Report by Tony Rickson
Buildbase FA Trophy, 1st Qualifying Round
One day, technology will be advanced enough for us to have VAR at all Sittingbourne matches and how interesting it would have been to have had it for the FA Trophy game on Saturday (26th October) afternoon, as Sittingbourne had two penalty appeals rejected and an injury time equaliser ruled out.
All three decisions seemed marginal, but as it was, Tooting and Mitcham, who are enjoying a very successful season and are unbeaten in league matches, edged through to the next round. They were well-organised, hard-working and disciplined, but there really was little to choose between the sides in a game of few chances and, miraculously these days, no yellow cards at all. The match was accompanied by wind and rain, but it was the same difficult conditions for both teams, though it must have affected the size of the crowd for what promised to be one of Sittingbourne's biggest games of the season. The fans that were there made plenty of noise, and we were even treated to song wars during the first half with Sittingbourne coming out on top in that particular match.
Sittingbourne were without goalkeeper Tom Benham and top scorer Johan Caney-Bryan, after both picked up ankle injuries in the 1-0 win over Hythe the previous Saturday. The players made a moving tribute to youth team player Charlie Taylor before the match, and Tooting even entered into the spirit of the occasion by wearing a rather awful shade of all-pink kit.
They put a couple of early chances wide and began by hustling Sittingbourne out of the passing game that was so successful in the midweek Velocity Trophy tie, so possession was lost too much. When Sittingbourne did get forward, Kane Phillip found Sid Sollis in the penalty area where he was unceremoniously shoved over by a Tooting defender who made no apparent attempt to go for the ball. But the referee seemed too far back to make a decision and no penalty was awarded.
Already there was a sense it would be a game of not many chances, so when the mercurial Phillip created a good attacking position for himself it was disappointing his low cross got no further than producing a comfortable cut-out for the keeper. At the other end, Sittingbourne's now ultra reliable back four held Tooting at bay comfortably with Lex Allan excellent and Jason Fregene once again impressive.
Into the second half and Sollis had another passionate appeal for a penalty rejected, after he claimed a Tooting defender's hand had helped block his shot. Tooting won it on 74 minutes when a pass to the left was beautifully dummied to wrongfoot the covering defence and find Morgan-Griffiths in space to drive a low shot across goal into the far corner. Sittingbourne's response took a while to get going, Sollis crossing from the right on one occasion to find no-one up in support, surprising for a team one-down in a knockout match. But the rally finally arrived and it was strong and spirited. Defenders were up in the thick of it and Allan ambitiously tried to chest down an opening when he might have opted to head for goal, while Fregene imaginatively attempted an overhead shot from close in.
Sollis had a powerful free-kick punched out and in added time Sittingbourne forced the ball into the Tooting net only for the referee to give a free-kick for a foul on the keeper. To my mind it looked as if he'd simply dropped the wet ball but admittedly the official was a lot closer to the action than me. So it's Tooting & Mitcham through to the next round and Sittingbourne left to regret ending up with a disappointing result on a day of very fine margins.
Sittingbourne Played: Jordan Perrin, Ben Fitchett, Jason Fregene, Chris Webber, Lex Allan, Cory Walters-Wright, Kane Phillip (Enoch Adjei, 57 min), Tommy Fagg (Declan Pearse, 77 min), Sid Sollis, Josh Oliver (Adam Woolcott, 54 min) and Chris Barnard. Sub not used: Jack Smith and Liam Middleton.