Saturday, 30 April 2016

Tunbridge Wells 3 Deal Town 0

Match 94/15/1299 - Saturday, 30th April 2016 - Southern Counties East

Tunbridge Wells (0) 3 Nwoko 46, Crandley 75, Howlett 82
Deal Town (0) 0
Attendance: 320

Entrance: £4 Senior
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 36/6,673

Tunbridge Wells finished the season with a flourish leaving their faithful support a good deal more optimistic than they might have been a month ago. Four successive clean sheets with three wins lifted the club into a respectable finishing position of 14th, however disappointing that might be from the season’s start.

There is now the foundation of a decent team based on youth with a sprinkling of experience. Jason Bourne’s major task over the summer period is keeping this squad together with many of the decisions out of his hands. Stephen Ikpeme, Tom Mackelden and Ollie Cooke return to Maidstone’s Under-21s whilst Ryan Crandley will want to see what his future holds at Gillingham.

It will be new beginnings next season with a new chairman in place and also an Under-21 team that is going to feed through the next batch of Ikpemes and Crandleys but from within their own ranks.

Considering the almost non-competitive nature of this final Southern Counties East fixture, the attendance of 320 was remarkable, once again highlighting the potential at Culverden. On the pitch, the game was to get a little spicy as well.

Tunbridge Wells started well and hit the post after eight minutes, the rebound falling to Crandley who put the ball wide of the post. Deal Town responded and it took two saving blocks to deny them a 13th minute lead. Tom Bryant saw a 14th minute free kick pushed to safety by the Deal 'keeper and two minutes later the home side was denied once more by the woodwork as a shot came back off the underside of the crossbar.

Five minutes before half time a surging run from Ikpeme was ended with a foul on the edge of the box but the free kick was wasted.

Only one minute of the second period was required for the Wells to take a deserved lead. The ball fell nicely for Joe Nwoko to angle a shot across the face of the goalkeeper, who got a hand to the shot but failed to stop it from crossing the line.

After 70 minutes, a foul led to an unseemly fracas which ended with a punch and a headbutt and Dane Moore seeing red for the Wells and the Deal Town number seven walking with him.

Five minutes later, another powerful run from Ikpeme ended with his shot being parried by the goalkeeper into the path of Crandley, who very nearly made a mess from two yards but the ball had just enough momentum to cross the line.

Steve Lawrence was asked to make a decent save one-on-one with a Deal striker before Jack Howlett ended a run with a solid shot into the bottom corner.

This signalled the fond farewell to Andy Boyle, who came off the subs bench for a final appearance before retiring from the game. The camaraderie of non-league football is such that a retirement card was passed around the south stand before the game for supporters to add their best wishes.

There was still time for a Deal substitute to pick up a second yellow and depart for the dressing room early.

All Tunbridge Wells supporters will be hoping for a finishing position a lot higher this time next year and, on this evidence, they have every reason to be cheerful.

Friday, 29 April 2016

East Thurrock United 2 Tonbridge 0

Match 93/15/1298 - Thursday, 28th April 2016 - Ryman Premier PO SF

East Thurrock United (2) 2 Hayles 8, Marlow 45+2
Tonbridge (0) 0
Attendance: 849

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 87/6,637

Match Report

It was a miserable evening in more ways than one in Essex as Tonbridge's hopes of a return to National League South ended at the hands of East Thurrock United.

Since their inception back in the 1980s, I wouldn’t mind a quid for every time one of football’s pundits, let alone the man on the street, has said the play-offs are a lottery. At non-league level it is most certainly correct, in fact, they really are brutal. One-off matches in the week after the final fixture with home advantage given to the two teams finishing highest; added to which they will be played on pitches that have seen the wear and tear of a season and are well past their best.

Tonbridge Angels’ supporters needed to have been at their most optimistic arriving at Rookery Hill after a tedious journey through the Dartford Tunnel having suffered defeat at the hands of East Thurrock United in both of the regular season fixtures. Those that managed to get through the tunnel in advance of the problems that ensued half-an-hour or so later were dealt a shock when the team sheet was pinned to the tea hut wall, Nick Wheeler’s name was missing. Genuine mistake or was somebody being just a little mischievous? It was actually Charlie Webster that hadn’t recovered from a knock at Burgess Hill and we breathed a little easier when somebody corrected the sheet.

In the regular season fixtures, Sam Higgins, 43 goals this term, had certainly been a nuisance to the Tonbridge back line and with manager Steve McKimm needing to accommodate the continuing absence of Sonny Miles, he chose to partner Jerrome Sobers with Tommy Parkinson.

