Aldershot & Farnham men’s first team (A&F) finished the first half of their season in the South East Premier Division by travelling to play struggling Sittingbourne.

It was a sluggish start from both sides in the late fixture, with plenty of errors and untidy play affecting the teams.

Sittingbourne were happy to set up a low defensive block, absorb pressure and let A&F dominate possession in an attempt to hit them on the break using direct balls to quick forwards.

A&F struggled to find their fluidity against the low block and the congested D was making it difficult to work the space for a clear sight of goal.

But they were given a gift as Will Caine intercepted a poor pass from Sittingbourne to launch a quick attack.

With Sittingbourne scrambling and more space in the D, Jonny Groves picked up the ball and slipped it past the keeper, putting it on a plate for Phil Rhusmere to slide in and put A&F 1-0 up.

Finally able to settle having taken the lead, the chances were coming thick and fast for A&F. As well as their usual flowing hockey bringing joy, especially down the right with Stu Morhall, the press was effective and led to A&F pinching the ball high up the field often.

The home goalkeeper made a good sliding save from Patrick Craddon, but ultimately A&F were again their own worst enemy, especially at penalty corners where their first two were mistrapped and the chances squandered.

A&F marshalled Sittingbourne’s counter attacks well throughout the first half, the only chances coming from two penalty corners for the home side, which were comfortably dealt with by Hamish Hall in goal and the defensive unit.

The final chance of the first half fell to A&F as they won a penalty corner. This time the trap was good, but Scott Perry could only fire over with the drag flick and it remained 1-0 to A&F at half-time.

The second half followed much the same script and it has been a script all too often played out for A&F.

The build-up play remained good and A&F were comfortable up until the final third where they couldn’t make good on any of their chances and Perry was unable to convert any of the penalty corners won by A&F.

With the score still at 1-0, A&F were anything but home and dry. A&F, so often making life difficult for themselves, did it again, only this time in their own D. Having won the ball in defence, a poor touch and clearance by A&F fell into Sittingbourne’s path. The cheap turnover so soon after winning the ball caught the defence wrong footed, and as a result the marking was disrupted. That allowed a simple ball to the back post to be touched in first time by an unmarked forward and Sittingbourne were level.

A&F then looked shaken and their patterns were breaking down as Sittingbourne remained resolute in their low block and started to cause more problems on the counter. But the game was flipped on an umpiring call. Jamie Weston was adjudged to have engaged having been within five yards of a free hit. The resulting penalty corner was slipped left from the top and the first shot was saved by Hall, however the rebound was poked home and suddenly the home side led for the first time with a little over ten minutes to go.

In the final ten minutes, A&F had enough chances and pressure to score a number of times. Sittingbourne had shown A&F exactly how to score scrappy goals in tight situations, but A&F were unable to replicate it. Balls were passing by the back post without a willing recipient and penalty corners, either direct flicks or deflection routines, were not converted.

A&F had one final chance to salvage something as a penalty corner was awarded as time expired. However the goalkeeper rescued all three points for Sittingbourne with a smart save from Perry.

Coming off the back of a brilliant victory against runaway league leaders Tunbridge Wells, this was a poor result for A&F which has put a huge dent in their aspirations for promotion. They find themselves sitting fifth in the table at Christmas with a huge 12-point gap to Tunbridge Wells.

The season resumes on January 13 with A&F visiting Horsham, where A&F will hope to find a way to score more consistently and put games to bed when they are on top to avoid slipping to similar defeats.

Coach Ian Jennings said “frustrated is an understatement” after the game.

He added: “If you were able to overlay the last two matches, the similarities would be there for all to see with one major difference – last week the goals went in and this week they didn’t.

“Our patterns, structure, work rate and discipline were all equal to last week, but once again it was our finishing that let us down. This has been synonymous with just about every game and I’m sure it’s been equally frustrating for the players too.

“The other thing that is really annoying is that oppositions never seem to score quality goals where you watch it and you go ‘yep, good goal that’.

“They all seem to be scrappy bundles over the line, or the ball falls directly to them from a deflection, or something else where they get the rub of the green. I know Hamish in goal is irritated by it, but I’m sure his sentiment is shared by the whole team.

“The reality is that we now find ourselves 12 points behind the leaders with the second half of the season to come. Although we will continue to be as professional as we can be for the remainder of the season, our final place in this league is largely out of our hands.

“I would like to finish by thanking everyone involved so far this season for all their efforts and commitment, and I hope they enjoy their time off before resuming in January for one final push.”