Tunbridge Wells 1-2 Corinthian - I think it was the boys character that got us though it tonight, says Corinthian boss Michael Golding

Friday 12th August 2016
Tunbridge Wells 1 – 2 Corinthian
Location Culverden Stadium, Culverden Down, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN4 9SG
Kickoff 12/08/2016 19:45

Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division
Friday 12th August 2016
Stephen McCartney reports from Culverden Stadium

CORINTHIAN manager Michael Golding praised his players’ character after winning the first game into the new Southern Counties East Football League season in impressive fashion.

Seven of Corinthian’s 12 players that were used at Culverden Stadium tonight have come through the amateur club’s youth system at Gay Dawn Farm and they sit proudly at the top, leaving a flat Tunbridge Wells at the foot of the table.

Corinthian dominated the first half but a string of saves from Steve Lawrence ensured the half somehow finished goal-less.

Tunbridge Wells grabbed the lead against the run of play through Tom Bryant’s glancing header with 18 minutes remaining.

Corinthian levelled through former Crystal Palace winger William Johnson Cole before midfielder Oscar Housego, 17, capped off an excellent display with the winning goal just four minutes from time.

Tunbridge Wells were held to a 1-1 draw by Eastbourne United last weekend, but were knocked out of The FA Cup in the Extra Preliminary Round after losing the replay 2-1 on Tuesday night.

Corinthian, meanwhile, were knocked out with a 2-0 defeat at league rivals Ashford United last Saturday.

“Got there in the end! Relieved to be honest, sloppy goal, disappointed to go 1-0 down, direct free-kick header.  I thought we deserved it.  I thought we were the better side,” said Golding after his side’s impressive victory.

“I thought we had four good chances in the first half, probably two or three in the second half.  I thought on the balance of play we dominated. We were camped in their half for long periods of time, just worried that it was going to be another case of similar of Saturday – that we didn’t take our chances when we were on top, but very pleased.

“I think it’s a testament to the boys’ character.  As you saw tonight, it’s still a young squad. We’re not hiding behind that this year but we are still a young team but I think it showed the boys’ character in the end from 1-0 down.  It’s a tough place to come, a couple of hundred people here tonight, always provide a good atmosphere and Jason’s got his side organised so I think it was the boys’ character that got us through it tonight and I’m really, really pleased for them.”

Tunbridge Wells manager Jason Bourne held his hand up and admitted his side were second best tonight.

He said: “Obviously naturally disappointed. In all honesty, the best team won, you can’t argue with that.  They created a lot of chances, they’re a very intelligent team, coached very well, no doubt they’ll finish up and in around.

“We didn’t keep the ball well enough tonight and that’s always against a Corinthian side on a nice big pitch, you’re playing into their strengths really.

“If you’re not going to keep hold of the ball and turn it over as much as we did tonight you’re going to be chasing a lot of ball because they shift it very well.

“Naturally disappointed. It’s a nice gate on a Friday night. The fans deserve better but we go again. It’s the first night, we’ve learnt a lot from it. We’ve got minutes under the belt for a couple that are coming back who are probably in a little bit too early but the best team won tonight.”

This Friday night opening night game attracted a crowd of 275 to Culverden Stadium and Bourne was concerned that sixth-placed finishers Corinthian dominated his side during a one-sided first half.

With Josh James and Housego both bossing the midfield, sitting in front of their back four, Corinthian really should have opened the scoring 215 seconds in.

Jack Bath played the ball over the top to put Brima Daramy through on goal – after poor defending from Perry Spackman – but the big centre forward placed his shot past the foot of the right-hand post from 12-yards.

Golding said: “Brima came on Saturday and caused Ashford a few problems. I thought it was a good pass from Jack and to be honest I was expecting the net to bulge and it’s just gone the wrong side but it was a positive start.  I’m really happy we got on the ball early doors and I was expecting him to score.

Bourne added: “I think we probably took 10 minutes to get to grips with the big lad up top. When the ball was direct to him, he was a threat. It took Perry Spackman and Tom Bryant probably 10 minutes to actually sort that out. Once we did, he wasn’t really a threat in behind but it was a good chance for them and it should’ve been 1-0 really.”

Tunbridge Wells keeper Steve Lawrence made his first save when he palmed over Marcus Evans’ free-header at the far post after James Billings’ swung in Corinthian’s first of nine corners from the right.

Bourne was thankful to his goalkeeper for keeping Corinthian at bay.

He said: “Steve was superb tonight. Steve was absolutely superb. He’s made five or six very, very good saves. It could’ve been worse to be honest. Steve was fantastic!”

