Whitstable Win Kent Senior Trophy

SHEPPEY UNITED 1 WHITSTABLE TOWN 2 (After Extra Time – Score After 90 Minutes 1-1)
(Played at The Gallagher Stadium, Maidstone)
Kent Reliance Senior Trophy Final
Sunday April 8 2018 14.00

The Kent Senior Trophy is back at the Belmont eleven years after Mark Seager and his team beat Bearsted at Dartford during the memorable 2006-7 season. In front of 917 spectators at the Gallagher Stadium, Whitstable battled back well after a below par first half performance to eventually win in extra time. The match was a great advert for non-league football with large numbers of fans from both teams creating a good atmosphere in the ground. Following a quiet opening 20 minutes, the game sparked into life when Whitstable had a good claim for a penalty waved away and then found the net from a corner, only to see the effort ruled out. A bad tackle by Luke Girt on James Morrish then led to an angry confrontation between both sets of players, but after that Sheppey took the initiative, going close on several occasions. Dan Eason made a couple of good saves and Remell Davis hit the post before the referee awarded a penalty that was clinically despatched by Omari Hibbert. Whitstable improved in the second half, but it took a brilliant strike by Josh Burchell to bring the scores level. After that Whitstable had several good chances to win the game in 90 minutes, with Chris Saunders and Tom Bryant both going close. Extra time was needed though and Bryant scored the decisive goal when his firm header was adjudged to have crossed the line and a resilient Whitstable team defended well to ensure they hung on to claim the trophy.

Apart from the cup tied Teddy Nelson and injured Craig Cloke, manager Scott Porter had a full squad available and Shaun Welford, whose two goals had won the previous final for Ashford United, was given the nod to start up front, making this his third consecutive final. Sheppey United had won the trophy themselves in April 2016, beating Ashford on penalties. Despite being down in 14th place in the league, Sheppey had already proved tough opposition for Whitstable this season, with a late Louis Sprosen free kick at the Belmont being the only goal in the two fixtures between the teams. Striker Omari Hibbert started for the Ites, having also featured for Greenwich Borough against Hythe in the Bostik League the previous day.

The teams are led out
Whitstable Town
The main stand
Behind the goal

The game started slowly, with several players slipping on the surface before Ricky Freeman forced Joshua Glover into a save with a shot from outside the area. A sliced Bryant clearance almost went over the head of Eason and Timmy Babbington tried a speculative overhead kick that went wide. On 20 minutes, a clearance played down the left was headed into the middle by Welford and as Saunders arrived just inside the box, he seemed to be caught by the outstretched leg of Ian Batten as he tried to shoot. The ball was deflected out for a throw in and any penalty claims were waved away. A couple of minutes later, Welford and Bryant jumped together to meet a Macauley Murray corner, with Bryant appearing to get his head to ball first and putting it in the net, but any celebrations were cut short by the whistle, as the referee had presumably spotted an infringement.

Whitstable put ball in the net but the goal is disallowed

Girt dived in on Morrish with a poor challenge on the halfway line, sparking some pushing and shoving between several of the players and earning himself a yellow card. The game then quietened down for a few minutes, but around the half hour mark Sheppey began to take control and carve out some good opportunities. John Walker picked up a rather soft booking for an attempted tackle on Hicham Akhazzan as he skipped past him, but after play was brought back the free kick was blocked by the defensive wall. Hibbert tried his luck from 30 yards and the ball bounced up awkwardly for Eason, who could only parry it into the path of Davis, but his shot rebounded off the inside of the far post and the ball was cleared away by Stuart West. Freeman had a shot deflected behind for a Whitstable corner, but Sheppey were soon back on the attack again and Davis set up Akhazzan, who curled a good shot towards the top corner and Eason somehow managed to tip the ball around the post.

Dan Eason is tested by Hicham Akhazzan
The Whitstable keeper pulls off a great save

Sheppey were awarded a penalty from the corner that followed, as the ball was nodded down by Rob Saunders to Girt, who chipped the ball back into the air, where Jono Richardson jumped above Bryant and as the pair collapsed to the ground the referee pointed to the spot. After a brief delay for the physios to come on, the former Barking, Corinthian-Casuals and Carshalton player Hibbert stepped up to fire the ball past Eason to give Sheppey a deserved lead. Right on half time, there was a scramble from another corner, but Eason just managed to gather the ball on his line to prevent a second goal before the break.

