Tonbridge Angels 0-0 Hampton & Richmond Borough - The simple facts are if you don't score goals, you can't win games of football, says Tonbridge Angels boss Jay Saunders
Tonbridge Angels 0 – 0 Hampton & Richmond Borough
|Longmead Stadium, Darenth Avenue, Tonbridge, Kent TN10 3JF
TONBRIDGE ANGELS 0-0 HAMPTON & RICHMOND BOROUGH
Vanarama National League South
Tuesday 7 November 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from Longmead Stadium
TONBRIDGE ANGELS manager Jay Saunders says his side need to turn their draws into more wins after they failed to score for the fifth time at home this season.
Third-placed Hampton & Richmond Borough arrived at Longmead Stadium having won their last six games and were a tough nut to crack.
The Angels remain in sixteenth-place in the Vanarama National League South table, having picked up 20 points from their 17 league games and have now drawn four of their nine home league games this season.
Since losing 1-0 away to Dartford on 23 September, Tonbridge Angels have lost just one of their last seven games.
They have played Hemel Hempstead Town (3-3), Weymouth (1-1), Bath City (3-2), Farnborough (1-4), Truro City (2-1) and played with 10 men for 75 minutes of Saturday’s 1-1 draw at home to Chelmsford City after having centre-half Ben Swift sent-off.
“We had a lot of possession, without the end product tonight,” admitted Saunders, 44, whose side have scored 19 league goals this season.
“I felt we dominated large parts – they had a couple of good chances to be fair to them – but we dominated large parts.
“I thought the first half performance was very, very good, all bar not scoring but look they’re third in the table before tonight and I thought we were good enough in large parts but we just couldn’t get the breakthrough.”
Saunders was without Tom Parkinson (illness), Kodi Lyons-Foster (ankle, which rules him out until after Christmas) and Ansu Janneh (suspended).
When asked what was missing from his side tonight, Saunders replied: “Sometimes you’ve got to give teams credit. I thought they defended their box very, very well and Inman and Fernandez defended their penalty area very well, so when we did get into the final third, we just couldn’t quite get the breakthrough.
“We had a couple of good chances but they got everyone behind the ball and it was hard and it’s hard sometimes to break teams down when they come and do that.
“You almost want them to be a bit more adventurous, to open up and that creates the openings but it didn’t quite happen.”
Mel Gwinnett’s side created the first chance of the game inside the opening five minutes.
Right-back Jordan Thomas played the ball into deep striker Mason Bloomfield, who played the ball inside to the unmarked Ruaridh Donaldson, who hit a left-footed central drive towards goal from 30-yards, which bounced into the gloves of Jonathan Henly for a comfortable save.
“You kind of back Johnny there, so I’m quite comfortable if they’re going to shoot from that range,” added Saunders.
Tonbridge Angels produced a well worked move (07:44), which called visiting goalkeeper Adam Desbois tipping a dipping cross over his crossbar.
It was a well-worked move, which involved right-back James Fielding and holding midfielder Jordan Higgs, before left-back Jernade Meade cut the ball back from within the left-channel to left-winger Sean Shields, who whipped in a dipping cross-shot from outside the box, which was pushed over the crossbar.
Saunders is delighted with the performances of the former Ebbsfleet United and Maidstone United winger.
“Shieldsey been great since he’s come in (from Combined Counties League Premier Division North side Rayners Lane). You can see he’s got that bit of quality and he looked a threat all night. He beat his man time and time again but we couldn’t get that final touch on some of his ball’s in. He’s been a great addition to us and I’m really pleased with his performances.”
Donaldson had a free reign in midfield and he whipped in a cross from the left but a poor touch from striker Bloomfield inside the box ensured Henly gathered.
The Angels linked up well down the right with Fielding and the impressive Hinds, who gave Hampton & Richmond Borough’s left-back Isaac Pitblado problems throughout this stalemate.
The pair combined in the 22nd minute and Hinds put in a low cross from the right and six-goal attacking midfielder Lewis Gard stabbed the ball straight at Desbois from 10-yards, despite being put under pressure from his marker.
“It was a good move to be honest. I felt we were getting a lot down that side first half,” said Saunders.
“We just spoke to Gardy when we came out of the changing room and he just didn’t get a clean connection on it. I think if he gets a too clean a connection a defender gets a block on it but he couldn’t just get the connection needed but there was some good football and it wasn’t far from being what would’ve been a very good goal.”
Tonbridge Angels were lacking ruthlessness inside the penalty area, although their build-up play was decent with right-winger Hinds their biggest threat.
“Pleased with Tariq, obviously he’s a right-back by trade but he can play midfield and higher and we put him there and I thought he was good,” said Saunders.
“Tariq and Shieldsey, if you’re looking at it, caused them a lot of problems. I’m pleased with Tariq. I felt he was quiet on Saturday but we went to 10 men on Saturday so it’s a bit difficult but I thought he was very effective.”
Swift played the ball out of their defence into Shields, who cut inside Connor Kurran-Browne before pinging a 40-yard diagonal for Hinds to cut in from the right wing to the edge of the penalty area but he lacked composure and drilled his left-footed shot high over the crossbar. In fact, the ball sailed over the roof of the stand.