“A relatively comfortable save.  I’d expect a goalkeeper of his standard to save that,” added Golding.

“We watched them on Saturday, we had them watched on Tuesday away at Eastbourne so we knew that they go zonal so we thought we might be able to utilise the far post.  Perry Spackman’s there as a good header of the ball but we thought we could get bodies in and around him at the far post. It’s something that we worked on, we’re doing a little bit of research on our opposition this year, trying to make that next step.”

Referee Harry Wager slipped over as Corinthian attacked down the left with Michael Hagan playing the ball into Daramy, who held the ball up and cut the ball back to Josh James, who drilled his shot high and wide from 25-yards.

Tunbridge Wells took 16 minutes to create only one of two first half openings.

Tom Mackelden swung in a corner from the right towards the near post where Spackman’s header sailed over the crossbar from six-yards.

Tunbridge Wells were thankful to Lawrence for keeping them in the game as Corinthian were miles better than a club that struggled to a 14th-place finish last time out.

A tame effort from Corinthian right-back Alexander Jack Billings fell to Housego, who dragged his shot past the far post.

Golding said: “He’s 17, he’s come through, he’s been with us since an under 15 and he played 25-30 games last year in the first team but again you’re probably expecting him to score from that position and it’s just rolled past the far post.  Minimum he’s got to make the goalkeeper work.”

Housego then played Hagan in through the heart of Tunbridge Wells’ defence but Lawrence smothered the ball at the Hagan’s feet.

Housego’s clever pass played in James Billings in behind the Wells defence and Lawrence was called into making a fine block at his near post.

James Billings’ short-corner was played to Alexander Jack Billings, the right-back floating over a deep cross for Evans to send his downward header comfortably into Lawrence’s hands.

Lawrence then rushed off his line to thwart Hagan after the wide-left striker (scorer of 18 goals last season) was played in by the impressive Housego.

“I thought Michael could’ve gone round him but Michael scored a lot of goals last year and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t do the same again this year,” added Golding.

“Again, he was quick onto the ball, a great weighted ball again and probably because of the calibre of player Michael is, you expect him to create something from it.  The keeper was out quickly, he done well.”

Bourne revealed Spackman wasn’t playing at 100%.

“Perry was playing with a little bit of an injury. I think he’s going to take a couple of weeks out now,” he said.

“We weren’t as tight as we’d have liked. They cut us open two or three times, very early. That was a concern but I think we got to grips with that as the half went on and as the half went on chances were more limited, I felt.”

Despite Corinthian’s dominance and chances it was almost inevitable that Tunbridge Wells would grab the lead on the stroke of half-time.

Stephen Ikpeme, who failed to get any foot hold in the game in the middle of the park, clipped the ball up to striker Jack Howlett, who knocked the ball down to former Sittingbourne midfielder Olelekan Bankole, who lashed his right-footed drive against the underside of the crossbar from 15-yards.

Bourne admitted: “Ollie was very unlucky. Very much against the run of play but you take those little chances and go 1-0 up and it might be a different game but it was very much against the run of play but that’s Kent League football, you play on the counter and very nearly went 1-0 up.”

Golding said: “We tell the boys ‘not to panic!’ We knew we’re going to create chances. We try to move the ball on the floor. We’ve got confidence in our own ability that we will create chances and it’s frustrating when you don’t put them away.  We always knew the next one will come.  I think the pattern of the first half-an-hour suggested to us that the chances would keep coming and we’d rather take one of the first three or four rather than leaving it until the last few minutes!

“It was frustrating. I thought the only way that they were going to score was either from a set-piece because they’re relatively good or from our mistakes.  A couple of times we over played in areas or under-hit passes on quite a slow pitch. 

“I said to the boys that will be very frustrating going in 1-0 down at half-time having dominated 44 minutes of football but that’s how football goes sometimes. If you don’t take your chances when you’re on top it will come back to bite you. Fortunately for us, it hit the crossbar and came back out.”

Golding revealed he wasn’t happy at the interval.

He said: “I gave them a few stern words because I was worried it was going to follow the same pattern from Saturday when we went in 0-0 and we hit the bar.

“The boys were positive, they knew they were the better side playing better but I just don’t want us to be a nice pretty football side, I want us to be winning games and doing it well so we told them in a few uncertain terms that we still expect to be better, to ride the storm, which we thought might be coming from the first 10-15 minutes.  They’re a young side so you have to encourage them, so you can’t lay into them. I wanted more of the same, but with more quality.”