The traffic problems caused a build-up of people at the turnstiles prior to kick-off and the start was delayed by five minutes. When the game got under way, the hosts were quickly on the front foot. Anthony Di Bernardo made an early save from a shot from outside of the area by Ben Marlow, but after eight minutes East Thurrock were in front. A throw into the box wasn’t cleared to any great effect with the ball falling at the feet of Rickie Hayles, who joyously shot past the goalkeeper into the bottom corner for his first-ever goal for the club.

Tonbridge struggled to get a foothold in the game in the opening 20 minutes but started to dominate possession after that opening period. Just past the half-hour mark, Luke Allen sent Nathan Elder through, muscling his way past Joe Ellul, only to shoot wide of the post.

Playing against the wind and up the slope, Tonbridge would probably have been more than happy to have gone into the break just the goal behind and, overall, had their share of the possession. The switch of Parkinson to central defender had kept Higgins to a solitary shot, although his presence was obviously missed in the middle of the field. But it all counted for nothing when after two minutes of added time, another throw into the box was poorly dealt with and this time the ball fell to Marlow whose shot took a deflection on its way into the net. Now the job had become a whole lot harder.

Tonbridge got out of the blocks quickly in the second period with Elder and Luke Blewden having efforts saved by Lukas Lidakevicius.

The game was delayed for several minutes when a challenge left Ky Ruel needed his leg to be splinted before being carried from the field on a stretcher.

Tonbridge huffed and puffed their way without causing too much concern for an impressive East Thurrock back line. Sammy Knott may have had a word or two too many that caused irritation but he gave Wheeler very few opportunities to display his player of the year credentials, whilst in the middle Ellul and Hayles were as strong as any combination I’ve seen at this level.

With 15 minutes remaining, McKimm made the decision to gamble, what was there to lose, and release Parkinson from his policing duties and push him further forward with Laurence Ball taking his place in the back line. The ploy had worked in the manner it was intended but at a cost of Parkinson’s influence in the middle.

In the final throes of the game, it was more likely that the home side would add to their advantage rather than Tonbridge score even a consolation goal.

I have to admit I can't get my head around the way I felt walking away from Rookery Hill. I've seen a few of these play-offs over the years with both Tonbridge and Gillingham. I've walked away absolutely ecstatic, utterly depressed or seething with anger. This time it felt strange. I would love to use the word gutted, but frankly I wasn't. On the night we were not quite good enough, so though the feeling should be that of acceptance, it felt more like the beginning of something that might turn out to be quite special.

I'm not under any illusions that next season will be one-way traffic to the title, but the foundations are well and truly in place for a real crack at it. It's going to be an interesting summer, there are some obvious areas where new blood is required. Hopefully, McKimm will be given the funds to strengthen where he sees fit.

The following photographs courtesy of David Couldridge

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Dartford 3 Charlton Athletic 1

Match 92/15/1297 - Tuesday, 26th April 2016 - Kent Senior Cup Final

Dartford (1) 3 E Bradbrook 20, Vint 75, Francis 78
Charlton Athletic (1) 1 Umerah 29
Attendance: 1,005

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 65/6,550

Match Report

A ridiculously cold evening for late April left me yearning for the days when the Kent Senior Cup Final was played on a balmy May Bank Holiday afternoon.

As has been the norm over the last few years, Charlton fielded their development squad and were still good enough to make the Final. Two years ago when Tonbridge reached the Final they were met with a Charlton team that were really quite outstanding and whilst respecting that Dartford are at a higher level than the Angels, this particular Charlton side didn't carry quite the same quality.

Dartford took a 20th minute lead when the hugely impressive Elliott Bradbrook fastened onto a poor clearance following a corner to hook a half-volley into the net.

It didn't take long for the south Londoners to level the score. A cross from the left was spilt by the goalkeeper and Josh Umerah was on hand to tap in from close range.

Second half chances were very much at a premium until ten minutes from time when two quick goals sent the Cup the way of the non-leaguers. Ronnie Vint touched home after Charlton made a hash of clearing a Ryan Hayes corner and three minutes later a good run and finish from Ben Francis wrapped up the game.

Have to use my best joke about south London-based Charlton's participation in the Kent Senior Cup is that most of the Valley Express bus stops are actually in Kent, reason enough!

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Gillingham 2 Shrewsbury Town 3

Match 91/15/1296 - Saturday, 23rd April 2016 - League One

Gillingham (1) 2 McDonald 45+2, Hessenthaler 61
Shrewsbury Town (1) 3 KaiKai 16, Mangan 56, Akpa Akpro 81
Attendance: 6,906

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 56/6,485

Match Report

Fat ladies singing, the hare and the tortoise, they think it's all over.

