Whitstable Town 2-2 East Grinstead Town - The fight and character they've got is excellent, says Whitstable Town boss Keith McMahon

Saturday 18th December 2021
Whitstable Town 2 – 2 East Grinstead Town
Location The Belmont, Belmont Road, Whitstable, Kent CT5 1QP
Kickoff 18/12/2021 15:00

Isthmian League South East Division
Saturday 18 December 2021
Stephen McCartney reports from The Belmont

WHITSTABLE TOWN manager Keith McMahon says the fight and character from his side claimed an important point against fellow strugglers East Grinstead Town.

Jointly-managed by Drew Cooney and Tony Beckingham after replacing Tony Reid in November, East Grinstead Town arrived on the Kent coast on a depressing run of 16 games without a win and they found themselves in a deserved two-lead going into half-time courtesy of goals from left-back Liam Montague and attacking midfielder Szymon Kowalczyk.

However, Whitstable Town grabbed a deserved point courtesy of left-back Samuel Itauma scoring from a cross before striker Kemo Darboe headed in his third goal of the campaign, which puts McMahon’s men in fifteenth-place in the Isthmian League South East Division table after picking up 18 points from as many games.

The Wasps remain in the bottom two with 12 points from 18 games, four points clear of Phoenix Sports, who beat Burgess Hill Town 5-2, which was their first win in 19 games and their first in eight games since Steve O’Boyle returned to the club after Paul Bryon suffered 11 straight defeats.

“I’ve got to be honest, I thought first-half we were poor.  I thought we were a bit too complacent. We didn’t work hard enough, we got punished,” said McMahon.

“I would say their second goal was offside. We’ve got the video there and we’ve seen it and it is. The lino (Richard Joss) was right in front of me and he weren’t looking and he tried to run.

“Looking at the second half, we done well. We took the game right to them. It’s an old cliché, it was a game of two halves.  I actually thought we could’ve gone on and won it at the end.

“I think if you looked at the game yes (a draw was a fair result) because we were that bad in the first half.  I said to the lads beforehand, just don’t turn up and think you’re going to roll them.

“The pitch is heavy, it ain’t the best surface at the moment. I didn’t think we did the basics and we didn’t work hard enough as a side and we got punished for it. They were a bit more hungry and I expected that.”

Whitstable Town put in a lacklustre first-half performances and East Grinstead Town should have taken an eleventh minute lead with the first chance of the game.

Whitstable Town’s holding midfielder Danny Walder’s first-time pass was intercepted by former Croydon winger Richard Pingling, who drove forward down the heart of the pitch before feeding Kowalczyk, who beat last-defender William Thomas and skipped past goalkeeper Dan Eason before clipping the outside of the near post with an open goal at his mercy some 12-yards from goal.

“I think his touch took him a little bit wide. We were standing right behind it to be honest with you, but that’s what we were doing, we were getting punished for some sloppy play. I just thought we looked casual,” admitted McMahon.

Whitstable Town offered very little in an attacking sense, creating their only opening in the 17th minute.

A poor clearance from Montague went straight to Walder, who took a touch before swiftly drilling his left-footed shot flashing past the right-hand post from 25-yards.

“It was maybe half a chance and we didn’t deserve anything in the first half. That’s nowhere near the levels we’ve been,” admitted McMahon.

“I thought we were complacent if I’m honest with you.  I just thought we thought we were going to turn up (and win) because we’ve been doing really well and get three points but it’s something that we’ve got to learn.  All the games, especially while we’ve been on this decent run, we’ve worked our absolute socks off.

“Listen, we’ve been missing a few people with Covid today, which is one of those things, but that’s the world we live in, so I’m not going to make an excuse for that. I just thought we looked a little bit lethargic.”

Despite their lowly league position, East Grinstead Town were the better side during the first-half and some poor defending on a couple of occasions gave the Wasps two good chances to score from outside the box.

Wideman Miles Cornwell, who has left Tunbridge Wells to join his dad Tony, who is coach at East Grinstead Town, fed striker Omar Folkes, who played the ball out to an unmarked Pingling, who was left in acres of space by MacKenzie, but his drilled left-footed 25-yarder was comfortably held by Eason at head height.

The same three players linked up again in the 30th minute with Pingling playing the ball into Folkes before Cornwell was left in space by Whitstable’s left-back Itauma but his right-footed drive from 20-yards was comfortably tipped around the post by Eason, diving to his left.

McMahon added: “He’s made two good saves but two saves I expect him to make if I’m honest with you.  They were at him, so Dan’s a good goalkeeper.”

East Grinstead Town deservedly took the lead with 34 minute and 56 seconds on the clock, via a deflected effort.

Montague played a free-kick out to an unmarked Pingling, who took a touch before whipping in a cross into the box, which was cleared away.

Cornwell played the ball back in from the right and Kowalczyk and Cornwell linked up again before an unmarked Montague clipped his left-footed shot towards goal from 25-yards, the ball taking a deflection and leaving Eason flat-footed with both of his hands in the air as the ball bounced over the line.

