Staplehurst Monarchs United 2-1 Rochester United - Smash-and-grab is hard to take, I think everyone's wondering how we didn't win it, says Rochester United boss Phil Miles

Wednesday 06th October 2021
Staplehurst Monarchs United 2 – 1 Rochester United
Location Jubilee Sports Ground, Headcorn Road, Staplehurst, Kent TN12 0DS
Kickoff 06/10/2021 19:45

Southern Counties East Football League First Division
Wednesday 6 October 2021
Stephen McCartney reports from Headcorn Road

STAPLEHURST MONARCHS United manager Steve Sands admits a smash-and-grab got his side off the foot of the Southern Counties East Football League First Division table tonight.

Rochester United were the better side and created the more goalscoring chances at Headcorn Road and deservedly took the lead nine minutes into the second half through striker Lewis Wood’s fifth goal of the season.

Holding midfielder Tony Whitaker had a penalty saved by nineteen-year-old goalkeeper Luke Godwin, who also tipped a shot onto the bar during a dominant spell from Rochester United.

However, former Sheppey United striker, James Jeffrey, 20, was clinical in front of goal and has now scored four goals in two games for Staplehurst Monarchs United since dropping down a level, to snatch the victory with two late goals.

“Smash and grab to be honest,” admitted Sands, after his newly-promoted side sealed their third league win of the season.

“We finally got the ball down with 15-20 minutes to go, played 15 minutes worth of football, created our first two chances and we took them.

“We need to be braver, we need to get the ball down earlier and I think we hurt teams like that and we should be turning them earlier than what we did.

“The substitutions were brilliant. I bang on to these boys about the importance of a squad and the importance of taking your chance. The two centre midfielders that came on tonight Matthew Hathway and Dominic Bristow have not had many minutes latterly but they’ve come on tonight and they’ve changed the game, got a foot on the ball and it changed us. We then got our wingers into the game and we’ve got a striker that will score goals.”

Sands has pulled off a transfer coup by bringing Jeffrey to the club from Premier Division big-hitters Sheppey United.

“James is a natural nine. James had about five or six clubs come for James but with a few boys knowing him and I grew up with his dad, we suit James,” revealed Sands.

“James wants to play, James wants to score goals. We create and James will score goals.

“It’s a big signing for us. He’s gone to Sheppey and he’s a big signing for them but the biggest thing for me the boy just wants to play football and to have a 20-year-old that wants to play football, he wasn’t interested in where we are in the league or wasn’t interested in financial situations, he just wants to play football and he’s not a big time Charlie.”

Shell-shocked Rochester United manager Phil Miles added: “Smash-and-grab, I think, smash-and-grab really. We weren’t fantastic in the first half, we were ok, I don’t feel we created enough chances, didn’t work their keeper enough in the first half.

“But second half was much better, created chances, missing the penalty was probably the decisive moment. I think if we had gone 2-0 up at that point, we were the team on top, we were creating more chances, we missed it and then they kept plugging away, fair play to them. They worked hard, didn’t give up, kept working, waiting for their chance.

“I’ve been in the game long enough to know you don’t win games by having possession and lots of shots. We’ve got to score the goals.  Unfortunately, again, tonight, we didn’t score when we could have done.

“We had a good 20-25 minute spell in the second half where we get the goal and then we got the penalty, then the keeper’s made a save and then we’ve hit the crossbar.  Those moments in the game were important for us but unfortunately, we couldn’t get that second goal just to put them at bay a little bit and then we got punished in the last five minutes really, it’s disappointing.

“We’re disappointed. We really should be coming here and taking the points and unfortunately tonight it didn’t quite work out that way.

"It's hard to take at the moment.  It's one of those nights people will see the result and it's a great result for Staplehurst, which it is and fair play to them, they scored more goals than us tonight, but if you, like you have stood and watched the whole game tonight, I think everyone's wondering how we didn't win it."

Rochester United played on the front foot for large chunks of the game, creating their first opening after only 194 seconds.

The impressive left-winger Rex Ejimoneabala (who also launched six long throws into the box during the game) twisted and turned Staplehurst’s right-back Nathan Baker before putting in a low cross which Wood flicked towards goal but was gobbled up by Godwin, smothering the ball low to his right.

Rochester United’s left-back George Surry played the ball into Wood who teed up Reece Gillies in space but his right-footed drive from 35-yards screamed past the diving keeper and also past the far post.

“That was the story of the first half. We got into good positions but didn’t test the keeper enough in the first half,” admitted Miles.

“I think we crossed the ball into the box over 20 times and across the goal 10 times and never got on the end of it and they did it twice and scored two goals and I think that was the difference.”

Sands added:  “The first half reminded me of Larkfield the other week.  They’re good at what they do, it’s scrappy, it’s end-to-end.  I thought we dealt with it ok.

