AFC Romans vs. Valley Rovers Old Boys

Romans hold nerve to edge Rovers

Words by Jamie Spoor
AFC Romans 2-2 Valley Rovers Old Boys (4-2 after penalties)

It took penalties to separate AFC Romans and Valley Rovers Old Boys last night in the Sussex Sunday Challenge Trophy Final, but in the end, it was Charlie Martin’s Romans who kept their composure to come away with the win, after an end-to-end contest at Culver Road. 

The final proved a slow burner, with the first chance not arriving until the 13th minute, when Jake Foskett rattled the upright having been played in by Billy Cooper.

AFC Romans were only an intermittent threat, but it was from one such foray forward that captain Reece Dakin headed in the opener from a corner on 26 minutes. 

Foskett fired off target when he should have done better but did not have to wait long to see his side equalize. 

This time it was Ryan Warwick who latched on to an excellent through ball to find himself one-on-one with George Watts in the Romans goal, only to proceed to slot the ball into the bottom corner, five minutes before the break. 

If the first-half was a relatively even affair, the second was anything but. 

Warwick set the tone in the opening exchanges in what would become a running duel with Watts, but the Romans keeper saved well. 

He was called into action again to tip over from the same player before substitute James Rhodes and Foskett were twice thwarted in quick succession. 

The Romans defense were struggling to contain Warwick as he went close again, this time with a strike off the post as Valley Rovers hit the frame of the goal for a second time. 

It seemed almost inevitable the relentless pressure would eventually tell and so it proved in the 64th minute. Once again it was Warwick at the heart of things as his curling free-kick beat the wall and, finally, Watts, to put his side on course for victory.

Then came the keeper’s most totemic intervention thus far. Continuing his ongoing battle with Valley Rovers hat-trick hunting forward Warwick, Watts kept his side in the tie with a spectacular double save as he first clawed away the no.77’s point-blank effort and then somehow palmed out the rebound.

Tom Shelley and Nick Williams became the latest duo to be denied by the superhuman efforts of the Romans keeper as the clock ticked down. 

It looked as though all those heroics would prove in vain until Josh Newman’s late shot from a corner took a deflection off Rovers skipper Amiet and found its way in to pave the way for penalties. 

In the shootout, it was Rovers who blinked first, with Rhodes hitting the post with his side's second penalty.

Romans, however, were imperious, putting away each of their penalties, with Ben Symes putting away the decisive spot kick to win his side the Sussex Sunday Challenge Trophy.

Speaking after the game, Romans manager Martin was quick to laud praise on his side, and especially goalkeeper Watts.

They were indebted to their goalkeeper George Watts - at times a one man wall of defiance in the face of a fierce Valley Rovers Old Boys onslaught, a fact not lost on Martin afterwards.

“Sometimes you need a bit of luck in football, and we certainly had that tonight,” he said, “you couldn’t say we were anywhere near our best but we just had to dig in at 2-1, we had to work hard and just keep ourselves in the game.

“I fancied us when we got to penalties, all the boys were confident of stepping up and we held our nerve. It always helps when they miss two back-to-back, but we rode our luck, we came under heavy pressure but held firm and George (Watts) was a huge part of that for us.

“We’re a team so it’s never about one individual but George deserves a special mention as he was outstanding, some of his saves were top class and I don’t know where we would be without him.”

Martin went on to add: “We’ve won the league, this cup and the Division 2 Cup with another semi-final to come, so if we go on to win all four I might just retire into the sunset!”

AFC Romans vs. Valley Rovers Old Boys
AFC Romans vs. Valley Rovers Old Boys - 07-03-24
Highlights from the Sussex Sunday Challenge Trophy Final - Powered by Your Instant Replay

(A selection of photographs can be found on Facebook - courtesy of Simon Roe Photography)

(Video highlights are available above and on YouTube - courtesy of Your Instant Replay)

Stats (AFC Romans - Valley Rovers Old Boys): Goals (2-2), Shots (7-17), On Target (2-9), Corners (6-4), Fouls (5-6), Offsides (2-1), Yellow cards (0-1), Red cards (0-0) 

AFC Romans: Watts, Symes, Dakin, Porton, Beales, Ewing, Carpenter, Stenning, Kirkland, Jones, Newman.
Subs: Sklar, Martin, Daly, Nutt.

Valley Rovers Old Boys: Thompson, E.South, Shelley, Amiet, Bartlett, Cash, Gathern, Dickens, Cooper, Warwick, Foskett.
Subs: Otley, Webb, Williams, Rhodes, I.South. 

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