Tonbridge Angels 2-2 Oxford City - Why not try to have a go and get into the play-offs? That will be an unbelievable achievement and it will be something I don’t think many people would fancy us, says Tonbridge Angels boss Jay Saunders

Saturday 08th October 2022
Tonbridge Angels 2 – 2 Oxford City
Location Longmead Stadium, Darenth Avenue, Tonbridge, Kent TN10 3JF
Kickoff 08/10/2022 15:00

Vanarama National League South
Saturday 8 October 2022
Stephen McCartney reports from Longmead Stadium

TONBRIDGE ANGELS manager Jay Saunders says it would be an unbelievable achievement if his side can grab a place in the Vanarama National League South play-offs at the end of his first season in charge.

Ross Jenkins’ Oxford City arrived at Longmead Stadium in eleventh-place in the table with 14 points from their 10 games and made a couple of changes from the side that made the 390 mile round trip to Plymouth on Tuesday night, needing extra-time to beat Plymouth Parkway 3-1 in their FA Cup Third Qualifying Round Replay.

However, Tonbridge Angels were the dominant force for the opening 25 minutes, creating several chances but Oxford City were more clinical in front of goal and snatched a 2-0 lead going into half-time.

Josh Ashby found the bottom far corner after finishing off a well-worked move inside a crowded penalty area, before striker Josh Parker headed in from close range following a set-piece routine.

However, Tonbridge Angels claimed a point with two long-range strikes from winger Ruben Soares-Junior and central midfielder Jeremy Santos-Hurado to move into ninth-place in the table with 17 points from 11 games.

Saunders lost James Taylor during the warm-up after rolling his ankle, while emergency centre-half Tommie Fagg was withdrawn at the interval with a groin strain.  His replacement, Joe Tyrie was forced off after suffering concussion after a blow to the head as he put his body on the line on the edge of his penalty area and Lewis Gard also picked up a groin injury.

Sonny Miles had three central defensive partners during the game; Fagg, Tyrie and Craig Braham-Barrett, as the home side finished the game with three central defenders (the other being Jayden Crowhurst) in a formation switch.

“Frustrating, I think for me, we were better for large parts of it especially first half, which sounds crazy when you go in 2-0 down but I thought for half-an-hour we were in the ascendancy,” said Saunders.

“We had some great chances, didn’t take them and with their first real chance, they scored.  I think the disappointing one is the second one because it kills you right on half-time.

“We had penalty shouts, we had lots of chances. I thought we played ok.

“The second half became really disjointed with all of the injuries and things that happened but I thought for large parts we were, in my opinion, the better side.”

Playing their first league game since losing 1-0 at Hemel Hempstead Town on Tuesday 27 September, Tonbridge Angels started the game on the front foot.

Tonbridge Angels created their first opening inside the opening six minutes.

Joe Turner hit a long diagonal over to Soares-Junior on the right and he fed right-back Jayden Crowhurst on the overlap and he cut into the box and crossed low for striker Louis Collins, who flicked his shot past the near post.

Saunders men should have taken the lead in the 13th minute, following the first of their six corners (five of them coming during a dominant first 23 minutes).

Charlie Rowan – who played on the left of three centre-halves – hit a wild back-pass which goalkeeper Ben Dudzinski had no chances of preventing crossing the by-line and Oxford City nearly paid the price.

Santos-Hurado raised his left arm and delivered a right-footed corner from the right towards a crowd of players in the centre and Soares-Junior’s bullet header was straight at Dudzinski, who produced a great reaction save to beat the ball towards safety.

“He’s got to score, yes, I think he knows that,” added Saunders.

“He’s disappointed. He’s scored an unbelievable goal but his easier chance, he’s disappointed that he’s not got two.

“Ruben’s deceiving in the air. It’s a great header but he’s probably caught it too well.  I think sometimes you catch headers too sweet. I think if he glances that it maybe goes in the corner but it’s one of those. It’s disappointing because at that point we were on top and probably deserved a goal.”