The fat lady might not be quite finished singing her aria, but she has cleared her throat and is warbling her way through the chorus. Sadly, it is all over. It was a great run, almost a complete season in the top four, but when it mattered most, Gillingham have fell just short. Three successive defeats at home and no win in six is relegation form that has taken the situation out of their own hands and relying on snookers.

In comparison to the defeat by Port Vale, this was a much improved performance and Gillingham can quite rightly claim that they didn't get the rub of the green but naivety born out of desperation led to the back door being left wide open and a relegation-threatened Shrewsbury were hungry to gobble up the opportunity.

So where did it all go wrong? I guess if I could categorically answer that question I should be the manager and not Justin Edinburgh, I cannot. My observations date back to one of the highlights of the season, that fantastic victory at The New Den on the Saturday before Christmas. Gillingham didn't just beat Millwall, they thrashed them. But it came at a cost with the long-term loss of Cody McDonald. Cody wasn't exactly a goal machine, but he was part of a settled line-up and a diamond formation that was working. This was the time when the depth of the squad was first exposed and the tinkering started.

And so to the tale of the tortoise and the hare. Following that game at the Den, Millwall were mid-table and a full 10 points in arrears of the Gills, whilst Barnsley were entrenched in the bottom three.

The January window brought uncertainty. Bradley Dack was the subject of speculation as to whether he would move on as was John Egan. I can remember writing, probably on Facebook, following the end of the window that keeping them both was like making to good signings. Ultimately, were Gillingham so concerned on that front that the thought of a replacement for McDonald passed them by? At the time of Cody's departure we had scored 47 goals, today we have scored 68.

Into January and the loss of two goal leads at Doncaster and Wigan was the beginning of a very poor run of form away from home. Could it be the loss of those leads drained the confidence from a young squad? Defeats at relegation-threatened Blackpool and Oldham Athletic certainly set alarm bells ringing.

As the squad started to thin with the loss to injury of Egan and Dack, plus the not always appreciated Doug Loft, Edinburgh was forced into changing formations to match the personnel available and results suffered. Deji Oshilaja, so commanding as a central defender that he kept Max Ehmer out of the side in his first spell was shuffled to a full back position and loan moves for Adam Chicksen, who did alright but was injured and had to return to Brighton and Andrew Crofts just didn't work out as hoped.

So my own conclusion as to why it has gone wrong since Christmas was the same as the one I was making when Gillingham were top of the league, the squad was too small to cope when injuries began to bite.

There was, of course, a football match that led to this inquest and Gillingham suffered from the same malaise that they have inflicted upon themselves for the last six games. Early dominance that doesn't lead to the opening goal and when they go behind they are chasing the game and desperation quickly sets in.

McDonald clipped the top of the crossbar after just five minutes and a well struck free kick from Egan brought a fine parrying save from Jayson Leutwiler after 15 minutes. But a minute later, a speculative shot from 25 yards by Sullay KaiKai found its way past Stuart Nelson and into the bottom corner.

Despite possession dominance it took until the time added on in the first half for Gillingham to find an equaliser. A free kick from 20 yards out was touched to McDonald who unleashed a thunderbolt into the top corner that wasn't going to be stopped by two goalkeepers.

As Gillingham pressed on in the opening minutes of the second half they once again fell foul of the sucker punch. A corner was met with cries of foul as it appeared that a Gillingham defender was climbed upon but the ball fell to Andy Mangan who hooked in from 12 yards.

The home side were quickly level just after the hour when Aaron Morris laid the ball back to Jake Hessenthaler to score from the edge of the box.

Ten minutes remained when Gillingham appeals for a penalty fell on deaf ears and from the result break, KaiKai found Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro whose shot took a wicked deflection to curl past Nelson.

Gillingham fans will quite right feel aggrieved that the officials didn't help their cause, but they can't hide behind them. There were more than enough chances to win the game and when they were not taken, they failed to defend properly because desperation had led to a gung-ho approach.

Miracles are now needed, and personally I don't believe in them.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Erith Town 0 Cray Valley PM 0

Match 90/15/1295 - Tuesday, 19th April 2016 - SCEFL

Erith Town (0) 0
Cray Valley PM (0) 0
Attendance: 56

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £1
Mileage: 82/6,429

Ground-hopping is the trainspotting of football, people with notebooks and cameras turning up at the far-flung corners of the country to watch a game of which they have no direct interest in either of the participants. To a certain extent, I am a groundhopper, but in normal circumstances I have at least a passing interest in one of the competing clubs.

