Tonbridge Angels 0-1 Worthing - We've had opportunities in the last few weeks to jump into those play-offs but we haven't been able to bridge that gap, says frustrated Tonbridge Angels boss Jay Saunders

Saturday 20th January 2024
Tonbridge Angels 0 – 1 Worthing
Location Longmead Stadium, Darenth Avenue, Tonbridge, Kent TN10 3JF
Kickoff 20/01/2024 15:00

Vanarama National League South
Saturday 20 January 2024
Stephen McCartney reports from Longmead Stadium

TONBRIDGE ANGELS manager Jay Saunders says he’s feeling frustrated that his side can’t get quite over the line and cement their place in the Vanarama National League South play-off zone.

Worthing remain 13 points behind leaders Yeovil Town in second-place in the table after grabbing the three points at Longmead Stadium, courtesy of striker Ollie Pearce, 28, heading in his 22nd goal of the season.

Tonbridge Angels central midfielder, Lewis Gard, skied a penalty over the bar, the first one that he’s missed for the club, as the home side slipped down a place into 12th with 38 points (10 wins, 8 draws, 11 defeats) from their 29 league outings.

Saunders handed debuts to two players, with left-back Liam Vincent, 20, coming in on loan from League One side Portsmouth, while striker Nathan Odokonyero, 21, has arrived on loan from Vanarama National League side Ebbsfleet United.

Saunders recalled centre-half Joe Tyrie, 20, from Isthmian League South East Division side Sittingbourne for a place on the bench, while Worthing brought on former Ramsgate centre-half Alfie Young on the hour mark, a couple of minutes before Adam Hinshelwood’s side scored the winning goal.

Tonbridge Angels made three changes to the side that lost 2-0 at Hemel Hempstead Town last weekend.  Saunders revealed that Ben Swift (knee, sidelined long-term), Jernade Meade (hamstring), Jordan Greenidge (knee) and Sean Shields (foot) were ruled out through injury.

“It’s a difficult game to see, it’s one I need to watch back,” said Saunders, whose side have not scored in six of their 15 home games this season.

“I thought first-half there wasn’t a lot in it.  If anything, we probably had the better chances.

“Second half, the biggest disappointment for me is, we just didn’t start the second half.  We probably didn’t get going for 20 minutes and if you don’t do that it makes it difficult for you and they’ve scored in that period, frustrating.”

When asked whether he thought his side deserved more than a 1-0 defeat, Saunders replied: “I don’t know.  You get a pen and you miss one of them.  I don’t think there was a lot in the game. 

“The goal we conceded, I need to look back on and we’ll go from there. It’s difficult. As I say, it’s a game I’ll need to watch back.

“I don’t think there was a lot in it but we just had a spell where we shut off for a bit and at that point I think Worthing were in control and then once they scored we kind of came back into it but a little bit too late.”

Worthing played a passing brand of football on the artificial pitch, although they often lacked tempo and urgency in their play, often playing it around at the back.

Worthing were to be denied the opening goal after only 244 seconds into the game when centre-half Joel Colbran’s brave bullet header while under pressure went upfield and left-winger Danny Cashman flicked the ball on to Pearce, who from inside the D played in five-goal striker Jake Robinson, who’s right-footed shot from 15-yards was saved by the legs of Angels’ goalkeeper Jonathan Henly.

“They went through and it was a save that I expect Jonny to make though in all fairness,” added Saunders.

Worthing, who dominated the corner-count by 8-3, went close with their first flag-kick, swung in from the left by Jack Wadham’s left-foot.  The ball was cleared by Tonbridge Angels’ right-back Tariq Hinds and winger Joe Felix’s left-footed hooked volley screamed just past the left-hand post.

Tonbridge Angels should have grabbed the lead on the counter-attack with seven minutes and 37 seconds on the clock.

A driving run from winger Mohammad Dabre through the heart of the pitch saw him feed fellow winger Paris Lock, who took a touch inside the box before lashing his left-footed drive straight at the goalkeeper Joshua Jeffries, who beat the ball away at his near-post to deny the AFC Wimbledon loanee.

