Tunbridge Wells 0-2 Sevenoaks Town - I was disappointed with the level of finishing, says Sevenoaks Town boss Micky Collins

Monday 02nd January 2017
Tunbridge Wells 0 – 2 Sevenoaks Town
Location Culverden Stadium, Culverden Down, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN4 9SG
Kickoff 02/01/2017 15:00

Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division
Bank Holiday Monday 2 January 2017
Stephen McCartney reports from Culverden Stadium

SEVENOAKS TOWN manager Micky Collins says his side cannot afford to slip up in their last 19 league games if they are to celebrate their maiden league title at this level.

The Oaks created 13 chances on target but had to settle for striker Byron Walker converting two of them, taking his goalscoring tally for the season to 19, as Sevenoaks Town silenced their noisy neighbours in front of a crowd of 331 at Culverden Stadium.

Sevenoaks Town have taken over as the top dog in west Kent in this division and remain in sixth-place with 43 points.  They are one of six clubs that have a chance of winning the title and stand five points adrift of league leaders Crowborough Athletic, but with a game in hand.

Relegation from the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division for Tunbridge Wells would be nothing short of a disaster.  Today was the club’s seventh defeat on the spin and they are only three points above the drop zone, but they have three games in hand on Beckenham Town and four on basement side Fisher.

“Made hard work of it, I thought we made hard work of it,” admitted Collins, who has extended his contract until the end of the 2018-19 season.

“I know they were resilient but we should’ve been three-four-five up in the first half and we weren’t and they’re always going to want to have a go and fair play to them they did and for spirit you can’t knock them.

“They wanted to have a real go and they had a couple of little chances and they could’ve got themselves back in it and at 1-0 it’s always a tough game and the second one came so late.

“We haven’t played (since drawing against Crowborough Athletic on 17 December), it’s no excuse but we looked rusty in the final third.  I thought we got into areas that were fantastic but we just didn’t finish them off and on another day that can bite you on the backside and today we got away with it.

“Over the years it’s always Sevenoaks are always going to lose probably to Tunbridge Wells and now maybe the boots on the other foot.  Maybe what we’ve done and I can’t remember the last time I lost a derby with Tunbridge Wells, it’s changed now, that dynamic has changed and all of a sudden we’re probably turning up as the favourites today and Tunbridge Wells are the underdogs and for us to achieve that with our club in two and a half years, that’s phenomenal.”

“Gutted to concede right at the end because I thought it was a real good derby to be honest,” said Tunbridge Wells manager Jason Bourne after his side’s 11th league defeat of the season, their fifth at home.

“There were some good thundering tackles in there from both sides, end-to-end, chances at both ends.  I think they had the better of the chances first half, second half, I thought we did.

“We’re not scoring goals at the minute so it’s not taking the pressure off so just gutted to concede right at the end because we were getting better as the game went on.

“I’m pleased with the boys’ performance today.  Sevenoaks are a good, good side. That’s why they’re at the top of the table.  We worked very hard, blood and guts from us.  I’m disappointed to lose in the manner of the defeat.”

Tunbridge Wells’ left-back Luke Carpenter came up against Harrison Carnegie in form that is evidence that the right winger should not be playing at this level of the game as Carnegie put in an impressive man-of-the-match display.

Collins said: “We set up to play a certain way and we play attacking, attractive football. We get the ball down and we like to play.  We’ve created some great chances, we just haven’t put the ball in the back of the net, unfortunately.

“When Harrison’s on it, people can’t live with him. That’s proved it in the FA Cup tie with Chesham and some of the big boys that have come down and tried to mark him out of the game and he does it.”

Bourne added: “I’m sure Micky will be disappointed with their finishing in the first half because it could have been over, but we still had two or three chances at our end so although they were getting in, both wingers McCann and Harrison (Carnegie) are both good players and they got the ball out wide and exposed the full-backs and get quality in.  That’s what they do, we knew they do it and it’s harder to stop it. It’s alright knowing it but they made a lot of chances. A lot of stuff fizzed across the box but we were still making chances at our end.”