Santos-Hurado’s second corner of the game was cleared out and Turner recycled the ball back into the box and Fagg came up from centre-half to glance his header harmlessly past the far post.

Gard ran at the Oxford City defence before Crowhurst stabbed a first time through ball into Soares-Junior, whose right-footed drive from 25-yards was comfortably saved by the 27-year-old goalkeeper.

Tonbridge Angels went close to taking a deserved lead in the 22nd minute when Crowhurst’s defensive splitting through ball cut open Canice Carroll to put striker Louis Collins in behind and his right-footed angled drive was destined to flash inside the bottom far corner, only for Dudzinski to tip the ball around the post.

“It’s a good hand, or a good fingertip shall I say. It was a good move. I thought we were getting (on top) at that point and really causing them problems and moving the ball well but it’s unfortunate.  Louis, nine times out of 10, probably puts that in the net.”

When asked how Collins has coped with moving up two levels after his switch from Isthmian League South East Division side Sevenoaks Town, Saunders replied: “He’s been brilliant! First couple of weeks he took a little while to settle. He's been really good lately. His work-rate is excellent and I’ve been relay pleased with him.”

However, Oxford City grabbed the lead, against the run of play, with 25 minutes and 18 seconds on the clock.

They produced a well-worked move inside the final third with seven-goal striker Klaidi Lolos playing the ball inside to Ashby, before he sprayed the ball to the other side of the pitch for Ashby to get in behind Fagg and drill a low right-footed angled drive across the diving keeper to find the bottom far corner with a clinical finish.

“Disappointed because at that point I don’t think they’ve had a shot,” said Saunders.

“Twenty-five minutes in and we were really dominant and playing really well.

“I think if I look at it and you’ve got Ben Swift there and it’s no disrespect to Tommie Fagg but he’s not a natural centre-half. 

“At that point we were in a good position. It was a sucker-punch.  I think if Swifty’s there, no disrespect to Faggie, he’s been excellent covering at the back. He just got caught too far over and it gets slipped in.  I’m not putting it down to him completely but I just think if Swifty’s there we maybe have that natural left-sided balance but it happened.

“What I was looking for was a response from there and then we went 2-0 down and that was disappointing.”

Left-back Braham-Barrett passed the ball to Turner, who cut in from the lflank and space opened up in front of him but his low right-footed drive from 25-yards was comfortably saved by Dudzinski.

Tonbridge Angels kept knocking at the door and won themselves a free-kick after Rowan was booked for bringing down Turner on a driving run towards the edge of the D.

However, Santos-Hurado’s right-footed free-kick from 25-yards was straight down the keeper’s throat, who jumped up before catching the ball at head height in the centre of his goal.

Saunders added: “He’s got them in his locker but he can put them in the top corner, it was just too close to the keeper really.”

Oxford City’s second chance of the game arrived in the 39th minute when Parker – who often dropped deep to link up play in his number 10 role – clipped a diagonal pass in behind Fagg – but Lolos’ sweeping right-footed angled drive was comfortably saved by Jonathan Henly.

“The chances they had were few and far between really, without being too disrespectful.  I’m pleased because we put a lot of work in this week with the boys.  It’s a half-chance for them.  I never felt really threatened, even at half-time, I felt we could go on and win the game,” revealed Saunders.

Oxford City built up well again within the final third with Zac McEachran playing a one-two with Ashby, but he couldn’t dig the ball out from under his feet on the artificial pitch before Lolos reverse 10-yard pass slipped in Ashby, whose shot deflected over the crossbar.

Oxford City notched a second goal, following their first of only two corners of the game, 64 seconds into stoppage time, as Tonbridge Angels switched off and failed to press.

Ashby’s corner was played short to McEachran, who laid the ball off to unmarked left-wing-back Lewis Coyle and no one came out to press him so he cracked a left-footed curling drive towards goal from 25-yards.

The ball crashed off the far post and Parker was in space to nod the ball into the goal and collided with the post and received treatment as Saunders’ men went in at half-time with a mountain to climb.

