PITCHING IN ISTHMIAN LEAGUE
South East Division
Saturday 25th November 2023
Lancing 0 v Sittingbourne 0
These two teams last met on the final day of the 21/22 season when Lancing crowned a fine season with a 3-1 win, thanks to goals from Reece Hallard (2) and Darius Goldsmith. But, on current form, Sittingbourne presented a formidable challenge. Undefeated in the League since a 3-2 defeat by Cray Valley on 12th August, they came into this game on the back of three wins, overcoming Ashford, Three Bridges and Chichester. However, they would have been mindful of Lancing’s form with wins against Three Bridges and Broadbridge Heath in their previous two outings.
Lancing were fortunate not to be punished within minutes of the start when a couple of stray passes almost gifted the visitors an early Christmas present. Lancing recovered the ball from the first error and had Louis Rogers to thank for rescuing his side getting down quickly to palm the ball away just as a Sittingbourne striker was about to pull the trigger.
The Lancing defence tightened up considerably after these early lapses and coped superbly with some direct and speedy attacking play and were able to repel high balls into the box with some powerful headed clearances.
Knory Scott, back at Culver Road after representing Bermuda overseas, was looking lively with some delightful first touches and initiating some good build up play. A promising break down the left saw him combine with Harry Heath with Heath playing the ball back to Scott in position to put in a strike on goal, which was deflected behind for a corner. The left flank was looking to be a promising avenue for Lancing with some precision passing from Sam Bull finding Harry Heath, Dan Hull or Lukas Franzen-Jones ready and willing to receive the ball. Sam Bull was showing a good range of passes switching the ball from the left to Alex Laing on the opposite wing.
Lancing were enjoying a good spell looking solid defensively and competing well in the midfield. Andrew Briggs was enjoying some good possession dropping deep to pick the ball up and spreading the play. He was strong on the ball, resisting challenges and advancing into the Sittingbourne half. A Briggs pass set up Alex Laing for a good drive which keeper Bobby Mason was able to keep out palming the ball downwards. George Taggart was showing his ability to keep the ball, and, despite attempts to close him down, skilfully pirouetted away, with the ball seemingly glued to his left foot, launching himself towards the opposition final third. There was anticipation from one promising move as it looked as if Harry Heath had timed a run into the box perfectly to get on the end of a pass from Taggart but the ball was slightly overhit and a good chance fell away.
Lancing were being harshly penalised for what looked, at times, to be players coming together in 50/50 challenges and they had to defend a number of dangerous free kicks. But Charlie Bennett, Jack Meeres, Sam Bull and Dan Hull were dominant in the air. Sittingbourne did come close with one header from a corner and one from a free-kick but on both occasions the ball was glanced wide. Sittingbourne finished the half strongly and Louis Rogers was called into action twice, getting down to his left to keep the ball out and preventing an almost certain goal by closing down an attacker before he could apply the finishing touch.
Lancing had the final say with a free -kick being awarded when Alex Laing was brought down as he was motoring forward from deep. Jack Meeres rose well to meet the ball floated in from the free kick but could not keep it from clearing the cross bar.
Lancing began the second half brightly with their attacking play being frustrated with fouls against Lukas Franzen-Jones and Andrew Briggs. Lancing’s best chance to take the lead occurred with the half barely ten minutes old. Knory Scott used the ball well to pick out Lukas Franzen-Jones who adroitly turned the ball goal wards to Alex Laing. There was only the keeper in his way and a couple of yards to the goal but Alex snatched at the ball and his effort lacked any real power. This turned out to be Lancing’s best opportunity to go in front, although Alex was to later to come close with a free-kick which was heading for the goal until deflected over. This had been awarded when a back pass to keeper Mason bounced off him, striking his hand outside the area, and this earned him a caution.
Lancing continued to keep up the attacking momentum, with Lukas Franzen-Jones coming close with a couple of headers. A cross driven into the box by Charlie Bennett led to two efforts on goal. The first came back to Knory Scott who reacted quickly but his effort just shaded the wrong side of the upright. Lancing’s tails were up and Alex Laing was driving forward at every opportunity. One good break, cutting in from the right, ended with a delivery to Lukas Franzen-Jones who laid it off to Alex who had continued his run and finished with a well-struck effort on goal. Shortly afterwards Alex made another bursting run but was brought down with a dangerous tackle from Chris Arthur for which he received red card. So, 71 minutes on the referee’s stop watch and Sittingbourne had to see out the remaining 19 minutes (plus seven added on) with only ten men.
Sittingbourne shaped up to hold on to a point but Lancing hoped to take advantage of the extra man. Fresh legs might help, so on came Alex Plummer for Knory Scott on 74 minutes. Alex Laing was still full of running and had another shot on target which Mason saved. Andrew Briggs tried his luck with a well struck effort from 30 yards but it rose as it neared the goal and cleared the cross bar. Last throw of the dice by David Altendorff was to give a debut to former Brighton academy player Eliot Jenks, with Harry Heath, who had performed well after a few weeks’ injury lay off, stepping down. One final attempt from Lancing came from a Charlie Bennett cross which reached Alex Laing and he curled into the box where it was met by a header from Lukas Franzen-Jones met which flew narrowly over the bar.
In the final analysis, Sittingbourne were probably the happier team, managing to see out almost 30 minutes with only ten men. Lancing had their opportunities and it only needed one moment of composure in front of goal to secure three points. This was nevertheless an all-round good performance. Sittingbourne had some quality in attack but after some early carelessness, Lancing looked impregnable at the back and repelled any serious threat on goal. You can see why Sittingbourne occupy third place in the table, Lancing now slipping down slightly to 10th place. Most supporters, if asked before k.o, would probably have said they would be happy with a point.
The post-match debate on Player of the Match identified several good candidates Andrew Briggs, George Taggart, Louis Rogers, Charlie Bennett. In fact, you could pick out any one of the starting XI and no -one could argue against it .However we settled on Sam Bull. Confident on the ball, a good range of accurate passing. Along the ground, switching the ball from deep on the left to the far side. Good positional sense and solid in defending.
Lancing Starting XI:
Charlie Bennett, Jack Meeres, Sam Bull, Dan Hull, Andrew Briggs, George Taggart, Alex Laing (Capt.), Harry Heath, Knory Scott, Lukas Franzen-Jones
Substitutes: Jacob Thompson, Eliot Jenks, William Berry, Charlie Gibson, Alex Plummer
(Just a personal footnote about the substitutes. I am glad I am not the manager, having to leave out these players from the starting line-up. Each one is worthy of starting but you can only pick eleven)