Steyning Town Community 2-1 Crowborough Athletic - I'm disappointed with this set of players who I really, really rate because we should've won something this season, says Crowborough Athletic boss Sean Muggeridge

Saturday 11th May 2024
Steyning Town Community 2 – 1 Crowborough Athletic
Location The Beacon Ground, Brighton Road, Hassocks, West Sussex BN6 9LY
Kickoff 11/05/2024 15:00

Southern Combination League Peter Bentley Challenge Cup Final
Saturday 11 May 2024
Stephen McCartney reports from The Beacon

CROWBOROUGH ATHLETIC manager Sean Muggeridge says he is feeling disappointed that his players have ended the season empty handed after losing their third successive cup final in three years.

Kevin Green’s Steyning Town Community will be playing Isthmian League football for the very first time next season, after claiming the Southern Combination League Premier Division title, having picked up 88 points from their 38 games and ended their successful league campaign on an impressive 20 match unbeaten run.

Runners-up Eastbourne Town (82 points) return to the eighth-tier after a 10-year absence, courtesy of a couple of 2-0 home play-off wins over Hassocks and Newhaven.

Crowborough Athletic had to settle for a third-place finish on 81 points, finishing above Newhaven (79) and Hassocks (78).

Crowborough Athletic arrived in Hassocks mourning the passing of their trustee/life vice-president Malcolm Simpson on Thursday morning.  A man who gave 40 years of his life to his beloved non-league club and our non-league club’s cannot operate without such loyal stalwarts.  Numerous players’ posted heartfelt tributes on social media ahead of the game.

Both sides observed a minute’s applause before this Challenge Cup Final got underway.  Crowborough’s players wore black arm bands and put in an impressive first-half performance that the watching Simpson family can be proud off.

“There were a few tears in there, we were all tearful about it.  It’s a horrible day for Crowborough Football Club in that sense,” said Muggeridge.

“I don’t think it affected them that much because in the first half I thought we were superb. I thought we were dominant, we were getting the ball wide, getting the ball in the box.  We had one cleared off the line. It was just when we were going to score really.

“I think it inspired them a little bit to be fair with that first half performance.  There were no low spots or anything in that first half.  I thought we dominated. I think it inspired them in the first half.

“Second half, did we get tired? I don’t want to make excuses but was it they played an extra game in the semi-final?”
Played in temperatures of 26 degrees, Crowborough Athletic dominated the first half and deserved their lead three minutes before half-time, when right-winger Leo Vowles tucked away a controversial penalty.

However, Steyning Town manager Green performed a tactical masterstroke as Sam Remfry and Charlie Towning both came off the bench to score to lift the Challenge Cup for the fourth time in the club’s history and to complete a double.

“It’s probably the best football displays in the first half but you could say afterwards that we’re not putting the chances away, which we should do really,” said Muggeridge.

“I think we should’ve been two or three nil up at half-time.  They didn’t have one shot on target in the first half, I may be wrong, they had a free-kick, yes.

“Against a good quality side like that you really need to punish them, and we didn’t.  Saying that, it was really pleasing, that first half.

“Second half, we sat back for some reason. I don’t know if it’s nerves.  They had a little bit at the end there, that’s why they won the game but things go your way or they don’t.

“We had one cleared off the line, we had a few half-chances but overall I think the team that’s won the league are the confident team that has got over the line.  That’s what you have to do in cup finals.

“I thought after the first half, I thought we would win quite convincingly but they didn’t really do anything really to open us up. I don’t know what happened in the second half. We just didn’t play as well as we did in the first half.”

Steyning Town defeated Lingfield (5-1), AFC Uckfield Town (6-0), Newhaven (3-1) and reinstated Midhurst & Easebourne (5-0) to reach the Final.

The Crows, meanwhile, defeated Peacehaven & Telscombe (4-2 on penalties after a 0-0 draw), Seaford Town (4-1), Little Common (2-0) and Chessington & Hook United (6-2).

Crowborough Athletic – who lost 2-0 at home to Steyning Town in their last meeting on 10 February – made six changes to the side that lost 5-4 on penalties to Newhaven in the Play-Off Semi-Finals on Tuesday 30 April, with goalkeeper Martin Grant, right-back Marcus Goldsmith and winger Arron Hopkinson all on holiday.

With emotions running high within the away dressing room at The Beacon pre-match, Muggeridge was pleased with the way his side came out with all guns blazing, pressing Steyning all over the pitch and playing with plenty of heart and desire.

They should have taken the lead inside the opening five minutes.

Steyning Town centre-half Nathan Cooper rolled the ball back to goalkeeper Lucas Szendela-Goetzke, who launched the ball upfield with his left-foot.

However, Crowborough Athletic centre-half Harrison Mayhew returned the favour by smacking a right-footed half-volley straight back down the middle of the pitch.