Omari Hibbert gives Sheppey the lead from the penalty spot
Dan Eason is about to gather the ball safely after a goalmouth scramble

The Whitstable manager was probably happy to get his team in at half time and seek an improved second half performance. Walker shot into the side netting soon after the restart, but there was no immediate response. West lost possession to Akhazzan before bringing him down near the corner and becoming the third player to be booked. In the 54th minute, Whitstable made a change and introduced Danny Williams in place of Welford. Just afterwards, some hesitant defending allowed Hibbert an opening, but his shot went just past the far post. Whitstable gradually got themselves back into the game though and Williams and West both went close with headers before the equaliser came on 66 minutes. Morrish and Saunders combined to find Walker on the right and as the ball came out to him, he sent over a first time cross to the far side of the box, where Burchell took a touch on his chest and rifled a shot into the roof of the net, giving Glover no chance.

Stuart West is just wide with this header
Josh Burchell equalises for Whitstable

Burchell had to be substituted shortly afterwards and Sprosen came on to replace him. Saunders and Williams got in down the right, but as the ball fell to Saunders in the box, he could only find the side netting. Whitstable were now in the ascendancy, but Sheppey were still a threat and a dangerous cross by Akhazzan went right across the goal with no one there to apply the finish. Walker played a great ball down the line to Freeman, who swept the ball into the box for Saunders, but he dragged his shot past the post. On 85 minutes, Freeman ran on to a good through ball and went down as he was challenged, with the loose ball running towards Williams, whose shot was deflected for a corner. From the next Whitstable corner, Bryant was first to the ball, but his header went over the bar. Sheppey brought on Dan Bradshaw just before the end of normal time and Eason had a couple of late crosses to deal with, but the whistle went with the teams level at 1-1.

Chris Saunders hits the side netting with the first of two close attempts

In the opening minutes of extra time, a sliced clearance by Saunders gifted Whitstable a corner on the left. The ball in from Murray was headed towards goal by Bryant and the ball appeared to strike the inside of the post and the arm of Darren Cooper and the assistant flagged to indicate that the ball had just crossed the line. Despite some Sheppey protests, the goal was given and Whitstable had the lead. At the other end, Richardson headed a corner wide and then another Sheppey substitute, Stefan Cox shot past the near post. Eason was called upon to tip a glancing header by Bradshaw from a free kick over the bar. The Whitstable defence three times blocked shots following a free kick just outside the box. Williams talked himself into the book, after not getting a free kick when brought down by Tom Brunt on the halfway line just before the teams changed ends.

Tom Bryant turns away as the assistant rules his header crossed the line for the winning goal
Dan Eason keeps the ball out

Both captains were substituted early in the final period of extra time, with Charlie Smith and George Batten replacing them. Whitstable were solid in defence and had few further alarms, with Rob Gillman faultless at the back throughout. Freeman had a shot turned around the post and Babbington headed wide for Sheppey. Eason comfortably held a shot from Hibbert, but the best chance fell to Sprosen in the dying moments when Williams poked the ball into his path, but Glover was quickly out to block. There was just time for the referee to show a yellow card to Akhazzan for a dive on the edge of the box, before the final whistle confirmed Whitstable as the winners.

The team go over to meet some of the Whitstable fans at the end

The team had once again showed their team spirit and determination not to be beaten as they fought back from a sluggish start. Both teams had contributed to a good, competitive match with a number of talking points to keep the large crowd entertained. The trophy was presented to Whitstable in front a considerable number of their supporters in the main stand and the team then went over to greet the vocal Oysterboys in the far corner. Murray was chosen as the man of the match by the Kent FA.

Sheppey Whitstable
17 Attempts 16
7 On Target 8
8 Corners 7
0 Offside 6
22 Free Kicks Won 14

Sheppey United
Joshua Glover, Tom Brunt, Darren Cooper, Rob Saunders (Stefan Cox 96), Jono Richardson, Luke Girt, Timmy Babbington, Remell Davis (Dan Bradshaw 89), Omari Hibbert, Ian Batten (c) (George Batten 109), Hicham Akhazzan.
Subs (unused): Kwasi Amoah, Lewis Clark.
Goal: Omari Hibbert (pen) 43
Yellow cards: Luke Girt 24, Hicham Akhazzan 120+3.

Whitstable Town
Dan Eason, John Walker, Josh Burchell (Louis Sprosen 72), Stuart West, Rob Gillman, Tom Bryant, Chris Saunders, James Morrish (c) (Charlie Smith 108), Ricky Freeman, Shaun Welford (Danny Williams 54), Macauley Murray.
Subs (unused): Owen Fitt, Dean Ruddy.
Goals: Josh Burchell 66, Tom Bryant 92.
Yellow cards: John Walker 32, Stuart West 52, Danny Williams 103.

Attendance: 917
Referee: Matt Pollington
Assistants: Graham Scott & Jerry Annandale
Fourth Official: Dan Procter