All Square After First Leg

Macron SCEFL Challenge Cup Semi-final First Leg
Tuesday March 14 2017 19.45

A place in the final is still very possible for both teams after an exciting first leg at Sheppey in front of a crowd of 337. The home side won three early corners, but Whitstable gradually gained some control and had the better chances in the first half. The only goal before the break was a great strike into the top corner from distance by Connor Hood late in the half. A significant moment followed shortly afterwards as Whitstable captain Rob Gillman picked up an injury and had to be replaced. Sheppey were creating little and when Tom Bryant fired in a second early in the second half after a free kick was only partially cleared, Whitstable appeared to be in charge. This seemed to inspire Sheppey though as they began to press forward with more urgency and a Danny Walder free kick was deflected past Dan Eason by Kane Rowland to give them hope. The large home support had been fairly quiet, but now got behind their team and Richard Atkins ran on to a through ball and beat Eason a few minutes later to make it 2-2. The game then became quite open and Eason had to make a couple of vital saves as Sheppey went looking for a winner with Lee Friend making some good runs. Whitstable also had chances though and Bryant had a header cleared off the line and Frankie Sawyer put a great chance just wide, so the tie remains nicely poised.

Dan Eason in early action

Whitstable included new signing Frankie Sawyer in place of Regan Payne, who was ineligible having played for Lordswood earlier in the competition. Bola Dawodu also returned to the side. Sheppey were without their recently signed striker, Arlie Desanges, who had played against Whitstable in the previous round for Sutton Athletic. The opening 15 minutes were relatively quiet, although Sheppey tried to push forward with the majority of the large crowd behind them. Whitstable defended well against a few set pieces and Eason in goal was not troubled. James Morrish sent Hood away down the right and his pass to Charlie Smith was clipped over the bar from just outside the box. Whitstable started to knock the ball around with more confidence and won a couple of corners around the 20 minute mark. Rowland then headed the ball into the path of Sawyer, but his shot was just wide. The home side had a corner of their own on 27 minutes and Walder sent a dangerous ball across the Whitstable goal, but it was missed by everyone. A good cross by Aaron Quain was headed just over by Smith and then Quain fed Morrish, whose curling ball into the box was met by Sawyer but his header was off target. The opening goal arrived on 42 minutes as a Quain corner caused problems for the home defence and although the ball was scrambled away it was met by the advancing Hood around 30 yards from goal and his first time shot flew into the top corner past a helpless Dean Warford.

Connor Hood shoots
Dean Warford is beaten
A happy bench

Sheppey mounted an attack straight from the restart and whilst the final shot was off target, Gillman was injured in the build up and had to be substituted. George Batten was booked just before the interval for a foul on Morrish.

On 50 minutes Friend broke through on the Sheppey left but shot over and a couple of minutes later Smith won a free kick for Whitstable about 25 yards out. It was taken by Sawyer, blocked by Warford and then played back into the goalmouth, eventually falling nicely for Bryant who made no mistake from close range.

The free kick is blocked
Tom Bryant gets the second

It appeared that the visitors might have a good lead to take into the second leg, but to their credit Sheppey started to create a few openings and the reshuffled Whitstable defence suddenly looked vulnerable. A couple of Sheppey free kicks looked threatening, the first was scrambled away and the second was initially cleared but crossed back into the box by Karn Miller-Neave where Friend headed the ball straight at Eason. Timmy Babbington then turned and shot at the Whitstable goalkeeper. There were some shouts for a penalty as a home player went over in a crowded area, but the officials saw nothing wrong. On 69 minutes Sheppey got the bit of fortune they needed when a Walder free kick from just outside the area was hit low through the wall and appeared to take a big deflection off Rowland, leaving Eason stranded.

Eason then made a good double save as Friend got free but saw his effort blocked and David Abe picked up the rebound but his shot was also saved. Sheppey were soon level though when Atkins ran on to a through ball and shot low past the advancing Eason on 73 minutes. At the other end a Quain free kick found the head of Bryant but his attempt was cleared off the line and Ollie Lee followed in but saw his shot saved by Warford. Friend ran through the Whitstable defence again but was denied by Eason once more.

Dan Eason saves from Lee Friend

Rob Saunders was booked for a foul on Sawyer, who hit the resulting free kick into the wall. A mistake by Sedenu allowed Friend another opportunity but Lee got across to block. Into the final ten minutes another home header was deflected behind for a corner that was cleared. On 84 minutes Whitstable had a great chance to restore their lead when Dawodu found Sawyer with a cross field ball and with only Warford to beat his shot curled just wide of the near post. Dawodu was then brought down on the edge of the box as he shaped to shoot and the free kick, taken by Quain, was deflected behind for a corner. On 88 minutes Sawyer won the ball and passed to Smith who shot over. After 4 added minutes the referee, who had a good game, blew for time with the tie still level.

New signing Frankie Sawyer

It was an entertaining match played on a nice surface and both teams will wonder if they might have found a winner. Whitstable will rue letting a two goal lead slip away and Sheppey may wonder if they could have played with more urgency earlier in the game, but it should be an interesting night at the Belmont in the return fixture.

Sheppey United
Dean Warford, Danny Walder, Karn Miller-Neave, Joseph Fornah, Rob Saunders, George Batten, David Abe (Ross Pagett 81), Lee Friend, Richard Atkins, Ian Batten (c) (James Huggins 72), Timmy Babbington.
Subs (unused): Joseph Denny, Dan Bradshaw, John Ralph.
Goals: Kane Rowland (o.g.) 69, Richard Atkins 73.
Yellow cards: George Batten 45+2, Rob Saunders 80.

Whitstable Town
Dan Eason, Connor Hood, Aaron Quain, Tom Bryant, Rob Gillman (c) (Calvin Sedenu 45), Ollie Lee, Bola Dawodu, James Morrish, Kane Rowland, Frankie Sawyer, Charlie Smith (Jack Mahoney 89).
Subs (unused): Craig Thompson, Harry Brown, Dean Ruddy.
Goals: Connor Hood 42, Tom Bryant 53.

Attendance: 337
Referee: Chris Myatt
Assistants: Jerry Annandale & Joe Dann-Pye