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Sittingbourne boss Ryan Maxwell wonders what might have been had key striker Chris Harris not suffered injuries this season

Key man Chris Harris has made a timely return from injury as Sittingbourne gear up for the Isthmian South East play-offs.

Harris scored twice on his first start since recovering from an ankle problem as the Brickies opened up an early 2-0 lead at title-chasing Ramsgate on Easter Monday.

Sittingbourne striker Chris Harris. Picture: Ian Scammell
Sittingbourne striker Chris Harris. Picture: Ian Scammell

It finished 2-2, with the Brickies aggrieved by a penalty decision that got the hosts back in the game.

But there were plenty of positives for manager Ryan Maxwell, not least the performance of Harris.

He played the second half of a 3-0 win over Horndean - Maxwell’s 50th league game in charge - on Good Friday and was back in the starting XI at Southwood, with Danny Parish left on the bench as a precaution.

“It was a risk to start Chris because he’s just coming back for when we need him most but he played 90 minutes, scored twice and was undefendable,” said Maxwell.

“That was a huge positive and gave us loads of confidence for when the time comes in the play-offs.

“He wasn’t pencilled in to play 90 but he’s fine.

“We spoke on Tuesday morning and he was in good spirits.

“He’s had three badly twisted ankles this season.

“We’ve missed him in big games.

“Looking at his performance at Ramsgate, I can’t help but think what might have been had he played 90% of our games because he was absolutely unplayable.”

Maxwell felt Sittingbourne would have beaten Ramsgate had Joe Taylor not been awarded a 50th-minute penalty.

The ex-Brickies striker converted and Joe Turner made it 2-2 as a clash of sides second and third in the league ended in a draw.

“I still feel a bit aggrieved by the penalty decision,” said Maxwell.

“My lads were fantastic for 45 minutes and 2-0 was the least they deserved at half-time.

“We understand it’s part of Joe’s game where he’s back to goal and he does entice physical contact but the referee has bought it, despite us warning him.

“It’s simulated. It’s not a foul. He’s done extremely well to make it look like a coming-together.

“He’s backing in, he’s got hold of my player, as Joe does extremely well, and brings him down with him.

“That gave them a lifeline and at 2-1, when you’re going for a league title, you’re going to throw the kitchen sink at the opposition and they did.

Sittingbourne manager Ryan Maxwell. Picture: Ian Scammell
Sittingbourne manager Ryan Maxwell. Picture: Ian Scammell

“I felt gutted for the lads but I can promise you we were by far the better side in the first half and if the referee doesn’t give the penalty, we win the game.

“I was really pleased with how we took on instructions because I changed the shape a bit, changed tactics and everything was working swimmingly, so it was disappointing to see the referee conned into giving a penalty.”

Sittingbourne signed two players before last week’s transfer deadline.

Centre-half Cameron Black is on loan from National League Dorking Wanderers, making substitute appearances in the two Easter games.

The Brickies have also signed defensive midfielder Jack Thomas on dual-registration from Bishop’s Stortford.

Both players are available for the play-offs.

“We’ve had a bit of an injury crisis but we’ve covered it,” said Maxwell.

“Cameron’s a 6ft5in defender who’s played a number of games for various Step 3 clubs including Bognor, Leatherhead and Cray Wanderers, where he was until last week.

“Marc White (Dorking manager) has let him come to us and he’s already looked good in the minutes he’s played.

“Jack Thomas is a player I had at Braintree and he’s another player who will be featuring for us.”

Maxwell’s stats make impressive reading after chalking up a half-century of league games.

With Ramsgate his 51st match, the Brickies have had 29 wins, 14 draws and just eight losses under the Northern Irishman, scoring 106 goals and conceding 43.

They were relegation candidates when he arrived at Woodstock in January last year.

“It’s a turnaround but I’m only the manager,” said Maxwell.

“I’ve got a great assistant, coach and strength and conditioning coach, a fantastic chairman and people around who make the club tick.

“I’m just a cog in a working wheel. I understand people give managers credit but I’m well aware that many hands make light work. Everyone contributes here and any accolade I get is shared.”

Sittingbourne visit Three Bridges on Saturday (3pm) and travel to Littlehampton on Tuesday (7.45pm).

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