Report by Tony Rickson
Whatever happens to him in his football career, Sittingbourne under-18 player Dylan Riches won't ever forget his senior debut on Tuesday (17th April) night.
The young midfielder got a terrific 78th minute goal to earn Sittingbourne a point as they twice fought back to draw an entertaining game. That's twice this season they've battled from behind to draw 2-2 with Thamesmead, and once again it was a richly deserved point for Sittingbourne. They showed excellent battling qualities, energy and spirit throughout, and have now lost only two out of their last eight games in what's proving to be a fighting finish to the season.
Not a player was booked from either side in a fairly-contested game even though the referee awarded two penalties and three of the four goals came from dead ball situations. Sittingbourne were forced to make changes from the team that won at Phoenix Sports on Saturday, with Lewis Chambers, Fabrice Blewordah and Charlie Allen ruled out. In came Chris Elliott, Tyrone Guthrie, and youngster Riches, and all three had excellent games.
The Brickies made a bright start and David Smith, who worked ceaselessly throughout as a like-for-like stand-in for the injured Kane Rowland, had a fifth minute effort cleared off the line with the keeper beaten. In an end-to-end game, Sittingbourne were indebted to keeper Harry Brooks for two very good saves, while at the other end Smith missed a great chance close in when he seemed to try to convert an accurate Tom Loynes' cross with the wrong foot. Smith had two more first half opportunities to give Sittingbourne the lead but Thamesmead keeper Carey twice made good saves, and the away side made them pay for missing out when they were gifted the lead just before half-time.
Striker Parrish got behind the defence and went down every easily under a half-challenge by Guthrie to claim a penalty which he himself converted. Sittingbourne had a spell earlier in the year when they didn't recover from setbacks like that, but the present team have more about them and it wasn't long into the second half that they got the equaliser. Again it was a penalty as Loynes was blatantly shoved over, and Elliott deftly chipped it in with a confident finish for his first Sittingbourne goal.
Sittingbourne piled on the pressure with Smith being foiled by a good save, Riches shooting just wide and Loynes almost scoring direct from a corner with fans behind the goal claiming the ball actually crossed the line. No-one saw Thamesmead's second goal coming, but McIntyre hit a free-kick from way out on the touchline, nearer the halfway line than the goal, which went straight in at the far post with Brooks initially coming for it and realising too late he'd made a mistake.
Fair play to Sittingbourne for the determination of their fightback after conceding such an unlikely goal, and they were back on level terms just six minutes later. Smith did brilliantly to retrieve the ball as a Thamesmead defender tried to shepherd it out and he set up Loynes. He's so good at seeing the bigger picture in situations like this and instead of crossing it to the far post, Loynes laid it back to youngster Riches. He took just the one touch, shooting first time from the edge of the area and watching in delight as the ball curved away from the keeper and into the far corner of the goal.
Sittingbourne pressed for a winner but a succession of mighty long throws by Reiss Crimmen all seemed to end with the referee spotting a push and relieving the pressure on the defending side by giving them a free-kick. Still, a draw was just about a fair result, and Sittingbourne will now need to bring the same spirit and energy to the final home game of the season on Saturday when league leaders Carshalton are the visitors.
Sittingbourne Played: Harry Brooks, Josh Dorling, Chris Elliott (Lex Allan, 78 min), Tyrone Guthrie, Chris Webber, Reiss Crimmen, Harrison Hatfull (Seyfettin Akdeniz, 83 min), Dylan Riches, David Smith, Dan Parkinson and Tom Loynes. Subs not used: Abdul Malik Usman, Xavier McDonagh and Max Farrelly.