Newhaven FC U23 edged past Eastbourne Town U23 3-2 to win the Sussex Under-23s Challenge Cup in a tense, thrilling and well-matched final at Culver Road on Wednesday evening.
Ben Earle’s second-half penalty proved to be the difference between the two sides after Joe Smart and Rowan Johnson had brought Town level following Marley Ambler’s early opener and a Jack Todd header for Newhaven.
The Dockers came flying out of the blocks from the first whistle, grabbing the opening goal of the match with their very first attack after just twenty-two seconds as Ambler slotted home on the rebound after Jack Whitmore’s initial effort was cleared off the line.
Eastbourne could have drawn level in the thirteenth minute through Toby Shaw who was picked out by George Cook’s driven cross, but he could only strike the post under pressure from the onrushing goalkeeper.
Town missed another chance in the twenty-eighth minute when Cook’s volley from the edge of the box flew wide of the mark, and it came back to haunt them two minutes later as Newhaven doubled their lead courtesy of Todd, who rose highest to convert Whitmore’s corner and give his side some breathing space.
However, their two-goal cushion would only survive until a minute after the interval, as Smart’s bullet header rendered Newhaven goalkeeper Matt Cramp helpless and halved the deficit for Eastbourne Town.
Newhaven upped the intensity in response, going close twice in the minutes following the goal.
Ambler nearly found the net with an acrobatic volley which sailed inches wide of the uprights, then turned creator moments later as he squared the ball across the area towards Oliver Davies, with his effort denied by another fantastic goal-line clearance.