VCD Athletic 2-0 Thurrock - It was like a game of chess, admits VCD Athletic boss Tony Russell

Tuesday 04th February 2014

Ryman League Division One North
Tuesday 4th February 2014
Stephen McCartney reports from Oakwood

VCD ATHLETIC manager Tony Russell says he is delighted that his side has done the double over one of the main contenders for the title.

Seventh-placed Thurrock arrived in Crayford on the back of an unbeaten run of eleven league games, but two second half goals from Michael Power ensured VCD Athletic remain top of the Ryman League Division One North table with 57 points from 25 games, leaving the Essex side ten points adrift.

Vickers are level on points with Soham Town Rangers – who won 3-1 away to Heybridge Swifts tonight – but the Kent side have five games in hand.

The club attracted their fourth largest crowd of the season but Russell admitted the game was more like a game of chess against a Thurrock side managed by former Gillingham boss Mark Stimson.

VCD Athletic last took to the field on 21 January when they were held to a 2-2 draw at home to Cheshunt.

Both sides finished the game with ten-men after Vickers skipper Ben Payne and Thurrock substitute Callum Ibe were both red-carded following an ugly eighteen-man melee in the fifth minute of time added on at the end of the game.

“It was a tense affair, I think both teams ain’t played for two weeks, there was no tempo, it was like a game of chess,” said Russell afterwards.

“They’re very well organised, like us. Even the first game we played it was like a game of chess, whoever flinched first.

“The wind was strong and we had it in our face in the first half so we were limited to what we could do.

“In the second half, if I’m honest, we should have scored a few more.

“We said before the game, for me, they’re the biggest threat for the league. They’ve got a manager who is an ex League One manager. He’s well organised and we’re really well organised and they’ve got the finances to go out and get certain players so they’re always going to be a test.

“They’ve got two centre halves, one an ex-pro at Gillingham (Simon King) and the other one was captain at Dover (Rob Gilman) and Knighty (David Knight) up front.  I knew he’s got goals in him for fun, so they’re a good side so to do the double over them as well, winning 8-2 on aggregate, I’m delighted.

“We watched them a few weeks ago and they’ve definitely got better from the first time we played them so we’re delighted with that.”

Thurrock should have taken the lead inside the opening eight minutes when Bradley Warner twisted and turned on the right before crossing for Ross Wall at the near post to flick the ball to striker David Knight, who took a touch before curling his right-footed shot around the far post from fifteen-yards.

VCD Athletic created their first chance in the 15th minute when right-back Barney Williams whipped in a cross towards the far post where the unmarked Uche Ibemere sent his header harmlessly wide of the left-hand post from 12-yards.

Thurrock were gifted an opportunity following a poor clearance from Vickers’ keeper Nick Blue, which fell straight to Wall, who teed up a chance for Warner, who powered a right-footed drive straight at the keeper.

VCD Athletic midfielder James Duckworth cut inside before drilling a right-footed drive from 35-yards, which stung the fingers of visiting keeper Andy Walker, one of many players to go through the revolving door at struggling Cray Wanderers this season.

VCD Athletic were awarded a free-kick in the 27th minute, which resulted in central defender Nick Reeves hitting a right-footed free-kick sailing over the crossbar from 25-yards.

Thurrock went closer to scoring from a free-kick from similar distance within five minutes when Robert Clark slammed his free-kick into the wall before seeing his right-footed volley from the rebound dip agonisingly just over Blue’s crossbar.

A disappointing first half ended with the home side asking Walker to get down low to his right to make a comfortable save.

Duckworth chipped a free-kick into the box, which was half cleared and full marks to debutant Ishmail Kamara for retrieving the ball close to the by-line.  He chipped the ball back into the box where Payne hooked the ball inside to Reeves to scuff his right-footed shot into the keeper’s gloves.

