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Hollands & Blair 2-1 Beckenham Town - We should be a Kent League side, says Paul Piggott PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 21 January 2012

(after extra time)
Umbro Kent Senior Trophy Quarter-Final
Saturday 21st January 2012
Mike Green reports from Star Meadow

A compelling Umbro Kent Senior Trophy tie that held the attention until it exploded into life right at the end of normal time ended with Hollands & Blair coming from behind in dramatic fashion to earn a Semi Final tie with Erith and Belvedere, as Kent Invicta League reigned over Beckenham Town and the Kent Hurlimann Football League at a blustery Star Meadow.

An intriguing contest exploded into life as Chris Edwards curled the visitors in from direct from a free kick with just three minutes left.

Home keeper James Smith, who will be disappointed to have conceded the free kick, then produced a save off a deflected shot that defies description before with stoppage time all but up, Blair substitute Nick Smith blasted his side level after a long free kick caused mayhem in the Beckenham box with what proved to be the last kick of the ninety minutes.

Extra time had barely begun, when Smith was fouled as long ball was pumped into the Beckenham box, and Cliff Eldridge drilled the penalty high into the top corner to give Blair the lead - a lead that they were to defend heroically with ten men as Smith was shown a second yellow card for a very firm rather than dirty challenge ten minutes into the extra period.

As the final whistle blew, scuffles broke out between the players and some spectators as they left the pitch, but nothing was going to take away the achievement of the Blair victory which left boss Paul Piggott a very happy man.

"I told my players before the game that I thought that the League tables from last year dictated that we should be a Kent League side this year," Piggott said, "its where we deserve to be after winning the County League last year but for whatever reason we're not, and we want to be competing against these sides and we've more than matched them today!

 "There was a slight edge to the game, but there was no quality to the game at all. It was hard with the pitch and the gusty wind and neither side really got going quality wise. So it came down to a battle and I'm pleased that we more than matched them."
Beckenham boss Jason Huntley on the other hand was far from pleased.

He said: "It was a scrappy game overall. First half they looked to play the ball long and we tried to play a bit of football, but then in the second half kicking into the wind seemed to help us out if I'm honest and we were the better attacking side.

“We finally got the goal and then a complete lack of discipline has let us down - good teams would have taken the ball to the corner to kill the clock but we thought we had the right to play which is nativity on our part.

“The last ten seconds in the game we have got to do better than that - if I'm honest I was disappointed with my keeper (Nick Blue) - the ball was in his six yard box and he didn’t come.

“Lets face it keepers get more protection on the pitch that any other player - in my view there were three options; either he comes and gets a punch on the ball to clear it; two he comes and gets fouled or three he makes a complete hash of it and sadly for us he chose number three."
In a game played in trying conditions throughout first half chances were few and far between, although on another day referee Rowley could well have awarded both sides spot kicks in the opening nine minutes.

Firstly Lee Farrell's thunderous header goalwards seemed to strike a Beckenham hand, but the Canterbury official remained unmoved.

He was equally unmoved a minute later when Nathan Paul went down in the Blair area only to have his penalty shouts waved away.

The game developed into an intriguing if not entertaining contest with no quarter being asked and none given by either side even if it meant that some tackles were a bit "enthusiastic" - in a week where the slide tackle has been under intense spotlight nationally, it’s a good job that some of the so called experts weren't in Gillingham as they would have had a field day with both sides guilty of over zealous challenges.

It really was amazing that the official kept his cards in his pocket for nearly half an hour!

The home side suffered two setbacks in the opening half lost midfielder Ross Brookes and defender Bryan Greenfield to injury, and it was after the Greenfield substitution that Beckenham had the best chance of the half.

It came nine minutes from half time when a free kick was drilled forward, and a flick by Alfie Nunn appeared to be dropping beyond Smith in the Blair goal. But stretching the keeper somehow got fingertips to the ball to flick it past the right post.

After the break, now kicking into the increasingly strong and cold wind, it was Nunn who again went close when he clipped the angle of post and bar with Smith floundering.

Then with just three minutes left on the clock, the hard working Ben Slade was felled on the edge of the box, and up stepped substitute Edwards to curl the ball into the top right corner of the net.

It was in the very next attack that Smith pulled off his first amazing save of the afternoon.

Nunn cut in from the left and drove the ball across goal which got deflected off of the chest of Beckenham's Mark Fofana and seemed destined for the net. Yet somehow, Smith was able to change direction and reach back incredibly clawing the ball away to safety.

With stoppage time all but elapsed, Blair launched one last "hail mary" play but unlike so many every other week, this one came off.

A long free kick into the Beckenham box caused mayhem, and with the ball bouncing in the box, Smith smashed the ball high into the net to spark wild scenes of celebration for which Smith would receive a caution which was to prove so very costly!

Both managers admitted just how vital those closing minutes had been, and Blair boss Piggott, himself of course a fine keeper in his playing days, had nothing but admiration for his keeper.

