Tunbridge Wells 1-2 Cray Valley (Paper Mills) - Relegation? It’s not going to happen, says Tunbridge Wells boss Jason Bourne

Monday 06th March 2017
Tunbridge Wells 1 – 2 Cray Valley (Paper Mills)
Location Culverden Stadium, Culverden Down, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN4 9SG
Kickoff 07/03/2017 19:45

Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division
Tuesday 7th March 2017
Stephen McCartney reports from Culverden Stadium

TUNBRIDGE WELLS manager Jason Bourne says he cannot even contemplate suffering relegation at the end of the season.

The Wells remain in the bottom five in the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division table with 23 points from 26 games and are only four points clear of the relegation zone, but with two games in hand on Beckenham Town (19 points) and three on Fisher (18 points).

They went into this game on the back of a point at Whitstable Town and a 2-1 home win over Rochester United at the weekend and they took the lead through striker Ryan Crandley, who capped off an impressive first half display by scoring his eighth goal of the season, although he was given a helping hand by visiting goalkeeper Jordan Carey.

Cray Valley, who defeated basement side Fisher 2-1 at home at the weekend, levelled through Jason Thompson’s first half penalty.

The second half was an uninspiring battle for the crowd of 147 at Culverden Stadium but Cray Valley edged it and probed more than their hosts.

Cray Valley sealed the winner with 43:23 on the clock, courtesy of an own goal from Tunbridge Wells goalkeeper Steve Lawrence.

“You’re watching the boys come off the pitch, they gave everything for us, they battled hard,” said Bourne following his side’s 15th league defeat of the season.

“They’re a top five side, unfortunately, at the minute we’re a bottom five side, so you watched the game it was a real good game.  I thought we matched them all the way.  I think they’ll be the first to admit there was nothing really in the game. It took a little bit of a freak goal to win it.

“I’m not disappointed, I’m not despondent about that. The boys are gutted because they’ve given everything.  I’m not going to lose sleep over that.”

When asked about the second half battling performance from his side, Bourne replied: “That’s what I want from my team every week, I want them to go and battle and go and play when we’ve won that side of things.

“We really hard to draw on all of our resources.  We’ve had three under 21 players in the squad (Maxim Carbune, Tom Lawrence and Ikechi Eze).
Tom Davey has had a couple of appearances for us this year, so I had to pull a favour to get Tommy in and for my money Tommy was the best player on the pitch, still totally controls games and wins battles.”

Cray Valley manager James Collins said he was delighted to be able to pick up back-to-back wins against two struggling clubs despite a depleted squad.

He said: “I do think it was coming at the end but I do think we were well worth the three points if I’m honest. It was a proper dig-in performance.  I questioned them after the Ashford game about whether we had that in us.

“We turned up with 12 fit players tonight. Austin Gacheru and Tom Fitzgerald shouldn’t have come on.  Laurence Collins was injured so we only had Ryan Fowler as a fit sub and Frankie Griffin’s come in as a makeshift centre half and got injured, which is the curse of the centre defenders.  I’m pleased with him.”

Crandley was at the heart of good Tunbridge Wells play during the first half and he played a one-two with winger Jon Pilbeam but Taylor McDonagh came across him to put in a challenge and the ball rolled behind for a goal-kick to the Millers.

Cray Valley were to be denied by a smart save from Steve Lawrence with only 154 seconds on the clock.

Thompson released left-winger Aaron Rhule, who easily cut past struggling right-back Kieron Tarbie to cut into the penalty area and flashed his cross across the face of goal and Enoch Adjei took a touch some eight-yards from goal and Steve Lawrence rushed off his line to make a vital block.

Tunbridge Wells’ left-back Alfie Hall, who was withdrawn through his troubled hamstring at the break, threw the ball into the Cray Valley box, the ball was cleared out to Tom Davey, who smacked his volley high-and-wide from 25-yards.

But Cray Valley should have been 2-0 up inside the opening eight minutes.

Wood clipped the ball over the top of Tarbie to put Rhule in, the former Bromley and Merstham winger cut into the box and Steve Lawrence came out to smother the ball at Rhule’s feet.

Collins said: “It should have been 2-0 and they were big chances.  Enoch scored an identical goal against Fisher when he took a touch and he was trying to do what he did against Fisher and Aaron’s done well.   I thought the keeper did well and Aaron would’ve backed himself to score.

