Storrington Community vs. Rustington HERO

Donnelly wins Rustington Intermediate Cup

Words by Jamie Spoor
Storrington Community 1-2 Rustington

Tom Donnelly stepped off the bench and fired his Rustington side to a third Sussex Intermediate Challenge Cup triumph last night at Culver Road, at the expense of local divisional rivals Storrington Community.

Dave Ray’s league champions will return to senior football next season after a dominant campaign in which they stormed to the Southern Combination Football League (SCFL) Division Two title. 

But with penalties looming and a league and cup double on the line, the Swans wings were clipped in the dying moments as Donnelly - on as a second-half sub - turned and saw his deflected shot wriggle into the net beyond veteran keeper Gary Elliott, just three minutes from time. 

Rustington were contesting their second cup final of the season having lost out to Jarvis Brook in the SCFL Division Two Cup but this time, there was to be no double dose of final disappointment. 

Storrington were looking to end a stellar season with Intermediate football’s biggest prize ahead of their Division One return and underlined their favorites tag with a fast start.

Matt Hards set the tone when he called Rustington’s Billy Nash into action with the tie only three minutes on the clock, letting fly with a dipping 20 yarder having cut inside, but Nash was equal to the strike and tipped it away. 

At the other end, Nash’s veteran opposite number, Storrington stalwart Gary Elliott, had to be on his toes when a Jack Newhouse free-kick beat the wall and had to be dealt with by the diving stopper.

That proved to be only a temporary reprieve though as Rustington took the lead from the resultant corner, albeit in slightly bizarre fashion. 

Long serving skipper Chris Darwin’s in-swinging corner evaded everyone and found its way in, initially, it seemed, via the aid of a Storrington head. But upon closer inspection it appeared no one else had got a touch and the league’s top scorer added another to his tally for a 27th goal of the season. 

Darwin went close again when he put the Swans defence under pressure and stabbed wide having seized on an under-hit clearance. 

Alec Wilkinson flashed a shot over the top for Storrington in the final action of the opening half, as his side continued to search for a so far elusive equalizer.

The second-half started with Darwin firing an angled effort off target, before the Swans carved out, and squandered, two gilt edged openings in quick succession. 

First, Hards was in the thick of things again as he found himself clean through with only Nash to beat, but his shot lacked power and the stopper got down well to block.

Then, four minutes later came the best chance of the match so far. The recently introduced Donnelly crossed to pick out the onrushing Wiggins, unmarked eight yards from goal, but he pushed his header over the top when it looked easier to score.

Perhaps predictably, Rustington were made to rue those misses when the equaliser arrived in the 75th minute.

After a spell of persistent Storrington pressure, Hards collected the ball on the edge of the box and fired in a 20-yarder beyond Nash without breaking stride. 

Storrington ended the game as they had started, on the front foot with Rustington forced deep and looking to rely on counter-attacks as their best source of a winner.

It was from one such foray forward that the decisive moment came, as Martin Lawrence found fellow sub Donnelly to spin, get his shot off, and find the net with the aid of a deflection. 

But the high flying Swans are league champions for a reason and made Rustington sweat for victory. 

With four minutes added on, Storrington came within inches of an even more dramatic finale. Archie Thorpe picked out Wilkinson who met the ball with a diving header only to see his effort cannon back off the upright and bounce away to safety.

With that, their grip on the cup was loosened, their hopes of a double were over and it was Rustington whom etched their name on the trophy for the first time since 2018. 

Speaking after the game, Rustington’s joint managers Tom Barnes and Spencer Vine said: “I thought we started the game well, kept our shape and pressed them. Having got our noses in front we knew they would react strongly and we had to defend deep and stay compact. 

“Fortunately, we have probably the best defence in the league with the experience of Alex Duncan and Shay Wiggins. Jake (Sayers) is one of the best centre-halves at this level and Reg (Miles) has been great for us too, although he unfortunately had to go off. 

“We were always able to cause them problems and we always felt we’d get one more chance at the end, although of course penalties always come into your thinking in a situation like that. We were mentally preparing but had confidence the boys could step up from the spot if needed.

“Fortunately, it didn’t come to that and having lost to Jarvis Brook where things didn’t quite go our way it was nice it fell for us this time, and I think losing that final gave us an extra little edge tonight.” 

Storrington Community vs. Rustington YT
Storrington Community vs. Rustington - 30-04-24
Highlights from the Sussex Intermediate Challenge Cup Final - Powered by Your Instant Replay!

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

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

Stats (Storrington Community-Rustington): Goals (1-2); Shots (11-10); On Target (4-6); Corners (5-2); Fouls (8-11); Offsides (2-4); Yellow cards (1-4); Red cards (0-0). 

Storrington Community: Elliott (GK) Thorpe, Haulkham, Wilkinson, Harvey, Jenkins (C), Hide, Clarke, Suter, Hards, Smart. 
Subs: Wilson, Lees, Charlwood, Simbanda, Simpkin.

Rustington: Nash (GK) Sayers, Wiggins, Miles, Duncan, Reynolds, Bennett, Da Costa, Darwin (C), Newhouse, Collett.
Subs: De Gruchy, Lawrence, Donnelly, Banfield, Cooper. 

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