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Under 23s Confirmed Champions
We are the champions, my friends.
The immortal words of Freddie Mercury will be in the minds of all involved with Jay Stubberfield's side after a nervous night under the Hartsdown lights ended with the young Gate side sealing the Bluefin Sport Insurance Development League title.
It was a much changed side from the one that saw off Thanet neighbours Ramsgate last time out, with senior players Tom Mills and Ben Swift on first team duty, and Sidney Sollis unavailable following his loan move to Ashford. There was confusion when our visitors attempted to name Sollis in their line-up for this game, only to be informed that he was ineligble to feature. Mark Sitton came in with regular 'keepers Patrick Lee and Tommy Taylor unavailable, whilst Harrison Hume replaced John Brown, who was on the bech. Harvey Killick and Jardell Conteh took the places of Swift and Mills, but it was the return of Henry Ikeije that would ultimately prove the difference for a side which contained not a single player over the age of 19.
The home side started slowly, and Ashford enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges without threatening Sitton's goal. A free kick into the box was well claimed under pressure, but that was all Ashford had to show for all their possession for the first ten minutes.
Margate started to find their groove after a quarter of an hour, and they had a succession of shots without managing to break the deadlock. Sidney Warden was played in down the left hand side of the box, some clever hold up play enabled Ziyad Ghali to get a shot away but his low effort was pulled narrowly wide. And just a minute later, the visitors were indebted to Aaron Lee-Wharton who pulled off a fine save from Ikeije. Warden was again involved, bringing down Killick's cross for Ikeije to fire goalwards from around 10 yards, it looked destined for the back of the net until Lee-Wharton flew high to his right to divert the ball wide for a corner. Warden was then released down the right hand side of the box, this time opting for the shot which flew into the side netting.
Ikeije was growing in confidence upon is return to the side, showing a range of skills as he looked to run at the defence with every opportunity. In the 32nd minute he worked himself an opening on the edge of the box but saw his goalbound effort well blocked, and with Margate now enjoying the lion's share of possession and territorial advantage, it was Robinson who next looked set to shoot 5 minutes later, only for Brandon Williams to deny him with a last gasp challenge after Warden's through ball sent him into the box. Ikeije's trickery down the left then created a double chance, first for Warden who saw his effort saved, the rebound fell kindly for him and he teed up skipper Bradley Rudd who fired wide. Ikeie then popped up down the right, where he was upended - Robinson whipping in the resulting free kick which found Jack Bray, who's strike forced another fine save from Lee-Wharton.
Bray was then in action up the other end right at the end of the half, Ashford broke at pace and looked to have the opportunity in the box only for the Gate defender to get back to make a saving tackle.
HALF TIME: MARGATE U23 0-0 ASHFORD U23
The game burst into life just 3 minutes after the restart, and it was Ikeije again at the centre of it as he darted into the box and was felled just as he looked set to shoot. WARDEN stepped up and coolly despatched the spot kick, sending Lee-Wharton the wrong way in the process. The lead lasted less than a minute, though, as Ashford attacked straight from kick off, and took advantage of some rare ballwatching from the Gate defence - the ball coming in from the right before being fired into the bottom corner of Sitton's net from the edge of the box.
Ashford were next to attack when a speculative long range effort from Clark Woodcock was comfortably dealt with by Sitton, before the Ikeije show took centre stage. First his strong run into the box enabled him to strike powerfully at goal, an effort that Lee-Wharton did well to hold, and then in the 61st minute he scored a goal worth of sealing any league title. Collecting the ball centrally just inside the Ashford half, he took the ball at pace through the visiting midfield. Ignoring all calls to pass, he continued through the defence, into the box, and slipped the ball into the bottom right hand corner with the outside of his right foot. It was a sensational goal that cannot be done justice with words.
Goalmouth action in the final half an hour was few and far between, and with Sitton not tested, Margate were able to see out the time and secure the title - a fifth in five years for Stubberfield. A real achievement for him and his talented young side, who are back in action on Thursday night, taking on Ramsgate once more, in the Development League Cup at Southwood Road - the second of 4 games in 7 days, with trips to Faversham (Saturday) and Cray Wanderers (at Bromley, Monday) coming up.
FULL TIME: Margate U23 2-1 Ashford U23
Margate U23: Mark Sitton, Harvey Killick, Jardell Conteh, Harrison Hume, Jack Bray, Thomas Lindsey, Henry Ikeije, Bradley Rudd, Sidney Warden, Ziyad Ghali, Matthew Robinson
Substitutes: John Brown, James Jeffrey, Oliver Wells
Subs (not used): Joe Ford, Tyler Dockwray
Thursday, 08 March 2018
By Charlotte Richardson