Whitstable Beaten At Last

SCEFL Premier Division
Saturday April 28 2018 15.00

After an incredible 27 game unbeaten run that has seen them reach two cup finals and gain promotion back to the Bostik League, Whitstable finally suffered defeat against the last team to beat them, by the same score 133 days earlier. Interestingly, neither Sevenoaks nor Whitstable, the top two teams, have managed a league win against Cray Valley this season. In a closely fought encounter, defences were mostly in control during the first half, although Danny Williams caused a few early problems for Cray Valley with his runs and Dan Eason had to be alert to block a shot from Joe N’Guessan at the other end. Whitstable took the lead after some good play on the right by Stuart West and John Walker, before Williams set up Chris Saunders to score. Whitstable then seemed to switch off for the next few minutes and Kevin Lisbie dragged one good chance wide, before making no mistake shortly afterwards when played in by Ryan Flack as the interval approached. Flack crashed a shot against the post early in the second half, but there were few other clear chances until Lisbie and Denzel Gayle gave Flack the opportunity to put Cray Valley ahead following a threatening few minutes. Whitstable piled on some late pressure and were unfortunate when Charlie Smith saw a great strike come back off the woodwork with Andy Walker beaten, but the home side held on. As it turned out, this result made no difference to the final league positions at the top, with Sevenoaks Town being crowned champions following their win at Erith Town and Whitstable already secure in second place, but it did ensure sixth place for Cray Valley.

Dan Eason, James Morrish and Ricky Freeman returned after missing the midweek win at Rochester that confirmed Whitstable would finish in the top two. There was still an outside chance of finishing as champions with two league matches remaining, before the season ends with another cup final. Cray Valley made five changes to the team that had lost at Deal, although prior to that they had won their previous five games.

Williams broke forward dangerously in the opening minutes and might have tested Walker, but he curled the ball just past the far post as he tried to find another Whitstable shirt in the box. In the 6th minute, Lisbie slipped the ball through for N’Guessan, but Eason was quickly out to block his shot from the edge of the box. Whitstable had a good spell and one promising move was halted by an offside flag, then Josh Burchell had an effort blocked before Williams burst into the penalty area again, but the home defence did well to clear. The game went through a quiet period with both teams looking hard to break down. On 22 minutes, a Cray Valley free kick was headed out by Rob Gillman, but the ball was sent back across goal by Flack before being cleared. Flack was then challenged as he shaped to shoot and the ball ended safely in the hands of Eason.

Ricky Freeman trying to break free
Rob Gillman was excellent at the back for Whitstable

Williams was then knocked over in the box, as he tried to collect a Burchell pass, but the officials were not interested in the penalty shouts and some optimistic claims for a handball from a Ricky Freeman cross were also waved away. A run by Gayle resulted in the ball falling to Jack White, but his wild effort sailed well over the bar. Whitstable took the lead in the 38th minute following their best move of the match. West played the ball forward to Walker down the right and he returned it to West, who found Williams on the edge of the box. The striker flicked the ball over the defender for Saunders, who had time to fire the ball past Walker into the far corner from around 12 yards.

Chris Saunders shoots after a great move
Whitstable take the lead

Almost immediately, Lisbie was given too much space on the right, but he shot past the far post from 20 yards. A Macauley Murray free kick was headed towards goal by Williams, but comfortably saved by Walker. Whitstable then gave the ball away in their own half and the home team broke well down their left, giving Flack the chance to find Lisbie and he beat Eason with a low strike from just inside the box. That was the last meaningful action of the half and the teams went in level at 1-1.

Whitstable had a couple of early opportunities in the second half. Williams tried to get on the end of a Murray free kick, but the ball went wide and then Gillman glanced a header past the post from a Burchell cross. Matt Parsons did well to get forward down the left wing and pull the ball back for Flack, whose curling shot came back off the left hand post. Jeff Allen then made a poor challenge on Ricky Freeman that resulted in a booking, after the referee had initially allowed Whitstable to continue their attack. Allen was substituted by the experienced Tommy Osborne a few minutes later and then Williams was shown a yellow card for a late tackle by the corner flag. A deep cross from the left by Burchell was missed by everyone in the middle and fell nicely for Walker on the right, but his shot hit the side netting.

Cray Valley then started to push Whitstable back and Gillman, who was outstanding in the Whitstable defence, twice stopped promising attacks. Whitstable introduced some fresh legs, with Louis Sprosen replacing James Morrish. Lisbie did well to pull the ball back for Gayle, but he lifted his shot over the bar. The breakthrough came on 79 minutes when Lisbie again did well on the right and crossed low to Gayle, who helped the ball on to Flack and he was able to find the net despite the efforts of Eason and his defenders.

Whitstable managed to find the energy to push forward in search of the equaliser that would preserve their unbeaten run and made a double substitution, introducing Smith and Shaun Welford. A weak shot on the turn by Williams was no problem for Walker, who then pushed a curling Burchell free kick out for a corner that Murray swung in dangerously, but the defence managed to clear. Smith then picked up the ball on the right, made space and tried his luck from outside the box, but the ball struck the angle of the left hand post and bar before being cleared away. Cray Valley won a late corner to ease the pressure and there was one final effort from Whitstable when a long throw by Welford was flicked on, but the claims for a handball were turned down and a good game ended in a 2-1 home win.

Whitstable go close to a second goal
Andy Walker grabs the ball
The long unbeaten run is over

It was disappointing to finally see the great run come to an end, but after the crazy amount of games played in the past month, during which Whitstable have done really well to keep going and achieve so much with a relatively small squad, this was always likely to be a tricky afternoon against strong opposition. Attention can now turn to the Challenge Cup final next weekend, after the final league fixture at Lordswood on Monday.

Cray Valley Whitstable
10 Attempts 11
4 On Target 4
4 Corners 3
2 Offside 3
15 Free Kicks Won 9

Cray Valley PM
Andy Walker, Jeff Allen (Tommy Osborne 65), Matt Parsons (c), Jack White, Cem Tumkaya, Ashley Sains, Denzel Gayle, Josh James, Ryan Flack, Kevin Lisbie, Joe N’Guessan.
Subs (unused): Callum Willock, Sam Bailey, Jordan Sandiford, Simon Glover.
Goals: Kevin Lisbie 42, Ryan Flack 79.
Yellow card: Jeff Allen 58

Whitstable Town
Dan Eason, John Walker, Josh Burchell, Stuart West, Rob Gillman, Tom Bryant, Chris Saunders (Charlie Smith 82), James Morrish (c) (Louis Sprosen 73), Ricky Freeman, Danny Williams (Shaun Welford 82), Macauley Murray.
Subs (unused): Teddy Nelson, Owen Fitt.
Goal: Chris Saunders 38
Yellow card: Danny Williams 66

Attendance: 88
Referee: Hossain Tavakkoli
Assistants: Howard Collins & Daniel Wyatt