An early start on Sunday morning at Chatham FC’s ground didn’t stop the Oyster boys from recording another victory with goals from in-form striker Jake Salisbury and a first of the season for midfielder Callum Groom.
Having beaten Chatham early on in the season in a cup game at the Belmont, recent weeks had seen today’s Medway hosts climbing the table to second with impressive wins against the likes of Folkestone, Tunbridge and Sheppey. It seemed it might be a different prospect for the U16s to contend with at the Maidstone Road sports ground than the team they had faced back in October.
Whitstable started today’s game on the front foot with a very impressive first 15 minutes creating early chances with an Alfie Hill header from a Leo Cornhill free kick, a number of corners and free kicks from the impressive Will Knoupe and two chances for eventual scorer Groom. Hill had leapt highest to meet Cornhill’s free kick but his effort whistled wide of the post while Groom was just beaten to a through ball by the Chatham keeper.
Hill and winger Jamie Lartice were combining well on the right hand side and with both Hill and striker Salisbury drawing plenty of fouls as the U16s broke through into the Chatham half, it seemed like Whitstable would soon be opening the scoring.
The referee set his stall out early with several bookings taking place within a short space of time. One such caution for Chatham followed a cynical foul on the edge of the box but the resulting free kick didn’t trouble their keeper. Hill found himself in the official’s notebook as well after disputing a decision later on in the half.
But Chatham were looking lively in attack and both Knoupe and fellow defender Harrison Wade were called into action to make important blocks in the opening 20 minutes of the game. Goalkeeper Stan Allom was definitely the less busy of the two keepers but did have to come and collect a corner after Chatham’s endeavours up front earned them an opportunity.
Captain Archie Rumball had a chance to open the scoring with a header from a Cornhill free kick but his effort was well saved by the goalie.
Salisbury continued his great run of form with another excellent performance winning nearly all of the throw ins and playing some lovely through balls to his team mates. He had an effort that sailed over the bar but soon afterwards he was on the score sheet once again as he netted his 12th goal of the season. It came from a lovely piece of play with attacking midfielder Groom who crossed the ball in for a simple tap in in the 21st minute.
The rest of the half became more of a struggle for the U16s though and the game itself got quite scrappy as neither team seemed able to hold onto possession. Centre back Ollie Bunn had to step in to make an important tackle in the box as Chatham started to grow in confidence and the hosts then had two excellent chances to level the game.
With 10 minutes of the half remaining Chatham’s strikers and wingers combined well to get into the Whitstable box but despite their shot beating Allom it went wide of the post. Three minutes later Allom made a trademark outstanding save to deny the home side as they again broke through.
The U16s were proving to be their own worst enemies as they started giving away free kicks outside their box when they failed to make a simple pass or to clear their lines.
But they still managed to create chances at the other end with shots from Hemmings and then Salisbury who received a lovely pass from Hemmings but couldn’t quite find the target. There was then a bad foul on Salisbury who required treatment before he could continue.
The U16s managed to keep things tight until the half time whistle blew and they went in leading at the break.
Half time 0-1
The second half saw the introduction of midfielder Alex Brownett - on for Hill - and winger Dylan Richards who replaced Hemmings.
Chatham started the half in the same way they had finished the first and created two good chances early in the second period. The first was a cross after they broke down the right hand side and the second required a smart stop from Allom.
But both Brownett and Richards were causing problems in attack with their driving runs. The pair then combined when Brownett put a lovely cross into the box but Richards couldn’t make the connection. And with Chatham looking lively up front it felt like Whitstable would need to score again to make the game safe.
Salisbury had another effort but he blasted it over and Brownett teed up a shot from outside the box only for a Chatham defender to make an excellent block.
With about 15 minutes of the second half played Whitstable conjured two excellent chances but both ended up hitting the woodwork. First Groom took an excellent shot from a Knoupe corner and then a wonderful free kick from Lartice also struck the upright.
At the back Knoupe was still putting in a shift and Bunn was showing his usual excellent composure as he stepped in to win the ball and make some positive runs into the Chatham half. And he made another important tackle as Chatham looked about to score. Rumball was also working his socks off in the middle of the park, holding the ball up and retaining possession before bringing those around him into play.
Whitstable thought they had got their elusive second goal when Groom connected with a lovely flick-on from Salisbury but the Chatham keeper saved it well.
But the keeper couldn’t do anything about the next chance the U16s had in the 69th minute. Lartice went on a driving run down the right hand side and glided into the box. And as he played the ball in to the middle of the box it ricocheted and hit the post. As it came out towards the penalty spot Groom was running in and he hammered it low into the back of the net.
Hemmings came back on to the pitch for Lartice and Ioannis Gayle replaced Salisbury up front - quite a change for a player who normally plays right back! But Gayle harried and hassled the Chatham back line and Hemmings began some of his typical trickery as he took the game to Chatham.
Chatham weren’t finished though and were still looking to get back into the game with five minutes remaining. They had several shots from distance that sailed over and a couple of free kicks as the U16s started to tire a little and got themselves in a muddle.
But Whitstable held on for their 6th clean sheet of the season and showed why they have the meanest defensive record in the league having conceded only 9 goals in 11 matches.
Next up for the U16s is a home game against today’s opponents at the Belmont as the final few games of the season start to come within their sights.
Full time 0-2