“I’m just disappointed.  The ball goes short, it then gets shifted again and we’ve not reacted and got up and they put it in and that shouldn’t be allowed,” said Saunders.

“That shouldn’t be allowed to be that close to tap it in. If you’re not going to get up the pitch or get out of the box then realistically you’ve got to stay with your men and we’ve not squeezed up and we’ve not stayed with our men so it’s a poot goal to concede right on half-time. It was a real kick in the teeth.”

Saunders added: “I was quite positive really (at half-time).  We had to change it with Joe Tyrie coming on so that was the first thing.

“I just kind of said if we can be a bit better on the ball in the final third and take our chances, move the ball quickly, keep pressing them, keep forcing them a little bit longer and then we can get ourselves back in.

“We said the next goal is massive at 2-0. We looked at their previous games and they were 3-0 up against Bath and Bath came back and drew three-all with them.

“If we get one we can go on and get back into it and then we said there’s an opportunity to go on and win this game, if we get the next goal.  I wanted to just tighten up at the back and go from there.”

Oxford City created the first opening of the second half when right-wing-back Jean-Baptiste Fischer put in a cross into the box and Ashby’s free-header sailed over Henly’s crossbar.

However, Tonbridge Angels pulled a goal back with a sublime quality finish with seven minutes and 41 seconds on the clock.

Gard was in the middle of the pitch and he clipped a diagonal ball over the head of left-wing-back Coyle to find Soares-Junior.

The winger easily cut inside Coyle and hit a superb left-footed curler past the diving keeper to find the top far corner of the net from 25-yards.

Saunders said: “Ruben’s got that, we see him do that all of the time in training.  It’s a great strike and I’m pleased for him. He’s getting fitter, he’s not fully fit yet, he’s got goals in him.

“TQ Addy’s had a couple of knee problems so he needed a break and Ruben came in at a good time and he’s been good.”

Santos-Hurado whipped in a free-kick from the left touchline and Tyrie’s downward header was straight at Dudzkinski, who made a comfortable save.

“I’ve been a bit gutted for him. I think Joe was going to make a mark.  He’s not been fully fit and he finally gets his chance to come on and see how well he can do and unfortunately he takes a ball to the head but it was a good opportunity for him and I think he’ll be gutted he’s not got a better connection,” said Saunders.”

Tonbridge Angels deservedly restored parity with an equaliser coming with 21 minutes and 13 seconds on the clock.

Oxford City had enjoyed a brief period of possession before the long-range strike, as Gard moved to the centre of the pitch and played a square pass to an unmarked Santos-Hurado, who drilled a right-footed shot past the keeper into the bottom left-hand corner from 35-yards out.

“I’m pleased for Santos, his attitude was spot on today,” said Saunders, who drafted in the match leveller after Taylor was a late withdrawal.

“He could’ve been disappointed. He played against Hemel, I left him out today. We changed things but his reaction when James Taylor went down was superb and he prepared right during the warm-up, which is great credit to him and I thought he had an excellent game and it’s a great strike!”

Referee Aaron Farmer penalised Crowhurst for handball just after smacking a half-volley out of the D and Oxford City almost snatched the lead from the resulting free-kick.

The impressive Ashby stroked his right-footed free-kick around the six-man wall and Henly dived to his left to push the ball towards safety.

“It just became a little bit bitty and thankfully he hasn’t scored from it because we didn’t deserve to lose today,” added Saunders.

Both sides lost a substitute each through injury, as Aaron Williams-Bushell went down on the very edge of the penalty area as Miles slammed the door shut and was helped off with an injury as the final exchanges became disjointed.

His replacement, Andre Burley drilled a shot towards goal which Tyrie blocked with his face and also received treatment and was forced off through concussion.

Referee Farmer decided that there would be 14 minutes of stoppage time.

Tonbridge Angels almost won it with 51:33 on the clock after Santos-Hurado stole the ball off Ashby just outside the centre circle and fed substitute right-winger Solomon Kofi Tetteh-Quaye Addy, whose curling effort drifted around the top far corner.

Oxford City were to be twice denied by two decent saves by Henly.