Neither was Bourne, who added: “Basically said to them improve your little things, keep the ball better try not to sit too deep. That’s what we needed to do. Against a side like Corinthian you need to keep the ball better because if you don’t you’ll be chasing shadows. That’s what we asked of them. We done it in spells tonight but we didn’t do it for long enough!”

Former Corinthian striker Howlett drilled a wayward shot when he was played in down the left hand side and at the other end Johnson Cole shanked his shot over the bar after being released down the right by James.

Tunbridge Wells started to claw themselves back into the game, creating a couple of good chances.

Connor Pring whipped in a teasing low cross form the right which went all the way over to former Gillingham youngster Ryan Crandley, his shot being blocked by Dan Bygrave in the Corinthian goal.

Bourne said: “He’s made a couple of good saves. We didn’t create a massive amount but he made a good save form Jack Howlett.  He made a few good saves from the chances we did create.  We’ve got to be clinical if you’re not going to dominate the game and not particularly play well. When you get those chances you need to put them away. It was a good save.”

“A good save from Dan,” said Golding, who then praised Crandley. 

“Ryan’s a good player, he’s a player who we admired last year. Jason’s done well to get him down here. He’s a good young kid, tried to play the game the right way. It spun up off the turf and Dan’s got his body behind it and we rely on Dan to do that.”

Then, a big-kick upfield by Lawrence went to Howlett down the left channel, he cut inside to the heart of the pitch to drill his left-footed drive straight at Bygrave from the edge of the box.

Bourne said: “He hit it well. If it goes either side of the keeper it’s probably a goal. It went straight at him and the big keeper gathered.”

Golding added: “Relatively comfortable. We know Jack, he came through our youth system as well so we know off Jack but I thought Marcus Evans in particular tonight was absolutely outstanding and then Sam Groombridge alongside him, my assistant as well as playing this year, I thought they marshalled him really well. It was a good physical battle for Marcus and I thought he came through it well.”

Corinthian skipper Bath slipped the ball through to James, who flashed his shot past the foot of the left-hand post from 25-yards.

It just wasn’t Corinthian’s night in front of goal.  Substitute Conor Johnson’s angled drive beat Lawrence but smacked into Bryant’s face on the goal-line.

Bourne said: “Unbelievable block to be fair. It hit him square in the face with the goal at the mercy so it was a great block and that’s what we’re saying, put your body on the line to get the clean sheet and that’s what we were aiming to do and Tom done fantastic in that instance.”

Golding added: “It’s great defending, that’s what you ask for your boys. I’m sure Jason will be pleased with the defending. He’s taken one in the face to keep his side in it at 0-0 at the time.

“Conor’s another one, he’s a 17-year-old. He will score goals. He scored goals in the youth team last year and he played 15-20 games for the first team and when he gets in that area you’re expecting him to hit the target. That’s the high standards that we expect from him.”

Alexander Jack Billings’ throw released Johnson Cole down the left and he cut the ball back to Hagan whose low shot forced Lawrence to making a low save to his right.

Tunbridge Wells grabbed the lead with 18 minutes remaining, totally against the run of play.

Evans was penalised for a foul on Howlett some 35-yards from goal.

Print floated in a free-kick into the Corinthian penalty area and Bryant glanced his towering header that sailed past the keeper into the left-hand corner.

Bourne said: “It was a great ball in by Connor, it was a great ball, it’s really hard to defend and when you’ve got big boys like Tom and Perry attacking the balls of that quality you’re going to get things and that’s something we always talk about and something we’ve worked on, it was a great finish.”

When asked how he felt after grabbing the lead that they didn’t deserve on the balance of play, Bourne was honest.

He said: “In all honesty, my thoughts were we’re not playing well, let’s try to maintain the ball and give ourselves a chance.  We knew they were going to come at us a little bit more but we also knew that would create a bit of space for us.

“There was a still a while to go so we didn’t want to sit back and absorb the pressure and invite them on so we pretty much tried to pack the midfield and keep it better.”

Golding said: “I questioned it with the linesman (Steve Roots). I thought the free-kick should’ve gone the other way.  The ref’s put the whistle to the mouth and then Marcus (Evans) has bit back and got the yellow card for it so my frustration was with the free-kick.

“It’s a half decent delivery into a good area and it’s a flick on.  Dan’s made the decision to come out and unfortunately it’s not paid off that time but Dan will save points for us so there’s no blame there at Dan’s feet.”

Housego went close when his right-footed drive deflected just past the foot of the far post as it appeared that Corinthian would not score had they played all night.

A fine pass from Alexander Jack Billings played Johnson in behind the Wells defence and he was fouled by Bryant and the referee pointed to the spot.