“I thought set-pieces was their only real danger. I’m just disappointed that we didn’t get the ball down earlier enough and create more. That’s probably the worst game all season that we’ve had in creating chances.”

A big kick from visiting keeper Ben Nourse was hit down the left-channel where Wood easily cut inside Baker and centre-half Paul Butler but Rochester United’s striker dragged his shot past the near post after cutting into the box.

Rochester United were a threat from set-pieces, they smashed the corner count by seven to four and went close to taking a deserved lead in the 20th minute.

Gillies’ hanging corner was met by a towering downward header by big target man Lucas Payne from inside a crowd of players, the ball trickling just past the foot of the far post.

Gillies’ second corner from the right was also met by Payne’s head, glancing his header across goal and trickling past the foot of the far post from inside the six-yard box, which left Payne holding his head in his hands in despair as another chance went begging.

“We couldn’t get enough power or accuracy on the headers to get anything on target and that was something we spoke about at half-time but unfortunately it continued in the second half. We put balls into the box and it fell to them and they cleared it and we just couldn’t get on the end of any of them,” said Miles.

Sands added: “Payne’s a big lad, he’s good in the air as well but we’ve been working on our defending and our starting positions and being brave enough to attack the ball.  Yes, they looked dangerous because they’re a big side but they didn’t really threaten us, there were no clear headers so that’s good. It’s good that we’ve competed.”

Rochester United’s next chance to score also came from a set-piece as Gillies’ free-kick from the right was met at the far post by centre-half Robbie Summerhayes who looped his header over the crossbar as he targeted the top left-hand corner.

The impressive winger Gillies played the ball out to left-back Surry, who whipped in a low cross but Staplehurst got bodies back in the box and shut the door as Gillies brought the ball down under control before screwing his right-footed half-volley across the keeper and past the far post from 20-yards.

Sands admitted he was disappointed that his side failed to create a single goalscoring chance during a first-half that was dominated by Rochester United.

“Normally we create a lot of chances. The only game we haven’t scored in so far was against Lydd so I back us to score against any team in this league.  We’ve played the strong ones but normally it’s a case of us not taking our chances.  Tonight, we didn’t create any but we took the ones that we did create, which was brilliant.”

Mlles added: “We needed to be a bit more clinical in front of goal, which we were. We needed to pass the ball forward more, which we did, so at half-time, all of the stuff that we said at half-time they actually put into practice second half.

“I keep going back to that little bit of quality in front of goal. We had chances, they either blocked it or headed it away or the keeper made two good saves.”

Rochester United created their first second-half opening eight minutes in, via another set-piece routine.

Right-back Tony Webb’s throw was flicked on by Payne and Gillies smacked his right-footed volley screaming harmlessly wide of the far post from 25-yards out.

Rochester United finally made the breakthrough that their dominance deserved, taking the lead with eight minutes and 57 seconds on the clock.

Surry, who liked to get forward from left-back, clipped a long ball down the left channel, which was flicked on by Payne and Wood cut onto his left-foot before drilling his shot under Godwin and into the centre of the goal to score from 20-yards.

“It’s what we work on. We get the ball forward, we’ve got Payne up front with Wood. They do cause trouble up there and between them they’re going to get goals and that’s something that we work on and it worked perfect and at that point I felt we would go on and win the game,” said Miles.

Sands said: “It’s what you want from a striker sometimes, especially on a wet slippery night, turn and take a chance, turn and have a shot and have a pop shot and it was down the throat of Luke. I don’t think Luke could see it from where I was but a good striker’s goal. You can’t knock him for that, it’s what we like.”

Outplayed Staplehurst Monarchs United created their first goalscoring chance on the hour mark.

Left-back Calum Gallie fed the ball along the deck into Jeffrey, who Webb turned down the left and cut into the box before cutting the ball onto his left foot and dragging his shot across the keeper and past the far post from 15-yards.

“Too long to create the first chance,” admitted Sands.

“Jeffers was disappointed not to hit the target. He’s harsh on himself. I like that as a striker, it means I’m going to get goals from him but it was too long to create a chance, a half-chance.”

Miles added: “Probably their first real good chance and someone of Jeffrey’s quality, he will be disappointed that he didn’t score there but he caused us a bit of trouble for most of the night getting the ball into his feet.”

Despite being a goal down, Staplehurst Monarchs United sprung into life and enjoyed a spell of possession and playing on the front foot, without creating any chances.

“We are one of those sides sometimes maybe we’re better when we go 1-0 down, it’s a kick up the backside and it spurs us on,” revealed Sands.

“There have been games when we have gone one or two up early on and it bit us on the bum a little bit so sometimes it pushed us on that extra 10%.”