For a past-time that has no rules, it has a complicated set of unwritten regulations to which the late Tony Kempster's site provides the bible. Let me give you a for instance, the case in point being Arsenal. I saw Arsenal on many occasions at Highbury and have visited the Emirates to watch an international match, but I haven't seen Arsenal play at home at their new home. So under the rules, I haven't done Arsenal! Understand? Nobody does!

However, these rules were the reason for turning up at the Badgers on a chilly April evening. I was only at the home of Cray Valley a couple of weeks ago but their ground-sharers, Erith Town on this occasion were the home team, allowing the cross to go through their name on the Southern Counties East League list. Unfortunately, this was also Erith's penultimate game at Cray before embarking on a new groundshare at VCD, another place I've been to but will not count against Erith's name!

This was dubbed the BadgersDerby and, considering both sides were at home in effect, an attendance of just 56 is woeful.

As usual in this situation the lack of a team sheet makes it difficult to report the match with any certainty. The star performer of the evening was the Erith Town left winger, who wore the No. 7 shirt, I believe it was 17-year-old Anthony Adesite.

Early chances for Cray Valley fell to Brad Potter, ex of Tunbridge Wells and Rory Hill, ex of Tonbridge but neither tested the goalkeeper.

After 15 minutes, Adesite brought the first save of the match out of Brad Morgan and on 35 minutes, some brilliant work set up an opportunity for Stuart Zanone who wasted the chance dragging his shot wide.

The principal moment of the second half came with 20 minutes remaining when Cray Valley full back Adam Gross vehemently protested his way into the referee's notebook and within a couple of minutes committed a foul that the official deemed worthy of a second yellow.

With 17 minutes remaining a mazy run from Timmi Osibodu ended with an effort blocked by Corey Holder.

Not a game to write home about, but a tick in the book. Sad trainspotter.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Tonbridge Angels U18 P Croydon U18 P

Monday, 18th April 2016 - Ryman U18

Tonbridge P
Croydon P
Wasted Mileage: 36/6,383

My own fault, game called off at 13:00 due to unforeseen circumstances (Croydon unable to raise a team). Such a lovely day weather-wise, no need to check for postponement, or so I thought. Will the game be re-scheduled or the points handed to Tonbridge, giving them the runners-up spot to the champions Corinthian?

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Gillingham 0 Port Vale 2

Match 89/15/1294 - Saturday, 16th April 2016 - League One

Gillingham (0) 0
Port Vale (2) 2 Leitch-Smith 19, Dickinson 21
Attendance: 5,887

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 58/6,347

Match Report

Are Gillingham in the process of bottling it? Over the period of the season, manager Justin Edinburgh has made, in fact laboured, the point about the youthfulness of his squad. So, at this time of the season when the pressure is ratcheted up, perhaps it is understandable that in the last two home games, Gillingham have turned in nervous, far from convincing performances. The loss of senior players, despite the return of John Egan, Adam El Abd has been a significant absentee along with club captain, Doug Loft is unlikely to have been coincidental with the poor performances. Upfront, the loss to injury of Dominic Samuel has been noticeable, if only from the lack of a cutting edge with Luke Norris or Rory Donnelly partnering the returning, but not match sharp Cody McDonald. The lack of match fitness also has to be attributed to Bradley Dack, great to have him back but I guess we are not going to see him back to his form of three months ago before the close of the season.

Two goals in three minutes of a similar nature were ultimately Gillingham's undoing in a game that proved that teams that have nothing to play for can be very dangerous opponents. Gillingham started well enough, a couple of corners in the first two minutes led to Egan bringing a comfortable save out of Jak Alnwick and Deji Oshilaja heading over.

Following Port Vale's first opportunity after 18 minutes, a Louis Dodds header from close range that should have been converted, the Staffordshire side took the lead a minute later. A 30 yard diagonal pass from left to right from Ben Purkiss found AJ Leitch-Smith in acres of space, who cut inside and curled a shot past Stuart Nelson into the far corner.

Two minutes later and a goal of mirror image left Gillingham with an uphill task. This time the diagonal ball was sent from right to left by Purkiss, it cleared the head of Josh Wright to the Vale full-back Carl Dickinson who shot across the face of Nelson into the bottom right hand corner.

Oshilaja took a blow to the face after half-an-hour that required his substitution by Brennan Dickenson. As an aside, it appears to me that if you feature on the front page of the matchday programme, then something significant, good or bad, always seems to happen.

Gillingham responded to their manager's half-time team talk and took the game to their visitors. McDonald had an early opportunity but shot over, but it at least had the effect for raising the home supporter's voices.