Chris Edwards threw the ball to Carnegie, who cut in towards the corner of the penalty area but his left-footed shot was saved comfortably by Tunbridge Wells keeper Steve Lawrence at his near post after only 149 seconds.

That set the tone for Sevenoaks Town’s dominance and Billy Bennett’s flicked pass put Walker through but he steered his left-footed shot past the foot of the right-hand post.

Tunbridge Wells took 11 minutes to register their first opening.  Right-back Jake Hampson clipped a long ball down the right channel and striker Charlie Cornford cut inside but scuffed a poor shot rolling into Rob French’s hands for a comfortable save from 20-yards.

Kieran McCann released full-back Greg Benbow on the overlap and his cross was cleared by Luke Hackett and the ball dropped to Joe Bingham, who hooked his volley over the bar.

But Tunbridge Wells still created chances during this entertaining derby.

Central defender Brad Potter clipped the ball up field, the ball was knocked down by Pilbeam and striker Josh Biddlecombe’s smacked a right-footed volley wide of the right-hand post from 25-yards.

But Sevenoaks Town deservedly opened the scoring with 18 minutes and 57 seconds on the clock.

Bennett swept the ball out to McCann on the left, who easily cut past Hampson, and put his cross on a plate for Walker to bury his downward header past Steve Lawrence from six-yards.

Collins said: “Good ball, again we’ve played our way up the park. Bill’s intelligent, played it out to Kieron and he’s just dinked a lovely little cross and that’s what Byron’s there for and he’s gone and headed it in.

“All of a sudden we’re 1-0 up and with a big crowd like that behind that goal all off a sudden they’re quiet and that’s what you need to do, you silence the crowd and all of a sudden you can play your football and they’ll get on their team and manager’s back and that’s what you do when you go away from home.

“I’d love to have that crowd, it’s fantastic for my boys to play the football they’re playing in front of a crowd like that. It would be amazing at Sevenoaks. We’re not there, we may never get there,” said Collins, who’s side also won 2-0 at Greatness Park against their local rivals in August.

Bourne added: “That’s what Byron does, he scores goals! He’s a poacher, he’s a predator.  They missed chances before that, they were good value for their 1-0, so no complaints.”

Sevenoaks Town should have doubled their lead in the 25th minute, following another fine passing move on the deck.

Walker played the ball inside to Bennett, who played the ball on the outside to McCann, who cut inside and his right-footed drive was beaten away by Steve Lawrence, diving to his right.

Bourne was full of praise for his busy goalkeeper.

He said: “Steve made a handful of good saves today.  There’s areas of his game that he has to work on.  He knows he needs to work on them and that’s why we’ve got Michal (Czanner) in to work on them but his shot stopping is second to none.  Today, he made a few decent saves.”

Collins added: “We’ve got to score! It was a routine save for him, he made it a routine save. We’ve got to score that and that’s 2-0 and all of a sudden they’re looking at a totally different animal.  I think the game would’ve opened up even more, which would’ve suited us.”

Tunbridge Wells were more clinical with their shooting on the break, calling French into action when they did register a chance.

Crandley’s flicked a pass inside to central midfielder Ollie Bankole, who drilled a low shot from 25-yards towards the bottom left-hand corner, only for French to dive low to his right to make the save.

A dinked pass from Sevenoaks’ right-back Edwards gave Carnegie another chance after tormenting Carpenter with his talent, but he drilled his shot over the bar after cutting into the penalty area.

Bankole played the ball out wide to Pilbeam, who twisted and turned Edwards on the left to whip in a cross but Cornford’s free-header from eight-yards sailed past the left-hand post.

French had to be at his best to deny Tunbridge Wells grabbing an equaliser in the 33rd minute, as the home side got better as half-time approached.

