Eastbourne Town U23 2-3 Newhaven U23 (HT 0-2)
** Match Highlights available here **
On Wednesday 13th March, Ben Earle’s penalty sealed a 3-2 win over Eastbourne Town, and saw Newhaven U23s crowned Sussex U23 Challenge Cup Winners. The two teams played out an entertaining encounter at Culver Road, home of Sussex FA, and it was Newhaven who edged the 5-goal thriller.
It took just 22 seconds, an 11-a-side cup final record, for the deadline to be broken. Ryan Knight’s ball for Callum Connor wasn’t dealt with by a defender and he lost his footing. Connor took advantage and pulled it back to Jack Whitmore, his shot was blocked on the line and Marley Ambler reacted quickest to fire the Dockers ahead.
Town had a couple of chances, the best of which fell to Toby Shaw but his effort rebounded back off the foot of the post.
The Dockers then doubled their lead on the half hour mark in the simplest of fashions. Jack Whitmore’s corner was met by Jack Todd and his glancing header guided the ball towards the corner.
Olly Davies’ long range effort stung the palms of Michael Platt in the Town goal, and that was to be the last meaningful action of an eventful first half.
If the Newhaven team talk had been about maintaining their clean sheet, it went out the window inside 90 seconds. Town’s first attack saw Newhaven clear a dangerous looking cross and the resulting corner was headed in powerfully by Joe Smart.
Newhaven’s response was strong though. First, Marley Ambler acrobatically volleyed towards goal, but saw his strike go agonisingly wide, before he turned provider moments later. Some outstanding work in the corner saw him wriggle into the box and he showed composure beyond his 16 years to find Olly Davies at the back post, but his effort was cleared off the line by a recovering defender.
A moment of hesitation nearly cost Newhaven as Toby Shaw robbed Ryan Knight, but Jack Todd covered his teammate as he intercepted the square pass which, if successful, would have left Town with an easy tap in. The follow up effort was straight at Matt Cramp as Newhaven held onto their lead.
It wouldn’t be for long though as the equaliser arrived, and in spectacular fashion. Rowan Johnson was perhaps fortunate to see the ball hit him from a misjudged header, but there was no fortune about the finish as he teed himself up for a sensational half volley which left Matt Cramp simply watching the ball fly over him into the goal.
Town would be level for just ninety seconds though as Newhaven were awarded a penalty. Marley Ambler’s good work down the right saw his cross misjudged by Smart and as Olly Davies stole the ball from his heavy touch, the defender tripped him and referee Paul John pointed to the spot.
Town’s protests lasted quite a while, but the decision stood and Ben Earle shrugged off the pressure to send Platt the wrong way.
The game then became a bit of a tactical battle, Newhaven were happy to sit in and defend deep against the strong wind, allowing Town a lot of the ball and space in front of them, but in truth only looked threatened once as Rowan Johnson found space in the box but Matt Cramp was equal to his effort with an superb save, getting off his line quickly to make himself big.
Alex Plummer’s late free kick, in the 94th minute, looked like it could cause a problem but it sailed harmlessly over the bar and Newhaven saw out what was left to seal the win and with it, their name on the trophy.
Manager Kieran Ridley praised his young side in what he described as a “professional performance”.
“This was a really tough game. We deserved to be ahead, but credit where it’s due to Town, they took the game to us second half and deserved to get back in it. Both times we conceded though, we reacted really well. After their first we created two really good chances and straight from the equaliser, we won the penalty. From there it was just a case of doing the right things and sticking to the plan. We said at half time that against the wind, we might get pinned in but we kept our shape well and restricted Town to only a few chances, it was a mature, professional performance.”
Ridley couldn’t hide his delight at the victory and picked out his front line for their performance.
“Marley and Callum were outstanding. We did a lot of work with the forwards at training prior to the game, we’d identified a weakness of Town’s in the video analysis and presentation and it paid off. They worked really hard in key areas for us and in Marley, I think we had saw of the best performances I’ve seen at this level. People forget he is just sixteen but he was man of the match for me, and for a lot of others.”
Ridley also praised captain Ben Earle, who stepped up to score the winning penalty, for the way he handled the pressure.
“Ben was made to wait a long time for penalty. There’s been a lot of talk about it, but it was a penalty. We weren’t 100% sure on the night but Olly got to the ball first and was fouled. Sometimes you see a penalty missed when there’s been such a delay but Ben kept his head and sent the ‘keeper the wrong way. I was so pleased for him, he’s been at Newhaven a long time now and turned down offers elsewhere to stay with us, so lifting the trophy was a great reward for his loyalty.”
Captain Earle described the game as “a rollercoaster” but had confidence in his team’s ability to win.
“It was a rollercoaster of emotions. Starting as well as we did settled a few nerves and the first half was relatively comfortable. Conceding so early in the second half put us on the back foot and we lacked a little maturity in managing the game, which allowed them to equalise. However, we showed a lot of character to get on top again, just like we had done at Hastings (0-2) and Selsey (0-1). I was confident we could do it and the celebrations after the game are a memory that’ll stay with me forever.”
And of ‘that’ penalty, Earle felt relatively calm in the time between its award and taking it.
“I’ve taken a lot of penalties, some in shootouts, so I didn’t really feel the pressure”
Earle also reserved praise for his manager, in particular the preparations for the final itself.
“We went to the semi-final to watch and whilst Eastbourne were very good that night, we picked out a few things we could work on to exploit. After the two training sessions, we had team nights where Kieran prepared “Monday night football-esque” presentations on Town and ourselves to show us exactly what to expect and what we’d need to do. A few of the lads joked at how busy he was, but we all took the information in and it played a massive part in us winning the final, so thank you to Kieran for everything he did to help get us our win.”
Newhaven: Matt Cramp, Oliver Davies, Ben Earle, Max Vardy, Jack Todd, Ryan Knight, Jack Whitmore, Aaron Winser, Marley Ambler, Callum Connor, Joshua Silva-Carvalho.
Subs: Connor Martin, Daniel Meekings, Ryan Hill, Kieran Piper, Oliver Bradley
Officials: Paul John, Perry Hart, Nathan Welch, Stuart Ramsey