Tunbridge Wells 0-1 Phoenix Sports - So far the performances are nowhere near good enough for my liking but I'm telling you now I'm expecting a lot more from my players, says furious Phoenix Sports boss Steve O'Boyle

Saturday 20th August 2022
Tunbridge Wells 0 – 1 Phoenix Sports
Location Culverden Stadium, Culverden Down, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN4 9SG
Kickoff 20/08/2022 15:00

The Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round
Saturday 20 August 2022
Stephen McCartney reports from Culverden Stadium

FUMING Phoenix Sports manager Steve O’Boyle read his unbeaten side the riot act and insisted their performance was not acceptable despite beating Tunbridge Wells to reach The FA Cup First Qualifying Round.

A hard-fought battle, which was often short on quality, was settled with four minutes remaining, courtesy of a clinical low strike from left-winger David Martin, 37, who played for Isthmian League South East Division champions Hastings United last season.

O’Boyle was shown a yellow card during the game and was sent off minutes after the final whistle following a conversation with a Tunbridge Wells backroom staff member within earshot of referee Nicholas Monkman.

Tunbridge Wells went into the game sitting bottom of the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division, while Phoenix Sports’ seven year stay in the Isthmian League came to an end last season and they arrived at Culverden Stadium in sixth-place after three league outings.

Tunbridge Wells’ only win came at Isthmian League South Central Division side Chipstead (2-1 away), which set up today’s tie after O’Boyle’s men came away from lower league side Oxhey Jets with a 3-1 win.

Tunbridge Wells have lost to Kennington (0-2), Whitstable Town (0-3) and Holmesdale (1-2) in the league, while Phoenix Sports have beaten Erith Town (3-1), before back-to-back draws against Welling Town (0-0) and Glebe (2-2).

“Shocking! Shocking! I’m not happy with that performance today,” insisted O’Boyle.

“It doesn’t feel like we’ve won to be honest.  I’m not happy with that at all. I thought we were absolutely shocking today.  I said to them in there, I can’t put my finger on it.  It’s as if we looked like we’ve never played football before!

“There’s no point talking about chances, anything like that. We were poor today.  Our quality was poor. I expect a lot more than that! The only bit of quality was our goal.

“We got the win, that is the only positive thing for me today.  I think the whole day has been, well the whole game was awful!”

Tunbridge Wells’ manager, Luke Carpenter, meanwhile, was a lot calmer, yet frustrated, following a trio of straight defeats.

“Pretty much the same how I’ve summed up every performance so far.  It’s a new team, we’ve played very, very well and we’ve had enough chances to score and get ourselves in front.  We haven’t done that and it’s one attack from them really that’s got them a goal that’s won them the game.

“But we controlled the ball, played good football, created chances, defended well. It’s just another one that’s a little bit of a punch to the gut.”

Both sides produced poor quality football, often treating the ball like a hot potato and gifting possession to their opposition and will need to work on their finishing which often lacked composure.

Phoenix Sports started the game on the front foot and created their first opening after 196 seconds.

Right-winger Ryan Hayes whipped in a cross, which was laid off by striker Marcus Elliott but holding midfielder Lee Bird advanced to the edge of the box and smashed his first time left-footed drive high over the crossbar from 25-yards.

Goalkeeper Steve Phillips was playing his last game for Phoenix Sports, with former Chatham Town stopper Andy Walker back from his summer break tomorrow.

Hayes was trying to break out from within his own defensive third but lost the ball to Tunbridge Wells’ central midfielder Lamin Bah, who cut the ball onto his right-foot and tried to curl his shot towards the far corner, only for Phillips to dive to his left to push the ball behind for a corner.

Carpenter said: “This is what we’re getting at the moment. We’re getting shots off, we’re creating chances. The keeper’s pulling off good saves. We’re just not having that little bit of luck in front of goal at the moment.

“We’re creating the chances and the quality is there so it will come. I’m confident of that.”

O’Boyle was quick to praise Brighton based goalkeeper Phillips, who now begins the search for a club closer to home after returning to help his old club in their hour of need.

He said: “Can you really fault the defence today? Kept a clean sheet.  Steve Phillips has come in and taken a lot of pressure off us.

