Our curtain raiser for this season’s representative competition finals kicked off on Wednesday, with an excellent match between two young southern sides at Premier League Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium.
With the sun beating down the conditions inside the stadium were very hot and that showed in the opening exchanges with both teams passing the ball in a controlled manner and preserving energy while probing for an opening.
Kent’s Jacob Safa found space on the left inside 4 minutes but his cross was cleared by Kai Birchley and with both defences standing solid, that was about as close as either side came to troubling the goalkeeper.
Sussex skipper Matthew Hayden made a magnificent interception to clear a through ball in his own box midway through the half, denying Jimmy Heasman a chance to score although the Kent forward was adjudged to be offside so any goal would not have counted – not that Hayden knew that when making the tackle.
Charlie Clayton’s cross into the Kent box caused a nervous moment for Carter Sullivan in the Kent goal with Hayden Furner closing in, but the keeper smothered the ball with the forward breathing down his neck.
Hayden was again leading by example as he snuffed out a chance for George Beaumont with the Kent side trying to take advantage of a 3 on 2 break, sliding in to knock the ball out for a corner as the striker lined up to shoot from 14 yards out.
Birchley would have hoped to have done better with a header from a Sussex corner late in the half but his effort was blocked and cleared. There were signs of more space opening up with the half time break on the horizon.
Clayton’s long distance effort for Sussex was the closest of the handful of attempts from outside the box, clearing Sullivan’s bar by no more than a foot but just a few moments later it was deadlock broken – albeit at the other end of the pitch.
With the game edging into first half injury time Heasman played a lovely through ball for Safa to run onto and he held off the defender to lift the ball elegantly over Alfie Mansell for a 1-0 Kent lead.
Almost instantly Sussex had a chance to equalise, a cross from Malik Mundoma was cleared by Hugo Taylor in the 6 yard box with Cian Morling inches away from connecting. The resulting corner saw Morling rise at the back post for a header but Kent’s Dean Forbes flicked the ball away with a goal almost a certainty without it.
Sussex pressed early in the second half, putting the Kent defence under pressure from set pieces although it was Max Woodfine who almost doubled the lead with a turn and run into the box although keeper Mansell claimed the ball off the strikers toe. Space was opening up and Kent had the ball in the net for what they thought was a second but an offside flag ruled out Safa’s strike into the far corner and at the other end Morling must still be wondering how his effort from 6 yards ended up over the crossbar.
Sussex finally drew level midway through the half, a Theo Maryon free-kick into the box was guided home by Kobe Agbude from 8 yards out and it was game on!
Luke Staight’s long range drive flashed past the far post with 10 minutes to go and Morling had a great chance with a free header from 8 yards but he put the ball into the keeper’s arms with Sussex having a good spell of pressure.
Maryon’s free kick from 20 yards out was deflected for a corner and when Birchley’s free-kick from the same distance drifted over the Kent crossbar it appeared penalties would be needed to decide the winner.
However, deep into stoppage time Sussex broke forward, Mundoma played in Clayton down the right who crossed and Morling bundled home from 6 yards to clinch a dramatic last gasp victory for the south coasters.
There was barely time for the game to re-start before the referee blew for full-time and confirm Sussex as our first competition winners of the 2020-21 season.
Credit to everyone involved for an excellent game played in the spirit we expect from schools football, it was also great to see supporters back in the stands to support their teams and we think everyone should be rightly proud of the performances on the pitch regardless of the result.
All that remained was for Sussex skipper and Man of the Match Matthew Hayden to collect the trophy and for Sussex Under 14 Boys to celebrate being crowned our first champions of 2020-21.
A big thank you to Garry Griffiths from ThreeFiveThree Photography for writing this report and capturing the game so beautifully. A full gallery of the game will be available shortly and shared on our social channels.