“But I was more pleased with the fact that we followed the game plan. That was the idea of playing Denzel (Gayle) up top. We played them twice (beating them twice) and we thought we could get at them with pace, especially on a bigger pitch, so pleased with that. We didn’t quite execute it but as long as they’re trying to do the right things, then I’ll be happy.”

Bourne said: “Aaron Rhule is quality as, same as Denzel Gayle.  They played direct and we didn’t get hold of it. It took us about 10 minutes to get ourselves set. Once we got set we nullified that threat and it was a bit of a midfield battle.

“First half we were creating chances as much as they were.  Ryan (Crandley) got on the ball and was looking dangerous.

“Steve (Lawrence) has been our best player all season by an absolute country mile. He’s grown so much as a player and a goalkeeper. It’s a bit gutting to see things like that happen (the late own-goal), but I think it will make him an even better goalkeeper than he is.  He’s shown the improvements he’s made and he showed it in the first 10. We could have been two goals, maybe even three goals down if Stevie wasn’t playing for us. He made good saves at the right time.”

Millers keeper Carey twice came out to deny Crandley charging through the heart of the pitch as Tunbridge Wells twice slipped the ball through along the heart of defence along the deck.

Tunbridge Wells grabbed the lead, against the run of play, with 15 minutes and 28 seconds on the clock.

Crandley passed to striker James Pinnock before Crandley played a one-two with left-winger John Shea. Crandley hit a right-footed drive from 25-yards, which was palmed in to the corner by Carey’s outstretched left hand.

“Ryan hits a really clean ball and he hit it and their keeper misjudged it and it went straight through his hands,” said Bourne.

“Again, a little bit of a freak goal but you hit the target and you ask the question and sometimes you get a bit of luck.”

It was exactly what Crandley deserved, although he was snuffed out after the break.

“We’ve been playing Ryan out wide a little bit this season but we moved him in as the number 10 over the last three games,” revealed Bourne.

“He’s so hard to get hold off. He’s good with the ball, he moves it quickly, he finds those little pockets that defenders don’t want to go in and we got the best out of him in that 10 role.  To be fair, I hold my hands up for playing him out wide a little bit too much this season but he’s done a job for the team.”

The mistake brought Carey down a peg or two after his appearance on Soccer AM on Saturday morning after video footage of him head butting his left-hand post three times after Ashford United striker Adrian Stone put one past him in a recent game.

Collins said of the former Brentford and Margate goalkeeper, 18: “I had a bit of a go at him after the Ashford game. He’s such a likeable person. He just needs to get his head right.   He’s such a likeable person but he’s a very good goalkeeper as well. He’s loved all that this week, fair play to him. It’s not often you get on TV at 18 and you’re not going to turn that down. As long as he gets noticed for the right things with us, people know who he is now.  If he makes sure his performances are right on the pitch he should be able to climb up the ladder and he should be for me. He’s learnt a lot this year and I do think he’s capable of playing higher, a lot higher.

“If I have a criticism of Jordan it’s never his shot stopping. The fact that he’s let that in is not my criticism of him. He’s a top goalkeeper. He’s saved us in games. It happens. It’s one of those things. But I was pleased with his reaction. He’s had a tendency in previous games to let it affect him but he was fine.”

Cray Valley won the corner count by 11-1 and Thompson delivered a high, hanging quality ball in from the right but an unmarked Alistair Gordon could only steer his header past the far post.

Pilbeam sped past Millers’ left-back Danny Smith and wrapped his right-footed around the ball on the by-line but his rasping cross was plucked out of the air by Carey at his near post.

Thompson drilled a low shot across the keeper and past the far post from 15-yards after his initial crossfield pass saw Adjei and Gordon link up well down the right, not for the first time.

Tarbie found himself down the right channel at the other end of the pitch and he played the ball inside to Pilbeam, who cut inside and dragged his left-footed shot past the foot of the near post from just inside the corner of the Millers’ penalty box.

Referee Ronald Albert took about five seconds to blow his whistle and acknowledge Luke Hackett’s trip on pacy striker Denzel Gayle[U1]  inside the box. It was a foul in the box and Thompson stepped up to stroke his left-footed penalty past Steve Lawrence.

Referee Albert failed to award Cray Valley a second penalty in the 39th minute when Brad Potter clearly fouled Adjei in the box, although both managers felt it should have been a spot-kick.

Bourne said: “I thought it was a very soft penalty to be honest but I was diagonally across the pitch.  You might have seen something different but I thought it was a soft penalty.