“I’d like to thank him for what he’s done. He’s come in, he hasn’t got a club, he’s helped us out. He’s made himself cup-tied to help us out today and I thought he was brilliant. He came for crosses and took the pressure off us and that’s why he's such a good goalkeeper and I can’t believe he’s not got a football club.”

Phoenix Sports missed a decent chance to smash the deadlock in the 20th minute, following the second phase following their second corner.

Alfie Evans recycled the cleared ball back into the penalty area, Bird flicked the ball on to find Martin in space on the left hand side and he hung the cross towards the back post where centre-half Joe Denny steered his header past the right-hand post from six-yards out.

Halfway through the half, left-wing-back James Nurden hit a deep cross into the Phoenix penalty area and right-wing-back Matthew Astle cut the ball back for central midfielder Jack Palmby to sweep his first-time shot over the crossbar from 15-yards.

Tunbridge Wells enjoyed a spell of pressure and the resilient away side dealt with a couple of low crosses into a crowded penalty area before Jonathan Shea got forward to put another ball into the box and Jacob Feasey’s shot on the turn took a deflection and was comfortably caught by Phillips as it dropped into his arms.

Carpenter said: “I mean, you could hear both changing rooms (at half-time), which side were the more happier side.  We’re doing a lot of reflecting at the moment, as we always do and it’s a case of how we see everything with blinkered eyes but I think every half-time we’re hearing their changing room, they’re not hearing ours.

“We’re tidying up a couple of little bits but the majority was good and it’s just coming down to little lapses of concentration, or a little complacency. 

“Steve Ives is doing some very, very good work with the defensive units and we’ve seen the improvement.  Training this week has been a lot harder but the work that he’s done has been very, very good and everyone who has watched every game has seen a massive improvement defensively.”

Phoenix Sports, meanwhile, squandered a glorious chance to snatch the lead with just 182 seconds into the second half and just 14 seconds later too.

Martin eased past Jonathan Shea – who plays on the right of a three man defence – to reach the by-line on the left and he hung over a cross towards the far post where Elliott headed down and against the base of the right-hand post from six-yards.

The danger was still not cleared as Luke Leppard slipped the ball through to Evans, whose shot on the turn was fired over the crossbar from 12-yards.

When asked if he wanted to reflect on the game, O’Boyle replied: “Not really, not really, no.  What do you want to talk about? It was so poor today, they gave us a win, that was it.

“We’re just creating chances from set-plays are we? That’s not good enough, is it? What have we created from open play today? One bit of magic at the end.  We’ve hardly created anything today.”

There was a controversial moment when Tunbridge Wells goalkeeper Billy Johnson launched a big kick straight down the middle of the pitch. The ball was flicked on by Feasey to put Trevor McCreadie through on goal.

Last defender Lewis Clark slid in and brought down the former Haywards Heath Town striker and was booked by referee Nicholas Monkman when everyone was expecting him to pull out a red-card.

Carpenter said: “It’s a red, it’s a red! The referee today, to be fair, he’s been ok.  He's not been bad. There’s been a few dodgy decisions but it’s hard to talk about referees. We’ve not had good referees in any games so far.

“If he’s brought him down, it’s not in the penalty area, it’s a red card. It is just a case of luck not being on our side at the moment.”

O’Boyle claimed: “I thought the referee was the worst person on the pitch!  He was totally not up to the game. He got so much wrong and that was never, ever a foul.

“It was a great tackle and as you say he could’ve been sent off for that.

“The referee was way out of his depth, way out of his depth and it’s so frustrating because every week at the moment the officials are so poor.  They’re so poor and it was another poor performance again today. 

“He’s got so much wrong. They’re getting paid more, I’d be embarrassed to claim my money. That was shocking!

“You know, everyone in this ground knows, that was a perfectly good tackle.  How could you give a foul there? You’ve seen where the ball went. Everyone in the ground knows that’s a great tackle. It worries me how could he get that so wrong?!”

O’Boyle was shown a yellow card for his protests and once play was able to restart Phillips made a comfortable save after Shea’s driven free-kick in a central position some 25-yards out went under the wall.

Phoenix Sports were a threat from set-pieces and clipped the post for a second time in the 61st minute.

Martin swung in the corner from the left which sailed over Johnson’s head and Clark steered his header against the top of the near post from a very tight angle.

