going to be hell bent in changing that, you saw what he brings to this team.”

Wallond said: “Any player who comes back to a side he’s played for before, they either play really well, set one up or win a penalty or they score and Rob scored. That’s what Rob does. That’s why Rob was with us last year.

“He had a bit of a break from football and I think Blair have got him back playing again for the last few weeks with the reserves and he stepped up with the reserve manager to play for the firsts.”

Hollands & Blair goalkeeper Dan Ellis made a string of saves to ensure Jessup celebrated winning his first game in four attempts since replacing Lydd Town bound Scott Porter.

Snodland Town centre-half Jack Bath hit a first time long ball out of defence which released winger Taylor Fisher down the left and after cutting inside and unleashing a stinging right-footed drive towards the near post from 15-yards, Ellis was there to beat the ball away.

The home side dominated the corner count by 11-6 and right-back Ben Davisson swung the ball in from the left towards a crowd of players where left-back Robbie Bissett steered his header past the far post from a central position.

Snodland Town should have equalised – while kicking down the slope – with 21:43 on the clock.

Davisson drilled a 60-yard through ball along the deck, which slit open Hollands & Blair centre-half Rob Gillman to put striker Matthew Gething through on goal but he lacked composure and a commanding Ellis made a big save.

“Ellis done well. He made the saves as a goalie, whether they’re straight at you, either side of you, penalty save, you’ve got to make saves and he’s made a lot of saves tonight,” said a frustrated Wallond.

Jessup was quick to praise his keeper.

“He’s been absolutely first-class for us. We’ve made him skipper, obviously he’s a senior player. He’s played at a level but what he’s done for us over the last couple of games, although he’s conceded a few, but it’s a new regime, it’s a new change of management but what he done tonight was first class, absolutely first class from him.”

Denness and Richard Atkins were linking up well for Hollands & Blair during the first half on the counter-attack but Snodland Town were poor in key areas.

Attacking midfielder Tariq Ibrahim offered very little, as did substitute striker Jeff Duah-Kessie, who was deployed wide on the right late on in the game when the away side were down to 10 men.

Hollands & Blair were to be denied a second goal on the counter-attack in the 25th minute, with Denness playing a key role.

Denness played a one-two with winger Sam Stace before charging up the hill, through the heart of defence before cutting the ball onto his right-foot and aiming for the bottom right-hand corner from 20-yards, forcing Andrews to dive to his left to tip around the post.

“Again, you saw what Rob’s about. He’s that fox in the box, even at the ripe old age – I don’t want to do him a diss-service and say a number, late 30s but you can see what he’s doing and you see what he’s about. He can be a real big player, hopefully this season and next,” added Jessup.

Wallond added: “Scott has played two of the last three. He’s done well in both games.  Scott has done superb as a number two to step in when he hasn’t played as many times as a goalie wants to play, you can’t ask for a lot more than that and he’s performed tonight.

“Sam Freeman has got something trapped in his neck and he’s seeing someone tomorrow and I’ll here from him tomorrow and then we’ll go from there.”

Ibrahim sprung into life before slipping the ball forward for George Monger, who hit a left-footed half-volley from 30-yards, which bounced harmlessly wide of the far post.

But clear-cut chances during the first-half were at a premium as both sides cancelled each other out.

Monger floated a deep stoppage time corner in from the right towards the back post where centre-half Ryan Sawyer came up from the back to steer his free header past the near post.

At half-time, Wallond said: “First 45, not the level we expect, if we want to go as high in this league as we possibly can in our first season then you can’t afford to waste 45 minutes and at the end it’s come and bit us on the bum.”

Jessup added: “What did we say to the boys? More of the same! It was just carry on what you’re doing, let’s be brave, let’s make sure we don’t take our foot of the gas, all those sort of stuff you expect us to say in there at that point.”

A handball from Hollands & Blair winger Tom Walmsley allowed Monger to whip in a quality delivery some 40-yards from goal, which Ellis flapped at and assistant referee Mitchell Bush raised his offside flag as soon as Babalola slotted the ball into the empty goal (6:46).

Davisson and Ibrahim linked up in the attacking third before striker Gething cut the ball back from the right by-line towards Fisher at the far post but the ball was intercepted by Hollands & Blair right-back Tommy Smith.

Snodland Town called Ellis into making a comfortable save on the hour-mark.

Bissett took a touch before floating a cross into the penalty area where Monger found a pocket of space but his header was meat and drink for a goalkeeper of Ellis’ stature.

Wallond said: “We had chances, we had chances and they battled, they battled for 90, they done well, they battled, We kept them to minimal chances.”

Jessup added: “I mean, we know a lot of George Monger. He was heavily in our thoughts before the game of what we were expecting from him but I thought our game-plan from the boys was executed superb and George was part of that.”

