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Ashford United 0 Herne Bay 2: Reaction from Bay boss Ben Smith to their Isthmian South East play-off final win and promotion

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Ben Smith says Herne Bay’s historic promotion is the greatest achievement of his senior managerial career to date.

Bay joined league champions Hastings in going up to Isthmian Premier as they beat Kent rivals Ashford 2-0 in the Isthmian South East play-off final. It will be the first time they've played at Step 3 in the non-league pyramid in their 136-year history.

Winger Kieron Campbell broke the deadlock in the second half at Homelands before substitute Aaron Millbank converted a penalty he had won himself in front of a 1,865-strong crowd to seal the win.

Smith, appointed Herne Bay’s manager a little under three years ago, enjoyed a good FA Vase run with former club Canterbury City reaching the semi-finals and had, had success as a youth coach at Winch’s Field, but never previously had triumphed at senior level.

He said: “When I look back, in the Kent Youth League, I had a great side that I took through. We won everything, the County Cup three years in a row and went a season unbeaten, and I’ve never quite been able to get that form at this level.

“We did a great job at Canterbury City with everything that went on behind-the-scenes throughout the time I was there. You felt kind of like the manager, chairman, kitman… just everything.

“To come to Herne Bay, and to do it with my mates as well, and turn a club around, it tops the lot. It absolutely tops the lot.

“But we’ve got to find something else now that’s going to be better.”

Manager Smith also revealed on-loan Ebbsfleet midfielder Mike West had to have injections in order to get through the game. He started and played just shy of 80 minutes before being replaced by Millbank.

Summing up his emotions with his winners' medal proudly around his neck, he commented: “It hasn’t sunk in. It’s not disbelief because I fully believed we would win today’s game.

“I thought it was fate that it was going to happen. But it’s one thing believing it and thinking it, you have got to go and do it. And we had a massive test in front of us.

“If you look at the side that’s started, Westy has had to have all sorts of injections to play today.

Herne Bay manager Ben Smith. Picture: Chris Davey
Herne Bay manager Ben Smith. Picture: Chris Davey

“It shows what a signing he has been - (the) character. He could have come here and just strolled around, not really giving it his all on loan from Ebbsfleet. But he has come in here and has just ingrained himself in the club.

“What he has done today to be able to play is remarkable.

“Bode (Anidugbe) was injured, Zak Ansah’s injured and Jack Parter’s injured. We’ve had so many different injuries where we’ve thought, actually, there’s about five different sides we were looking at playing - because we didn’t know who was going to get through the warm-up!

“We had the doctor in at half-time, giving Westy his injection.

“It was a massive effort from, not only the players, but the people behind the scenes to be able to get a doctor that works in the boxing industry to come in today and to be on call to help us over the line.

Smith revealed on-loan Ebbsfleet midfielder Mike West had to have injections in order to be fit to play the play-off final
Smith revealed on-loan Ebbsfleet midfielder Mike West had to have injections in order to be fit to play the play-off final

“We did everything we could, and we massively deserved that.”

Herne Bay kept a sixth clean sheet in seven fixtures on their way to the victory and Smith praised his centre-half partnership of skipper Laurence Harvey and Dan Johnson.

He enthused: “Our centre-halves were good. Jay May, every time we’ve played them, he scores.

“Gary Lockyer, I can remember him celebrating behind the goal when he scored at our place (during a 3-0 win in January). But my centre-halves were massive. They were immense.

“We’ve brought Dan Carrington in today and didn’t play him as a full-back, we played him as a third centre-half because he’s a centre-half. Tactically, we had to change something.

“We can’t just do the same thing all the time. It just gives an extra body in there.

“When it goes in, you are not 2 v 2, you’re 2 v 3. It’s another clean sheet.

“Our defensive record has been so good.”

Bay fans flooded on to the field at the full-time whistle but Smith wanted to speak to Ashford manager Tommy Warrilow and his players before joining in the celebrations.

"First and foremost, I wanted to shake their players’ hands. They’re a great side," explained the boss who had looked away as Millbank prepared to take the spot-kick, leaving him unaware it was Millbank - and not regular taker and top scorer Zak Ansah - on the penalty.

"Whoever lost today, it was going to be a travesty, really. We both deserve to go up, we really do.

"But it can only be one and I’m delighted for the club that we’ve done it."

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