“But having said that five minutes later probably I think they had a more, clear cut penalty turned away so although they got a penalty that was soft they had another one that was turned down which was probably a better shout.  We had a little bit of luck.”

Collins said: “It looked like a penalty but it seemed like the referee took an age to give it! You’re always going to claim it. I didn’t look like as blatant to me on the one on Enoch about five minutes later, I had a clear view of that and I thought it was a stonewall penalty. I’m still further away from the ref but it’s all about opinions.

“JT has missed the last couple but he’s scored the last couple now but I’ll always back him for a pen.”

And on the one that was incorrectly not given, Collins replied: “Look, if he don’t give the first one, he’ll probably give that one. I think it was just a case of two consecutive penalties but my frustration would be if we had that against Ashford the other day when they had two consecutive penalties, if it’s a penalty, it’s a penalty. I thought it was but the referee saw it differently.”

Thompson swept in a free-kick, which was spilt by Steve Lawrence but the Tunbridge Wells keeper reacted well to block Frankie Griffin’s shot on the turn from inside the penalty area.

The home side created the last chance of the first half on the stroke of half-time when Pilbeam’s low drive brought a comfortable save from Carey from a tight angle.

Bourne said: “Jon worked really hard today and he got on the full-back a lot and he gave us a lot of joy down there. He put decent balls in the box and I was pleased with him. He made things happen in the first half.”

Both managers were asked their thoughts at the break.

Bourne said: “Not much to say really. I was impressed with the way we equipped ourselves. I was impressed with the way we adapted after getting exposed in the first 10 minutes and all you want your teams to be is adaptable, so we dealt with that, so we (spoke about) the areas we needed to improve on and the areas that we were exposing them, so we just stamped that message back home and went from there.”

Collins added: “We said we was really happy. We thought we’d be able to pick them off in the second half, but they’ll probably need a few more points to be safe.  I read somewhere they’ve won five of their last six games at home so it’s not an easy place to come.

“They had their fans behind the goal in the second half and you wonder whether if it’s going to get into Jordan’s head and that sort of thing.  I thought we limited them to not a great deal and we stuck to the game plan. If we work together and follow my instructions and you’re good enough to execute them we’ll be alright. Sometimes we deviate from that but tonight we were spot on for 90 minutes.”

Millers keeper Carey was taunted by the home fans behind his goal at the start of the second half with shouts of “nut the post,” after his painful exploits against his post beating against Ashford United.

Carey took Pilbeam’s quality cross from the right despite being put under pressure by Crandley after just 26 seconds into the second half before having a quiet second half as Tunbridge Wells lacked quality in the final third and soon silenced the cat-calls behind his goal.

Collins said: “I can’t remember them having much if I’m honest and that’s not being disrespectful to them, but I remember Jordan taking two really good catches, under pressure, really good catches and the shot they had and the one they went clean through in the first half.” 

Thompson swung in his fourth corner from the left and Steve Lawrence danced towards his near post, let the ball go through his fingers but received a huge slice of luck as the ball bounced just past his near post.

Bourne added: “I think he’s miss-judged it. Jason Thompson whips a lovely ball and it’s nice and flat and Stevie’s just come through a crowd of players and miss-judged it a little bit but when you’re making a lot of good saves you deserve a bit of luck.”

Cray Valley’s left-back Danny Smith cut inside and stroked his right-footed shot towards goal from 22-yards, which was well held by Steve Lawrence, diving low to his right.

“I probably should give Danny a mention. He’s been so good for us.  He’s probably been our most consistent player,” said Collins.

“I need to give Tom Fitzgerald a shout today because he was nowhere near fit enough today. He told me before he can’t head it, he can’t jump or he can’t run so for him to get through 50 minutes, I’m so pleased with him.

“Frankie Griffin has twisted his knee. He’s gone up the hospital now so I’ll give him a text now.  We’ve just played so many games recently and we’re picking up so many injuries and it does take its toll and we’ve been playing most midweeks with the cup competitions we play in. We’re just down to bare bones but every club has to deal with that.”

Hackett played the ball out of the Wells defence and Pilbeam charged forward but his speculative shot was saved comfortably by Carey.

When asked about Tunbridge Wells’ failure to attack and create clear cut chances in the second half, Bourne replied: “Second half we didn’t relieve the pressure enough but as the game went on they showed why they’re in that part of the table as appose to where we were.

