On Sunday 7th April, Newhaven U18s travel to the Beacon, home of Hassocks FC, to take part in the Southern Combination Football League U18 Challenge Cup Final.
The Dockers, who were crowned U18s East Division Champions on the 24th March, face fellow East Division side AFC Varndeanians.
V’s started back in round one, defeating Broadbridge Heath 2-0 at the Withdean Stadium courtesy of goals from Joshua Firsht and Maximilien Rutler. Adam Stephenson and Harry Couchman were the scorers in the next round as Selsey were defeated 2-1, again at the Withdean. Hailsham were the next round visitors to the Withdean and the V’s impressive home form continued, again scoring twice to win, this time 2-0. Harry Garnham’s double was enough for victory, and that two-goal pattern continued into the semi-final, again Adam Stephenson and Harry Couchman were the scorers as Montpelier Villa were knocked out, 2-0.
Newhaven went straight through round one as their opponents folded their U18s before the season started. Mile Oak were the visitors to the Trafalgar Ground in the next round. The game, locked at 1-1, looked set to head into injury time but Kirk Staley and Henry Carey scored deep into injury time as the Dockers won 3-1. A midweek trip to Southwick awaited in the quarter final where Jake Tomsett and Luke Gilligan opened their accounts, the latter netting a brace in another 3-1 win. Central division runaway champions were the Dockers’ semi-final opponents, but a superb performance saw Newhaven win 2-0, keeping a clean sheet against a side who have scored an incredible 102 goals in 16 league matches.
The two league matches between AFC Varndeanians and Newhaven have been exceptionally close, with just a goal separating the sides in both. Myles Bickmore-Vaughan broke the deadlock for Newhaven at a sunny Withdean back in September, before a stunning Conor Fitzpatrick free kick was the difference as V’s collected all three points at the Trafalgar Ground, after Toby Potter-Drake’s curling effort cancelled out Chad Mitchell-Turner’s first half opener.
Joint manager Kieran Ridley said he was looking forward to it, and acknowledged his personal connection with the opponents.
“It’s the perfect opponent for me. I was at AFC V’s as first team manager last season and worked closely with Bob [V’s U18s Manager] so I’m pleased to have them in the final.
“We will prepare the lads as best we possibly can, but above all else we want them to enjoy the experience of the final. They’ve worked really hard to get here, beating some very good sides along the way, but it’s an experience they’ve got to relish.
“It’ll be a tough game. V’s are the only team to have beaten us so far this season, and deservedly so on the day. We know the threat they possess and we know we’ll have to be at our best to get a positive result, but the experience of winning the league, challenged by some good sides, should help us. I’m really looking forward to what should be a really good game of football.”
Fellow joint manager Lee Robinson also praised Sunday’s opponents but stressed his team are under no pressure to win the cup and he simply wants them to enjoy it.
“It has been an excellent season so far, but if we can add a League Cup trophy to the League title it will be an achievement that has never been accomplished by a Newhaven Under-18 side before. That is the standard these players are capable of setting.
“This game, however, will be one of the toughest of the season. We probably head in to the final as slight favourites, but AFC Varndeanians will fancy their chances having already beaten us in the league this season – the only side to do so.
“They came down to us that day with a game plan of defending deep and then hitting us on the counter, which, to their credit, they did very well and deserved the three points.
“So we’re under no illusions as to the task that lies ahead of us on Sunday. We managed to move our scheduled fixture against Peacehaven last Sunday so we could get the players in to train and work on specific things. They were in again on Thursday evening for our last bit of preparations.
“With the league already won, the players can go in to the final with a little less pressure and can hopefully enjoy the occasion. That’s the message I’ll be trying to get across to them on Sunday morning.”
Pictures courtest of Steve Mills.