Report by Tony Rickson
What's that phrase about if you can't be good, be lucky?
Well, Sittingbourne's new interim manager Aslan Odev was certainly right out of luck for his first match in the hot seat on Saturday (17th February) afternoon. His team hit the woodwork twice in the first half, gave away a totally bizarre and unlucky equaliser, and then were beaten by a sucker punch goal deep into injury time. Just when East Grinstead were seemingly inwardly congratulating themselves on sneaking off with a point, they suddenly got all three - how many times is that this season that Sittingbourne have lost points to last minute goals?
You can blame it on rustiness - this was their first game in three weeks after a spate of postponements - or you can blame it on being short of senior players (John Coker was out injured, Kane Phillip, Chris Elliott and Dan Parkinson through suspension). Or you can simply say, bad luck, chaps, and move on. Certainly, this was by no means a bad Sittingbourne performance and all the players in a rejigged team put in a genuine whole-hearted effort to impress their former coach on the sidelines.
On a lovely spring-like day, Odev gave a debut to new left-back Fabrice Blewordah, who replaced Hythe Town-bound Sal Kiwitsu, and teenage centre-half Josh Dorling, on loan from Maidstone, made his full debut. Alongside Lex Allan, it made for an all-teenage, and pretty inexperienced, defensive pairing. Sittingbourne, who comfortably beat East Grinstead 3-1 on their own Sussex pitch a couple of months ago, made a bright start and Kane Rowland saw his early header turned onto the bar by big keeper Smith. Rowland, though, wasn't to be denied his 20th goal of an impressive season, latching onto a shrewd pass by Tom Loynes halfway through the half to beat the keeper with a powerful drive through his legs.
Five minutes later East Grinstead got a gift of an equaliser. Goalkeeper Harry Brooks raced out of his area to kick a loose ball clear but succeeded only in hitting it against Chris Webber. The ball could have gone anywhere but it rebounded straight to the feet of Cook, who got the simplest goal he'll ever score by simply stroking it back into the empty net. Sittingbourne looked good going forward, and both Webber and Rhys Bartlett, the latter after a great run by Blewordah, had good shots blocked, while Bartlett also hit the inside of the far post with the keeper beaten. On this day of luck being right out for Sittingbourne the ball bounced away from goal - on another day it could just as easily have spun in.
In the second half it was mainly one-way traffic towards the East Grinstead goal, though the chances Sittingbourne created weren't as clear-cut as in the first half. Loynes set up one after a great run but the visitors managed to scramble it away, Allan had a header go close, Rowland was thwarted by a good save and sub David Smith, always a danger because of his unpredictability, put his best chance too close to the keeper. There were also shouts for a handball when Rowland fired in a cross but - no luck again - the referee waved them away. And so it went into the six minutes added on because of a succession of injuries to East Grinstead players. The visitors were awarded a somewhat controversial free-kick on the halfway line and when the second ball was crossed back in, Thompson was unmarked to head in the winner.
Whether this was just an unlucky defeat, or Sittingbourne are really going to struggle for the last couple of months of what's overall been a really topsy-turvy but memorable season, we'll have to see over the busy next few weeks.
Sittingbourne Played: Harry Brooks, Chris Webber, Fabrice Blewordah, Ben Davisson, Josh Dorling, Lex Allan, Tom Loynes (Yellow card) (David Smith, 75 min), Tyrone Guthrie (Jide Okimeji, 66 min), Kane Rowland (Yellow card), Bola Dawodu (Charlie Allen, 90+2 min) and Rhys Bartlett. Subs not used: Harrison Hatfull and Max Farrelly.