However, Rochester United were given an excellent chance to change the outcome of the game in the 66th minute.

Gallie’s strong challenge sent Gillies crashing to the deck inside the penalty area and referee Stephen Gorman had no option but to point to the spot.

Whitaker’s right-footed penalty was stroked just left of centre and Godwin stooped down low to his right to smother the shot to keep his side in the game.

Miles said: “It happens from the bottom to the top. There are moments in games, it’s decisive. Tony’s our penalty taker, he stood up and took it and the keeper guessed the right way and saved it.”

Sands added: “Luke’s only played, I think, one other game for us so far when Steve Lawrence has been injured so to put a 19-year-old in goal tonight, he’s had a fantastic game. He comes out, collects crosses, gets battered a couple of times, gets up and then to save a penalty. He’s won us three points more than the chances tonight.”

Webb denied Harvey Monk breaking away on the counter-attack down the left and Wood released Gillies charging down the right in the other half and his drilled shot from 12-yards within the right-hand side of the penalty area, was pushed away by the outstanding Godwin, high to his right.

A spell of pinball inside the home side’s penalty area fell to Wood, who drilled his low right-footed shot towards the bottom near corner, only for Godwin to stick out his right leg to make another vital block in the 74th minute.

Sands said: “Luke’s man-of-the-match today. He’s such a quiet lad in the dressing room. The first thing I did (after the game) was grab him and give him a cuddle and squeeze. I’m chuffed for him and he’s won us the three points tonight, brilliant!”

However, Sands’ second and third substitutions (central midfielder Dominic Bristow and left-winger Sam Murray) made an instant impact at Staplehurst Monarchs United looked a different side – after they received a huge slice of luck in the final six minutes of the game.

Rochester United’s central midfielder Harrison Hume played the ball out to substitute striker Henry Arnold and Ejimoneabala’s skill saw him spin Baker before cutting the ball onto his left-foot before cracking a 25-yard shot towards the top near corner of the net, only for Godwin to use his fingertips to tip the fierce drive crashing against the crossbar.

“Rex was superb tonight, all night, he was fantastic. He’s had a great shot there, a few inches lower that’s in the top corner and I think we go on and win the game 2-1 or 2-0,” said Miles.

Sands said: “I kind of didn’t mind him shooting from there, from an angle as well. I’ve got confidence in the keeper and defender getting something. Fantastic strike but Luke gets enough on it again to tip it onto the bar, so well done Luke.”

Even at this point, no one watching would believe that Staplehurst Monarchs United would go on and snatch a vital three points.

However, Staplehurst Monarchs United grabbed an equaliser with 40 minutes and 50 seconds on the clock.

Former Rusthall left-back Gallie reached the left channel and whipped in a deep cross which picked out Tom Goodayle down the opposite channel.  Winger Kieran Pallet burst into life for the first time in the game to put it on the plate for an unmarked Jeffrey to tap the ball over the line at the back post with his left-foot as Summerhayes switched off at a crucial point.

“What we’ve been waiting for,” said Sands.

“A big part of us are our wingers. We’ve got pace, we didn’t use them but eventually, we got Kieran in. He’s not going to get caught and Jeffers does what we got Jeffers in for, fox in the box. The man will score goals if we put it in there.

“I’m chuffed for him, it’s great for a new lad to come straight in and get goals and it gets him up and running, so I’m happy, very happy.”

Miles added: “We got caught on the ball, didn’t deal with it. It’s hard because we’re watching the game when you know you should be winning and now all of a sudden we look like we’re scared, struggling and we didn’t deal with the ball that came out of the box.  For whatever reason we got caught on the ball, they nicked it off us and 10 seconds later it’s in the back of our net.”

Visiting goalkeeper Nourse made his only save of the night with 44:43 on the clock as good play from Gallie down the left saw him beat Gillies and Webb before sweeping his left-footed shot from the by-line towards goal from a tight angle.  The ball was pushed away by Nourse and Surry got to the ball first before Pallet could pull the trigger at the far post.

“Ben’s first save of the match in the dying minutes of the game,” said Miles.

“He’s parried it out and George has got there first before their player so we done well to that point.”

Sands said: “I thought that was us, I thought that was the winner. I thought that was going to be the ones that got us the three points.

“Calum’s energy is brilliant. I think since making him captain he steps up and his performance tonight was brilliant. It just wrong-footed Kieran at the end, unfortunately. It would’ve been nice for Calum to get that but fantastic energy from Calum.”

However, Staplehurst Monarchs United stole the victory by scoring their winning goal two minutes and 41 seconds into injury time.

Surry opened the gate by losing the ball inside the Staplehurst half and Pallet pinged a quality 30-yard diagonal pass over to an unmarked Murray out on the left.

