Top of the league for the first time in 20 years – no wonder Sittingbourne players, management and fans celebrated joyfully together at the end of a passionate and determined performance to beat Herne Bay. Again.
This was an extra special win for all concerned after so many of last season’s players switched from Sittingbourne to Herne Bay in the summer.
Manager Nick Davis was forced to rebuild his squad from scratch, and what a remarkable job he’s done of it.
Not only has he signed skilful players but every one of them shows great commitment to the team ethic and group spirit that’s vital for success.
Just four days after seeing off decent Kentish rivals who have been too good for them on occasions in the recent past, Sittingbourne did it again. And again by a score of 1-0.
Herne Bay tried to play passing football, they attempted to counter-attack at pace, but they just couldn’t break down Sittingbourne’s defence, in which Ben Gorham – against his old club – and John Coker were outstanding.
Behind them, Harry Brooks came in for unavailable normal first choice goalkeeper Daren Hawkes, and didn’t have a single difficult save to make all evening.
He was one of four changes from the team that beat Hythe 1-0 on Saturday, as well as Horsham 5-1 the previous week. In came Gil Carvalho, Tyrone Guthrie and Laurence Ball – for the first time in the league since he got injured in August – to replace Tom Loynes, Ollie Brown and Chris Elliott.
Sittingbourne, who had already beaten Herne Bay 3-0 in the first home league game of the season, showed their intentions by getting away to a flying start.
With just a minute played, they won back the ball on the halfway line out on the left and Bola Dawodu burst forward, running at the heart of the Bay defence where captain and former Sittingbourne favourite Jono Richardson sometimes appeared isolated. Dawodu timed his pass forward perfectly and Miles Cornwell raced through the gap to poke the ball past the keeper.
No way did it seem possible that this was all the goalscoring done and dusted for the evening, especially as both teams continued to play with plenty of pace and dash.
Sittingbourne created by far the better chances in the first half, with Kane Phillip twice hitting the woodwork with crosses, Dawodu, normally so calm in front of goal, missing a great chance after Carvalho had set him up, and Chris Webber getting forward from full-back to go close.
Bay continued to pass the ball around efficiently – they were taught well at Sittingbourne - without turning possession into chances. Though Wilkins got close early in the second half after a Bay corner, only to smash the ball into the side-netting.
It was Sittingbourne who looked by far the likelier side to score, and how dearly would their noisy fans behind the goal have enjoyed going two-up and putting the game firmly beyond the home side’s reach.
Kane Rowland had a header tipped over the bar and shot narrowly wide from distance with the keeper struggling to get back, Loynes fired just over, and another sub, David Smith, just failed to get his head to the ball when Rowland crashed the ball across the six-yard box.
Bay could sense that Sittingbourne were just that bit too good for them, and Aikhionbare’s frustration at only ever getting a kick of the ball when he had his back to goal boiled over when he threw a punch at Gorham in the 89th minute and was inevitably shown a red card.
What a night for Sittingbourne. Top of the league for the first time, and with a quarter of the season now completed. If they continue to show this effort, commitment, organisation and teamwork then why on earth shouldn’t they stay there. It’s going to be fun watching them try to do just that.
Photographs by Michael Sayce
Miles Cornwell 2 minutes
Referee: Kane Dempster
Assistants: Simon Cutler, Glen Childs
Tyrone Guthrie (Ollie Brown 90 mins)
Ben Gorham (C)
Kane Phillip (Yellow) (Tom Loynes 63 mins)
Daewdu Mubalaji (Yellow)
Miles Cornwell (David Smith 73 mins)
Substitutes not used: Lex Allan, Chris Elliott
Bradley Schafer (Josh Wisson 58 mins)
Jack Steventon (Jarred Trespaderne 77 mins)
Jono Richardson (C)
Connor Wilkins (Yellow)
Junior Akihionbare (Red)
Substitutes not used: Danny Rumbol, Alex Mulrooney-Skinner
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