“Again, it’s the other side of the pitch. If we take chances, they’re the key moments.  You look back on the first half and we had that and we had a few others that you look and go, you’ve got to take those chances when you get them and we didn’t do that today,” admitted Saunders.

“If we do that we maybe go a couple of goals at half-time, or at least one goal.”

Bournemouth loanee Cashman, meanwhile, pushed over Tonbridge Angels’ holding midfielder Jordan Higgs and Gard floated in the resulting free-kick, which was headed away by Worthing’s combative central midfielder Michael Klass and fell to Higgs, who stroked a right-footed half-volley across the keeper and past the far post from the angle from 25-yards out.

The first half was much of a stalemate but Tonbridge Angels created the better chances to score, an example of this came in the 25th minute.

Vincent fed Lock, who cut into the box from the left before playing a square pass into Dabre, who lacked composure and power just inside the Worthing penalty area in a central position, which was comfortably gobbled up by the visiting goalkeeper.

Saunders said he was impressed with Odokonyero’s debut and Gard’s first corner of the game was dealt with by the Worthing defence, before Gard played the ball down the right to Odokonyero who unleashed a right-footed angled drive flashing past the far post from 30-yards.

“I was pleased with him, really pleased.  I thought he linked up play well,” said Saunders.

“His touch was very good. He had a couple of chances and I was really pleased with him. 

“It’s difficult. He came on loan Thursday night. He’s had one training session with us, so it’s difficult to get to know everyone but he’ll get better each game as well. 

“I think he’ll be a very good signing for us. His someone that I like and overall – I’ve just said to them in there, I thought him and Liam Vincent had good debuts.”

Out of Bromley’s Academy, Vincent also had a spell with Worthing and when asked about his debut today, Saunders replied: “He done well. Again, he’s not met anyone so he came in today.  We got him over the line late last night and he’s come in today and done well.”

Gard floated a free-kick in from the right, and the ball was twice headed inside the box by Vincent and centre-half Kodi Lyons-Foster but Odokonyero steered his header past the left-hand post from inside the six-yard box.

Worthing were not looking like a side that were in second-place in the table but they did up their game towards the interval.

Worthing ditched their tippy-tappy football and went direct along the floor in the 37th minute when Klass hit a long through ball to release Cashman in behind Hinds and Jamie Fielding but the winger rifled his left-footed shot high over the crossbar.

Worthing keeper Jeffries pulled off a flying save to thwart Tonbridge Angels taking the lead in the 39th minute.

Odokonyero initially broke down the right and with no options upfield he held the ball up outside the final third and waited for support.  Gard then cut into the box from the left and put it on the plate for Lock, who whipped a first-time right-footed drive sailing towards the top right-hand corner from 18-yards, which was brilliantly pushed over by Jeffries’ outstretched left-hand, while diving high to his left.

Saunders said: “Again, probably a chance you’ve got to look to take.  As I say, there wasn’t a lot in the first half. I thought we had the better chances and that’s another one, the goalkeeper made a very good save, maybe you have to punish them.”

Robinson, who often dropped deep, played a sublime reverse pass around the corner to release winger Felix in behind Vincent and his cross found Wadham, who played in Robinson and his shot deflected past the near-post for Worthing’s sixth corner of the game.

Holding midfielder Wadham floated the corner in from the right towards the far post where Klass looped his header just over the crossbar from six-yards.

Saunders was asked his thoughts at the interval.

“It was tidying up in the final third.  I felt that we had some good opportunities and never took them and we just kind of went through a few things here and there that we can improve on.  I felt we were well in the game, we had the better chances.

“But it all kind of went out of the window and came out second half and didn’t start well and never came out of our half for probably 15-20 minutes, which a good Worthing side are capable of doing to you, but it was our own undoing if you like, just being sloppy in possession.”

Worthing started the second half on the front foot as they increased the tempo of the game.

Felix played the ball in from the right wing and Pearce took several touches inside the box before lashing his shot high into the side netting from a tight angle inside the opening eight minutes.

Hinslewood made a double-substitution on the hour-mark, with Young coming on at centre-half (replacing Joe Rye) and Joan Luque (replacing Robinson) and playing wide left.