“I thought, from where I was standing, it took a deflection because it’s gone fairly close to the middle of the goal and Dan’s stood still. He just said he couldn’t see it,” said McMahon.

“I agree, I thought they did deserve their lead because of how poor we were.  It just summed us up, we just looked lethargic, we looked complacent. There was no tempo. We were one paced and we got punished for that.”

Whitstable Town’s attacking players were non-existent in the first-half and Darboe was guilty of an awful miss just before East Grinstead Town doubled their lead.

Whitstable centre-half Thomas hung over a free-kick towards the penalty spot, the ball was cleared away by Wasps’ right-back Fintan Walsh and Darboe’s first-time left-footed hooked volley from inside the D was smacked high and wide.

East Grinstead Town deserved their two-goal lead when it came with 43 minutes and 20 seconds on the clock, although McMahon felt Folkes was offside in the build-up and was expecting assistant referee Richard Joss to raise his flag.

Montague drilled the ball out of defence to release Folkes down the left and he easily cut inside past sliding 38-year-old centre-half Junior Baker to reach the by-line before putting it on the plate for Kowalczyk, who swept his first-time left-footed shot across Eason to score from eight-yards.

“The fella’s offside from the through ball, Omar was offside and then he’s pulled it back and they’ve scored.  The linesman didn’t see it, it’s one of them. You’ve got to bite the bullet and get on with it,” added McMahon.

“I just weren’t happy (at half-time).  They heard it, I didn’t moan at them too much but I thought we were one paced, lethargic.  Some of the lads were complacent.

“We made a change straight away and I wasn’t happy in midfield and it seemed to make a big difference.”

McMahon hauled off the ineffective Tom Carlton at the interval and replaced him with Callum Watts, who partnered George McIlroy in the middle of the pitch.

Momentum shifted towards Whitstable Town during a vastly-improved performance from a side that had won their last four league games to ease towards safety.

It took Whitstable Town only 110 seconds to create the chance when a first-time pass from Alex Gaggin played in Darboe, whose right-footed chip from 18-yards sailed over the advancing goalkeeper Daniel Smith to only just clear the crossbar.

“Listen, we were positive. We went forward and it was a little decent ball from Alex Gaggin and Kemo lobbed the keeper and it bounced over the bar. It showed our intent,” added McMahon.

Good vision from Cornwell, saw him loft the ball over towards an unmarked Pingling, but MacKenzie came out to press and ensured he blocked the shot and over it went for the away side’s third and final corner of the game.

Cornwell missed a decent chance in the 56th minute, however, following a well-worked three-man move.

Montague cut in from the left and delivered a deep cross towards the back post, which was knocked down by centre-half Glenn Wilson (who came up for a set-piece) but Cornwell sliced his first-time shot past the right-hand post from 10-yards.

“Listen, they didn’t have many chances at all second half, so it was a half-chance but I actually thought we defended well second half,” added McMahon.

East Grinstead Town goalkeeper Smith gifted Whitstable Town their first goal of the game with a horrendous piece of goalkeeping with 12 minutes and 41 seconds on the clock.

There was absolute no danger when Itauma cut onto his right-boot to whip in a cross from the left some 40-yards from goal but Gaggin got in the keeper’s eyeline by making a late dash towards the far post but Smith inexcusably allowed the ball to kiss the turf before curling into the bottom far corner.

“It’s one of them.  You see them quite regularly. He’s put the ball in a great area and when people run across the line, it mises everyone and they normally go in and that’s what actually happened,” said McMahon.

“We needed something to happen for us and that was it today.

“Alex Gaggin ran across the line, he tried to get on the end of it and the keeper looked at him and took his eye off the ball. It just happens quite a lot. Direct crosses to go in but it was something we needed to do.  It gave us a lift and got us right back in the game.

“It was massive, massive. We had all of the pressure. We just needed a goal.”

Kowalczyk won a free-kick just outside the D after running into Baker and referee Kane Dempster allowed East Grinstead Town to take the resulting free-kick from the wrong place.

Pingling slipped a 10-yard pass into Folkes, who had to dig the ball out from his feet before stabbing his left-footed shot straight into Eason, who dived to his right to smother the shot comfortably.

“It was like a back-pass to be honest with you. It was a ball in the box, it bounced to him and he miss-kicked it. I didn’t think it was a huge chance,” admitted McMahon.

Smith, however, made amends and pulled off a brilliant save to frustrate Whitstable Town in the 72nd minute.

Ryan Huckle’s sliced clearance allowed Darboe to release Gaggin, who stroked a first-time right-footed drive towards the top right-hand corner, only for Smith to dive high to his left to tip the shot against the top of his crossbar and behind for the home side’s second and final corner of the game.

