Golds cruise to treble win
Littlehampton Town completed a historic and record-breaking treble as Joe Benn’s 60th goal of the season fired them to victory over Saltdean at Culver Road.
The Golds, SCFL Premier Division league champions, had already won the Peter Bentley Cup and - three days on from their Wembley heartache in the Vase final - added the RUR Cup to their bulging gold-tinted cabinet to go where no Sussex side has ever gone before.
In their 62nd and final game of an exhausting, historic and almost perfect campaign, much-changed Littlehampton controlled the tie throughout, and first half goals from Lee Garnham and Benn, from the spot, proved enough against a depleted United side.
Golds join manager Mitchell Hand spoke of his pride in his ‘special’ group of players, and said: “I couldn’t be happier with the game itself before we spoke about playing with pure emotion. Pushing the tactical element of the game to one side and playing with our hearts on our sleeves, winning all our battles and fighting for each other. That’s exactly what we did.
“We left everything out on the pitch because we were determined to end the season on a high and I’ve never been so proud. After the disappointment of Sunday, Wednesday night showed just why this group is so special, it is a privilege to manage them.
“This season has been unique and a historic one for the club. It goes down as the most successful in the club’s history, with us gaining promotion to our highest ever level through winning the league and with two cups as well. I want to thank everyone who has helped us along the way - the players, the fans and the committee.”
Despite their status as league runners up, Saltdean had seen manager Bryan O’Toole leave the club along with several of their key men, so Under-23s coach Luke Carter and his patched-up team were tasked with attempting to derail the Littlehampton juggernaut.
Garnham’s early sighter - saved by James Broadbent after Lucas Pattenden had picked him out - served notice of the task ahead for the East Sussex side.
Opposite number James Binfield saved well at the other end to deny Kieron Pamment on the volley, and Benn then tried his luck from distance but his effort was well held by Broadbent.
Reece Hallard flashed a shot wide but Golds went ahead in the 19th minute when Zack Harris teed up Garnham to thump in from close range after good build up work in the box.
The dust had barely settled when Littlehampton tightened their grip further. Pattenden was scythed down by Ed Bradley as he shaped to shoot and referee Pablo Aguilar immediately pointed to the spot.
Benn stepped up to dispatch the resultant penalty beyond Broadbent to reach his extraordinary tally - one surely unmatched by any player anywhere at this level. 60 goals from a striker who missed almost three months of the season with a dislocated shoulder: if ever a player epitomised his side’s ruthless brilliance, then look no further than Benn.
Broadbent kept his side in the game as he denied the impressive Harris and then Pattenden in quick succession shortly before the break.
Benn fired wide before, this time, Binfield was called into action when Ryan Warwick picked out the well-placed Tom Caplin but a strong hand from the Golds stopper preserved his side’s two goal advantage.
Pattenden caught the eye throughout with his pace and trickery and almost put the tie beyond any lingering doubt when his snapshot looked destined for the net only for Broadbent to again come to his side’s aid, this time with his foot.
In truth, Saltdean never truly looked capable of mounting a dramatic fightback which would’ve dashed Golds treble hopes and forced the drama of a penalty shootout.
Dion Jarvis fired into the side netting and Harris went close again from distance as Saltdean’s intermittent threat almost completely fizzled out save for a Hallard header from Marcus Allen’s cross, which drifted narrowly wide as the clock ticked down.
That proved to be the final act of a match which won’t live long in the memory for the neutral, but one which rubber-stamped Hand and George Gaskin’s men as the county’s pre-eminent force at step five ahead of their first ever campaign in the Isthmian League.
On 60-goal Benn, Hand added: “He’s phenomenal, the best there is at our level. He played central midfield in this one because we just wanted him on the ball and to keep us ticking over. He put in such a shift for the side - an unbelievable player and an even better person, we are lucky to have him.”
Stats (Littlehampton-Saltdean): Goals (2-0); Shots (15-6); On Target (7-2); Corners (4-4), Fouls (9-4); Offsides (2-2); Yellow Cards (0-1), Red Cards (0-0)
Littlehampton Town: Binfield; Packer, Clark, Jenkins, Hand; Herbert, Garnham, Benn; Pattenden, Harris, Jarvis.
Subs: Wiggans, Humphreys, Peake, Layton, Litterick.
Saltdean United: Broadbent; Astle, Shelley, Allen, Bradley; Pamment, Caplin, Warwick, Martin, Shooman; Hallard.
Subs: Ovenden, Edge, Mitchell-Phillips, Harmen, Barlow.
Match Report by Jamie Spoor