“They were dangerous from set-pieces, which we knew they would be.  They posed a couple of threats from set-pieces, tight angles, you could argue we defended the main spaces well but they’ve hit the post, so not well enough,” added Carpenter.

Former Chatham Town winger Hayes raised his arm up to apologise to his team-mates as his poor defending within the right-back position on the pitch gifted the home side an excellent chance to grab the lead.

The impressive Nurden whipped in a cross from the left for McCreadie to stretch to plant his towering free header over the Phoenix Sports crossbar from 10-yards.

Carpenter said: “I think Nurden has been very, very good today. I think defensively he’s been solid, going forward he’s put good crosses into the box.

“I give Trevor a bit of benefit of the doubt with the header. It was above him, he was stretching, so it was a difficult header to make.  He’s getting in the right places, the ball’s going into right places.

“It’s one of those where we’ve got a lot of new players starting to get to know each other, those little things you can’t overlook, things like relationship building.” 

The introduction of Ezekiel Ebooa – playing in behind the Tunbridge Wells two attackers – gave more energy for the home side’s attack and his penetrating runs were a threat during the final 20 minutes.

His impact was almost instant as 47 seconds after coming off the bench he drove forward and a weak speculative right-footed drive was comfortably gathered at the second attempt by Phillips, smothering the ball low to his right to prevent the ball nestling inside the bottom left-hand corner.

Carpenter said: “Ezekiel is a different type of player to Lamin Bah. Lamin was very good today, they give different threats of quality, so we’ve got the ability to change up a game if we need to.  Ezekiel’s come on and definitely added to us and carried a threat.”

Phoenix Sports should have done better through former Ashford United striker Tashi-Jay Kwayie, who was forced off through injury after coming on for 27 minutes.

Martin floated in their sixth and final corner towards the middle where Kwayie’s downward header from 10-yards was comfortably gathered by Johnson.

With a Wednesday night replay looming, Phoenix Sports grabbed the victory with 40 minutes and 58 seconds on the clock, easily the only bit of quality in the whole game.

Right-back Henry Douglas prodded the ball down the line to Hayes, who from the half-way line pinged a sublime 60-yard diagonal, which was superbly brought down and controlled by Martin, who then clinically drilled a low right-footed drive across Johnson to find the bottom far corner from 20-yards.

“The only bit of quality in the whole game.  I don’t think they were very good; I didn’t think we were very good,” said O’Boyle, who was asked what his summer marquee signings (Hayes and Martin) have given him.

“They gave me an assist and a goal today, that’s what they’ve given me.   A goal and an assist on Wednesday, Ryan was an assist for our equaliser, he hit the post. He’s put one just wide.  Dave Martin has scored a goal so far.  Ryan Hayes has scored two goals so far.”

Carpenter knows all about Hayes during their time at Chatham Town together last season.

“We know what Haysie’s got in him.  Would I accept it more if there was more we could’ve done? Defensively to delay and then potentially stop him getting a finish off?

“But that’s what you get the quality.  They’ve brought in some good players, their budget allows for that.  You’ve got quality. Hayes sprays a 60-70 diagonal pass straight to where it wants to be and the finish, he’s hit it very cleanly hasn’t he?”

There was still time for Tunbridge Wells to squander two injury time chances, however.

The impressive Ebooa swept the ball over to Astle on the right (the wing-back was more effective in the first half and was snuffed out by Tom Cousins after the interval). 

Ebooa reached the by-line on the right and cut the ball back for Astle to sweep a first time shot over the crossbar from 12-yards.

“He didn’t asses his surroundings well enough to take a touch to finish or the quality of finish isn’t quite there,” added a frustrated Carpenter.

An unmarked Griffin (sitting in front of the back three) then drilled a low right-footed drive from 30-yards, which whistled past the foot of the right-hand post with the last kick of the game.

OBoyle was clearly incensed when he was shown a red card after the final whistle by referee Nicholas Monkman and his mood didn’t improve when facing the questions during the post-match press conference.

“I didn’t say nothing to the referee at the end.  I was talking to their kit man and I said to their kit man ‘how can he get that so wrong on that free-kick?’ I wasn’t talking to the referee, I was talking to their kit man!”

Bottom of the table Tunbridge Wells travel to Aylesford to play bottom-five side K Sports next Saturday, before surprise league leaders Rusthall – who caused a FA Cup upset by beating Isthmian League South East Division big-hitters Ramsgate 2-1 in The FA Cup today – visit Culverden Stadium on Bank Holiday Monday, 29 August.