Snodland Town were given a couple of lifelines to get themselves back into the game when Gething cut along the by-line before his prodded shot struck the hand of Hollands & Blair centre-half William Puffett and referee Myles Hewson pointed to the spot.

Davisson stepped up and stroked his right-footed penalty towards the bottom right-hand corner, only for Ellis to dive to his left and use a strong hand to parry the ball, with 19 minutes and 32 seconds on the clock.

“Davo has taken a lot of penalties for me since he’s played for me. Mr Reliable and I think there’s been one penalty before tonight that he’s ever missed,” revealed Wallond.

“He’s taken a penalty at the weekend and scored a penalty, got rid of the cobwebs and got rid of the bad thoughts that you have when you step up.

“I was confident he would score tonight because he’s been Mr Reliable and the keeper’s made a save. I don’t think it was the greatest penalty in the world but the keeper has still got to make a save.”

Jessup added: “Unbelievable! It’s going to sound like a Dan Ellis tribute act but what a save, what a save and fair play to the defenders for getting to the rebound as well.  I think it shows that we’ve got a little bit of fight and desire.”

Denness’ race was run so Jessup brought on Simpson (21:26) but his impact was negative as the referee pulled out a straight red card out of his pocket after committing a nasty looking challenge on Babalola.

It wasn’t the impact that Jessup wanted from his substitute.

Jessup said: “Honestly, disappointed, disappointed for him, disappointed in the challenge, although I’ve seen them as a yellow before. A little bit gutted about that whole situation but every cloud and that.  You saw how the boys reacted and maybe that’s going to spur us on for the rest of the season, so we try to take the positives out of that.”

Wallond added: “To be honest, it’s difficult to tell because it happened so quick and I don’t think you ever…

“I mean there’s times you look at a tackle coming in and you’re thinking there’s one coming.  Didn’t expect it, especially just coming on. Whether he was a bit slow to make the tackle because he just come on, I don’t know but it’s difficult to tell. I couldn’t really tell, I couldn’t really see.”

Snodland Town dominated for the rest of the game.

Wallond brought on Henry Muggeridge in central midfield – he played at right-back in last Wednesday’s 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Whitstable Town – which was the club’s first home defeat since losing 1-0 at home to Erith Town back on 9 September 2023.

Muggeridge disagreed with Bush’s offside flag after slotting the ball into the bottom right-hand corner after latching on to Babalola’s bullet header into the penalty area (27:19).

Hollands & Blair created just the one chance in the second half, coming from a set-piece from Griffin, which arrowed towards the top near corner from just outside the penalty area, which was beaten away by Andrews at his near post.

Wallond brought on left-winger Isaac Thompson in the 77th minute and he was a threat and a cause of concern for Blair’s right-back Smith and the home side’s good play came from the former Fisher and Chatham Town winger.

Wallond was satisfied with Thompson’s late cameo role tonight.

“Isaac has come on, last couple of weeks it’s been tough for Isaac.  People go through tough patches, players want to play. He’s had a chat with me, we’ve had an open conversation and I can’t really ask a lot more from Isaac. His attitude was great and his performance from the minute he was on was superb.”

Snodland Town produced a good move when Thompson fed the ball into Duah-Kessie (in the middle) who laid the ball off for Muggeridge, who sliced his right-footed shot harmlessly wide of the goal from 18-yards.

The home side were guilty of a glaring miss in the final 10 minutes.

Babalola played the ball in from the right and Thompson (now in the middle) threaded the ball in behind to play in Babalola, who lashed his right-footed shot high over the crossbar from 10-yards.

“I’m standing here frustrated because the last however many weeks is has been the story of my team-talks, is ‘chances’ boys,” said Wallond.

“I’ve said to them, as a collective, it’s not an individual, it’s not the one striker, two strikers or whatever it is. It’s the whole team because we have chances throughout the team.”

Jesup admitted: “I don’t think they offered a lot of quality up front today from Snodland.  I think they had more than their fair share of chances but three points for us.”

The longer the game went on, Hollands & Blair parked the bus and put their bodies on the line and packed their penalty area to protect their slender lead.

Snodland Town kept knocking on the door – they only showed desire to up their urgency levels after Simpson got his marching orders for violent conduct.

Muggeridge swung in a deep corner in from the left and Gething’s glancing header sailed across the keeper and only just missed the far post.

There was to be one last miss with the last kick of the game (51:12).

Ibrahim played the ball to Bissett, who played Babalola through on goal but Ellis made himself big and saved with his legs before Ibrahaim summed up the home side’s profligacy by lashing the rebound over the crossbar as Hollands & Blair grabbed a vital three points.

Jessup said: “I feel like a massive weight has been lifted off and I’m sure the boys do.

“My two assistants, Aaron Lacy and Luke Hewitt, absolutely first class from them.  We were cool, we were making some good decisions, good substitutions, I couldn’t be happier, over the moon.”