The dominant home side missed a chance to take a deserved lead in the 32nd minute.
The away side built down the right with winger Kurran-Browne before the home side broke up the raid and Shields found himself in the left-back position before hitting a ball on the deck towards the halfway line in the centre-circle for Hinds.
Hinds drove forward before playing Fielding on the overlap and his low cross was cut back towards the penalty spot but Gard swept his first-time shot across the keeper and rolled just past the far post.
“It’s an opportunity, they weren’t clear-cut were they? We were working into good areas and we just couldn’t get that clear chance if you like. You have to give them a bit of credit on that,” added Saunders.
Hampton & Richmond Borough started growing into the game and created an opening when Kurran-Browne pressed Gard some 30-yards out before running towards the edge of the penalty area before placing his right-footed shot towards the bottom left-hand corner, only for Henly to dive low to his right to hold comfortably.
Tonbridge Angels kept knocking on the door and Shields’ reverse pass played in Meade down the left channel and his deep cross came out to Fielding on the other side of the pitch before Scott Wagstaff smashed a shot which was heading towards goal, only for Hampton & Richmond Borough’s centre-half Luis Fernandes to bravely put his head in the way of the shot.
Donaldson broke the offside trap down the left and hung over a cross, which was flicked on by Bloomfield for Kurran-Browne, whose shot from inside the six-yard box was kept out by Henly at his near-post.
Tonbridge Angels dominated the corner-count 10-3 – seven coming in the first half, while the away side nearly grabbed the lead following their second corner, taken by Sam Deadfield on the right.
The ball eventually came out to holding midfielder Jake Gray, who wasn’t pressed and he unleashed a right-footed curling drive towards the far corner from 30-yards and Henly flew to his right and pulled off a superb save.
Saunders said: “Look, when you have that much possession, they’re going to have a moment.
“You have to remember we played 75 minutes with 10 men on Saturday as well, so you’re going to have spells in the game when it catches up. I felt the tempo and the fitness levels of the boys – you’ve got to give them credit. To have done that Saturday and then go and put that much pressure like we did first half and play with the tempo we did is brilliant but maybe towards the end of the first half it just maybe caught up a little bit and they got a couple of half-chances.”
Saunders added: “We wanted to keep the tempo up, obviously, end product and try to go with that tempo and be a little bit more, not direct, but make forward passes quickly if we could and not allow them to get back into their shape.”
Tonbridge Angels’ eighth corner of the night called Desbois into making a comfortable catch, just 162 seconds into the second half.
Shields played the corner short to Gard, who played the ball inside to Hinds, who cut inside before teeing up Jordan Higgs, who’s first time right-footed drive from 25-yards was comfortably caught by the visiting goalkeeper, with numerous bodies in front of him.
But Hampton & Richmond Borough’s defence – well marshalled by centre-halves Dean Inman and Fernandez slammed the door shut during the second half.
An unmarked Kurran-Brown whipped in a cross from the right towards seven-goal striker Ben Seymour, who got in behind Swift, but steered his header harmlessly wide of the goal in the 55th minute.
Shields and Hinds were impressive on both flanks for the home side and Meade fed Shields down the left and the winger cut onto his right-foot before his angled dipping drive from the corner of the away side’s penalty area screamed past the top of the far post.
“I think Shieldsey put a great ball in second half but I felt Jordan (Higgs) maybe could’ve got on the end of it at the back post. There was huffing and puffing but no end product,” admitted Saunders.
Hampton & Richmond Borough were a threat on the counter-attack and Henly, 29, was excellent when called upon.
Gwinnett made two changes after the hour-mark, bringing off the ineffective pair Broomfield and Kurran-Browne and brought on Alfy Whittingham and George Hunt.
Whittingham played behind Seymour, while Gray swapped his holding midfield role to wide on the right, while Deadfield was joined by Hunt in front of the back four.
Donaldson drove down the heart of the pitch before playing the ball out to Gray, who fizzed in a low cross towards Seymour, who swept his shot towards the right-hand corner, only for Henly to make another good save, to his left, before Seymour’s rebound looped over the Tonbridge Angels crossbar in the 65th minute.
“My view was blocked, so I couldn’t really see what happened,” said Saunders.
“It actually came from us, a little bit sloppy in possession but if you have a look at the chances they had, a lot of them, we’re just when we were a little bit lapse in possession, which wasn’t very often tonight but you’ve got to look at it.
“They’re third in the league, they’ve won six on the bounce and you expect your keeper to have to make a couple of saves and I think all in all, I’m pleased with our performance.”
Hunt drove towards the edge of the Tonbridge Angels penalty area before playing the ball to Seymour on the outside but the striker lacked composure and drilled his shot into the base of the side netting.
The game was petering out towards a disappointing stalemate in the final 15 minutes – despite Saunders bringing on targetman Jordan Greenidge and right-winger Francis Mampolo didn’t have enough time to make an impact.
“I thought second half it did catch up with us a little bit in the end and I thought the tempo of the game, in general, slowed,” said Saunders.