Rowan switched the play from left to right and McEachran teed up Reece Fleet, whose stinging drive was beaten away by the 28-year-old stopper.

Oxford City’s final chance of the game arrived with 56:13 on the clock – the final whistle blew at 59:01.

Ashby floated in a cross from the right towards the back post where Rowan found a pocket of space and his rising header was destined to bounce into the bottom far corner, only for Henly to dive to his left and use a strong left hand to pull off a great save.

“The thing is, as crazy as it sounds, he’s picked the ball out of his net twice, he hasn’t had a lot to do today and for a keeper that’s the hardest point.  He couldn’t do nothing with the two goals but he’s made a good save at that point, which I think was important,” said Saunders.

“Listen, we showed a little bit of experience when we got back to two-all. We went a little bit gung-ho.  I tried to say to the boys if we were patient and we’re better on the ball I think we can go on and win it but we kind of went gung-ho and it went a bit scrappy.

“I can’t fault them for their attitude to get back into the game and then try to go on and win it.”

When asked whether it was a case of dropping two points, Saunders replied: “It is. At 2-0 down, it’s not. If you look at the context of the game then yes it is really. I thought we were the better team but if you keep giving away silly goals, you’re not going to win games of football.

“What I will say is we’ve had an absolute nightmare of injuries that continued today but what’s pleased me is we’re still picking up points with those players out, so it is two points dropped.”

Tonbridge Angels are only one point behind seventh-placed Bath City and travel to fourth-placed Dartford next weekend.

Alan Dowson’s side came away from Dulwich Hamlet with a 2-1 win, watched by a crowd of 3,334 inside Champion Hill Stadium.

Saunders said: “Dartford is always a tough place to go.  I’ve known Dows years, managed against him many, many times and I look forward to seeing him.  I know a lot about their players, I know a lot about the club and it’s a tough place.  We’ve got a week to get everyone nursed and prepared to hopefully get everyone back.

“We’ve won three, drawn one and lost one of our last five league games and that’s not easy to do in this league.  We’ve been on a good little run and we’ve just got to keep building and keep trying to get our points across and if we do that, then we’ll be ok.

“Success for Tonbridge? When I came here I think they didn’t want to be in a relegation battle.  For me, it is to try to make play-offs.  I think if you don’t and say to the boys ‘let’s just try to finish midtable’, then you’ve got no ambition, why not try to have a go and get into the play-offs?  That will be an unbelievable achievement and it will be something I don’t think many people would fancy us.

“But I’m in football to win things really and I’m not saying that we’re going to do it. It will be a very tough thing to do but why not set the target and let’s try to make the play-offs.

“If we can’t, then the next best, let’s try to finish in the top 10 and that’s how you’ve got to look at it.  We want to improve and push the club on.”

Tonbridge Angels: Jonathan Henly, Jayden Crowhurst, Craig Braham-Barrett, Scott Wagstaff, Sonny Miles, Tommie Fagg (Joe Tyrie 46, Solomon Kofi Tetteh-Quaye Addy 86)), Lewis Gard (Dylan Gavin 81), Jeremy Santos-Hurado, Louis Collins, Joe Turner, Ruben Soares-Junior.
Subs: Fyn Rutherford, Kevin Manuel

Goals: Ruben Soares-Junior 53, Jeremy Santos-Hurado 67

Booked: Louis Collins 90

Oxford City: Ben Dudzinski, Jean Baptiste-Fischer, Lewis Miccio (Lewis Coyle 31), Canice Carroll, Tom Harrison, Charlie Rowan, Josh Ashby, Reece Fleet, Klaidi Lolos, Josh Parker (Aaron Williams-Bushell 73, Andrew Burley 81)), Zac McEachran.
Subs: Joe Iaciofano, Latrel Humphrey-Ewers

Goals: Josh Ashby 26, Josh Parker 45

Booked: Charlie Rowan 35, Zac McEachran 57

Attendance: 1,073
Referee: Mr Aaron Farmer
Assistants: Mr Ruben Preca & Mr Callum Peter