“You can sense that once that goal and once that win comes we’re going to go on a roll because you can see we’ve got identity here, you can see we’ve got a good style of play and you can see we’re adapting to it and we’re creating chances.  We’re defending much better. It just needs that first one to go in and give everyone a lift and keep that feeling,” said Carpenter.

But a club the size of Tunbridge Wells should never be at the foot of the table and Carpenter is under pressure to turn things around quickly.

“We’re looking forward to getting on the training ground twice this week ahead of the K Sports game,” said Carpenter.

“We’ve got to be confident, we’re not disrespecting K Sports or whoever it is we’re playing against on Saturday.  You’ve got to have confidence in ourselves because we’re out playing teams, we’re creating chances. It’s just little errors or little bits that weren’t going our way so two sessions, hopefully we’ll get a result that we need against K Sports.

“I wouldn’t say (our league position) is a concern.  If we were playing badly then I’d be concerned. Am I happy about it? No! But I’m not naïve to think that we don’t have to change anything or we don’t have to work on anything.

“It’s not kids’ football, the result is important, not how we played but the reason why I say I’m not concerned is because we’re on the right tracks. If we weren’t on the right tracks or we weren’t creating and we were leaking constantly then I’ll be concerned.

“It’s (the league position) not good enough. I’m definitely not trying to play that down. We’re definitely not happy with where we are but I’m convinced it won’t continue.

“I don’t think we’re playing as bad as the league table suggests but ultimately I come back to it’s not how you play, it’s how many points you pick up.”

Phoenix Sports, meanwhile, travel to Sittingbourne to play Canterbury City in The FA Vase First Qualifying Round on Sunday 28 August, unbeaten in five games in League and Cup.

“That’s fantastic but I’m telling you now, I’m expecting a lot more from my players,” added O’Boyle.

“I’m not looking that far in front if I’m honest.  I need to have a good long think about how we’ve done today.  That’s five games in so far and we’ve played half decent in one game.  So far, the performances are nowhere near good enough for my liking!

“We need to train on Wednesday and we need to iron a few things out.  We need to iron out the fact we’re not keeping the ball well enough, when we lost possession, our shape was wrong, I don’t think we won our personal battles today and I don’t think that’s acceptable!

“What message do I give the fans?  The message I give the fans is, yes, we’ve had a good away win but I’m far from happy and I won’t be happy with performances like that and that is the bottom line.

“They know me well and I won’t accept things like that.  I’m not happy today. I’m not singling anyone out. I think the boys know that’s just way, way off what I expect. I expect a lot more.

“Yes, I have set high standards, it hurt my heart going down last season and I want to get back up and with performances like that, that’s not going to happen, is it?

“I’m a realist, I’m not a kidder. I know you can go away and you could put your blinkers on and we’re in the next round and everything’s hunky-dory.  That’s nowhere near what I expect.”

Tunbridge Wells:  Billy Johnson, Matthew Astle, James Nurden, Ryan Cheek (Tommy Smith 75), Jonathan Shea, Harry Hudson, Jack Palmby, Frank Griffin, Trevor McCreadie, Jacob Feasey (Johnny Phillips 82), Lamin Bah (Ezckiel Ebooa 70).
Subs: David Brooks, Jaan Stanley, Charlie Yeates, Junior Evbota

Booked: Lamin Bah 9, Harry Hudson 90

Phoenix Sports: Steven Phillips, Henry Douglas, Tom Cousins, Lee Bird, Joe Denny, Lewis Clark, David Martin, Luke Leppard, Marcus Elliott (Tashi-Jay Kwayie 61, Emmanuel Oshinowo 88)), Alfie Evans, Ryan Hayes.
Subs: Calvin Sedenu, Kenzie Parkinson, Frederick Aikon, Kieran King, Perez Goumou

Goals: David Martin 86

Booked: David Martin 33, Lewis Clark 53, Steve O’Boyle 54 (manager), Luke Leppard 67, Tom Cousins 76

Sent Off: Steve O’Boyle 90 (manager)

Attendance: 292
Referee: Mr Nicholas Monkman
Assistants: Mr Jamie Eames & Mr Andrew Stanford