(Played at Longmead Stadium, Tonbridge)
Southern Counties East Football League Challenge Cup Final
Saturday May 5 2018 13.00

A wonderful goal by Ricky Freeman won the SCEFL Challenge Cup for Whitstable Town on a very warm afternoon at Longmead Stadium in front of 749 spectators. The victory rounded off an almost perfect season for Scott Porter and his team, having already won the Kent Senior Trophy and achieved promotion by finishing runners up in the league. The great support for both finalists, Tunbridge Wells and Whitstable, together with many other football fans and officials from across the county, created a good atmosphere in the ground. The game itself had few moments of excitement however and the defences were generally in control. Whitstable had the better of the chances, with a Freeman shot hitting the post early in the first half and Danny Williams also heading against the post in the second. Cameron Hall denied Chris Saunders with his chest and Dan Eason tipped a long range effort from Jon Pilbeam over the bar, but neither goalkeeper had many other saves to make. Hall had no chance with the spectacular volley by Freeman that eventually decided the contest in the 66th minute, after a clearance had reached him about 25 yards from goal. The Whitstable defence made sure that there was to be no way back for Tunbridge Wells, despite them getting into promising positions on a couple of occasions, so the cup is back at the Belmont for the first time since its Kent League equivalent was won in 1980.

For the first time since mid-March, Whitstable had a whole week between games and almost their whole squad available, although Rob Gillman was away and Craig Cloke not fully fit. Seventeen year old academy defender Teddy Nelson was included in the starting eleven, having been cup tied for the Kent Senior Trophy final. Tunbridge Wells may only have finished in 15th place in the league, but produced some good performances to reach this final, knocking out Cray Valley and Crowborough in the last two rounds. Games between the two finalists in recent times have all been close affairs.

Denise Richmond makes a presentation to Joe Brownett before the game
Ronnie Porter takes part in the pre-match greetings

Whitstable started in promising fashion, pushing Tunbridge Wells back with James Morrish, Macauley Murray and Saunders winning most of the balls in midfield, whilst Freeman and Williams looked a threat up front. It was Williams who turned well and shot just over the bar from 25 yards in the 1st minute. The first effort from Tunbridge Wells was a flicked header by Jarred Trespaderne that went harmlessly over the bar following a Josh Stanford free kick in the 5th minute. Williams then did well to find Morrish, who passed to Freeman and his first time shot from outside the box beat the dive of Hall, but the ball struck the outside of the post.

Ricky Freeman beats the goalkeeper, but the ball hits the post

On 12 minutes, a miscued clearance by Stuart West fell to Trespaderne, but his low shot was easily gathered by Eason. A neat through ball in the 18th minute put Saunders clear on goal, but Hall did well to quickly come out of his penalty area to block his shot with his chest. The closest that Tunbridge Wells came to scoring was in the 26th minute when Pilbeam collected a loose ball in midfield and ran forward, before trying to beat Eason from outside the box, but the Whitstable keeper was able to tip the ball over the bar.

Dan Eason tips a Jon Pilbeam attempt over the bar

The latter stages of the first half were largely forgettable, as the early energy shown by Whitstable seemed to fade and there were too many easy balls played straight to the tall opposing defenders, whilst Tunbridge Wells themselves offered little threat to the impressive Whitstable defensive trio Tom Bryant, West and Nelson. Josh Burchell did come close to getting on the end of a great curling ball into the back post by Morrish, but Alexx Kendall just managed to deflect the ball behind for a corner kick. Both teams had promising dead ball opportunities from central positions as the interval approached, when firstly Freeman hit the defensive wall with his effort and then Harris did the same from slightly closer to the goal at the other end in added time, so the teams went in with the score still 0-0.