Johnson Cole stepped up and his right-footed penalty nestled into the bottom right-hand corner – a  deserved equaliser.

Golding said: “it was good movement from Conor. He’s got in behind the centre half and to be honest it was a penalty.  The new rules, I wasn’t sure if it was a red card or a yellow card, but yellow card was the right decision.

“It’s good for Will. He’s new to us this year, he’s fresh to us this year and he’s offered us something different.

“I believe he played for Faversham under 21s and Chatham’s under 21’s last year but he’s a Gravesend boy so he’s relatively local and he’s come in and done well in pre-season.

“He’s got a good attitude. He wants to do the right things. He was at Palace a few years ago so his pedigree’s there. We’ve got high hopes for him this year.”

Bourne added: “It was a penalty. He’s committed Tom and he went in to make a tackle that he thought was there to be won and miss-timed it. These things happen. It was a good run in from their player and Tom was fully committed to the challenge but unfortunately it resulted in a penalty.”

Johnson Cole then stung Lawrence’s fingers and the flag went up after Johnson cut the ball back to Hagan, who found the bottom corner and the goal was chalked off.

But Corinthian kept going and claimed a deserved victory in the final four minutes.

Alexander Jack Billings released Johnson down the right channel and he cut the ball back for Housego to place his shot into the bottom far corner.

Golding said: “A good finish. That’s one of the criticisms of Oscar.  As a number 10 or a rotating midfielder he doesn’t score enough goals. He’s got good vision, a good quality of pass but we expect him even now at a young age, we expect him to score more goals and we’ve put pressure on him this year to be doing that.

“I thought he was very good tonight. Again, he’s come through the youth system so we look after them.  I thought he deserved the winner tonight, I thought he done well.”

Bourne added: “It was a well-timed goal. They had three or four very, very similar they could’ve scored from. Their movement up front is very intelligent. It was a nice finish. You can’t complain tonight, we lost 2-1, can’t complain whatsoever.

“It’s just important we improve, get the little things right and that will grow into big improvement but we’ve taken a little step backwards. It’s not panic stations but we do need to improve and we’ll just carry on working hard to improve.”

The rest of the division play on Saturday afternoon but Corinthian are sitting proudly at the top of the table for 17 hours.

Golding said: “Fantastic, fantastic. There’s only been one game. We’ll go watch a couple of games tomorrow but listen it’s early doors but yes, it’s a nice feeling.”

www.kentishfootball.co.uk leads a campaign for more Friday night games at SCEFL Premier and SCEFL 1 Level to bring in the crowds.

Golding said: “I’m a big fan. Listen, it’s good. We always know there’s good crowds at Tunbridge Wells but if it brings in a few stragglers I think it’s a really good idea. I’m sure there will be other mangers from the SCEFL here tonight. I’m sure they were floating around. It gives people a chance to have a look at other teams. I think it’s a really good idea.”

Bourne added: “I’m very much the same. I think it’s good.  Two hundred and seventy five isn’t a massive improvement on our crowd anyway.  I think it works for a lot of clubs who particularly don’t get big crowds. It was a good atmosphere at the Culverden, it always is though whether we play Friday or Saturday, it doesn’t really matter, we still get the same.  I’m very much in favour of it. I think it gives teams a chance to come and watch teams play so you get Saturday to go and do other bits. I think it’s very attractive.”

Tunbridge Wells: Steve Lawrence, Connor Hood, Alfie Hall (Jake Hampson 85), Stephen Ikpeme (Ollie Cooke 70), Perry Spackman, Tom Bryant, Ryan Crandley, Olelekan Bankole, Jack Howlett, Tom Mackelden (Kane Penn 57), Connor Pring.
Subs: Rhys Bartlett, Ryan Chandler

Goal: Tom Bryant 72

Booked: Alfie Hall 19, Perry Spackman 33, Connor Pring 74, Tom Bryant 77

Corinthian: Daniel Bygrave, Alexander Jack Billings, James Billings, Jack Bath, Marcus Evans, Sam Groombridge, Michael Hagan, Josh James, Brima Daramy (Conor Johnson 64), Oscar Housego, William Johnson Cole.
Subs: Joe Brown, Jamie Taylor, Tom Montgomery

Goals: William Johnson Cole 77 (penalty), Oscar Housego  86

Booked: Sam Groombridge 48, Marcus Evans 71, Alexander Jack Billings 84

Attendance: 275
Referee: Mr Harry Wager (Tunbridge Wells)
Assistants: Mr Steve Roots (Tunbridge Wells) & Mr Shane Brown (Sevenoaks)

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