“It’s very difficult when a team comes and puts all 10 men literally sort of 10-15 yards in their own half and that becomes very difficult. I take nothing away from the boys, they kept going.
“Look, they were happy with the draw. They had a couple of good chances throughout the game, which you’re going to get at most levels but I think they were happy with a point.
“You could see at the end they were slowing it down and we’re rushing to get to the ball, so I think that’s fair play. They won (1-0) at Dover on Saturday and they probably see it was a good point here.”
Hampton & Richmond Borough almost snatched the victory with 41:49 on the clock, when a through ball cut open Swift.
Seymour played in Whittingham through on goal but once again Henly made a vital save, using his legs to deny Whittingham in an one-v-one.
“If you look at that, it came from us turning over the ball cheaply and they’ve broke away but it happens and Johnny’s made the save,” said Saunders, who heaped plenty of praise on centre-half Ethan Sutcliffe, 19, who is on loan from League Two side AFC Wimbledon.
“Ben Swift and Ethan, for a new centre-back pairing, were outstanding tonight,” said Saunders.
“Ethan has come in, for a young lad and he’s been excellent. Swifty took a lot of stick on Saturday for getting sent off and I thought today he came in and put in a very good performance.
“Ethan’s been excellent. He’s come here and I’ve got to say he’s fantastic, as have all the loan players. Sonny Fish (on loan from Crawley Town) up front worked his socks off. We’ve had Charlie Pegrum (on loan from Leyton Orient), they’ve all come in and really added to the squad.
“I think it would’ve been very harsh if we had lost the game today. If you look at possession wise and you looking at the team that really wanted to go and win the game, I felt it was us and I would’ve been disappointed if we got caught on the sucker-punch.
“It’s two points dropped for me. I think if you look over the last two games, we’ve played pretty much a game with 10 men and then tonight we’ve played third in the league and I’m coming in here thinking we should have more than two points but the simple facts are if you don’t score goals, you can’t win games of football.
“I think if we scored in that first half when we were very, very dominant, we go and win that game comfortably but we’ve not managed to do that and in the end you take a point against a team that have won six on the bounce.
“I think that’s one defeat in seven for us now, so it’s not sort of bad but we just need to turn some of these draws into wins.”
Saunders takes his side to fourteenth-placed St Albans City (22 points from 16 games) and Saturday, before a trip down to fourth-from-bottom side Eastbourne Borough next Tuesday, before the Angels travel to Isthmian League South East Division side Hythe Town, who contest their maiden FA Trophy Second Round tie, on Saturday 18 November.
Saunders said: “St Albans is a real tough place to go. They are one of those sides if you catch them on the right day, they’re a very good footballing side and cause you a lot of problems.
“Thursday is going to be an important training session for us. The boys have put a lot of effort in these last two games and it’s now important that we recover well and get the boys right.
“We’re capable of beating anyone in this league. It’s fine margins and we’ll prepare right and be ready for it.”
Looking further ahead of the visit to play Steven Watt’s side at fortress Reachfields Stadium down on the Kent coast, Saunders replied: “Watty played for me and he was assistant at Maidstone so it will be good to see him.
“They’re a good side, got some ex-players, this and that, so it will be a tough nut to crack. It’s a tough place to go. They’ll be well-organised. They’re having another good season this year.
“Watty is a good manager so it will be a tough test for us but we’ve got St Albans and Eastbourne in between that, so it’s not really come into my thoughts yet.”
The Angles are only five points adrift of the play-offs and only four points clear of the relegation zone tonight.
“If we had turned a couple of those seven games and turned another two of them into wins, we’d probably be sitting in the play-offs. It’s just those fine lines,” said Saunders.
“We’re getting people back, we’re getting stronger. We’ll make some additions as well and I’m sure we’ll be ok.
“Success for Tonbridge? Obviously you want to improve on what we got last year, we finished ninth. I’ve said all along, I’d like to try to make play-offs.
“I think the bigger picture is probably establishing the club as a top 10 club in this league to start off with. We had a quick turnaround last year (during my first season here) and success and we’ve got to build on that.
“At the moment, my concern is getting everyone fit and getting everyone back from suspension and getting the squad out there that I feel can go and win games consistently.”
Tonbridge Angels: Jonathan Henly, James Fielding, Jernade Meade, Jordan Higgs, Ethan Sutcliffe, Ben Swift, Sean Shields, Scott Wagstaff, Sonny Fish (Jordan Greenidge 73), Lewis Gard (Francis Mampolo 89), Tariq Hinds.
Subs: Nat Gibb, Joe Tyrie, Billy French
Hampton & Richmond Borough: Adam Desbois, Jordan Thomas, Isaac Pitblado, Jake Gray, Luis Fernandez, Dean Inman, Ruaridh Donaldson, Sam Deadfield, Ben Seymour, Mason Bloomfield (Alfy Whittingham 65), Connor Kurran-Browne (George Hunt 63).
Subs: Jordan Cheadle, Alex Solomon, George Nunn
Booked: Ruaridh Donaldson 77, George Hunt 79, Isaac Pitblado 90
Referee: Mr George Warren
Assistants: Mr Scott Hamilton & Mr Joseph Turnpenny