The ball was flicked on by recalled striker Lucas Murraine and this played in Vowles, who escaped two defenders and was denied by the left-leg of the goalkeeper in a one-on-one situation.

“Again, it’s finishing.  You go 1-0 up, they looked a little bit hungover from winning the league,” claimed Muggeridge.

“Scored, we probably would’ve gone on…. In saying that, we obviously went 1-0 up at half-time, that goal and another one….That’s what good sides do, good sides do dig it out when they don’t play that well.”

Left-winger Tom Pearson cut the ball onto his right-foot but his 30-yarder sailed harmlessly wide of the far post just 57 seconds later.

Attacking midfielder Harry Forster switched the play over to Vowles on the right, who cut inside and unleashed a right-footed angled drive, which was beaten away by the Steyning goalkeeper at his near-post, inside the opening 10 minutes.

The welcomed return of hot temperatures – after the wettest football season in history – brought one water break in each half – but Steyning Town put in a very lacklustre first half performance.

Combative holding midfielder Jack Barnes committed four fouls during the first half and was penalised for pushing Crowborough central midfielder Ollie Hyland, but Harrison Mayhew’s speculative right-footed free-kick from 35-yards was comfortably saved by Szendela-Goetzke in the 31st minute.

“Harrison bangs them in the top corner normally but it’s hard to score from that sort of range,” Muggeridge said of his centre-half.

Crowborough Athletic’s right-back Jack Mayhew threw the ball into the right-channel and 17-goal Murrain fed Vowles, who skipped past a challenge inside the penalty area but lacked composure and stabbed his shot past the foot of the near-post from a tight angle.

Murrain found himself within the left-channel before he played the ball back to John Sinclair, who fed Hyland, who ran into space before Forster played a 10-yard reverse pass into Hyland, who sliced his rushed right-footed drive past the right-hand post from 22-yards, while under pressure.

“I thought there was only one side in it in the first half and that was one of the chances that we had,” added Muggeridge.

There was controversy when Crowborough Athletic took a deserved lead, with 41 minutes and 35 seconds on the clock.

Foster whipped in a free-kick into the Steyning Town penalty area and Barnes challenged Pearson with a heavy tackle.  Crowborough’s players appealed for a penalty.

Both players went down injured and both players received treatment.  Referee Simon Faires initially awarded Steyning Town a free-kick but went over to his assistant referee Tazlim Ali before booking Barnes and awarding a spot-kick.

Vowles drilled his right-footed penalty into the bottom right-hand corner, despite the goalkeeper diving the same way.

“We haven’t been getting many penalties. That could’ve gone either way. It wasn’t a clear-cut penalty in my eyes,” admitted the Crowborough boss.

“I think the ref gave a foul the other way and I think the linesman over-ruled him, but I think anywhere else on the pitch, they probably would’ve stopped the play because people were injured. I think it was a soft penalty to be fair.”

Muggeridge was asked about the decision not to award Steyning Town a penalty in the 77th minute when Jack Mayhew challenged winger Charlie Meehan inside the box.

“I think if you give the first one, you’ve got to give the second one, I’ll be honest with you.  I wasn’t one of those that jumped up and said, ‘no penalty.’  I was pretty worried he might give it. It was touch and go.

“The first one, it’s a harsh penalty. I think it’s harsh on them but the second one, it could’ve gone either way. If he’s given one, he’s got to give the other.”

Steyning Town produced their only threatening move of the first-half on the stroke of half-time, which resulted in Crowborough right-back Jack Mayhew tripping ineffective 19-goal striker Mark Goldson inside the D.

Seventeen-goal attacking midfielder Joe Radley-Martin stroked his right-footed free-kick around the six-man wall and recalled goalkeeper Cameron Hall spilt the ball and watched Barnes put the loose ball over the crossbar.

“I thought they were going to score then, that would’ve really summed it up in the first half because I don’t think they had a shot on target apart from that one,” said Muggeridge.

“That’s not me having a go at them. I think they’re a good side and they dug in in the first half and they were probably the better side second half.

“I just said (at half-time), same again. If you play like that you’re going to win quite comfortably.  I’m saying to them, you must be confident because they didn’t have anything. I was happy. They looked really positive and that’s all I said to them really.”

Goldson was hooked by Green at the interval, as Steyning Town went with 30-goal Harry Shooman up front, with substitute Lloyd Francis and Radley-Martin behind him to form an attacking triangle, as Steyning Town came out with higher full-backs and greater intensity.

Crowborough Athletic created a flurry of early chances to kill the game off and change the outcome.

Hall launched the ball straight down the middle, the towering presence of Murrain knocked the ball on and Vowles cut inside left-back Billy-George Fuller before putting it on a plate for Hyland, who drilled a first-time shot high into orbit from 18-yards in the 50th minute.

