Late Goal Keeps Crows In Title Race

WHITSTABLE TOWN 2 CROWBOROUGH ATHLETIC 3
SCEFL Premier Division
Tuesday April 11 2017 19.45

Crowborough kept up their title challenge with a winner in the seventh minute of added time as Whitstable failed to clear the ball, allowing Jason Barton to score his second of the night and clinch all three points. The visitors had taken a very early lead as hesitant defending let Gabriel Odunaike in to shoot past Dan Eason. Both teams missed a couple of half chances and Jack Turner had a header ruled out for offside, but there were no further goals before the break. Whitstable fought back well in an entertaining second half and two well taken early goals put them in the driving seat, with Kane Rowland scoring after the volatile Dan Ellis failed to get any distance on a punched clearance and Charlie Smith finishing a quick break with a low strike into the corner. Some great defensive blocks and a save from Eason preserved the lead in a goalmouth scramble as Crowborough fought to keep their season alive. Just as it began to look that Whitstable would go on to win the game, some sloppy play and a rash challenge in the box gave Barton an opportunity to equalise from penalty spot and eight minutes of stoppage time proved just enough for the jubilant visitors.

After entertaining Ashford United the previous Tuesday evening, it was the other title contenders Crowborough Athletic that came to the Belmont looking for the win that would keep them level at the top of the table, albeit with an inferior goal difference. Whitstable were still without the injured defensive pairing of Rob Gillman and Ashley Brown, whilst Craig Thompson was also unavailable. The visitors had the luxury of starting with Henry Muggeridge, a key player in their earlier win over Whitstable, on the bench. They did include two current Walton Casuals’ players in their side, both familiar faces from Whitstable’s Ryman League days. Odunaike, their Nigerian striker who is heading for his fourth consecutive golden boot and Jahmahl King, an experienced central defender with over 400 Ryman League appearances for clubs such as Horsham, Hastings and Carshalton, were both making their debuts for Crowborough

It was a dream start for Odunaike, as the game had just entered its second minute when Lee Carey sent the ball forward, Zac Attwood helped it on and Calvin Sedenu, who seemed to be in control of the situation, failed to deal with it and allowed the striker to get between him and his goalkeeper to stab the ball into the net. On 5 minutes a pass from Bola Dawodu reached Kane Rowland in a great position and he took the ball clear of the defenders, but curled his shot over the bar as Ellis came out to intercept. Carey then had a sight of goal as the home defence failed to clear their area, but could only roll the ball straight to Eason. After the bad tempered and somewhat controversial game at Crowborough, this was a much better contest and well refereed throughout. Rowland was an early entry in the book however – he was fouled by Tom Vickers, sparking an altercation between the two that ended with Rowland seeing his heavyweight opponent go down following a push. Apart from a booking for Jack Walder, the rest of the half remained card free.

Some good play down the Whitstable right ended with Dawodu shooting just wide of the far post from around 20 yards. Frankie Sawyer almost got in on goal, but Ellis did well to push the ball clear of danger. Whitstable won two successive corners, but failed to make the most of them and then Rowland met a good cross by James Morrish, but could not get enough power in his header to trouble Ellis. On 30 minutes a good free kick from Carey was headed into the net from close range by Turner, but the assistant had his flag raised for offside. At the other end Smith shot wide after the Crowborough defence struggled to clear a cross from the right. As half time approached, Carey and Turner had further attempts for the visitors and Sawyer for Whitstable, but neither goalkeeper was seriously tested. A late Whitstable corner was cleared, giving Crowborough a great opportunity to break, but they made a bit of a mess of it and the chance was gone.

Just after the restart, an Attwood header from a Carey cross was deflected into the hands of Eason. Whitstable then found an equaliser on 48 minutes as an Aaron Quain free kick was not cleared effectively by Ellis, giving Rowland the chance to shoot through a crowd of players into the back of the net.

