The previous Saturday Sittingbourne sauntered to a stylish five-goal victory with a sophisticated display against struggling opponents.
This was just the opposite. Hythe were strong, organised and determined, clearly destined for at least a top half finish.
Sittingbourne were made to work hard, very hard, so all praise to them for emerging with three more points to underline a promotion challenge that very few, to be honest, saw coming.
They’ are third in the table as a result and good for them – this was an important win and should give them every belief that losing just once in their opening ten league games is a hard-earned but fully deserved statistic.
That man Bola Dawodu got the crucial goal, Ollie Brown had probably his best ever game in a Sittingbourne shirt, but for me the star of the show was outstanding central defender John Coker.
Hardly surprisingly, manager Nick Davis kept an unchanged team from the side that won 5-1 at Horsham. That meant no room for the highly promising Lex Allan, or Tyrone Guthrie and Laurence Ball, who both scored in the midweek League Cup win.
But that all made for a talented substitutes’ bench, and three of them made a crucial impact when they lifted the side after coming on in the second half.
Sittingbourne started the match with some very strong tackles – all fair and above board and showing Hythe this present group of players wouldn’t be intimidated, as some of their predecessors might have been.
The first half was even with Miles Cornwell having a great chance blocked away by a Hythe defender, and Dawodu volleying over after good work by the ever-running Kane Rowland.
At the other end, Sittingbourne’s back four were all excellent, nearly always keeping the play in front of them, and behind them Daren Hawkes was on the ball, coming out to punch away through a crowded group and then to save with his feet as well as fielding any shot that got through.
The closest Hythe got was a header from Dos Santos that clipped the top of the bar and drifted over, and to be fair both defences dominated – there was never going to be more than a goal to divide the teams in such a close match.
Sittingbourne created more after half time and Tom Loynes half-volleyed over, Rowland got round the keeper but the Hythe No 1 got back to save, and Chris Webber drove a low shot wide.
Hythe didn’t create as much this half and when they got into a good position in the area Coker rescued Sittingbourne with a magnificent tackle that summed up his contribution to the afternoon.
Substitutions undoubtedly gave Sittingbourne a precious bit of extra impetus and they won the game after 80 minutes. The ever-dangerous but unpredictable David Smith advanced from his own half at speed and released Dawodu to race through the middle of the Hythe defence. Dawodu himself is anything but unpredictable in these positions and he showed great composure to coolly slip the winner past the advancing keeper for his eighth goal of what’s proving to be a hugely impressive season.
Hythe protested loud and long that there should have been an offside flag, but the assistant referee was spot on. Rowland strayed offside in the build-up but Dawodu ran past him and the covering defenders from an onside position.
Sittingbourne determinedly held on to their narrow lead for the rest of the game, and now look forward to a Tuesday night trip to old friends Herne Bay in search of their first double of the season.
Photographs by Glen Parkes & Michael Sayce
Match day programme
Bola Dowadu 80 mins
Referee: Ollie Butcher (Ashford)
Assistants: Jack Owen (Sevenoaks)
Zoltan Konkoly (Maidstone)
Chris Elliott (David Smith 75 mins)
Ollie Brown (Yellow)
Ben Gorham (C)
John Coker (Yellow)
Miles Cornwell (Tyrone Guthrie 69 mins)
Tom Loynes (Gil Carvalho 63 mins)
Substitutes not used: Lex Allan Laurence Ball
Jordan Johnson- Palmer
Charlie Webster (Ashley Miller (Yellow))
Jerson Dos Santos (Sid Sollis 82 mins)
Kieron Campbell (Ryan Palmer 69 mins)
Substitutes not used: Mitchell Chapman, Nick Shaw
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