“I think that was the chance to make it 2-0.  I think not putting that away, we sat back and we tried to hold the 1-0 really,” admitted Muggeridge.

Targetman Murrain hooked the ball over Barnes’ head to play in Vowles, who charged into the Steyning Town box but lacked composure and drilled his shot towards the corner-flag rather than testing Szendela-Goetzke.

When asked why Vowles’ dominance dropped off after this moment, Muggeridge suggested, “I think it was down to us as well. We didn’t use him as much as that. I tried everything.  I brought players on to try and change it, we didn’t want the dreaded penalties that we had last time.

“They’ll probably say second half they were dominant but they were only dominant half-chances really in the last 20 minutes.”

Sinclair played the ball down the line for Pearson to whip in a deep cross towards the back post where an unmarked Hyland hooked the ball straight down the goalkeeper’s throat from a tight angle in the 56th minute.

“It was a good move really, again, we’ve got to be a little bit more ruthless,” admitted Muggeridge.

Steyning Town central midfielder Ross Edwards let this game pass him by but he did play a short pass inside to Radley-Martin, who hooked a speculative first-time right-footed drive bouncing past the near-post from 30-yards.

Green could sense weakness in the Crowborough ranks and threw on attackers Remfry and Towning in the 62nd minute to save the game and Steyning Town grabbed an equaliser with 19 minutes and 32 seconds on the clock.

Jack Mayhew threw the ball down the line, Barnes clipped the ball up to Towning, Shooman flicked the ball to Francis, who flicked the ball over the head of Crowborough’s left-back Mohamed Zabadne before Remfry hooked a right-footed half-volley past the diving Hall to find the bottom left-hand corner from 16-yards.

“I’ll have to look at the Veo. It looked a soft goal for me. It looked like he’s just hit it and it’s just gone in.  From where I was, it looked very, very soft,” said Muggeridge.

“It shouldn’t have gone where it went anyway. We had (a throw) in the corner when we should’ve cleared it and we were trying to clear it and it went across our box, so there’s a lot of things that happened before that. I was quite disappointed with the defending in there from the whole team.”

The leveller knocked the stuffing out of Crowborough’s players and Shooman fed ineffective winger Meehan, who stroked a right-footed shot through the legs of Crowborough centre-half Tom Boddy and Hall made a comfortable save.

Pearson released Vowles, who cut inside Steyning Town’s centre-half Nathan Da Costa before teeing up Forster, who dragged his left-footed shot past the right-hand post from 18-yards at the half-way point.

Muggeridge said: “Harry looked very leggy in the second half, that’s why I brought him off. He’s come back from that injury. He’s just getting those moments where he should be hitting the target really – but he’s been good, brilliant for us all season so it’s hard to (criticise) him. It’s another chance.”

Steyning Town were now dominating proceedings and they should have won it in the 75th minute with a well-worked move.

Edwards and Da Costa linked up well down the left inside the Crowborough half, and Edwards ran past Boddy to reach the by-line before dinking the ball towards Towning, who lashed his first-time shot over the crossbar, while Hyland closed him down.

“I think they were growing in a bit more confidence because we didn’t put them to bed,” admitted Muggeridge.

“They brought substitutes on, we brought subs on.  In the end that was quite a tired shot from him, I believe. He probably should’ve done better but that’s where the game was going. It was going sort of end-to-end a little bit. He probably should’ve put that one away.”

Steyning Town finished the game on the front-foot.  Substitute winger Ryan Hallett drilled in a cross into the Crowborough penalty area.  Keeper Hall went up with Towning, the keeper got a slight touch to the ball as Green’s side won the first of their four corners in the 88th minute.

Hallett’s left-wing corner was palmed onto the roof of his own net by Hall and with Crowborough’s players running on empty, Steyning Town broke their hearts by scoring the winning goal with 48 minutes and 49 seconds on the clock.

Steyning Town right-back Charlie Weller launched a long ball out of defence, Harrison Mayhew opened the gate and let in Towning, who ran through and past Zabadne and kept composed to stroke his right-footed shot across Hall into the far corner from the corner of the six-yard box.

“I think we were losing momentum a little bit, so we needed to make those attacking changes but saying that they didn’t open us up really, apart from that last bit. The ball bounced over somebody’s head and they scored,” said Muggeridge.

“I’ll have to see the Veo again. It looked like he scuffed it a little bit. That’s when you win it, that sort of late on. 

“We were tired. Very disappointing. We should’ve dealt with that a lot better because we were superb as a defence. We were superb for most of the game and that team doesn’t really deserve to be on a losing side.

“I look at myself if I could’ve done anything different.  With the budget we’ve got, it’s very difficult. Sometimes when you’ve got a bit of money (like Steyning Town have), you can bring that little quality player on and score. 

“You could say it’s good management. I’ve done that before, but you never get praised as a manager doing that. Maybe it’s good management.