Russell said: “I was pleased today because I thought we controlled it.  I quite like that. I like boring games. I’m not here to please everyone.  I quite like it when we have the ball and control it and I think we limited them to very little chances if I’m honest.

“The wind was so strong so we was limited to the passes we could do. They could only go into feet. We couldn’t do that out ball. It was just holding up in the wind.  We had more possession but they looked slightly dangerous without being threatening. The wind played the biggest factor in that.”

However, the second half vastly-improved for the home fans in the crowd of 102.

Power’s left-footed angled shot from 25-yards was parried by Walker, who gathered at the second attempt inside the opening three minutes.

But VCD Athletic grabbed the lead in the 51st minute, through Power’s first of the night.

They linked up well down the left and Ishmail Kamara cut the ball back to left-back Lee Craig, who played the ball into Dean Carpenter, who dinked pass released Ibemere down the left (aided by a slip from Robert Gilman).

Ibemere reached the by-line and cut the ball back across goal and Power initially miss-hit his shot before he swept the ball into the bottom left-hand corner from inside the six-yard box.

“It was a decent movement and a switch off play and then Shaggy (Power) got beautiful feet and he linked up and in it goes,” said Russell.

“He miss-hit it first and it dropped in. It got in eventually.”

Russell was full of praise for his two-goal hero and he wants the attacker to hit it off at Oakwood.

“He’s been a friend of mine since we were kids,” revealed Russell.

“He was in the Thamesmead youth team when I played. We went to Cray, I moaned to Jenko (Ian Jenkins) about getting him and Jenko had to pay a fee for him in the end.

“We had a chat on the phone with him (Jenkins) the other week and I nearly sent him to Greenwich Borough because he’s carrying too much weight. Sherwin’s (Stanley) got an ankle op and we put him in and we’ve done loads of fitness with him on Saturday and I’ve told him the minimum requirement of him is to be the best player on the pitch every week because he’s got so much ability.”

Russell admitted that Sierra Leone born striker Kamara, 26, who is on loan from Conference Premier neighbours Dartford, should have scored two goals on his debut.

Duckworth’s defence splitting pass put Kamara through on goal and with only Walker to beat he drilled his right-footed shot wide of the right-hand post with the goal at his mercy in the 54th minute.

And halfway through the second half Duckworth played a sublime pass across to Kamara, who ballooned his left-footed shot over Walker’s bar from eight-yards when he should have hit the target.

“We’ve got a new player coming in from Dartford on loan, so we wanted to have a go at him,” said Russell.

“We lacked a little spark up front and when Tony (Burman, the Dartford manager) said he wanted to get him out to get some games we jumped at the chance, so we had to juggle it a little bit.

“He done his work well, bits and pieces, hold up play, lay-off play.

“He had two one-on-one’s and the goalie’s not made a save! It’s not good enough and that’s him saying that as well for a man that’s played at that level. We should be scoring them really but he was neat and tidy.”

Russell added: “We’ve had chances in games and not put teams away and we’re searching for that striker to just give us that little bit of edge. We’re creating lots of chances but you’ve got to kill teams off. We didn’t do that until Shaggy did a little bit of magic.”

Power was unlucky when his delicate chip from fifteen yards caught in the blustery wind and dropped the wrong side of the far post with Walker beaten.

But Power danced his way through the Thurrock defence before he was clipped by Gilman and referee Ian Fissenden pointed to the spot.

Despite the wind and rain howling around Oakwood, Power maintained his composure to send Walker the wrong way, smashing his right-footed penalty into the roof of the net, high to Walker’s left, to double Vickers’ lead in the 80th minute.

Russell said of Walker and Power: “Ex team-mates at Cray (Wanderers), they know each other. Great feet from Shaggy.  He’s weaved past two or three of them. We could all hear a clip from where we were and he’s gone down. He’s brushed himself off and stuck it in. Good pen!”

Thurrock were toothless up front after they lost Knight through injury, but their two full-backs went close to scoring a consolation late on.