Saunders explained why he made one substitution, bringing on attacking midfielder Hayden Velvick with eight minutes remaining.

“We’ve brought Nathan (Odokonyero) in to strengthen the squad and then we lose Shields, Jordan (Greenidge) on Thursday night or Friday evening and it’s a blow,” revealed Saunders.

“We seem to get one in and one out.  Liam (Vincent) hasn’t trained with us, hadn’t met anyone and we had to get him in because Jernade (Meade) is not quite right.

“It’s frustrating.  We try to strengthen the squad and we lose players and that’s why second half you’re looking at the bench and you’re thinking who can really come on and make a difference here and it’s frustrating because the idea of bringing Nathan and that in is you want more options in the squad but at the moment you bring one in and lose people.

“Nat Gibb, who’s the Academy goalkeeper, Hayden (Velvick) stepped up from the Academy. Joe Tyrie, who we recalled back from Sittingbourne this morning, so it’s needs must at the moment but that’s the way we are.”

Worthing sealed the deal by scoring the only goal of the game with 16 minutes and 24 seconds on the clock.

Left-back Livesey-Austin ran into the left-channel and hung up a lovely cross towards the back post, which was knocked down by Klass and Pearce flicked his header into the left-hand corner from inside the six-yard box.

“It’s poor from us though,” admitted Saunders.

“I think if you look back the passage of play, Jordan Higgs has the ball, I think he tries to buy a free-kick. Whether it was or not? I mean he was moaning ‘it was a free-kick!’ but it doesn’t get given and they get the ball and switch it over to Reuben Livesey.

“Could we stop the cross? Maybe.  We then don’t win the first ball, which is ok.  If you don’t win the first ball in your area, you have to make sure you win the second and if you look back at it, (centre-back) Jamie Fielding is a yard from the ball. He’s flat-footed and if he’s not flat-footed he clears the ball, so for us, it’s a poor goal to concede.

“If you’re really looking at chances and the possession they had, it’s probably the one I expect us to deal with really.”

Worthing then produced a slick one-touch passing move, as they almost doubled their lead with 19:29 on the clock.

Klass played the ball out to Felix who put in a cross from the right for Cashman, who curled his right-footed shot just around the right-hand post from close to the penalty spot.

Saunders said: “They did (have the better of the game after their goal), for that spell. There was a little change.  We started to get after them a little bit more then, obviously we got the penalty opportunity and stuff and the game started to turn in our favour but it was we just couldn’t make that sort of count.  We couldn’t turn the tide.

Worthing were the better side while they were in the lead, but the home side went close to grabbing an equaliser in the 27th minute.

Dabre released Hinds down the right and he reached the by-line before whipping in a cross towards the middle of the 18-yard line, which was controlled by Gard before he curled his left-footed shot just past the left-hand post.

“It was a great bit of play and unfortunately for Gard, he’s not managed to hit the target,” said Saunders.

“It was a tough one because it was rising. It was on his weaker foot but it was unfortunate but again it’s a chance. It is a chance. In games against the better sides in the league, you probably have to take.”

Referee Phillip Eddie gave Tonbridge Angels a life-line when he awarded a penalty after Lock cut into the penalty area and was surrounded by a group of Worthing players, before he was tripped inside the box and fell to the deck.

Captain Scott Wagstaff picked up the ball before throwing it to Gard, who surprisingly spurned the chance to level, lashing his right-footed penalty high over the crossbar (aiming for the top left-hand corner) with 35:41 on the clock.

Saunders said: “Look, it’s good from Paris. Has he done it enough today?  No.  Mabe that’s from us not getting the ball out to him, maybe.  Maybe it’s him not being clever enough in his movement. I’m not sure.  But he showed when he did he caused Wills’ problems at full-back.

“Gardy stepped up and he’s scored a lot of penalties for us this year (six) and you fancy him but I think he just over-thought it and maybe the pressure got to him. I’m not sure but I feel for him because I thought he was good today. It’s unfortunate.”