On the hour, they produced their best chance when Dickenson set up Dack for a shot from the edge of the penalty area, to which Alnwick did just enough to take the pace off the shot allowing Richard Duffy to complete the clearance from in front of the line.

Chances came and went in the last 20 minutes, but Gillingham had no cutting edge to find even a consolation goal.

It is now going to be nip and tuck with Barnsley for the final play-off place. I have a scenario! On Tuesday, Gillingham will pinch a point a Rochdale, whilst Barnsley will beat Peterborough leaving the two clubs level on points but Gillingham in front on goal difference. Next Saturday, Gillingham must beat Shrewsbury, whilst Barnsley have a difficult derby match at Sheffield United to which they take a point. Gillingham two points in front. When Gillingham go in search of something at a faltering Burton Albion, let's say they take a point, Barnsley will surely take all three at home to Colchester. Leaving it all square on points going into a last day shoot-out with Gillingham at home to Millwall and the Tykes at probably already promoted Wigan Athletic. I will let you write your own concluding paragraph!

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Gillingham 1 Walsall 2

Match 88/15/1293 - Tuesday, 12th April 2016 - League One

Gillingham (0) 1 Norris 90+5
Walsall (0) 2 Lalkovic 68, Hiwula 77
Attendance: 6,246

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 58/6,291

Match Report

Cliche alert. Every game from here on in is a Cup Final, 11 players plus the used substitutes need to be on their game with no passengers afforded. With just a couple of exceptions, Gillingham had a team of passengers in this vital match and Walsall are too good a team to be offered such opposition.

Ultimately, a missed penalty will focus people's minds as to the outcome of the game but there were other factors that hugely contributed to the result.

Justin Edinburgh's team selection showed a return for Bradley Dack and Cody McDonald with John Egan awaiting his opportunity from the bench. It was a gamble and it is certainly questionable whether it came off.

Gillingham opened the game on the front foot with Saddlers' goalkeeper Neil Etheridge tipping a Adedeji Oshilaja header over the bar after six minutes.

After 20 minutes, Stuart Nelson made his first save of the evening, turning a shot from Sam Manton to safety.

Two minutes later, a superb effort from Dack was heading for the top corner before Etheridge made a spectacular stop to turn the ball away.

The golden opportunity to capitalise on their good start came Gillingham's way after 24 minutes. Much-loved referee Stuart Attwell pointed to the spot after Paul Downing was adjudged to have handled the ball. A "discussion" ensued as Luke Norris wrestled the ball away from Dack. Once you've asserted yourself in that manner you have to deliver, but unfortunately for Norris, Etheridge made another superb stop turning the shot away low to his right.

The wind had been taken from Gillingham's sails and Walsall started to assert themselves on the game. A free kick taken by Milan Lalkovic rattled the top of the crossbar and two efforts late in the half were only just wide of the target.

Ten minutes into the second half and Adam El-Abd was replaced by the returning Egan after sustaining an injury and after 67 minutes, Oshilaja was replaced by Jake Hessenthaler in an effort to retrieve the initiative in midfield that had been lost.

But a minute later the visitors got their noses in front. A loose pass from a tiring Dack only found Lalkovic who jinked past Dack before curling a shot past Nelson.

A dipping shot from McDonald only just cleared the bar but Gillingham were now largely playing second fiddle to a very attractive Walsall side.

A wonderfully crafted counter-attack on 77 minutes as good as sealed the game for the Saddlers when Romaine Sawyers laid the ball into the path of Jordy Hiwula who planted the ball past Nelson from the edge of the box.

Dack completed 80 minutes but had looked far from fully match fit.

With almost the last kick of the match, Norris completed a acrobatic overhead kick after the Ryan Jackson long throw, but it was nothing more than a consolation.

Gillingham have been at the summit of the Division and barely out of the top four all season, but now they are perilously close to dropping out of the play-off positions altogether. They are looking anxiously over their shoulders at Barnsley, but their destiny is, for the meantime, in their own hands. On paper, when was football ever played on that surface, the run-ins of both clubs are very similar, three tricky and two winnable games to go, as the cliche goes, each one a Cup Final.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Tonbridge Angels U18 1 Maidstone United U18 2

Match 87/15/1292 - Monday, 11th April 2016 - Ryman Youth League

Tonbridge Angels U18 (1) 1 Baker 30
Maidstone United U18 (2) 2 Murrain 8, O'Holoran 28
Headcount: 62