He said: "No real complaints about the free kick we conceded from even though some of the players didn’t agree with it. Bottom line is that we've got to deal with it and we didn’t. Then again the save that James makes off the deflection with his hand won’t be bettered anywhere in football this weekend, and I even doubt if it'll be bettered this season - it doesn't matter what level of football you're at, that's as good a save as you'll see!

“I thought that that could have been it, but these players don't know when they're beaten as they've done it so often by coming back and nicking something at the death as we keep believing."

Beckenham boss Huntley also appreciated how Smith's contribution in the end was vital.

He said: "Hats off to their keeper as he made two very, very good saves. And when you consider that I think he made a hash of the goal - he may even have thought looking back that he could have caught the ball - but fair play to him for making two really stunning saves to make up for it."
There was just three minutes on the extra time clock when Smith went down in the box under challenge and referee Rowley pointed to the spot kick which saw Cliff Eldridge drill the penalty into the top left corner of the net giving Blue no chance at all. 

Then came another turning point ten minutes into the extra period when Blair were reduced to ten men, as Smith received a second yellow card for a challenge on Paul on the edge of the Blair box, to the bewilderment and amazement of the majority of those watching on.

It seemed nothing more than a hard fair sliding tackle, but as his manager admitted later, it looked to be a fair challenge.

Piggott said: "I'd like to say that it was an inspired substitution but Nick Smith's a very good player and when you're able to bring very good players on at that stage of the game when to can get the game stretched as players get tired is a god send for a manager.

“We were probably the furthest people away from the sending off, but it didn’t look like it for me, and I usually tell from the reaction of people around the incident and they were angry with it which to me must question if it was a sending off.

“I thought he got the ball, but there's this ridiculous thing in football at the moment that if you go to ground, the pressures on the referee to do something about it, and to me, I'm sorry but I think it’s very wrong."

A man down and with their backs to the wall, the Blair defence brilliantly marshalled by Billy Johnson and Darren Blackburn and with Ben Brown now working tirelessly as a lone striker, was to hold firm, but when they were breached Smith continued his incredible form.

Indeed the Blair back line restricted Beckenham to just two chances in extra time, but both were denied by magnificent Smith saves.

On 106 minutes a huge wind assisted clearance was helped on to Nunn, who's first time drive was brilliantly turned aside by the Blair keeper. Then on 118 minutes. Fofana held his head again as Smith denied him incredibly again. A ball into the Blair box saw the defender shoot on the turn and somehow, Smith got finger tips to the drive and away it went to safety.
At the final whistle, there were great scenes of joy from the home players which were slightly tempered by a "coming together" as the players left the pitch. Fortunately tempers quickly cooled, and the Kent Invicta League side could celebrate, but for Beckenham and their boss, it was a question of what might have been.

Indeed Huntley left Star Meadow hoping that his side had learned a valuable lesson. He admitted, "It’s a very frustrating day for us as I though we took control in the second half and to go one nil up in the final five minutes, you've got to close the game out, but our youngsters want to play all the time and they've got to learn when not to. Otherwise we'll end up losing more games like this.”

Blair boss Piggott was trying to focus on a very important couple of weeks facing his side before the next round.

Piggott said: "Before we play the semi-final we've got important league games first. We've got Bridon Ropes in the League next week and they beat us here earlier in the season and we're still smarting from that. They're second in the table, so of we want to do anything we have to win games like that.

“We've now got Erith & Belvedere here in the semi-final and I'd like to think that they wouldn't fancy paying Hollands & Blair, but coming from their place which along with Beckenham must be one of the best pitches around at our level, to come here is a little bit of a leveler, and if we match them the same way we did today who knows? I asked the players today to match them and we did, so we'll just wait and see!"

Hollands & Blair: James Smith, Carl Preston, Bryan Greenfield (Ashley Doe 37), Billy Johnson, Darren Blackburn, Lee Farrall (Nick Smith 81), Cliff Eldridge, Ross Brookes (Tom Michelson 11), Stuart West, Ben Brown, Mark Chiverton.
Subs:  Martin May, Lewis Fisher

Goals: Nick Smith 90, Cliff Eldridge 93

Booked: Tom Michelson 63, Stuart West 90, Nick Smith 90, Ben Brown 113

Sent off: Nick Smith 100

Beckenham Town: Nick Blue, Nathan Paul, Steve McNamara (Adriano Lawson 75), Jason Rose, Mark Fofana, Harry Draper, Nick Curren (Chris Edwards 72), Byron Beard, Ben Slade, Alfie Nunn, Joe Jackson (Jason Clews 84).

Goal:  Chris Edwards 87

Booked: Steve McNamara 29, Harry Draper 90, Byron Beard 98, Jason Rose 120

Attendance:  83
Referee: Phil Rowley (Canterbury)
Assistants: Darren Wilson (Rochester) & Darren Ellis (Canterbury)

Last Updated ( Sunday, 22 January 2012 )
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