Alexx Kendall just prevents Josh Burchell from getting on the end of a ball from James Morrish
Jack Harris sends a free kick into the Whitstable wall

A foul by Nelson soon after the game restarted gave Tommy Lawrence the chance to deliver the ball into the box from the right touchline, but the header by Perry Spackman was safely caught by Eason. Freeman and Bryant both had efforts off target as the sun continued to make conditions tough for everyone. Freeman then set up a good chance for Williams, but he could only lob the ball into the grateful hands of Hall. West swung over a cross from the right and Williams rose unchallenged to head the ball against the near post from around 10 yards.

Teddy Nelson and Tom Bryant rise to meet a corner
Danny Williams heads towards goal
The ball comes back off the post

Tunbridge Wells made the first change on 63 minutes, bringing on Josh Biddlecombe for Trespaderne and soon afterwards a John Walker throw was helped on by Williams to Saunders, whose cross was headed straight to Hall by Burchell at the back post. The decisive goal came when Nelson played a long ball forward that was headed out by Spackman and Freeman volleyed it straight back, out of the reach of Hall and into the far corner of the net from well outside the box. It was certainly a goal worthy of winning any cup final and Tunbridge Wells never really looked likely to find a response in the time that remained.

The players react after Ricky Freeman’s volley flies into the net

Williams won the ball on the left and passed to Murray, who rolled the ball into the path of Morrish and his low shot from distance went wide of the left post. Great battling by Morrish in midfield released Burchell on the left, but his ball across went over the bar. Saunders and Morrish both went off with injuries and were replaced by Louis Sprosen and Charlie Smith. Shaun Welford was also introduced as a substitute for Williams, as Whitstable used all their substitutes in the space of 8 minutes. Tunbridge Wells created a few opportunities to deliver balls into the box, as Whitstable conceded a couple of free kicks in dangerous areas, but they were unable to really test Eason, with Biddlecombe unable to keep his shot down from a narrow angle after one period of pressure. There were several late bookings and a penalty claim at each end, when firstly Whitstable looked for a handball as a Welford header was blocked and then Biddlecombe went down in the box at the other end, but the very good referee was uninterested. In stoppage time, a poor clearance went straight to Freeman, but this time his shot sailed over the bar.

Craig Cloke and James Morrish receive the trophy from League President Ray Brown

The final whistle was greeted with celebrations by the Whitstable players, their families and supporters and the cup was presented jointly to Cloke and Morrish by Ray Brown and Denise Richmond.

Tunbridge Wells Whitstable
5 Attempts 10
3 On Target 4
3 Corners 2
1 Offside 2
18 Free Kicks Won 12

Tunbridge Wells
Cameron Hall, Alexx Kendall, Greg Skinner, Drew Crush, Perry Spackman (c), Tommy Lawrence (Franco Mici 82), Jon Pilbeam, Jonathan Shea, Jarred Trespaderne (Josh Biddlecombe 63), Jack Harris, Josh Stanford.
Subs (unused): Jake Hampson, Ollie Cooke, Alfie Hall.
Yellow cards: Jarred Trespaderne 28, Drew Crush 90+1.

Whitstable Town
Dan Eason, John Walker, Josh Burchell, Stuart West, Teddy Nelson, Tom Bryant, Chris Saunders (Louis Sprosen 72), James Morrish (c) (Charlie Smith 76), Ricky Freeman, Danny Williams (Shaun Welford 80), Macauley Murray.
Subs (unused): Craig Cloke, Dean Ruddy.
Goal: Ricky Freeman 66
Yellow cards: Stuart West 45, Tom Bryant 77, Louis Sprosen 81, Ricky Freeman 90+1.

Attendance: 749
Referee: Valentine Anekwe
Assistants: Jerry Annandale & Steve Roots
Fourth Official: Matt Pollington


Date Time League Season
Sat 5 May 2018 1:00 pm SCEFL Challenge Cup 2017-2018


Longmead Stadium
20 Stour Cl, Tonbridge TN10 3LY, UK


Club1st Half2nd HalfGoals
Tunbridge Wells000
Whitstable Town011