Entrance: £1 Senior
Team Sheet: Free
Mileage: 36/6,233

Tonbridge Angels Under-18s put in a spirited second half despite going down to 10 men after goalkeeper Keiron Hounsell had been sent off just before half time for foul and abusive language directed at the referee. The goalkeeper felt aggrieved that a challenge at the feet of a Maidstone striker had gone unpunished and vented his anger at the official. Tonbridge went a goal down after eight minutes when the keeper charged 25 yards from his goal to clear but was beaten to it by Lucas Murrain who touched it into the empty net. The visitors increased their lead after 28 minutes when a ball pulled back from the bye-line was touched in by James O'Holoran from close range. Tonbridge responded immediately and after a good effort from Tashi-Jay Kwayie was saved, Oliver Baker rifled home the rebound. The goalkeeper's mad moment made the second half an uphill struggle but they acquitted themselves well and outfield player, Liam Smith made a couple of excellent saves as replacement keeper. Both sides had second half chances, but considering they were a man short the Angels made a good fist of the second period.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Tonbridge 2 Billericay Town 2

Match 86/15/1291 - Saturday, 9th April 2016 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 2 Elder 62, Parkinson 64
Billericay Town (2) 2 Cox 14,25
Attendance: 512

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 36/6,197

Hampton and Richmond Borough are within touching distance of the Ryman Premier League, but Tonbridge will end the season with a title of their own, perhaps unwanted, the "Comeback Kings". Time and again, they dig a hole for themselves in the opening 45 minutes and go on to produce a second half that rescues a result. At Thursday's Meet the Manager, a member of the audience commented that if games were only played in the second half, Tonbridge would be champions. Steve McKimm retorted: if they were played in just the first, Tonbridge would be relegated!

After a relatively bright start from the home side, Billericay took a 13th minute lead. A free kick from the left was floated towards the six yard box, whilst the Tonbridge defence stood like statues, Jordan Cox literally ran the ball into the net. Whether the defenders were waiting for Anthony Di Bernardo to come and claim the ball only they will know, but it was an awful goal to concede.

Tonbridge responded with a Nathan Elder chance after 19 minutes that was smothered by the goalkeeper followed by a Nick Wheeler run and shot that went wide.

After 24 minutes, a stunning volley from Cox, on loan to Billericay from Braintree Town, brought appreciative applause from even the surprised home fans.

Tonbridge produced a late first half rally when Blewden and Elder combined to bring a save from Billericay's Jack Giddens and a header from Laurence Ball was wide following a corner.

Steve McKimm made no changes at half-time but only waited five minutes before replacing Charlie Webster with Tommy Whitnall. It was an appearance that was to last only seven minutes as Whitnall, tracking back, took the full force of an overhead kick in the face and, after a long delay, was able to walk from the field but sadly, it was later reported that he sustained a broken cheekbone that would finish his season.

Just past the hour, the Angels halved the deficit. Bradley Woods-Garness, who had replaced Whitnall did well to pull a ball back from the bye-line for Elder to hook in from close range.

Two minutes later, the Comeback Kings achieved parity. Tricky work from Nick Wheeler and a pinpoint cross found the head of the onrushing Tommy Parkinson to level the scoreline.

Wheeler and Elder combined to make a couple of further chances, with Billericay themselves not giving up the cause and offering a few tense moments for the home supporters.

The play-off berth for Tonbridge is looking all but certain. A win at home to Merstham next Saturday should seal their place and it is looking increasingly like a trip to Bognor Regis on a Thursday night is going to be their reward. That will be very tough, but any play-off fixture is meant to be.

Picture courtesy of Dave Couldridge.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Cray Valley PM 0 Tunbridge Wells 0

Match 85/15/1290 - Wednesday, 6th April 2016 - SCEFL

Cray Valley PM (0) 0
Tunbridge Wells (0) 0
Attendance: 64

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £1
Mileage: 82/6,161

Spring quickly turned back to winter as a biting wind not only took away much of the pleasure of spectating but also, along with an uneven surface, proved too much for either side to produce a great deal in terms of quality. Sadly, a very poor game ensued although Tunbridge Wells can rightly take great satisfaction in another clean sheet.

Tunbridge Wells opened the game kicking down the considerable slope at the Badgers and, with both sides cancelling each other out, it took until the 37th minute for a clear cut opportunity to arise. Jack Howlett got clear of the back line but lofted his shot over the advancing Rob French but also over the bar.

Cray Valley responded a minute later when Marcus Elliott guided a header wide and in time added, Rory Hill's free kick needed Steve Lawrence's intervention; at least the half was finishing on a relative high.