Cornford played the ball inside to Biddlecombe, who unleashed a low drive towards the bottom far corner, which forced French to dive full-length low to his right to push the ball around his post.

“I said to the boys at half-time that I thought Rob’s handling was immense and when he had to push one around the post on another day that bounces off and he scores and they get back in the game and it’s totally different,” said Collins.

“Rob’s been great for us. He’s been in and out injured this year, he’s had some unfortunate things and when he plays for us we’re solid.  His handling is immense and that’s why the kid can play a league or two higher. He’s a good goalkeeper.  He’s kept himself a clean sheet today and he’s earned it.”

“We’re keeping them honest at 1-0, although they’re missing chances, we were then starting to then creep back into it, which I’m sure they’ll be disappointed about,” added Bourne.

A charging run from Bennett down the left saw him put in a cross but Walker’s diving header from eight-yards sailed straight into the hands of Steve Lawrence.

Sevenoaks Town missed a glorious chance to double their lead in the 35th minute.

Carnegie crossed the ball in from the right to find Bennett in space inside the Tunbridge Wells box but the ball got stuck underneath his feet and he slid his shot trickling towards the bottom far corner, but Steve Lawrence dived bravely to his left to save, despite Walker sliding in to attempt to poke the ball over the line.

Collins admitted: “Let’s call it rustiness, on another day Bill’s putting that away and he knows that! Maybe it’s the fact we’ve had such a long lay-off over Christmas?

Cornford cut the ball onto his left foot and his low drive from 25-yards was saved by French low to his right.

Edwards cracked a dipping free-kick towards the top left-hand corner from 30-yards, which was caught by the Tunbridge Wells keeper.

But Tunbridge Wells squandered an excellent chance to equalise in the final three minutes of the half.

Bankole played the ball down the left to Pilbeam, who whipped in a cross, which sailed over French’s head, Biddlecombe’s head and dropped to an unmarked Crandley at the far post but the former Gillingham winger lashed his volley over the bar from four-yards.

“I expected him to at least work the keeper really but when we’re making these chances we’ve got to take them,” said Bourne.

“We never relieved the pressure. We’ve been shipping a lot of goals over the last month, fair play, against good sides, but it can’t be one-way traffic. We need to score goals and take the pressure off and give ourselves chances.”

Collins added: ”Same as us, same as us, he’s got to finish that! They’ve got to go in 1-1, he’s got to finish that!

“That’s why people are at a level. That’s why certain players are at a level at times because they’re not putting the ball in the net.  That’s why you look at someone like Alfie May. He’s got a move (from Hythe Town to League Two Doncaster Rovers) because the boy scores goals.  If you score goals at any level you get yourself up the pyramid and you go on and play and then you find your natural level and today’s proved it with our boys today. We should’ve been prolific and the guy that’s got us two goals today, he’s probably the guy who was that one person on that pitch that’s been up close being a pro.”

Frustrating Sevenoaks Town missed another opportunity on the stroke of half-time.

Carnegie played the ball on the outside to substitute Stephen Camacho and his right-footed shot was saved by Steve Lawrence, low down at his near post.

Sevenoaks Town, somehow, only went in at the break a goal-up.

Both managers were asked their thoughts at half-time.

Bourne said: “Just much the same. We had a few issues that we needed to fix with their movement and their quality and once that was done just taking our chances and making sure it’s a derby throughout the 90 minutes and we don’t run out of steam.  I was pleased with the boys.”

Collins added: “Keep doing what we’re doing! I wasn’t unhappy with the way we were playing. I was just disappointed with the level of finishing and the fact that they were still in the game. That was the most disappointing thing for me.  Unfortunately we hadn’t finished them off and that’s annoying.”

Tunbridge Wells performed better during the second half.

Bankole gave the ball away in midfield inside his own half and gave McCann a chance to strike at goal from 35-yards, but Steve Lawrence dived to his right to hold onto the ball well after only 55 seconds.