McMahon said: “It was a great move.  Gaggin has been out for a few weeks. We were thinking about pulling him off. He’s a threat. We moved him more central and he hurt them. He got on the end of it and it’s a nice little set from Kemo and he bent it into the top corner. I actually thought the keeper stood still and he left it a bit late but he’s made a great save. He got a great one hand to it and pushed it onto the bar.”

However, Whitstable Town scored from the resulting set-piece, which Walder played short to MacKenzie, who fed McIlroy, who reached the right by-line before whipping in a great cross for Darboe to bury his diving header across the keeper and into the far corner, with 27 minutes and 58 seconds on the clock.

“We went short for a corner and he made a mistake but then he got it straight back and George went to the by-line and he’s picked out a great cross and to be fair to Kemo, he’s done what you ask a centre-forward and he’s got across near post and it’s a great header as well,” added McMahon.

“The team’s gone on since I’ve come here. The fight and character they’ve got is excellent. That’s why I was so disappointed in the first half because we haven’t been like that and then you knew we were going to go and win it and we could’ve – we looked like the only side that was going to go and win it.”

McMahon made his third change with left-back James Brown replacing Gaggin and Whitstable Town went with three men at the back for the final 16 minutes, as they went in search for the winner.

However, Cornwell missed another decent chance for East Grinstead Town inside the final eight minutes.

Right-back Walsh played the ball down the line and substitute striker Reyon Dillon easily cut past Brown before feeding Kowalczyk, who teed up Cornwell, who drilled his shot over the crossbar from 16-yards.

McMahon added: “Another half chance and he stuck it quite over the bar.  When they were pushing forward, we gave away a few silly free-kicks to let them put the ball in the box and that’s something that we don’t want to do.”

Whitstable Town went close to grabbing the victory with the last kick of the game after targetman Harry Goodger drew a free-kick from a leaning Wilson.

Walder floated the resulting free-kick towards the edge of the box where Goodger glanced his header just past the far post from the edge of the box just before referee Kane Dempster called time.

McMahon said: “You sit there and think is he going to do the same and just drop into the bottom corner?

“I’ve got to give credit to the lads, they’ve stuck in it, didn’t give up the 2-0 and looked the likely side to go and win it so I look back on it and think two points dropped at home but it’s still an important point.”

Whitstable Town have climbed away from relegation danger after 15 games with McMahon at the helm and attention now turns to the big local derby at Herne Bay on Monday 27 December (15:00).

Ben Smith’s side are in sixth-place in the table with 33 points from 17 games, a point adrift of the play-offs and Ramsgate.

Herne Bay won 3-2 at Three Bridges today, with goalkeeper Jordan Perrin scoring their third goal, bouncing back from back-to-back defeats to Cray Valley (2-1) and Hastings United (2-0).

“Listen, we should have a few more points than that,” admitted McMahon, who is enjoying life on the Kent coast, having previously managed Thamesmead Town and VCD Athletic.

“It’s brilliant. It’s an unbelievable club. They back me and Steve (Wait) and all of the boys. The support is off the charts, as you heard. It will go up. It’s a fantastic club. It’s nice to feel appreciated. To come down, it’s a town club, it’s something I wanted, a little bit out of the way and it’s something for me to work with, with the plans they’ve got here, it’s only going to go forward.

“I think it’s going to be a really good second half of the season for us.  We’re targeting midtable and win as many games, enjoy winning games again.  It’s taken a bit of time but it’s a great club to be at, it’s a really good atmosphere and you can see around the ground, it was completely different when I walked through the door sort of three months ago.”

McMahon, meanwhile, is relishing his first experience of the Herne Bay-v-Whitstable Town derby at Winch’s Field.

“I’m looking forward to it. Listen, I know how big it is down here. I know how big it is. Herne Bay are a really good side but I’m looking forward to it. If we played like we did second half we’ll be alright. It’s huge, it’s huge. I’m expecting a massive crowd, hopefully we can come away with something.”

Whitstable Town: Dan Eason, Jake MacKenzie, Samuel Itauma, Danny Walder, William Thomas, Junior Baker, Stephen Okoh (Harry Goodger 61), George McIlroy, Kemo Darboe, Tom Carlton (Callum Watts 46), Alex Gaggin (James Brown 74).
Subs: Victor Aiyelabola, Muhammed Cham

Goals: Samuel Itauma 57, Kemo Darboe 73

Booked: Jake MacKenzie 22, Harry Goodger 63, William Thomas 76

East Grinstead Town: Daniel Smith, Fintan Walsh, Liam Montague, Tom Summerfield, Ryan Green, Glenn Wilson, Richard Pingling, Ryan Huckle, Omar Folkes (Reyon Dillon 74), Szymon Kowalczyk, Miles Cornwell.
Subs: Merrick James-Lewis, Jordan Hibbert, Harry Mark, Sam Huckle

Goals: Liam Montague 35, Szymon Kowalczyk 44

Booked: Ryan Huckle 45, Tom Summerfield 51, Fintan Walsh 79

Attendance: 304
Referee: Mr Kane Dempster
Assistants: Mr Richard Joss & Mr Kieran Cox