Blue was forced to stick out his right leg to block a left-footed curling effort from right-back Lewis Clark from sixteen-yards, which was otherwise destined to find the bottom left-hand corner.

And left-back Remi Sutton burst into the penalty area before unleashing a left-footed angled drive which flashed across Blue and just past the far post – the referee awarding Thurrock a corner.

“I think he put it wide,” said Russell.  “I don’t think he had a real save of note to make. They (Thurrock) huffed and puffed. It was hard with that wind and they had the wind in the second half so it was hard for them to put some pressure on us because sometimes the wind doesn’t allow that but I’m just delighted with that.”

VCD Athletic almost scored a flattering third when a mazy run from substitute Sam Gent through the middle saw him lay the ball off to Duckworth, whose right-footed curler only just sailed over the top far corner of the net.

But the game was marred at the death by a horrible challenge from Payne on Callum Ibe, which resulted in an ugly eighteen-man melee and once it calmed down referee Mr Fissenden issued both players a red-card.

When asked his thoughts on the incident, Russell said: “It’s poor! I’ve just said to Payno, it’s shocking!  Yes, it’s a bad tackle but it’s the last minute of the game, you’re 2-0 up, why are you reacting like that? I don’t know!

“He’s an idiot because now he’s going to be banned for four games. He’s our captain, it’s a critical stage of the season. It’s poor!

“I said it to him, it’s not good enough! He’s let himself down. He had that when he was early in his career when he was at Sittingbourne.  He kept on getting sent off and when he came to me he’s been good as gold.

“I don’t know what’s the matter with him! It ain’t good enough! He’s let himself down but he’s let everyone down because he’s a good player for us.

“We’ve got young Joe Matthews (who has come in from Cray Valley), who we have been doing lots of work with him on the training pitch about how we do things because we do things slightly different and he’s picking it up. He’ll now get his chance and I’m sure he’ll do brilliant.”

But Russell was proud that he has completed the double over the former Gills boss.

“It’s just like a game of chess in the first half between two really well organised teams, both knowing their jobs without the ball. They were determined not to let us play, the backed off and tried to squeeze us and we was still trying to do it.

“For the neutral maybe not a great first half but I love things like that. It was pitting your wits against an ex-League One manager and you don’t manage at that level if you don’t know your stuff. He knows his stuff so you’re almost having your own personal duel.”

VCD Athletic have 21 league games left to play and are still sitting proudly at the top of the table.

“It doesn’t mean nothing though does it?” said Russell.

“If Witham (in fourth-place, five points behind) win their two games in hand, they can go above us, but they’ve got to do that.

“I just want us to get back playing consistent, good football and doing well. I want to get back to playing games rather than one game and not playing for two weeks and get a little bit of momentum going and get a feel because it was hard today for both teams as well. There were some tired bodies at the end.”

VCD Athletic: Nick Blue, Barney Williams, Lee Craig, Nick Reeves, Ben Payne, Peter Smith, Dean Carpenter (Sam Gent 74), James Duckworth, Ishmail Kamara (Sherwin Stanley 71), Michael Power (Joe Matthews 85), Uche Ibemere.
Subs: Enoch Adjei, Greg Moorse-McDougall

Goals: Michael Power 51, 80 (penalty)

Sent Off: Ben Payne 90

Thurrock: Andy Walker, Lewis Clark, Remi Sutton, Robert Gilman, Simon King, Robert Clark, Luke Stanley (Loui Hazelwood 69), Lewwis Spence, David Knight (Jordan Clark 62), Ross Wall (Callum Ibe 89), Bradley Warner.
Subs: Lewis Perkins, Connor Martin

Booked: Lewwis Spence 80

Sent Off: Callum Ibe 90

Attendance: 102
Referee: Mr Ian Fissenden (Gillingham)
Assistants: Mr Jason Down (Sittingbourne) & Mr Ivan Gelov (Canterbury)