Freeman Shoots Down Crows

SCEFL Premier Division
Thursday April 12 2018 19.45

Whitstable came through a difficult test at Crowborough, with a hard fought 1-0 win being enough to move them into second place in the table at the expense of their opponents. It was their 8th straight win in the last 23 days and extends the unbeaten run to 21 games. Whitstable began the better, with Dan Ellis saving well from Macauley Murray. The Crows gradually started to push Whitstable back and a header struck the underside of the bar following a free kick. The decisive moment came in the 34th minute when Ricky Freeman got away and finished superbly into the far corner. He could have added a second on the stroke of half time when he raced clear again and chipped the ball over the advancing Ellis, but failed to find the net. The second half was a story of steadily building pressure from the home side, although Whitstable had a few chances on the break, with Ellis somehow getting in the way of a fierce strike by Danny Williams. The final 10 minutes saw Crowborough throw everything at Whitstable, who defended heroically. There were a couple of penalty appeals that failed to impress the excellent referee and several scrambles in the box, but goalkeeper Dan Eason, who dealt confidently with anything that came his way, only had a couple of efforts on target to save, so well did the team defend in front of him.

Four Whitstable players who were rested from the starting eleven against Glebe on Tuesday returned to the team for this important game between the sides in second and third place, as the league campaign entered its last few weeks. Josh Burchell, who had scored in the previous two games, was serving the first of a two game ban. It was a 1-0 win at the Belmont back in December, when these two teams last met, that was the first game of the current long unbeaten run. A late James Morrish goal was the decider, although Crowborough rarely looked like scoring on that occasion and a tougher encounter was expected in this return fixture.

The home team were slow to get into their stride and Jack Turner was booked for stopping a through ball with his hand after just 4 minutes. Murray forced Dan Ellis into a good save from the free kick as the big keeper got across to turn the ball around the post and then Stuart West headed the corner over the bar. Whitstable continued to win most of the loose balls in midfield and earned two more corners, with Williams having a shot deflected wide. The Crows first threatened on 10 minutes when a quick break released Sam Carrington down the left and he tried to beat Eason from distance, but the ball went past the far post. That seemed to kick start the home team and they went close when Henry Muggeridge swung a dangerous free kick into the box and it looked as though it was Carrington who got his head to the ball first, as he made a run to the near post. The ball hit the bar and bounced down before being cleared.

Macauley Murray takes an early free kick
Dan Ellis makes the save
Stuart West heads over the top
The ball is headed towards the Whitstable goal from a free kick
The ball comes back off the bar

A few minutes later, another corner caused problems when the ball was stabbed back towards the goal, but the Whitstable defence hooked the ball off the line. The Whitstable front two, Freeman and Williams, always carried a threat with their pace and energy and Freeman had a header saved by Ellis after his strike partner had picked him out with a good cross. A speculative shot by Marcus Goldsmith was caught by Eason, whose positioning and handling were good throughout. Louis Sprosen was shown a yellow card for a challenge on Goldsmith in the 32nd minute. A clearance by Eason led to Whitstable taking the lead when the ball bounced past a couple of players and Freeman spun away from his marker and hit the ball early with his right foot past Ellis before he had time to react and the ball nestled in the right hand corner of the net.

Ricky Freeman watches his shot head towards the goal
The ball flies into the far corner for the winning goal

There were few chances created in the final 10 minutes of the half, until Dan Tear failed to cut out a forward pass and Freeman found himself with only Ellis to beat. He chose to lob the ball over the advancing keeper, but was off target and a great chance to go in at half time with a two goal lead was missed. Apart from the two good opportunities, Crowborough had not really disturbed a strong Whitstable defence.

Ricky Freeman chases the ball down the touchline

Early in the second half, a good cross by Sam Cole was glanced just past the far post by Carrington and Murray was booked for a challenge on Goldsmith, who was substituted by Wayne Clarke shortly afterwards. Great defending by Tom Bryant stopped a couple of Crowborough attacks, then following a corner the ball was played  into the box by Muggeridge and deflected towards goal, but Eason managed to get a hand to it and push it away. The home team were pushing forward with more urgency this half, but Whitstable were generally coping well with Bryant, West and Rob Gillman outstanding at the back and Williams and Freeman working hard whenever the ball was played up to them. A John Walker cross was headed wide by Williams and Freeman did well to hold the ball up and try to find Williams, but a good defensive header cleared the danger.

Murray limped off after 69 minutes to be replaced by Charlie Smith and Adrian Stone came on for Crowborough as they started to pump a lot more balls into the Whitstable box. Gillman was booked for a foul on the right touchline and the free kick was headed well wide by Tear. Freeman flicked the ball into the path of Williams, who struck a fierce shot from the left of the penalty area that hit Ellis on the chest and rebounded to safety. Whitstable were getting chances on the break as the home side left fewer defenders back and another run by Williams was halted just as he was about to shoot, then Freeman won a corner when his attempted cross was cut out. Shaun Welford replaced Freeman for the last few minutes.

Tom Bryant and Stuart West are determined to clear the ball

Crowborough won a free kick in a dangerous position in the 88th minute, but the shot from Solomon Taiwo was deflected off the wall and over the bar. The tiring Williams made a final run and was about to pull the trigger when Turner made a timely block. There were six added minutes that were spent mainly in and around the Whitstable box, but the defenders did brilliantly to keep clearing the danger. Some late corners and optimistic penalty shouts came to nothing and even the presence of Ellis at the wrong end of the pitch could not get a goal for the Crows and Whitstable held on for a vital win.

The wall stops this free kick by Solomon Taiwo
Dan Eason pushes this effort over the bar

The players, management and travelling supporters celebrated a hard earned three points against a Crowborough team, who on the evidence of the games Whitstable have played this season, are probably the best opposition faced to date.

Crowborough Whitstable
10 Attempts 9
4 On Target 4
11 Corners 4
1 Offside 3
13 Free Kicks Won 8

Crowborough Athletic
Dan Ellis, Marcus Goldsmith (Wayne Clarke 54), Sam Cole (Adrian Stone 76), Dan Tear, Jack Turner, Tom Boddy, Solomon Taiwo, Tom Phipp, Zac Attwood, Henry Muggeridge (c), Sam Carrington (Sean Loft 90+5).
Subs (unused): Jason Barton, Sam Crabb.
Yellow card: Jack Turner 4

Whitstable Town
Dan Eason, John Walker, Louis Sprosen, Stuart West, Rob Gillman, Tom Bryant, Chris Saunders, James Morrish (c), Ricky Freeman (Shaun Welford 86), Danny Williams, Macauley Murray (Charlie Smith 69).
Subs (unused): Teddy Nelson, Owen Fitt, Dean Ruddy.
Goal: Ricky Freeman 34
Yellow cards: Louis Sprosen 32, Macauley Murray 49, Rob Gillman 82.

Attendance: 174
Referee: Valentine Anekwe
Assistants: Harry Wager & Dan Blades