Jessup revealed he is fully prepared for Saturday’s home clash against ninth-placed side Punjab United (10 wins, nine draws and five defeats).

“I sent one of our coaches there last night and he’s done a very good and detailed scouting report that was on my desk this morning, so a big shout out to Luke Hewitt for that one.  He put the effort in there. He gave me about three pages on A4, all sent over in my email box by about half-past-nine this morning, so we’ve got their number we feel and three points Saturday.”

Jessup revealed that Puffette suffered “just a bang to the head, but I’m sure he’ll be fine,” for the visit of Chipie Sian’s side, who thrashed bottom side Welling Town 4-0 last night.

When asked what he is targeting for the final 14 league games of the season, Jessup replied: “I’m not going to put any targets on it. There’s no real expectations and fair play to the board at the club, there was no expectations.

“We’re just looking to change the regime at the club, try to bring some football back to Bliar and like we say to the boys and what the boys say all the time is play with some positivity and smile on their faces.

“I feel people wrote us off against Corinthian in the first game and we got something out of there (a 0-0 draw) and tonight, all the people I spoke to I was probably expecting a little bit more positivity.

“I don’t think we were probably expected to win tonight either so I prefer that underdog role and I think what you’ve seen tonight, we will be taking down to Deal next Tuesday.”

Eleventh-placed Fisher (10 wins, five draws and 11 defeats) come here on Saturday, with Ajay Ashanike back in the dug-out, having returned to Fisher tonight after leaving the club to take charge of Isthmian League North Division side Basildon United for seven games.

“Every team is capable of beating any team in this league on their day.  If it’s not your day, any team can beat you,” warned Wallond.

“Fisher will have their confidence about them. It’s been tough since Ajay left. He’s back, story of my life at the moment. Like I have one hard thing get another hard thing.

“It will be tough. Fisher are a good side, they’ve always been a good side. They’ve been good this season, a bit of a bad patch and hopeful that bad patch carries on a bit longer for me.”

When asked about managing in the ninth-tier of English football for the first time this season, Wallond replied: “Personally, it’s manic! It’s the first time for me managing in the Prem.  Games come quick and fast, players are different mannerisms to players’ I’ve managed before, as in they’ve played higher levels and they’ve stepped down or they’ve been in this level for a while.  They’re very professional, they’re very reliable, they turn up on time.  I can’t moan at the boys, the boys are a great bunch of boys.

“It is tough, it’s almost like a part-time job now, if not more than a part-time job. It’s crazy, I think I do more football work than I do work, work now. If I weren’t the boss (of my fencing company), I wouldn’t have a job now!”

Glebe remain at the summit with 56 points from 28 (of 40) league games, while the four play-off places contain Faversham Town (54 points from 28 games), Corinthian (53 points from 25 games), Deal Town (52 points from 23 games) and Bearsted (47 points from 25 games).

Whitstable Town (47 points from 28 games), Erith Town (44 points from 25 games), Snodland Town (41 points from 25 games), Punjab United (39 points from 24 games) and Lydd Town (38 points from 25 games) make up the top 10.

“We’ll keep going. I set the targets as high as I can.  The target was to try to achieve play-offs in our first year. Maybe too big of a call to try to achieve it. We’ll keep going until the end and results may go our way,” said Wallond.

“We might go on a bit of a run. I think it’s whoever can pick up five or six wins on the bounce might find themselves in there when others fluster slightly.

“We were hoping for a good February, not because of the teams we were playing, just because we believe in ourselves, so we’ve got to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and go again.”

When asked whether suffering three defeats in their last four league outings is causing concern, the Snodland Town boss replied: “It should be, it should be but maybe it’s a bit of a bad bit for us. If we can turn around that quick, which I was hoping was Saturday just gone against Stansfeld, but again we’ve got to turn it around this Saturday.”

Snodland Town: Scott Andrews, Ben Davisson (Jeff Duah-Kessie 75), Robbie Bissett, George Monger, Jack Bath, Ryan Sawyer, Taylor Fisher (Isaac Thompson 77), Jordan Wells (Henry Muggeridge 62), Matthew Gething, Tariq Ibrahim, Francis Babalola.
Subs: Connor Pring, Joel Odeniran

Booked: George Monger 71

Hollands & Blair: Dan Ellis, Tommy Smith (Augusto Chiari 89), James Nurden, Frank Griffin, William Puffett (Lewis Allen 85), Rob Gillman, Sam Stace, Billy Horley, Richard Atkins (Ben Brown 76), Robert Denness, (Aaron Simpson 67), Tom Walmsley.
Sub: Will Oliver

Goal: Robert Denness 13

Sent Off:  Aaron Simpson 70

Attendance: 146
Referee: Mr Myles Hewson
Assistants: Mr Mitchell Bush & Mr Martin Bullock
Observer: Mr John Paton