Freeman Double Beats League Leaders

SCEFL Premier Division
Saturday March 24 2018 15.00

This was a game that Whitstable had to win to stay in touch with the teams at the top of the table and they did so deservedly with a great team performance. Two excellently taken goals by Ricky Freeman in a couple of minutes midway through the first half were enough to claim the three points. The in-form striker, who now has six goals in the last six games, opened the scoring with a great finish after being played in by Rob Gillman and then added a second when he tucked away a John Walker cross at the near post. Macauley Murray and Freeman both went close from free kicks and Shaun Welford had a header blocked as Whitstable dominated proceedings in the first half, although Dan Eason had to be alert to deny Kenny Pogue after he latched on to a defensive error. Sevenoaks were more competitive after the break, winning some early corners after Whitstable had gone close to scoring a third, but the home defence generally coped well until Frankie Sawyer found space in the box to pull a goal back in the 86th minute. Sevenoaks pumped a series of balls into the box to try to find a late equaliser and Eason was called upon to make a couple of saves, but Whitstable held on to close the gap at the top of the table.

The only change to the Whitstable team that played Lordswood in the week was Chris Saunders returning in midfield, with Louis Sprosen dropping to the bench. Ashley Miller was in the Faversham squad for the afternoon, but Danny Williams returned, although only as a substitute as he was unable to get to the ground in time to start. Sevenoaks arrived with a healthy lead at the top of the table and having made a series of additions to their squad in recent weeks in an attempt to stay there. These included two former Whitstable players in Frankie Sawyer, who had scored hat-tricks in two of their previous three games, and Jack Mahoney, the latest signing from Sheppey.

Dan Eason clears a Sevenoaks corner

The game started quietly and a good cross by Walker that went right across the goalmouth with no one in a position to take advantage was the highlight of the first 10 minutes. There were then a couple of early yellow cards: Pogue for a high challenge on Eason and James Morrish for a lunging tackle on Chris Edwards. Morrish, Murray and Saunders seemed to be winning every ball in midfield, as Sevenoaks struggled to get into the game. On 18 minutes, Morrish won a free kick that Murray curled just past the left post. There was a rare sight of goal for the visitors when Pogue intercepted an attempted header back to Eason, but as he tried to find the bottom corner, the Whitstable goalkeeper was able to get a hand to the ball and deflect it wide. Back at the other end, Freeman was fouled by Corey Holder and the free kick delivered by Murray was met firmly by the head of Welford, but the ball was blocked and claims of handball were waved away by the referee. This was a game between the two teams with comfortably the best defensive records in the division, so it was likely to take something special to break the deadlock and Whitstable managed just that, with two of their better goals of the season in the space of two minutes. Gillman collected the ball on the right in his own half and after bringing it forward, picked out Freeman on the left edge of the box and he took it inside the defender and hit a great shot into the left corner giving Jack Bradshaw no chance.

Ricky Freeman scores the first

Then, just as the crowd were settling down, Walker made a good run down the right and sent over a cross from the corner and Freeman got in front of Jack Miles at the near post to divert the ball into the far corner.

Ricky Freeman is first to the cross
A great near post finish makes it 2-0

In the 33rd minute, Welford was fouled just outside the box as he tried to hold the ball up and Freeman came close to his hat-trick, curling the free kick just wide. As the interval approached, Freeman almost turned provider when he sent over a cross for Welford, but the ball was well cut out by the defence. Sevenoaks were looking a bit ragged and there were several uncharacteristic stray passes that went straight out or to an opposing player. They had to make an early change when Mahoney injured himself in a challenge and limped off to be replaced by Billy Bennett. The Whitstable goal was threatened on 44 minutes, when the defence struggled to clear a ball into the box, but after a couple of last ditch blocks the ball went out for a corner and when the it came back in, Edwards tried a shot that went way over the bar.

Shaun Welford was a handful for the Sevenoaks defence all afternoon
Ricky Freeman goes close to a hat trick

A 2-0 lead at the break was a fair reward for the way the game had gone in the first 45 minutes, but Sevenoaks are top for a reason and they came out early and looked more determined when play restarted. Whitstable though had a great chance to add a third when a great step over and pass by Morrish released Saunders, but his cross was too high for the unmarked Welford in the box. Jason Thompson was booked for a tackle on Morrish, but then Sevenoaks won three corners in quick succession and there were several blocks and a handball appeal before the danger was cleared. Morrish shot just wide and then Edwards was booked for bringing down Josh Burchell. Walker was having an impressive game and he won a free kick after a good move and when the ball arrived at the far edge of the penalty area, Teddy Nelson, who did not look out of place despite his young age, had a shot deflected just wide for a corner.

Chris Saunders is just unable to find the waiting Shaun Welford with this cross
Teddy Nelson has a shot deflected for a corner

Both teams made a change on 66 minutes, with Josh Froggatt, another recent Sevenoaks recruit from Sheppey, coming on for Thompson and Williams replacing Welford for Whitstable. Welford had been a constant menace to the Sevenoaks defence on his second start after a long injury lay off. Brett Ince became the fourth Sevenoaks player to be cautioned after another foul on Morrish, before Byron Walker replaced Harrison Carnegie, who had been unusually quiet. Murray tried a shot from distance that was caught just under the bar, before he then picked up an injury and was substituted by Sprosen.

Danny Williams and Corey Holder had a good battle for the last 20 minutes

Sevenoaks had been trying to get the ball forward more directly and with a few minutes remaining, a chance finally fell to Sawyer, who had time to place his shot past Eason from inside the box. There followed the predictable late pressure from the visitors as Whitstable sat back and failed to keep possession, with goalkeeper Bradshaw coming forward for one corner and Eason having to save a looping header from Pogue and then keeping out shots by Ben Wilson and Froggatt. There was to be no further drama and Whitstable claimed the win that their team performance had merited.

James Morrish with the Oysterboys at the end

It was the second game in a week however when Whitstable had been comfortably in control, only to have to suffer some nervy minutes near the end and for the sake of the stress levels of their supporters, they might consider how best to manage the closing stages of games as the season enters its decisive month.

Whitstable Sevenoaks
8 Attempts 9
4 On Target 5
1 Corners 8
5 Offside 0
11 Free Kicks Won 9

Whitstable Town
Dan Eason, John Walker, Josh Burchell, Teddy Nelson, Rob Gillman, Tom Bryant, Chris Saunders, James Morrish (c), Ricky Freeman, Shaun Welford (Danny Williams 66), Macauley Murray (Louis Sprosen 83).
Subs (unused): Owen Fitt, Brendon Cass, Dean Ruddy.
Goals: Ricky Freeman 24, 26.
Yellow card: James Morrish 15

Sevenoaks Town
Jack Bradshaw, Chris Edwards, Ben Wilson, Brett Ince, Jack Miles, Corey Holder (c), Harrison Carnegie (Byron Walker 75), Jason Thompson (Josh Froggatt 66), Kenny Pogue, Frankie Sawyer, Jack Mahoney (Billy Bennett 41).
Subs (unused): Greg Benbow, Osman Proni.
Goal: Frankie Sawyer 86
Yellow cards: Kenny Pogue 10, Jason Thompson 47, Chris Edwards 55, Brett Ince 69.

Attendance: 176
Referee: Valentine Anekwe
Assistants: William Cannon & Paul Franks