“I’ve lost track with some of the chances, there were so many, the game becomes a bit of a blur at  times,” came Collins reply.  “You just want to see the ball roll in the net and at 2-0 then it’s game over.  We didn’t. We just didn’t finish them off today and that happens in football. Fortunately, we got away with it.”

French made an even better save to deny Tunbridge Wells an equaliser shortly afterwards.

It took one long ball out of defence for Cornford to bring the ball down under his spell, turn and drill a low right-footed shot towards the bottom near corner, only for French to get his frame across his goal to push the ball around his post.

Collins said: “Good save! The thing is when you’re dominating a game and putting teams under pressure you’ve got to be careful not getting caught on the break.  Your defenders and your goalkeeper have got to be alert and at times today they were under some pressure with free-kicks and corners coming in and they’re trying to get it over the line and we dealt with it.”

Bourne said: “It was a good save. Charlie strikes a lovely ball. His effort didn’t really give him the return that he should’ve have. We’ll continue working with Char.”

Biddlecombe ran the left-channel well in the 56th minute to float over a cross towards the far post but Bankole rose above Benbow but could only steer his off-target header into French’s hands.

With Sevenoaks Town winning the corner count by eight to three, a headed goal-line clearance from Carpenter denied Bennett a goal, meeting Benbow’s corner from the right with a free header from eight-yards.

Steve Lawrence kept his side in the game by using his left leg to continue Sevenoaks’ frustration in the 59th minute.

McCann’s skill left Pilbeam’s backside on the deck inside the box as he raced forward and he cut the ball back but Carnegie’s left-footed shot from eight-yards was superbly blocked by the keeper’s left leg.

Collins said: “H knows he’s probably playing in within his self today, even though he’s given the left-back a torrid time. H knows he could’ve secured that game today. It hasn’t happened for him and at the end he’s rolled his ankle again and he’s had to come off but he’s a threat. When he’s on it, he’s a threat.”

Bourne added: “I’m sure Sevenoaks will be kicking themselves for being a little bit wasteful and not killing the game off.  Another good save, another good chance for them, but pretty wasteful.”

Pilbeam should have done better at the other end six minutes later when Biddlecombe picked him out – via Edwards’ poor defending – but the on-loan from Folkestone Invicta winger dragged his shot past the left-hand post.

Pilbeam then ran down the right channel and delivered a deep cross towards the far post but Crandley nodded wide after making space inside the six-yard box.

A spirited Tunbridge Wells missed another glorious chance to equalise in the 76th minute.

The returning Jamie Lawrence floated a free-kick into the Sevenoaks box from the middle of the park and the ball fell to an unmarked Hackett. The central defender swept his shot across French, who made the save diving low to his left, to prevent the ball nestling into the bottom far corner.

“It’s a great ball in. It went over the last defender and Luke didn’t have quite enough time to react and strike it cleanly,” agonised Bourne.

“But he swept it in and fell to the keeper really rather than being a firmer strike but there was a couple after that when you think this is when the tide will turn and we’ll get something but it didn’t quite fall for us or sit for us nicely.”

Collins felt the equaliser was coming at that point.

“I thought exactly the same. I thought it’s one of those games, you waste chance-after-chance and they go up the other end and get a deserved equaliser and it’s the other way round then.  They turn the tap on and put me under pressure but we held strong.”

Sevenoaks were awarded a free-kick in the left-channel, which Edwards swung in and Walker hooked wide at the near post.

Tunbridge Wells kept plugging away, though, and Jamie Lawrence’s corner from the left was met by Hackett’s towering header inside the six-yard box, but French grabbed the ball as soon as the ball bounced of the defender’s head.

Benbow charged down the left and played the ball inside to Walker, whose shot was bravely blocked by Hackett.  The ball came out to Edwards, who powered a drive towards the bottom far corner, which Steve Lawrence saved while diving low to his right.

Walker swept the ball out to McCann, who should have buried his late chance, but Steve Lawrence made another save.

