My second visit to the St Paul’s Sports ground took me to see the FA Cup qualifying match between Fisher FC, of the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division and Sittingbourne FC of the Isthmian South East league.
The St Paul’s Sports ground boasts a 3G pitch, floodlighting, a grandstand and covered standing as well as a decent clubhouse. The views across to Canary wharf are exceptional. There was a good crowd of 247 in for the match and they made a lot of noise throughout. The club is welcoming and friendly and there was a really good, if competitive, atmosphere between the teams and both sets of fans.
Sittingbourne FC were in 17th place in the early Isthmian League South East Division table, coming into the tie, following a 0-0 draw with Ramsgate at home and a narrow 2-1 defeat to Whitehawk away. They will have serious aims to improve on their tenth place in the table, of last season, with new manager, Nick Davis, having brought in virtually a new squad at Sittingbourne this season, so expect things to come together more, as they settle into playing with each other regularly. Today as the higher league side in the tie, Sittingbourne came into the match with expectations of progressing, despite Fisher having home advantage.
Fisher FC, of the Southern Counties East Football League, Premier Division, have had a slow start themselves. Manager, Ajay Ashanike, has seen his side lose by the narrowest of margins, 0-1, twice at home, to two of the highly rated sides Erith Town and Whitstable Town, as well as watching them secure an impressive point away against Hollands & Blair, with Sam Fitzgerald scoring their first goal of the season.
The fact that they have conceded only three goals in three games, in what is always a high scoring league, will give Ashanike hope that his team have a defensive platform to launch a decent run, although they will need to find a way to score more goals. Fisher also come into the tie with some FA Cup pedigree, having beaten Isthmian League side, Sutton Common Rovers away 0-1, in the extra preliminary round, earlier this month.
Throughout the first half, the home side kept their shape really well and even in the full sun of a summer afternoon, managed to press in every situation. Sittingbourne found it tough to find a way through the organised Fisher midfield and defence. On the rare occasion they created something, they ran into the solid combination of the high quality Joseph Adewunmi and the rangy Prince Imoru at the back.
At the break the sides were locked at 0-0, but it was definitely the home fans who felt happier about their team’s chances, going into the second half.
Fisher started after the break with even more pace and confidence. Manny Shoderu scored from close range on 49 minutes to send the Fisher fans wild and put the home side 1-0 ahead.
In the 70th minute Fisher looked to have put the tie out of reach when a fine headed goal from Darnell Bailey King, flew past Matt Cafer in the Sittingbourne goal.
Sittingbourne looked devoid of chances until really late on in the 89th minute, when a cross was deflected by a Fisher defender and judged to have crossed the line, pulling the scores back to 2-1. This immediately gave hope to the away side and you could sense anxiety creep into, what had been upto then, the rock solid Fisher defence.
In the 90th minute, the inevitable happened and Sittingbourne were awarded a penalty after a rash Fisher challenge in the box. The penalty was taken by Harry Harding and saved well by Sam Amedu, but the follow up was rifled home by Harrison Pont to level the tie, against the run of play.
The final whistle blew and both sides would have to meet again at Sittingbourne for a midweek replay. This was a game of two extremes but one which, on reflection, Fisher would feel they had let go, whereas Sittingbourne fans went away knowing they’d escaped against lower ranked opposition, having been outplayed for much of the game.