Ryan Crandley, who continues to impress with his direct running, was just off target after 75 minutes and after 81 minutes Hill brought a brilliant, low save from Lawrence plunging to his right to keep the scoreline goalless.

Into the last five and the game finally sprang into life. Elliott went close for Cray Valley and, in the first of three quickfire chances, Howlett shot over.

A corner was spilt by French but he recovered to touch Perry Spackman's effort over the bar and in the final throes of the evening, a defence splitting pass from Stephen Ikpeme gave Howlett one last opportunity which he pulled agonisingly wide. Every time I've seen Ikpeme I've been more than impressed and it bemuses me why he is not picked every game, but I'm not seeing every performance.

Speaking to supporters last night, with only two games to go, this is a season in which they will be glad to see ended. The club are about to embark on a new chapter under new stewardship following the resignation of chairman, Clive Maynard. Stability must be the watchword, next season cannot see a repeat of the revolving door of players. A clear policy is needed, if the budget only allows youth, that is the way it has to be and to stick with it.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Maidstone United 1 Sutton United 2

Match 84/15/1289 - Tuesday, 5th April 2016 - National League South

Maidstone United (0) 1 Karagiannis 88
Sutton United (2) 2 Wishart 2, Eastmond 9
Headcount: 3,030

Entrance: £9 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 19/6,079

Match Report

Maidstone's almost certainly saw their title challenge blown away in the opening 10 minutes of El Plastico.

At the turn of the year the title race (and automatic promotion) looked a procession as Ebbsfleet surged 14 points clear of the field. But their form has been indifferent since and Maidstone have chipped away at the deficit, whilst Sutton United have surged on the back of a 20 game unbeaten run.

A capacity, ground record attendance of 3,030 assembled, the black and amber of both clubs evident in the town an hour before kick-off.

The clubs, of course, not only share the same colours but each have their own 3G pitch, hence the dubbing of the fixture El Plastico.

Sutton fairly flew out of the traps and were ahead in the opening two minutes. The ball was fed to marauding full back Dan Wishart, who skipped a challenge, shrugged off an ineffectual challenge from Dan Sweeney to fire a shot into the far corner across the face of Lee Worgan.

Worgan was asked to make another save before a huge throw-in from Alex Flisher was met with a header from Callum Driver that came back off the bar.

Sutton moved two in front after nine minutes. Craig Dundas, a powerhouse of a man, started the move with a pass to the right-sided bye-line. The ball was cut back to Dundas whose cross, somewhat scuffed, found Craig Eastmond who swept the ball past Worgan.

The visitors were now in complete control and it took another full length save for Worgan parrying the ball away to safety. As a tussle on the right-hand corner post ended with the ball out of play and Kevin Amankwaah on the ground, the Maidstone keeper hurried across to collect the ball for the goal kick. He stopped and offered a hand to the Sutton man to lift him from the turf to which Amankwaah inexplicably lashed out sending Worgan, somewhat theatrically to the ground. The referee had little choice to show the red card and offer Maidstone a lifeline.

Sutton settled into a solid determination and every cross in towards the ex-Grays Athletic striker, Dumebi Dumaka, who didn't look half the player that terrorised Ryman Premier defences, was comfortably dealt with. In front of the back four, Nicky Bailey, who once cost Middlesbrough £1.4 million, swept up every loose ball.

On the break, Dundas and Tom Bolarinwa were a constant threat. Dundas is now 35 years of age, and I find it unbelievable that he has never experienced the Football League, whilst Bolarinwa, at 26 and with spells at Wycombe Wanderers and Barnet behind him, probably will not make it back to the League.

Dundas might have put the game to bed before the break when he broke clear but Worgan saved with his feet.

Maidstone enjoyed the majority of possession in the second half as Sutton settled for what they had and, although they brought a couple of good saves out of Ross Worner, the Sutton goal was largely unthreatened.

As the more fickle Maidstone supporters were giving up on their side, a cross-cum-shot from Vas Karagiannis sailed over Worner and into the net to give them hope.

But, to the delight of a sizeable Sutton following, the visitors professionally saw the game to its conclusion.

Plastico didn't quite serve up a Clasico, but it was a damn good game.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Tonbridge Angels U18 2 Raynes Park Vale U18 2

Match 83/15/1288 - Monday, 4th April 2016 - Ryman League U-18

Tonbridge U18 (2) 2 Kwayie 5, Austin 11
Raynes Park Vale (1) 2 Harland-Goddard 42, Blanco 56
Headcount: 40

Entrance: £1
Programme: None
Mileage: 36/6,060

Last Wednesday I reached one of life's milestones, I was made redundant. It was sad departing my Bermondsey workplace after 20 years but with just three months to go before reaching State Pensionable Age, it wasn't a bad time to be leaving. I now found myself in a little bit of limbo, am I retired; semi-retired or just unemployed? What I do know that is that I have evenings my hand throughout football's defining month of April and I intend packing in as many games as possible! It took more than a little convincing to the wife that three games this week was NOT setting out as I mean to continue!

