Ebbsfleet United manager Steve Brown preferred to take the positives of FA Trophy progress and his side’s never-say-die attitude in the aftermath of the hard-fought victory over Whitstable Town.
“We fell behind again and no-one will give us credit for coming back whether they’re two leagues below us or not,” Brown told BBC Radio Kent’s Charles Webster. “That’s Hayes & Yeading we’ve come back from, Whitehawk, and now today. That’s 14 wins from 17 games or thereabouts and I’m growing tired to be honest of anything negative that comes out of the performances because the players can’t give a lot more so saying that we weren’t putting in a shift, I don’t agree. I think they just didn’t grasp the conditions as well as Whitstable did. But at 1-0 down, in tricky conditions, we’ve come back to win so I’ve got nothing but praise for the players.
“Whitstable are used to playing on this pitch in these conditions with that kind of football and we’re not and it’s very hard to get a mentality into a team to do things that they’re not used to doing. To ask them to start putting balls in behind back fours when they’ve got time on the ball, when they’re used to taking a touch and passing, takes a bit of getting used to so I don’t think there’s ever a question about our players’ enthusiasm and desire and commitment. You’re playing against a side that’s got nothing to lose, we knew they were going to start quickly and the conditions, the pitch and the ball took a little time to get used to.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be a pretty game where we could just come and pass the ball around. Whitstable weren’t going to just roll over and have their bellies tickled. It was a day to roll up your sleeves and play to the conditions and by hook or by crook we’ve got through to a last 16 place and I can’t wait for the draw on Monday.”
Looking back at the winning goal, the Fleet boss was understandably relieved. “I think the goal came at a great time,” said Brown, “because they can’t really in the two or three minutes left put us under too much pressure and it was a fortuitous goal but saying that their keeper’s made three or four very very good saves in that second half. Tough pitch, tough conditions, Whitstable gave it a really good go. You have to give them credit for that, they had nothing to lose and it was just a case of getting through to the next round and we did that.
“Their goal was a poor one for us to give away, a throw-in and we lost the marker, ball gets cleared and a great strike. They’ll say good goal, we’ll say we switched off.”
And Brown had more praise for Fleet’s star player Anthony Cook, whose goal on half-time hauled his side back into the tie. “Cooky was dangerous again, I thought they had a game plan. When he was on the left flank, they had a right back and right midfielder on him, he wasn’t getting much space so we switched him over and he got more joy down the right-hand side. He was exceptional again today. For the goal, they gave the ball away and then he does what he does best in those one v ones, struck it low in the corner, a good finish.”
Looking ahead to today’s draw, Brown was rueful when the suggestion his old club Dover might come out of the hat paired with the Fleet: “I’d rather not play Dover just because of the media attention it draws but I just want a home tie to be honest. We’ll give anyone a game on our day, we showed that against Dartford. Obviously something like Cambridge away will be tough as old boots but if that comes our way, we’ll give it our best shot, that’s for sure.”
Whitstable manager Nicky Southall was delighted with his players but couldn’t hide his disappointment. “I’m gutted. For the last 90 seconds for a cross to go over my keeper who’s been superb all game was horrible really. But I’m very proud of the way we played and the way we approached the game.
“A neutral would have been hard pressed to know which team was two leagues above. My players gave everything and that’s what I asked from them before the game. The boys at the minute are very disappointed, a lot of the heads were down after the game and rightly so, they couldn’t have given any more for this club.
“I had two young kids from the Under-21s, I went to watch them at Hastings last week and two of them stood out and I played them today. These boys became men today and it was fantastic to see that. Dan Keyte who got the first goal was absolutely exceptional. Our goalkeeper got man of the match, but their keeper was outstanding too. He made some fabulous saves and one in the last minute.
“The footballing gods weren’t with us today so we can’t cry over spilt milk and we go again to hopefully take our anger out on Merstham.”