Newhaven winners of the Sussex Under-23s Challenge Cup

Newhaven clinch Sussex Under-23s Challenge Cup

Newhaven 3 - 2 Eastbourne Town

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.

Eastbourne also continued to threaten as they chased an equaliser, and perhaps should have scored with fifty-five minutes played when Shaw found himself through on goal after regaining possession from the defender, but his final pass failed to find a team-mate, with the ball eventually ending up in the arms of the goalkeeper.

The elusive second goal arrived on the hour mark in some style, with Johnson firing in a terrific strike from thirty-five yards to draw level in spectacular fashion, but Newhaven snatched the lead back just two minutes later from the penalty spot.

Skipper Earle dispatched from twelve yards, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way to edge his side back in front after Ryan Knight was clumsily brought down inside the area.

Johnson was denied excellently by Cramp with eighteen minutes remaining after Goldsmith’s defence-splitting pass picked him out as Eastbourne pursued a third, but Newhaven held on to see out the win and clinch the trophy.

Manager Kieran Ridley was beaming with pride following the final whistle, and described winning the competition as a ‘special’ experience.

“The county cup is special, the whole occasion and everything about it is really special,” he said.

“They’ll be taking selfies and Snapchats for the next two months and milking it as much as they can.”

Newhaven celebrate winning the Sussex Under-23s Challenge Cup
HIGHLIGHTS - Newhaven vs. Eastbourne Town
Watch Your Instant Replay's highlights of the Sussex Under-23s Challenge Cup Final between Newhaven and Eastbourne Town.

(A selection of photographs can be found on Facebook - courtesy of Simon Roe Photography)
(Video highlights are available above and also on YouTube - courtesy of Your Instant Replay

Stats: (Newhaven FC – Eastbourne Town):
Goals: 3-2; Shots: 8-8; Shot-On-target: 6-5; Corners: 6-2; Fouls: 17-11; Offsides: 1-1; Yellow cards: 0-1; Red cards: 0-0.

Newhaven: Cramp, Davies, Earle, Vardy, Todd, Knight, Whitmore, Winser, Ambler, Connor, Silva-Carvalho. 
Subs: Martin, Meekings, Hill, Piper, Bradley.

Eastbourne Town: Platt, Goldsmith, Murphy, Colbran, Hover, Smart, Shaw, Plummer, Johnson, Pritchard, Cook. 
Subs: Tibble, Dalton, Denton.

Match report by Archie Griggs