“I thought the back four, Brad Potter was exceptional, Luke Hackett’s just getting a bit of fitness back and we defended stoutly.  Paul Butler in the middle of the park was superb and Tom Davey. We knew we had to absorb some pressure but we just held onto it a little bit too long.

“To be honest, again, you’ve got to be realistic. If we’re too open against a top team and we go forward too much and we push we might get exploited so we were a little bit conservative.

“We didn’t get enough support up to James Pinnock or Callum Smith, which meant they fed off scraps and we know that’s an area we need to work on, but first of all we defend first and then we go and make chances with Pilbeam.”

Cray Valley were the better side for the last 30 minutes, probing, creating, looking the more likely side to claim the three points.

Rhule won the ball from Maxim Carbune, a substitute now playing right-back as Bourne moved Tarbie over to right-back for the second half, after failing to get to grips with Rhule in the first half, and Rhule played in Gayle, who swept his shot on the turn past the near post from 12-yards.

“They’ve got pace and all the top sides have got pace and when you have pace you create chances and they make things happen,” said Bourne.

“I thought first half Alfie (Hall) was superb.  He dealt with Enoch Adjei on the other side, I thought he had him in his pocket second half and on the other side Aaron Rhule was giving Kieron (Tarbie) a bit of trouble.”

When asked about switching Tarbie from right-back to left-back at the break, Bourne replied: “It was very much forced. Alfie’s had hamstring injuries all season and it was very tight after the game on Saturday so we just took it as a precaution. We can’t afford to lose Alfie for long periods so we brought Alfie off and naturally Maxim (Carbune) has been playing right-back for the under 21s so we’re not scared to use him so we put him in there and that meant Tarbie coming to the left so it wasn’t so much a tactical change, more of a forced one.”

Gayle then returned the favour, cutting the ball back for Rhule to pull the trigger, only to be denied by a fine defensive block from inside the penalty area in the 66th minute.

Collins said: “I thought we had a few half chances and we had a few clear cut chances and you’re wondering if it’s ever going to go in!

“There must have been a ghost in that goal, two goalkeeping howlers really weren’t they? But to be fair to him (Lawrence) and as harsh as it is, he kept them in the game and made quite a few good saves.”

Tunbridge Wells just couldn’t live with Cray Valley’s pacey front line of Gayle, Adjei and Rhule during this game and they proved to be the difference.

“I would just like a little bit more quality,” said Collins.

“I said to them you’re willing and you work hard and you do what I ask I’m not going to be too harsh on you if the qualities not there.

“Aaron hasn’t been there for so long and Enoch, I’ve had before so I know about his quality but Denzel has been brilliant for us all season. He’s a wide player really so to play him down the middle is something that we’ve asked him to do and he’s followed it and on these big pitches they are a threat.”

Danny Smith had a corner cleared back out to him, the Millers’ full-back cutting inside and hitting his left-footed drive sailing over the crossbar from 25-yards.

Tom Fitzgerald slipped the ball into Gayle’s feet, the striker spun away from his man and his right-footed drive was saved comfortably by Steve Lawrence.

It was only a matter of time when Cray Valley would get their deserved winner as the game entered the final 10 minutes.

Austin Gacheru cut the ball back to fellow sub Ryan Fowler, whose low drive deflected past the foot of the near post.

Fowler swung in the away side’s penultimate corner towards the near post and former Chatham Town striker Gacheru made space to plant his header over the crossbar from six-yards.

“JT’s deliveries are up there with the best. We do work on them.  I don’t think we score enough from set-pieces. I would like to see us score more of them but JT’s deliveries give us a chance,” added Collins.

“They were knocking on the door but I thought they were scraps really,” admitted Bourne.

“They were whipping balls into areas and we were defending them and they were getting bits and bobs but they never really carved us open as such until they scored their second one and we pushed a bit.  I was just impressed with the way we set up and limited them to chances.”

As it looked like Tunbridge Wells had battled their way to a vital point, Cray Valley scored a deserved winner, timed at 43 minutes and 23 seconds.

Gacheru played the ball out to right-back Gordon, who had lots of time and space to sweep a hopeful cross into the Tunbridge Wells penalty area some 40-yards from goal.  The ball sailed over Steve Lawrence’s head, dipped down and kissed the top of the crossbar, bounced down and went in of the keeper’s right arm and dropped into the goal for an own-goal.

“You’re just not sure, you’re just hoping we get another chance. We were missing big chances. We kept going, we kept being a threat and the goal we scored at the end has helped us out a little bit because it looked like we weren’t going to score any other way,” admitted Collins.