This Ryman League Under-18's fixture was significant in terms of who might finish runners-up to champions-in-waiting, Corinthian.

I've always enjoyed football at this age group, playing at being a scout and seeing a player who you think might just make it and having a smug sense of achievement when that player moves upwards successfully. There were a couple of players that stood out, one from each side, but unfortunately, one of those lads ultimately let himself down.

For Tonbridge, there has been a stand-out player all season, Tashi-Jay Kwayie, who has scored over 40 goals for Tonbridge Reserves and the Under-18s. Unable the furnish the Raynes Park Vale players by name through lack of a team sheet, but until he got himself stupidly sent off, their Number Four was very good.

Tonbridge took their lead after five minutes with their very first attack. Kwayie, swiftly intercepted a pass and sent Regan Corke away down the right hand side. The winger's measured cross found Kwayie, who had continued his run into the box, and touched in from close range.

Raynes Park Vale continued to have the majority of the possession but found themselves two down after 11 minutes. A poor Vale clearance was returned in the direction of Kwayie who was in an offside position. As the Vale defence hesitated waiting for a flag, Kwayie stood still and Jordan Austin sped past to the loft a shot over the stranded goalkeeper.

Despite their disadvantage, Raynes Park Vale continued to press and were fully deserving of their goal three minutes before the break. A poor clearance from a free kick saw the ball quickly returned into the six yard box, falling to Archie Harland-Goddard who scored from close range.

Ten minutes into the second half the south Londoners were level. A free kick from the number four into the box found the head of Jamie Blanco, looping the ball over the diminutive goalkeeper, Kieran Hounsell.

A poor challenge a minute later from Jack Cussens on another player brought a indignant response from RPV's number four who eventually talked himself into the book with some four letter volleys directed at the referee and Cussens. The very next time Cussens was near the ball, the Vale man kicked out at him, earning him a second yellow within a minute.

After 70 minutes an effort from Jean-Pierre Alexander was chalked off to deny the Angels a winner and at the other end a Vale substitute (15) directed a header against a post when it seemed easier to score.

A good evening's entertainment, there are parts of this retirement business I could get used to!

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Gillingham 0 Coventry City 0

Match 82/15/1287 - Saturday, 2nd April 2016 - League One

Gillingham (0) 0
Coventry City (0) 0
Attendance: 7,200

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Mileage: 56/6,024

Match Report

Gillingham touched wood and needed a bit of good fortune as Coventry City twice struck the bar in the second half. This wasn't quite in the "must win" category, but results elsewhere deemed that three points would have been very welcome and as it was, that 12 yard length of crossbar at least maintained the status quo with another game past.

It is always said that, at this point in the season, performances count for nothing and it is just the points on the board that matter. Whilst subscribing to the theory, more often than not, without a performance the result doesn't happen anyway.

In a very drab game, a spark of invention, a little bit of guile, was needed to unlock two defences that stood firm and produced the outstanding characters on the day. Gillingham's strikers, whilst not covering themselves with glory, were starved of any sort of service as both wing backs failed to deliver any meaningful cross into the box.

In the centre of the field, ex-Gillingham loanee, Romain Vincelot, beavered away just doing the ugly stuff and stifling any creativity that might have come from the home side.

The pitch had been heavily watered prior to kick-off and this appeared to catch many of the players by surprise with one after the other losing their footing and could have contributed to Dominic Samuel slipping and over-stretching causing his substitution after just 13 minutes.

To emphasise the dullness of the game, the first half progressed to its conclusion without a single shot on target from either side.

Justin Edinburgh responded at the break, replacing the more defensively-minded Aaron Morris with, hopefully, a bit more creativity in the guise of George Williams.

It took until the 75th minute for the first shot on target to be registered when Jake Murphy's shot was touched onto the bar and over by Stuart Nelson, although the referee deemed that the Gillingham goalkeeper had not touched the ball.

As the game entered its last minute, Adam El Abd failed to clear his lines, the ball fell at the feet of Marcus Tudgay, whose shot came down off the underside of the crossbar and was cleared from the line. It was the closest either side had come to a winner.

The draw wasn't a great result for Gillingham, but for Coventry 672 travelling fans it almost certainly meant the end for their play-off hopes.