The U16s progressed to the next round of the cup with a 2-1 victory away at West Wickham on Sunday afternoon. Goals from striker Jake Salisbury and midfielder Alfie Hill completed the turnaround after the U16s fell behind early in the second half.
The first half began in fairly scrappy fashion with neither team able to gain much momentum. With a damp and sloping pitch under foot both sides seemed happy with lofting long passes and clearing the ball rather than getting it down and playing.
The U16s struggled to get into their stride and were nearly punished after 16 minutes when the hosts hit the crossbar with a header from a few yards out. The warning signs had been building with West Wickham having plenty of joy down the flanks and forcing the U16s keeper Stanley Allom into a smart save to keep them at bay early in the game.
There were plenty of strong tackles in the first half with midfielder Hill and left back Callum Groom both on tenacious form. But chances were limited to a few crosses from wingers Jamie Lartice and Sonnie Hemmings until striker Salisbury beat the Wickham defender to a pass and took a shot from distance that tested the home side’s keeper.
Midfielder Alex Brownett was unfortunate to only last for 15 minutes of the first half before limping off. He was replaced by Michael Nkereuwem who got straight into the action.
Both sides continued to press as the half wore on. Centre back Ollie Bunn had to be alert on several occasions including rescuing the U16s when they were guilty of playing short passes across their back line that the home side nearly capitalised on. Allom proved he was on top form again when in quick succession he raced out to prevent a through ball being collected and then made a stunning finger tip save when a Wickham shot was bound for the top corner.
The U16s started to press more however and went closest when Hemmings was through in a one on one with the keeper only for the Wickham stopper to pull out an amazing save at the feet of the Whitstable winger. Salisbury then put the ball into the box for Hill but Wickham just managed to clear. Chances continued for defender Alfie Mantle and from an excellent cross by the impressive Nkereuwem but the U16s couldn’t quite make it count.
The game had been getting somewhat feisty as the first half progressed and it all came to the boil when a Wickham player was red carded for punching a Whitstable player 5 minutes before the end of the first half.
Half time 0-0
The second half began with several substitutions being made including the referee, meaning a delayed start to the period. The U16s also made changes with Ioannis Gayle and Will Knoupe entering in the right and left back positions respectively and Dylan Richards coming on for Lartice.
With 40 minutes to play against 10 men and kicking down hill, the U16s started pressing their hosts right from kick off. Nkereuwem was again in the heart of the action creating a chance for one team mate and then having a shot himself soon after.
However, it was the home side who opened the scoring in the 44th minute when they broke and scored a well crafted goal that Allom had no chance of saving.
But Whitstable weren’t to be deterred and soon they were getting into some more fluid football with Knoupe and Hemmings connecting well with midfielders Will Derby and Hill. And it didn’t take long for the U16s to be back on level terms.
It came in the 48th minute and was initiated by a great pass from Gayle to winger Richards who then delivered a perfect cross for Salisbury to meet midair and put beyond the Wickham keeper.
After the equaliser, the chances started to come more quickly with opportunities for Groom, Hill and Hemmings as Wickham suddenly seemed to be on the back foot.
10 minutes later Whitstable scored the goal that would settle the tie.
It came again from a lovely set of connecting quick passes. This time it was Knoupe and Hemmings who started the move down the left hand side before the ball was played to Derby who spotted Hill coming in and played it into his path for him to put into the back of the net. A Wickham defender had got close to him but Hill’s shot was too powerful for the defender to stop.
The U16s weren’t willing to stop there either as an excellent Knoupe free kick was somehow kept out by the Wickham shot stopper soon afterwards. It had come when Salisbury had been brought down just outside the box, the striker having an excellent second half of the game.
But the hosts were far from being done with the game as they broke quickly and created some decent chances. Both Mantle and Bunn were called upon to clear up as was Cornhill who made an important defensive header when the U16s were suddenly short on numbers at the back. And Wickham wasted a good chance with a free kick outside the box blasting it well over the bar.
Winger Joshua Thomas-Wright came on and made an immediate impact putting pressure on the Wickham back line as did Hemmings who was beginning to weave confidently around the home side’s defence. Whitstable created several good chances to increase their lead - Hill hit the post but the keeper somehow saved the ball from going over the line in the scramble that followed and Derby was played in as he ran into the box but couldn’t quite make the connection he wanted.
Several excellent corners and crosses from Richards followed including one that Bunn met well but it went just wide.
And that was that at West Wickham as the stand-in referee blew for full time. Next up for the U16s are Margate in a league game at The Belmont.
Full time 1-2