Report by Tony Rickson
The first promise new manager Chris Lynch made to fans was that his Sittingbourne teams would battle. And how they battled on Tuesday (22nd Janaury) evening, even though they ended up suffering their 12th defeat in the last 13 games. But unlike the previous two games, when they were taken apart, this was a nail-biter and deep into added time Sittingbourne were still piling forward in desperate pursuit of an equaliser.
VCD managed to keep them out, through solid defending and a fair bit of gamesmanship, but this was a hugely improved performance by a young Sittingbourne team. If they occasionally lacked quality in certain areas they made up for it in enthusiasm and determination - surely they'll beat off the threat of relegation if this is how they're going to play for the rest of the season. With two of their best players, Tom Loynes and Lex Allan, watching injured from the sidelines, they brought in just one new signing: on-loan Gillingham teenager Roman Campbell at centre-forward. And what a performance by the 18-year-old, who was unfazed by the tough VCD defenders, and capped a fine display by getting a debut goal. He was brave, agile and mobile, and led the line beautifully - much more like the sorely-missed Kane Rowland, and the sort of striker Sittingbourne have been lacking all season.
VCD, pressing for a play-off place and with one of the best away records in the division, missed a couple of good chances as they produced some early pressure while at the other end Lewis Chambers volleyed over and Izzy Adebayo beat the keeper with a chip but a defender cleared off the line. Playing some good football, VCD took the lead in the 20th minute when the tricky Hudson got in behind right-back Arben Muskaj and scored at the second attempt with a neat finish into the far corner. They hit the post in their next attack and goalkeeper Patrick Lee produced three good saves as Sittingbourne did comparatively well to keep it to 1-0 at half-time.
After getting thumped in their previous two games it was always a worry how much confidence would dip once they fell behind again, but they showed lots of determination to keep themselves in touching distance. Too much determination from midfielder Tommie Fagg, who had already been booked when he committed another foul, the referee resisting pressure from VCD players and bench to show him a second card. But Fagg was sensibly withdrawn from the action, and the two half-time substitutes helped transform the game for Sittingbourne in the second half. Henry Woods had what I thought was his best 45 minutes for the team and Joshua Spencer was full of enterprise in a bright first game for the club.
So it was after the break that Sittingbourne really took the game to VCD, Billy Lewins forcing the keeper to make a fine save and the crowd behind the goal shrieking for a penalty for handball which wasn't given. Midway through the half and Sittingbourne got the equaliser their improved performance merited. Adebayo hit over a terrific cross from out on the right-wing and Campbell just beat the keeper to it to get the ball over the line.
The 1-1 scoreline lasted just three minutes as VCD found space down their left for a cross to come into the far post where substitute Vincent, who had only just come on, volleyed home.Sittingbourne again recovered well and dominated the final period of play, but couldn't quite find a finish of enough quality to level it again, as VCD took time out of the game at every opportunity.
An exhilarating game on a mucky night, and praise for both teams for the way they tore into the match and produced a really good evening's football. All it needs now is for this rejigged Sittingbourne team to play with this energy and commitment week-in week-out and surely some better results will follow.
Sittingbourne Played: Patrick Lee, Arben Muskaj (Joshua Spencer, 45 min), Rob Lofting, Chris Webber, Ben Fitchett, Lewis Chambers, Izzy Adebayo, Tommie Fagg (Yellow card) (Henry Woods, 45 min), Roman Campbell, Billy Lewins (Johan Caney-Bryan, 78 min) and Liam Middleton. Subs not used: Jack Morrell and Matt Funnell.