Worthing were awarded a soft free-kick when Klass fell to the ground under a challenge from Dabre but Pearce’s low right-footed free-kick from just outside the D went around the four-man wall and Henly comfortably held the shot low to his right for a comfortable save (44:50), before the referee blew for time (50:34).

Saunders said: “I think there was a lot of soft fouls. They went down early.  Klass brought a lot of free-kicks today where you’re like, really? But they’re given nowadays, so you expect Jonny to save that.

“We huffed and puffed until the end and tried but we couldn’t get ourselves back in the game.”

Yeovil Town look like bouncing back at the first attempt after suffering relegation to the sixth-tier last season, as they remain at the summit with 62 points from 27 out of 46 games.

The six play-off places are currently held by Worthing (49 points from 28 games), Hampton & Richmond Borough (46 points from 26 games), Maidstone United (46 points from 28 games), Chelmsford City (44 points from 26 games), Torquay United (26 points from 26 games) and Aveley (42 points from 28 games).

Bath City (41 points from 27 games), St Albans City (41 points from 27 games), Hemel Hempstead Town (40 points from 29 games), Slough Town (39 points from 27 games) and Tonbridge Angels (38 points from 29 games) follow.

Saunders takes his men to basement side Dover Athletic on Tuesday night.

Taunton Town remain outside of the relegation zone tonight with 30 points from 24 games, while Eastbourne Borough (24 points from 28 games), Welling United (21 points from 26 games), Havant & Waterlooville (21 points from 28 games) and Dover Athletic (18 points from 28 games) are in the drop zone.

Since Mitch Brundle parted company with the Crabble outfit – Brundle scored the winning goal for Lydd Town today in their 2-1 win at Holmesdale in the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division – Dover Athletic have played seven games, where they have won one, drawn three and lost three since Jake Leberl and Mike Sandmann took the hot-seat.

“Tough one, it’s always a tough place to go.  I know people will look at it that they’re down the bottom but they lost 1-0 at Torquay today, they always stay in games,” warned Saunders.

“I know Jake Leberl, we’ve played together for years and I know him really well. Mike was my assistant at Margate, so it’s a difficult place to go and it will be a completely different game to today.

“Worthing want to play, play, play and Dover will be a little bit more direct but it poses you a different sort of question so we’ll be prepared for it.  Hopefully, if we can, we can go there and get back on. We haven’t lost back-to-back for quite a while now, so we have to make sure it doesn’t affect us.”

When asked about reaching the play-offs, Saunders replied: “I think teams have got a few games in hand on us but we’ve had opportunities the last few weeks to jump into those play-offs but we haven’t been able to bridge that gap, hence why we’re looking to bring Nathan in and strengthen the squad.

“You are where you are in the league. You deserve to be where you are in the league, if you can’t quite get over but we’ve just got to try to get those boys back fit and go from there.  They’re big players for us and we’ll be ok but it’s one of them. We move on.”

Tonbridge Angels: Jonathan Henly, Tariq Hinds, Liam Vincent, Jordan Higgs (Hayden Velvick 82), Kodi Lyons-Foster, Jamie Fielding, Paris Lock, Scott Wagstaff, Nathan Odokonyero, Lewis Gard, Mohammad Dabre.
Subs: Devonte Aransibia, Nathaniel Gibb, Joe Tyrie, Ansu Janneh

Booked: Jordan Higgs 63, Jamie Fielding 68, Kodi Lyons-Foster 75, Paris Lock 77

Worthing: Joshua Jeffries, Kane Wills, Reuben Livesey-Austin (Finlay Chadwick 78), Jack Wadham, Joel Colbran, Joe Rye (Alfie Young 60), Danny Cashman, Michael Klass, Ollie Pearce, Jake Robinson (Joan Luque 60), Joe Felix.
Subs: Roco Rees, Cameron Tutt

Goal: Ollie Pearce 62

Booked: Jack Wadham 51, Kane Wills 66, Joshua Jeffries 80, Michael Klass 86

Attendance: 1,337
Referee:  Mr Phillip Eddie
Assistants: Mr Stephen Parmenter & Mr Rudin Preca
Observer: Mr Graeme Ions