“They’ve definitely got quality in their side. I don’t think money mattered today. I don’t think it was anything to do with money. I do think we were the better side first half. I think everyone could see that.

“Second half we didn’t really come out too much. We sat it and they still didn’t really hurt us.  They had a spell when they were putting the balls into the box from corners and free kicks.

“They have been the best team this year. You can’t win all those games in a row when they were more or less out of it really.  The manager is good as well. I’ve got a lot of time for Kevin, he’s a top bloke and I’m pleased for him (for winning promotion) – but not today.”

Crowborough Athletic made a brave attempt to force a penalty shoot-out and Muggeridge was cursing his side’s wastefulness in front of goal again when Jack Mayhew’s long ball was delivered, touches from substitute striker Stephen Smith and Hyland followed before substitute Elliot Duncan’s hooked shot from six-yards was cleared off the line (52:59).

“I was quite pleased with our overall performance really. It’s just frustrating. Is it luck? Is it bad finishing? Is it bad decision making? I think we’re not a very lucky side that’s for sure. We wanted something to go in for us.”

The referee blew his final whistle (54:34), as Crowborough Athletic have now lost their last three Challenge Cup Finals, losing 5-2 to Sheppey United and to Newhaven (2-1) last season and Steyning Town.

Muggeridge, meanwhile, has performed miracles to get Crowborough Athletic within a shout of glory, considering he works with a playing budget for the entire squad of under £450 per week.

“I have to be honest, beginning of the season I’d probably said ‘yes, I’ll settle for that,’ but as the season goes I’m disappointed with this set of players who I really, really rate, this set of players should’ve definitely won something and I think they should’ve got promoted in my honest opinion.

“We had a chance to win the league. I think we (Steyning and Crowborough) were definitely the best two in the league, that’s my opinion and that’s not being disrespectful to Eastbourne Town, Hassocks or Newhaven. It’s just my humble opinion.

“At Christmas if you had said ‘well go out in the Semi-Finals in the Play-Offs and lose in a Final', I would probably would have settle for that.  I’d have settled for that at the start of the season but not after the way we were playing and absolutely dominating sides and you saw bits of it today in the first half. If we can keep that up for 90 minutes then I don’t think anyone could beat us.”

With such a small budget, Muggeridge now faces a test to keep his talented squad at the East Sussex club this summer.

“The big thing now is keeping all of these players together.  You don’t have to put seven-day approaches in now. I’ve contacted players about next season, and we’ve been contacted by teams and why shouldn’t they? 

“We are the third best team in that league on paper. I believe we’re one of the better ones so you’re going to get teams with money next season. I don’t know who’s it going to be.  You’re going to have two or three teams with money and they are going to be poaching some of the players.  I’m not going to say I’m not going to do that as well.

“I think it’s a very disappointing way to finish the season and it’s harder as a manager to get them up for next season. If we had won today and got promoted, it’s easy for me next season because I can get the players in.  They go away disappointed and hopefully in two weeks’ time they’ll come back (from their holidays) and tell me they want to stay.

“I haven’t got a crystal ball so hopefully they do.  We’ve got another good chance of going up next year.

“I’m very, very disappointed about today.  The fans have been superb like they always are.  Our crowds have gone up to nearly 300 every week. That’s a positive but the fans deserve to win something because that’s three cup finals now (that we’ve lost).”

When asked how he switches off during the summer, Muggeridge insisted, “We don’t switch off. We’ve got six weeks, I think, if that. These are the worst times for a manager, everyone will tell you, keeping players, getting players in.

“We’re going into next season now with a very disappointing result, not a disappointing game because I thought we played well.”

Steyning Town Community: Lucas Szendela-Goetzke, Charlie Weller, Billy-George Fuller (Sam Remfry 62), Jack Barnes (Rob Clark 79), Nathan Cooper, Nathan Da Costa, Harry Shooman, Ross Edwards, Mark Goldson (Lloyd Francis 46), Joe Radley-Martin (Charlie Towning 62), Charlie Meehan (Ryan Hallett 85).

Goals: Sam Remfry 65, Charlie Towning 90

Booked: Jack Barnes 41

Crowborough Athletic: Cameron Hall, Jack Mayhew, Mohamed Zabadne, John Sinclair, Harrison Mayhew, Tom Boddy, Tom Pearson (Harvey Killick 73), Ollie Hyland, Lucas Murrain (Stephen Smith 76), Harry Forster (Elliot Duncan 80), Leo Vowles.
Subs: William Puffette, Rory Salter

Goal: Leo Vowles 42 (penalty)

Booked: Mohamed Zabadne 63, John Sinclair 81

Attendance: 260
Referee: Mr Simon Faires
Assistants: Mr Tazlim Ali & Mr Patrick Joliffe
Fourth Official: Mr Pablo Aguilar