At the end of a titanic battle in the Kent Junior A Final at Maidstone United’s Gallagher Stadium, Kent County League Greenways overcame an incredibly spirited Littlebourne side from Herne Bay, who came agonisingly close to an incredible triumph.
For Littlebourne, just reaching the final had been an achievement in itself as they ‘only’ qualified for the competition by reaching the “B” final in 2019.
Greenways were fortunate to be level at the break as Littlebourne missed a penalty at the very end of the first half – Daniel Wells’ spot kick crashed back off the bar – before in the early stages of the second half Rashid Baima drilled home from the edge of the box to put Greenways ahead before clearing the ball off his own goal line just moments later. Isaac Howard then powered home a header to double Greenways’ advantage, before a terrific final got the grandstand finish it deserved when Matt Martin steered home a driven cross to give Littlebourne hope in the last ten minutes – hope that wasn’t realised as a pulsating final literally went to the final blow of referee’s whistle.
A remarkable game so nearly had a remarkable start, as inside the first five minutes the Littlebourne goal had a fortunate escape. A long free kick into the box was helped on by Rashid Braima. ‘Keeper Shannon Harris failed to collect under pressure from Reece Lyons and Elijah Eastwood was unlucky to see his prod towards goal deflect wide. Just moments later, Eastwood was hanging his head after a golden opportunity went begging. Sam Burton sprinted clear down the right and as the ball was played into Eastwood, he found himself with the freedom of Maidstone in front of goal. The problem for the Aces number nine was that he missed his kick completely and the chance was gone!
In a free-flowing start, Littlebourne’s first real chance came from a Ted Johnson free kick, which was brilliantly saved by David Handley at the base of his right post. A stretching Robbie Loomer was then only a fraction away from opening the scoring after Matt Martin’s terrific ball across the edge of the box as the game opened up into a hugely enjoyable contest.
As chances came and went, the next fell to Eastwood who got on the end of a misplaced defensive pass only to prod the ball wide of Harris’ left post. Indeed, the battle between Eastwood and Littlebourne’s central defensive duo of Craig Swann and Steven Murray really was something to behold in a first half that ended with Johnson’s low drive being well saved again by Handley low to his left, whilst at the other end Sam Burton hit Littlebourne’s left post after Murray’s blushes were saved by Harris after the central defender’s misplaced header.
Then as time elapsed in the first half, referee Horsfall deemed that Martin had been fouled in the box, only for Daniel Wells to smack the spot kick beyond Handley and against the bar. Following up a flying Martin sent a diving header wide as the official blew for half time.
Littlebourne were made to rue the miss as just moments after the break as Greenways took the lead. Burton did well down the left and as the ball came into Eastwood, Swann somehow blocked the shot only for the ball to fall to Braima who drilled the ball beyond a despairing Harris and into the net.
Almost immediately, Braima came to his sides rescue at the other end – clearing Martin’s effort off the line after he’d nipped the ball past the advancing Handley.
The action switched to the other end and from Ogbuaga cross, central defender Isaac Howard rose highest at the back post to power a header beyond the statuesque Harris and in off the underside of the bar to double the lead.
This intriguing final then took another turn as the heavens opened above the Gallagher opened and in near monsoon conditions, Littlebourne pressed to try and get back on level terms. Substitute Bobby Powell was unlucky with a shot across the front of goal that skidded just wide of the post, before in the last ten minutes, out of nothing, the substitute provided a terrific ball across the face of goal for the late arriving Martin to turn the ball home.
Littlebourne piled forward desperate to level – Martin was magnificently denied by Handley’s feet after Daniel Tanner caught a last cause before the keeper had to be at his brave best to deny Danny Bangs and from the resulting melee somehow the ball stayed out of the Greenways net.
The relief of the Kent County League sides faces when the final whistle blew – at the same time as the ground was now bathed in warm bright sunshine – seconds later really was testament to the battle – and the fright that the side from the Herne Bay and Whitstable League had given them. The game was a fabulous advert for the Kent FA finals, athough for Littlebourne that in time will be scant consolation!
GREENWAYS ACES – David Handley, Reece Lyons, Rhys Theobald, George Kingdom, Rashid Braima, Jaime Blackham, Kieran Ellis, Isaac Howard, Elijah Eastwood, Sam Burton, Kenny Ogbuaga
Subs – Kala Beredugo, Lewis Stevens, Fred Horton, Randeep Sabharwal, Sam Cuthbert
LITTLEBOURNE – Shannon Harris, Jon Lewis, Craig Swann, Steven Murray, Josh Baker, Liam Horgan, Daniel Wells, Ted Johnson, Robbie Lorimer, Matt Martin, Euan Morgan
Subs – Bobby Powell, Alex Cooper, Danny Bangs, Brandon Kerr, Daniel Tanner
REFEREE – Mr Horsfall
ASSISTANTS – Mr Boswell & Mr Rodi
FOURTH ASSISTANT – Mr Butcher