Kane Rowland shoots through the crowd
Whitstable are level

A couple of minutes later Whitstable were in front when a quickly taken Crowborough free kick was  intercepted by Morrish setting up a break down the right and the ball was pulled back from the bye-line by Rowland into the path of Smith who shot low past the stranded Ellis from the edge of the area.

Charlie Smith fires the ball past Ellis
Whitstable are 2-1 ahead

Whitstable were now looking confident and it was the visitors who started to hit the ball long and concede possession too frequently. Muggeridge replaced Vickers on 53 minutes, but Whitstable continued to look like they might add a third and a Quain cross after another quick break was just cleared. Then on 58 minutes Crowborough looked certain to score as three times in quick succession they were denied, twice by last ditch blocks either side of a point blank save by Eason. A nice chip into the box by Quain was just out of reach of the stretching Smith as Whitstable came back again.

Both teams made substitutions that seemed to slowly help swing the balance back in favour of the visitors. It was Whitstable that gifted Crowborough a way back into the game though on 75 minutes, as the ball was carelessly given away and a cross from the right drew an unnecessary challenge from Sedenu on Walder and the referee awarded a penalty. Barton made no mistake from the spot. Sedenu was booked for another foul, as both teams had further half chances. A good pass from Tom Bryant sent Rowland away until he was brought down just outside the area by Barton, who was booked, but Jack Mahoney lifted the resultant free kick over the bar. Whitstable substitute Harry Brown, who had come on for Quain, sent in a dangerous cross that was cleared. After the home captain Bryant had been shown a yellow card for dissent, Mahoney sent another effort wide from distance.

With 90 minutes on the clock, Rowland latched on to a good ball from Mahoney, made himself space for a shot, but failed to hit the target, much to the anguish of the home fans. There was then a coming together of numerous players in the Whitstable penalty area that seemed to be triggered by an incident involving Ollie Lee and Dan Perry. It took a few minutes to calm down and sort out, but the officials dealt with it sensibly, eventually booking Perry and Connor Hood. Then, deep into stoppage time, after Sawyer had threatened at one end, Hood failed to clear the ball after a Crowborough corner leaving Barton in space to shoot past Eason from just inside the area. The visiting contingent went understandably wild with a mixture of joy and relief and the referee finally called a halt to proceedings after eight added minutes.

This was always going to be a transitional season for Whitstable, given the disastrous 2015-16 campaign both on and off the pitch, and coupled with numerous injury problems a finish in the top six would be a respectable return. The results against the top teams however do highlight the deficiencies that will need addressing in order to mount a title challenge next season. As far as this season is concerned, with both Ashford and Crowborough winning at Whitstable in the last two games, the evidence based on those performances would suggest Ashford are likely to hang on to the top spot. No games are easy at this stage, but their game against Canterbury would seem to be the best chance for a slip that might just give Crowborough a chance to overtake them.

Whitstable Town
Dan Eason, Connor Hood, Aaron Quain (Harry Brown 81), Tom Bryant (c), Calvin Sedenu, Ollie Lee, Bola Dawodu, James Morrish, Kane Rowland, Frankie Sawyer, Charlie Smith (Jack Mahoney 65).
Subs (unused): Seb Rowland, Brendon Cass, Harry Brooks.
Goals: Kane Rowland 48, Charlie Smith 50.
Yellow cards: Kane Rowland 8, Calvin Sedenu 76, Tom Bryant 87, Connor Hood 90+3.

Crowborough Athletic
Daniel Ellis, Tom Boddy, Jason Barton, Tom Vickers (Henry Muggeridge 53), Jahmahl King, Jack Turner, Lee Carey (c), Jack Walder, Zac Attwood, Gabriel Odunaike (Dan Perry 89), Sam Carrington (Tom Pearson 64).
Subs (unused): Dan Tear, Sam Crabb.
Goals: Gabriel Odunaike 2, Jason Barton (pen) 75, 90+7.
Yellow cards: Jack Walder 16, Jason Barton 80, Dan Perry 90+3.

Attendance: 138
Referee: Joe Stokes
Assistants: Brian Woodhouse & Paul Franks