The U16s ended 2022 on a high and, in the process, put an end to a mini slump of two 4-1 defeats by beating Folkestone at Three Hills by two goals to one.
With an early Sunday morning kick off, the potential threat of cancellation due to the cold weather and heavy frost and with several players out ill or injured, this cup game away at Folkestone (who sit second in the league, two places above Whitstable) looked like a tough fixture to end the year on.
Folkestone appeared to have similar player problems as they only just made a starting 11 while Whitstable included two players in their squad who had been ill earlier in the week and looked a long way off being back to full fitness.
Whitstable got off to a strong start in the game with some excellent passing play on the left hand side through Jamie Lartice and striker Jake Salisbury who, as ever, had a strong game holding up the ball, winning knock ons and keeping the Folkestone defenders on their toes. Winger Sonnie Hemmings and midfielder Alfie Hill also proved a strong combination as they pursued the home side who were resorting to long balls to clear their lines.
The U16s showed their willingness to probe and push forward creating chances from a Hill cross that unfortunately evaded the Whitstable forwards and some wonderful corners and free kicks from the ever dependable Leo Cornhill at right back. One Cornhill free kick was beautifully drifted into the box and met by Lartice who laid it off for Hill but he unfortunately put it just wide.
It was very promising stuff from the U16s who also had captain Archie Rumball showing some excellent touches and tackles to bring things together in the middle of the park. Salisbury had a shot from distance and there were further chances in the opening 20 minutes when left back Will Knoupe had a free kick after a mazy run by Hill was brought to an end by a Folkestone foul. Knoupe had another excellent game at left back with some strong tackles and great through balls.
Whitstable had to be strong at the back with Lartice tracking back well and centre back Ollie Bunn making an excellent recovery challenge when another long ball set the Folkestone forwards free. Fellow centre back Harrison Wade also showed good control and presence to clear more of the long balls and deep kicks from the keeper that came into the U16s half.
On 25 minutes Hill, who had missed training this week due to illness, had to come off and was replaced in midfield by Will Derby.
Unfortunately the U16s hadn’t got the goal their play and possession deserved in the first half and although Folkestone did have one or two chances, it was very much against the run of play when they opened the scoring. And only minutes before they scored Whitstable had the chance themselves to go ahead when Lartice was brought down in the box after receiving the ball from Salisbury. Captain Rumball stepped up to take the penalty but it was well saved by the Folkestone keeper. Whitstable had another chance to score from the rebound but the ball spun away and the home side cleared.
And Folkestone took the lead shortly afterwards when the U16s failed to clear the ball from their area and the home side pounced on the bouncing ball in the box and Whitstable’s indecision to clear it.
After the last two games for the U16s had ended in heavy defeats there was a concern that heads would drop. But that was not the case as the away side responded well and looked for a way back into the game.
Hemmings swapped wings with Lartice and started to create chances down the right hand side. Derby connected well with Hemmings for a good chance but the Folkestone keeper was out smartly to save at the winger’s feet. Callum Groom was having another good game in midfield making his presence felt as he helped to thread some passes together across the team.
Minutes later, the U16s keeper Stan Allom made a great save as Folkestone again broke into the box.
With a minute left of the first half, Whitstable were again guilty of not clearing their lines and as Allom came out to see off a through ball there was a collision. As the ball spun towards the goal mouth Wade made a valiant run for it and cleared it off the line. However, because of the collision in the box the referee pointed to the spot and Folkestone had a penalty.
It seemed a harsh decision but the referee was sure and Folkestone had the chance to make it two nil on the stroke of half time.
But Allom stood strong and, like his counterpart at the other end, made a wonderful save from the penalty spot to keep his team in it.
Half time 1-0
The second half started with the teams quite evenly matched but after that, Whitstable took hold of the game and started playing with a wonderful level of confidence and skill. In fact it ended up being a game with one of the U16’s highest successful pass percentages and definitely their best passing performance in the face of strong opposition so far this season.
And soon the chances started to come for the U16s with more corners and crosses from Cornhill and Hemmings coming back into the game having several early shots in the second half with one of them needing the keeper’s gloves to tip it over the bar. Derby also started pushing further up the field and took a shot from outside of the box that went wide.
Dylan Richards came on in the 47th minute and added some fresh legs and increased fire power down the right hand side as the U16s kept probing at the Folkestone back line.
Allom remained a spectator for much of the second half but had to be alert and came out well to collect from a Folkestone corner. Bunn also played his part and made an important clearance as the home side threatened.
Alfie Mantle made a big impact when he came on for Groom in the centre of the field alongside Derby and Rumball. He helped Whitstable continue to pile pressure on the home side and after combining with Rumball and Richards down the right hand side, Salisbury was put through. But the Folkestone keeper made another great save as he tipped a further shot over the bar.
Whitstable continued to press and got their reward and equaliser just after Allom was called upon for the second time in the half making a world class save.
The equaliser came in the 67th minute and it came from another dynamic run down the right by Richards who put an inch perfect cross into the box for Hemmings to smash into the Folkestone goal. It hit the underside of the cross bar and bounced over the line although it required the linesman to confirm to the referee it had indeed gone in.
It was 1-1 and game on.
WIth a place in the next round at stake, Whitstable pushed for a winner and created further chances through Hemmings and Richards while, at the other end, Allom had to make another outstanding save to keep things level.
And much like his penalty save at the end of the first half, this save proved the catalyst once more for a renewed sense of belief in the away side.
The U16s got their deserved winner with five minutes of the game remaining. Mantle provided a lovely pass into the box that Derby collected, positioned himself well for and delivered a fabulous strike over the outstretched hands of the goalkeeper and into the roof of the net.
The U16s celebrated wildly with even the substitutes getting involved.
But Folkestone weren’t quite finished and with time running out Whitstable were guilty of giving away a couple of unnecessary free kicks that gave the home side a chance to take the game into extra time. Folkestone’s keeper (who had an excellent game) came up for the free kicks but the hosts couldn’t make it count and Whitstable stood firm to see the game out and book their place in the next round.
It’s Christmas and New year break for the U16s now but they’ll be back in action in the league in January.
Full time 1-2