Whyteleafe 3-0 Sittingbourne
Whyteleafe 3-0 Sittingbourne

Whereas Horsham the previous week was a hiding, this was anything but for Sittingbourne.

They matched Whyteleafe for possession and energy, but made a couple of crucial errors and ended up still without the three points they need to ensure safety from relegation.

That’s five defeats in a row for Sittingbourne – following a run of five wins! – and no wonder they look a bit battered and bedraggled at the moment.

They’ve been unlucky with injuries and unavailabilities and it showed in the pleasant setting of leafy Surrey.

Already without long-term injured Lewis Chambers and Tom Loynes, they were missing the influential Gillingham loan pair Roman Campbell and Jack Morrell.

Whyteleafe are a decent side who have been top half all season and, of course, they’re far more accustomed to the football needed on their artificial pitch than a team that only plays there once a season.

Joshua Spencer was fit to return after six weeks out with a knee injury and he lined up in an unfamiliar back three with skipper Chris Webber moved from right-back to a defensive role in central midfield.

Sittingbourne began well, spreading the ball about and doing a lot of running and pressing as Whyteleafe tried to play out from the back all the time.

There was a little to choose between the sides with Timmy Babbington shooting wide from a good opening at one end and Whyteleafe hitting the bar from close range at the other end.

Sittingbourne reverted to a more usual back four after less than 20 minutes but it left Spencer in an unfamiliar left-back role and it was his mistake that gifted the home side a 37th minute lead.

He tried to play a back pass to keeper Patrick Lee but underhit it and Hector nipped in to take the loose ball and score an easy goal. That’s four times I can remember this year that Sittingbourne have given away goals with poor back passes.

One became two just seven minutes later when Whyteleafe cut out the Sittingbourne back four with a simple one-two, Armstrong running clear on a neat return pass to score comfortably.

Sittingbourne manager Chris Lynch immediately responded by substituting both his disappointed-looking wide players with like-for-like replacements.

One of them, Liam Middleton, straightaway produced the moment of the match, brilliantly dribbling past three defenders to set up Johan Caney-Bryan for a chance from which he hit the bar. Matches are decided by moments like this.

Whyteleafe looked as if they were prepared to soak up any pressure for the second half and concentrate on breakaway attacks, and Sittingbourne responded by continuing to press forward and look to create chances.

Henry Woods was flattened when going clear but got nothing, Caney-Bryan put a couple of openings wide and then over, Woods had a shot tipped over the bar and Lex Allan a powerful header well saved by the keeper.

In the meantime, Whyteleafe made the mountain for Sittingbourne to climb that much higher, adding a third from the penalty spot when the unlucky Spencer was tricked into a foul on the edge of the area.

There was never going to be a way back from three-down and it was Whyteleafe who had the better of the late chances with Lee making two good saves and a home forward missing what was really an open goal.

Sittingbourne could have had a penalty themselves when Woods was brought down again, but any distant chance of a comeback was ruined when Caney-Bryan was injured in a heavy tackle and couldn’t continue.

So with all three substitutions already made, Sittingbourne had to play the last quarter-of-an-hour with just 10 men – their fans kept singing, though, to provide the only atmosphere in the ground.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, it wasn’t even that good a game, but manager Lynch will know there’s lots of work to do to rebuild a squad for next season once safety for this one is absolutely guaranteed.

Whyteleafe: Tyler McCarthy, Emmanuel Mensah, Helge Orome, Nathan Campbell, Ricardo Thompson, Corey Holder (Yellow card), Bradley Wilson, Bentley Graham (Jamie McGeoghegan, 87 min), Andre McCollin, Dan Hector (Bryan Akongo, 74 min), Marvin Armstrong.

Sittingbourne: Patrick Lee, Chris Webber, Lex  Allan, Tommy Fagg, Joshua Spencer (Tom Lawrence, 63 min), Chris Barnard, Kane Phillip (Abdel Ndew, 44 min), Billy Lewins, Johan Caney-Bryan, Henry Woods, Timmy Babbington (Liam Middleton, 44 mins). Subs not used: Khalil McFarlane, Kwasi Amoah.

Referee: John Pike; Assistants: Andrew Senior, Nick Blogg

Attendance: 103

Images courtesy of Ken Medwyn