Tunbridge Wells had a free-kick which was delivered into the Sevenoaks box by Jamie Lawrence.  The ball was cleared away and was picked up in midfield by substitute John Brown, who put Walker through straight down the heart of the pitch. He easily skipped past last defender Carpenter, skipped past the keeper to slot home left-footed to seal the victory, the goal timed at three minutes and 37 seconds into time added on.

Collins said: “We’re always going to get a breakaway, fair play to them.  They were always going to have a go at the end and we’ve broken away and Byron in that position is so cool and that’s a great finish!

“I said to the boys at the end, I’d be disappointed if we had come away and dropped points today and never put the game to bed.”

Bourne added: “We were really stretched at that point.  It was all or nothing and as we were pushing to get one, we’d knew we might be vulnerable to the counter and with Byron’s pace up top you’re always going to be a little bit vulnerable but they took their chance well.

“It was one of those games when it was good for the spectator because there were plenty of chances. It could have been six-all. Disappointed that there were two clear goals in it because I thought it was a tight game overall.”

Tunbridge Wells play Erith Town (15th place); AFC Croydon Athletic (fifth); Hollands & Blair (fourth); Fisher and seventh-placed Cray Valley this month.

“January is big for us, it really shapes our season,” said Bourne.

“I believe that we’ve got the players and we’re good enough to push through January and come out in a good place and finish where I feel we should – as high as we possibly can but sitting in midtable.

“I think as a development year we’re turning players over this year, which I didn’t think we would in the second season because I thought it would be a lot more settled.

“We’ve got a real good bunch here at the moment, they’re all on board so that’s the main thing.”

When asked whether there is pressure from the chairman with the club being so close to the relegation zone, Bourne replied: “No, not at all! It’s pretty much the opposite to be honest.  I almost want a bit of pressure.  It’s (our league position) not good enough, I know it’s not good enough. They’re very much supportive, they know we’re building.  They see me as the man to do it so obviously that’s great but equally I want to succeed in the capacity I feel we should, not talking about winning the league but being higher than we are and I still believe we will.”

Sevenoaks Town host Hollands & Blair at Greatness Park on Saturday, a side that have bagged 45 points from 21 games and are also challenging for the title.

Collins said: “Tunbridge Wells won’t get relegated, no way, they’re too good for that and for us we’re vying because only one goes up so you’ve got to be on it every week and Crowborough have proved that and they’re the team to knock off the top.  We’re also rans at the moment and we need to catch up and keep putting the pressure on.

“You have to keep winning, you can’t slip up. If you slip up that will be the end of it. It is that tight, but you don’t see Crowborough losing at the moment because they’re a good side and they proved it against us.”

It's going to be an exciting last four months of the season as only five points separate Crowborough Athletic, Sheppey United, Ashford United, Hollands & Blair, AFC Croydon Athletic and Sevenoaks Town.

Tunbridge Wells: Steve Lawrence, Jake Hampson, Luke Carpenter, Jamie Lawrence, Luke Hackett, Brad Potter, Jon Pilbeam, Ollie Bankole, Josh Biddlecombe (Bradley Large 75), Charlie Cornford, Ryan Crandley.
Subs: Paul Butler, Besfort Sadiku, Tom Mackelden, Connor Pring

Booked: Jake Hampson 10, Ryan Crandley 39, Josh Biddlecombe 71, Bradley Large 82

Sevenoaks Town: Rob French, Chris Edwards, Greg Benbow, Jimmy Rogers, Jack Miles, Corey Holder, Harrison Carnegie (John Brown 90), Joe Bingham (Stephen Camacho 43), Byron Walker, Billy Bennett, Kieron McCann.
Subs: Yacine Gnahore, Tom Ripley

Goals: Byron Walker 19, 90

Booked: Billy Bennett 86, Jack Miles 90

Attendance: 331
Referee: Mr Peter Conn (Gillingham)
Assistants: Mr Brian Woodhouse (Borden) & Mr Paul Franks (Sittingbourne)

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