“You’re giving it as an own goal are you? I can’t comment because I didn’t think it gone in!

“I thought it gone over the back of the goal and then everyone started celebrating and you’re thinking has it gone in? I’m not sure how it did!

“I thought Alistair was brilliant all game. I thought he had a great game. He deserved it.

“The ball’s gone in to the box and you’re thinking it’s another wasted opportunity but it’s gone in and I just don’t like to be bemoaning bad luck recently but I do think we’re due some so I’m well happy. I thought we deserved to win the game though.

“He’s been playing centre midfield. He’s a good lad. I think I’d want to claim it if I was him.  If you’re saying it’s an own goal, it’s an own goal.”

It's a kind of sucker-punch that happens to struggling teams.

“I honestly didn’t see.  I didn’t quite realise what happened to be honest with you,” said Bourne.

“If was just a whipped ball in that area. It hit the bar, comes back and it’s just one of those things. Every goalkeeper you’ll ever speak to will make mistakes and you’re just at a crossroads. Are you going to then use that to make you a stronger person, stronger character and then improve or are you going to dip your head? I know Steve will improve from it.”

Rhule’s crossfield run and pass saw him set up a chance for an unmarked Gacheru, who drilled his shot high and wide when he should have kept composed to call the Wells keeper into action at the death.

Tunbridge Wells travel to Homelands Stadium to play Canterbury City on Saturday.

“If we had taken a point tonight, it’s a massive boost for everyone,” said Bourne.

“I don’t like the league position we’re in but you’ve got to hold your hands up sometimes. Am I disappointed with our performance today? Definitely not so that’s the main thing. If we’d come here and rolled over then I’d be concerned, but we didn’t.  We gave everything. The boys are absolutely out on their feet, so no complaints from me.”

Bourne insists his home-town club will not be playing First Division football next season.

“What we can’t be is blinkered, blinkered to think we’re going to be alright,” he said.

“You see at any level of football, no one’s too good to go down but what we have is a belief in ourselves to get ourselves out of trouble.  We’re not oblivious to it. We know it’s there but we’re certainly not fearful. We’re certainly not a club in freefall worrying about it.  

“You saw it tonight, we can compete with anyone and we’ll carry on competing and we’ll get the results we want.”

But when asked whether he has thought about suffering relegation, a defiant Bourne said: “It’s not even a serious question! It’s not going to happen! I won’t allow it to happen! The boys won’t allow it to happen! It’s not something that we even talk about. In my mind it’s not a scenario to play out so.”

Cray Valley, meanwhile, travel to Croydon on Saturday and have climbed up three places into fourth with 54 points from 29 games.

“After the Ashford thing, we had a bit of a talk after the Ashford game and all last week and it was wasn’t nice really. We just wanted to get back to basics and two back-to-back wins after that and not easy because they’re both fighting for their lives and I’m pleased to get back-to-back wins and we go to Croydon on Saturday.

“We’ve got to see what bodies we’ve got because we’re down to bare bones.  I’m hoping to sign a couple just to help out a little bit, the (transfer) deadline’s coming up (31 March) and we’ve still got a Cup Final and a Quarter-Final.

“I’ve always rated Croydon, I always like them.  Their results don’t always suggest that. Every time I’ve gone there they seem to be good. They’ve got good players and it won’t be easy there.”

Tunbridge Wells: Steve Lawrence, Kieron Tarbie, Alfie Hall (Maxim Carbune 46), Paul Butler, Brad Potter, Luke Hackett, Jon Pilbeam, Tom Davey, James Pinnock, Ryan Crandley, John Shea (Callum Smith 57).
Subs: Tom Lawrence, Ilechi Eze, Michal Czanner

Goal: Ryan Crandley 16

Booked: Maxim Carbune 82

Cray Valley (Paper Mills): Jordan Carey, Alistair Gordon, Danny Smith, Jamie Wood, Taylor McDonagh, Frankie Griffin (Tom Fitzgerald 45), Enoch Adjei (Austin Gacheru 76), Jamie Miller, Denzel Gayle, Jason Thompson (Ryan Fowler 62), Aaron Rhule.
Sub: Laurence Collins

Goals: Jason Thompson 37 (penalty), Steve Lawrence 89 (own goal)

Attendance: 147
Referee: Mr Ronald Albert (Catford, London SE6)
Assistants: Mr Danny Geary (Maidstone) & Mr Mark Moore (Tunbridge Wells)

Coverage Sponsored by: