What a season this is turning out to be as Sittingbourne saw off opposition from a division higher on their way to recording a sixth successive win.
Ok, when the season started doing well in the League Cup wouldn’t have been as big a priority as challenging in the league or having a good run in the FA Cup or FA Trophy.
But this was a football match and it was there to be won and Sittingbourne – despite changing half their team from the side that won in the Trophy on Saturday at Ashford – pulled it off in style.
And Merstham weren’t big time charlies taking an easy night off from the stresses of the Bostik Premier Division, they put in plenty of effort and all but one of the starting line-up was in the squad for their
league match last Saturday.
On a blustery night there was a healthy gathering of scouts from top clubs there to keep an eye on the progress of Sittingbourne teenager Lex Allan.
He was one of five players who weren’t in the side that started at Ashford, with goalkeeper Harry Brooks, Tom Loynes, Bola Dawodu and David Smith also getting a chance, as regulars like Daren Hawkes, John Coker, Kane Phillip, Kane Rowland and Laurence Ball were given a rest.
The change in personnel did nothing to interrupt the rhythm and confidence of in-form Sittingbourne and they started strongly against a Merstham side determined to play out from the back each and every time.
After Miles Cornwell had a couple of shots blocked and David Smith shot over, Sittingbourne got the only goal of the match after 20 minutes.
Their commitment to pressing high up the pitch paid off as a Merstham defender was caught in possession by Loynes when he charged down an attempted clearance. He raced clear on goal but as the keeper came out, instead of shooting, he unselfishly passed the ball sideways to the supporting Smith who rolled it into the empty net. To my mind, that’s a perfect team goal, and as Phillip did the same at Horsham recently, it’s obviously something drilled into players to put team before self.
Keeper Brooks is a terrific second option for Sittingbourne and he did well to save with his feet in a rare first half chance for Merstham, who tended to over-play despite some decent possession.
Into the second half and Sittingbourne were threatening every time they went forward but chances were few and far between at either end before a frantic last 10 minutes.
Brooks made an excellent 80th minute save from Merstham danger-man Bennett, tipping his shot over the bar, and a few minutes later the same player went even closer, his shot pinging back off the bar.
There were a few scary moments from corners, but Sittingbourne defended stubbornly and defiantly to hold out for a fifth clean sheet. All the back four played well, with Ollie Brown terrific at left-back in holding
out against a pacy and tricky winger.
At the other end, Sittingbourne wasted a handful of glorious chances as Merstham neglected defensive duties in pursuit of an equaliser, the home team’s finishing nowhere near as slick as their impressive build-up
All in all, though, it was an excellent result – another excellent result – and a deserved reward for hard work, good organisation, and a fantastic team spirit.
Ken Medwyn's Photographs
Match Day Programme
David Smith 20 mins
Referee: Mr Ricky Adams;
Assistants: Mr Andrew Simmonds, Mr Rhys Battye.
Tyrone Guthrie (Jide Okimeji, 44 min), Ben Gorham,
David Smith (Kane Rowland, 70 min), Miles Cornwell (Kane Phillip, 63
Subs not used: John Coker, Daren Hawkes.
Sinn Kaye Christie,
Stephen Hamilton-Forbes (Sonny Black, 75 min),
Simon Cooper (Yellow card),
Sahr Kabba (Reece Hall, 69 min),
Subs not used: Jelan Jones,
Anh War Tran-West,
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