Murray played a sublime pass into the corridor of uncertainly for Jeffrey, who slid in to poke his shot across the flat-footed keeper and trickling into the bottom far corner to score form eight-yards.

“I said to Sam Murray when he came on, I just needed him to be lively and create something for me. The ball was perfect, rolled straight across the box, a lovely soft finish and sent the keeper the wrong way, the keeper was wrong-footed, smash-and-grab but three points, happy days,” said Sands.

Miles admitted: “He’s not going to miss from there. We’re pushing forward, George has got the ball, we’re in a good position and George has been fantastic again tonight, no problems at all with George, he done really well, but he’s just going to clip the ball with his left-foot and it’s gone straight to them, whose played the ball forward and again 10 seconds later it’s in the back of our net.

“I feel sorry for Ben Nourse every week because the kid didn’t have anything to do apart from picking the ball out of the net. He’s by far the best goalkeeper in this league but at the moment the goals that he’s conceding, there’s nothing that he can do.  I don’t think he’s had a shot to save apart from taking the ball out of the net twice.

“I’ve been around a long time playing and being involved with football managing. You can’t actually put that into words because you’re watching a game of football where you should be out of sight then you walk away losing the game and I don’t know why.”

Staplehurst Monarchs United have leapfrogged over Rochester United in the league table and are now in bottom six with 11 points from as many games, while Miles’ men have slipped down a couple places into the bottom five with 10 points from eight games.

Both sides are at home in the league on Saturday, with eleventh-placed Snodland Town visiting here, while fourteenth-placed Greenways visit Rede Court Road.

“The last few weeks have been tough. We’ve played Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday-Wednesday for three weeks on the trot,” said Sands.

“You can only go one way when you’re at the bottom but if we can just stick a run together of a couple of wins all of a sudden you’re midtable, confidence picks up and we’re good enough to compete in that midtable.

“We probably needed to come back from 1-0 down and lift the spirits. The confidence in the dressing room, the noise from a young bunch is brilliant and that will lift us for Saturday and that will be a big game for a few of us.

“We’ve got a lot of games at the moment with teams in and around us. It will be a derby game for a few of the boys that know a few of their lads that left Staplehurst and went to Snodland and visa-versa.

“For me, it’s another chance to play another team around us that we’ve got a good chance of taking points off. That’s the important part for us, it will be a big game for a few.

“I’m never one to go ‘let’s just survive,’ because if you’re coming just to survive you’re not setting the targets high enough. We’re a good midtable, if not above midtable side. A couple of additions maybe into that squad, a little bit more experience in the right areas, I think we sit midtable, more than comfortable top half of midtable.”

Looking ahead to playing Greenways, Miles said: “I’m confident we’ll go and beat them. I am confident. I’m always confident before the game that we’ll go and beat teams.  I don’t see why we can’t. 

“We’ve been good at home. We’ve got a good home record. We’ll just turn up on Saturday and prepare like we normally do and then if we play well, which we have played well tonight, and take our chances then it’s a game that we can win but we’ve got to bounce back quickly, we can’t dwell on it for too long.”

Rochester United, meanwhile, have played fewer league games than all but one of the 20 clubs in the division and Miles is keen to move clear of the relegation zone that has Sporting Club Thamesmead, Chessington & Hook United and Meridian VP all on nine points.

“This is not where we want to be at this time of the year. Once we’ve caught up with the rest of the other games, once we’ve played those games, hopefully, that will be a more of a good position for us but definitely, at the moment this is not where I was expecting us to be but this league is wide open.”

Lydd Town on 15 points from 10 games are slap bang in the middle of the table with these two sides aiming to catch them up,

Staplehurst Monarchs United: Luke Godwin, Nathan Baker, Calum Gallie, Harvey Monk (Dominic Bristow 76), Carl West, Paul Butler, Kieran Pallet, Alfie Saunders (Matthew Hathway 68), James Jeffrey, Tom Goodayle, Sam Jones (Sam Murray 78).
Subs: Sam Anderson, Frankie Pooley

Goals: James Jeffrey 86, 90

Booked: Sam Jones 31, Carl West 37

Rochester United: Ben Nourse, Tom Webb, George Surry, Tony Whitaker, Robbie Summerhayes, Jack Purr (Joshua Dorling 57), Rex Ejimonyeabala, Harrison Hume, Lewis Wood (Henry Arnold 81), Lucas Payne, Reece Gillies.
Subs: Liam Wilkins, John Brown, Emilio Regini-Morgan

Goal: Lewis Wood 54

Booked: Tony Whitaker 62, Lewis Wood 64

Attendance: 140
Referee: Mr Stephen Gorman
Assistants: Mr Dan Tornbon & Mr Andrew Butler