With Whitstable and Folkestone being in and around the top four of the league all season so far, this game was always going to be a tense and close one. And with Margate, Herne Bay and Deal all still in with a chance for the title, the pressure was on both teams to secure maximum points and gain an edge before the final five games of the season. Whitstable had run out comfortable winners at home to Folkestone in a 3-0 victory earlier in the season but this game proved to be nothing like as straight forward as the two teams tested each other’s mettle.
The first half proved a scrappy affair with neither team being able to get into their free-flowing football despite the 3G surface and the quality of the players on the pitch. The windy and cold conditions hardly helped although it was the home side Folkestone who showed more prowess and came close to opening the scoring with a couple of free kicks in the first 20 minutes of the game. Whitstable had their chances too and as early as the first five minutes striker Sonny Hemmings bore down on goal but the Folkestone keeper saved well from close range.
Whitstable couldn’t seem to get going and although they were solid at the back and won many balls across the pitch as Folkestone tried to get in behind them, the team were guilty of taking too many touches and losing possession. The home side were working hard to restrict space for Town to play the ball around and pressed well and consistently throughout the game.
And it was Folkestone who scored the first goal in this tense encounter in the 23rd minute. It came after a corner that then led to a scramble in the box with Folkestone being the first to react. The Whitstable players appealed to the referee that goalkeeper Stan Allom had his hands on the ball but they were waved away as the goal was awarded. Folkestone had in fact come close in the attack that led to the corner so may have felt that the goal came as they were in the ascendancy.
Whitstable looked a little frustrated and this started to spill over as Callum Groom was then booked and replaced on the pitch by Will Knoupe.
Whitstable responded with some further substitutions as they looked to change the game. Alex Brownett and Alfie Mantle came on for Archie Rumball and Jake Salisbury respectively and Whitstable nearly equalised after a scramble within the Folkestone box that looked similar to the one they had just conceded from. But Whitstable weren’t quite as clinical as the home team and the chance escaped them.
Half time: Folkestone 1-0 Whitstable
Whitstable started the second half in good form with some pressing moves and good interplay. Indeed, it looked like they would get back into the game quite quickly as Michael Nkereuwem came onto the pitch to beef up the midfield, centre back Will Derby moved alongside him and striker Alfie Mantle moved to the back momentarily. It was one of a number of changes to the side and formation that showed the versatility of the players in this young squad and would eventually prove too much for Folkestone to cope with.
But Folkestone were still very much in the game and might have extended their lead from a number of free kicks. In one chance they blazed over the bar and in another they hit the wood work much to the relief of the Whitstable players and their supporters.
Whitstable then introduced impact-player Joshua Thomas-Wright who had scored the last time the teams played and it was one of his mazy runs that led to the equaliser. After some slick passing with Brownett, Thomas-Wright made his way into the box and was bundled over by one of the Folkestone back four. With normal penalty taker and captain Rumball on the side lines, Alfie Mantle stepped up and put the ball in the back of the net in the 59th minute to make it one a piece.
But far from pressing on and looking to get the winner, Whitstable fell asleep and quickly conceded twice as Folkestone made it 3-1 with only 11 minutes left to play.
Folkestone must have felt like they had the game sealed in this crucial top of the table tie but this time it was they who were put under pressure and only one minute after the re-start Whitstable were back in it as one through ball to striker Hemmings saw him take on the keeper and put it in the back of the net. Suddenly it was 3-2, game on and Whitstable were full of confidence.
And it was Whitstable who had the final say in the game and scored the final equaliser four minutes after their last goal. Rumball and Groom had both re-entered the fray by this time and it was Groom who combined well down the left hand side with Derby. Derby then showed some nice footwork and skill to get into the box and beyond the Folkestone defenders. He struck at goal and although the Folkestone keeper did well to parry the shot, he could only divert it into the middle of the box where Rumball was waiting amongst a crowd of players to rifle the ball into the top of the goal. It was Rumball’s 17th goal in as many games and his third against Folkestone this season.
Four goals in a frenetic 13 minute period had created an electrifying atmosphere and this unfortunately spilled over on to the players once more. In fact, as the teams were moving back to the centre circle after Rumball’s leveller, the referee heard something he didn’t like and showed a red card to Whitstable’s striker Hemmings.
The final eight minutes of the game did not deliver any more goals but Folkestone had a good chance that they wasted in the dying minutes as the game ended 3-3.
Whitstable remain at the top of the table but with just one point over Folkestone and some tough fixtures to come, it looks like the season will prove a very close one up until the last game.