Essex Under 16s got off the mark in the South East Counties Championship as an entertaining second half brought a share of the spoils with Kent at Redbridge FC.
Following a goalless and largely uneventful first half, Essex snatched a two-goal second-period lead through Reggie Hubbard’s brace, but a strike from Charlie Dale and an unfortunate own goal by Tyler Caverner saw Kent claw the contest back level.
Having finished the previous campaign pointless, Essex will be pleased to put that right at the first attempt this time around under the joint management of Carl Papworth and Liam Saxton. With just two weeks until the side’s next fixture - away to champions the Amateur Football Alliance on 9th November - this point can be swiftly built upon.
A day of drizzle made the Oakside surface slick and, as both sides looked to get to grips with the speed of the pitch, there was a good chance for the visitors on 8 minutes. George Hall lobbed home goalkeeper Kaya Ali, but Jack Renwick cleared well off the goal line. A half chance for the away side then fell to Hall, who found space and dragged a shot wide of the near post before Essex came closest to breaking the deadlock in the first half.
James Lickford’s shot was blocked after Donnell Ofori had got past ‘keeper Ben Folkard and cut the ball back and, moments later, skipper Bailey Hossack tested Folkard from range, with the Kent stopper holding on well. Prior to the interval, another opening for Kent’s Hall saw the forward screw an effort wide from six yards.
Eight minutes into the second half, a resurgent Essex side took the lead. Hubbard arrowed an excellent finish across substitute goalkeeper Ryan Tyler and into the far corner. A firm long-range drive from Essex midfielder Frederick King then dropped just wide of the right-hand post before the lead was doubled on 54 minutes.
Hubbard’s initial effort was blocked by Tyler, but he picked up the rebound and slotted home. Within three minutes, the visitors had worked a way back into the game as they halved the deficit. A good move on the right saw the ball played in to Dale, who finished well beyond Essex ‘keeper Charlie Page.
Essex had chances to finish off the game as Lickford steered a shot inches wide of the near post and Hubbard lifted a lob onto the roof of the net but, with eight minutes remaining, Kent grabbed a slightly unlikely leveller. Dale rifled in a left-flank cross which Caverner could only deflect into his own net.
Essex: Kaya Ali (Harlow Town), Donnell Ofori (Palmer Catholic Academy), Tyler Caverner (Billericay Town), Jack Hauser (Billericay Town), Bailey Hossack (AFC Hornchurch), Jack Renwick (Billericay Town), Josh Okpa (Kingsford School), Frederick King (Maldon & Tiptree), Reggie Hubbard (Billericay Town), James Lickford (AFC Hornchurch), Kakha Gogshelidze (Brentwood Town). Substitutes (repeated): Charlie Page (Ryan), Tayeeb Elegushi (St Edward’s School), Owen Young (Concord Rangers), Toki Hassan (Chelmsford City).
Kent: Ben Folkard (Aylesford), Alexander Oketta (Greenway Aces), Mali Emeka (Dartford), Joshua Coombs (Dartford), Luke Exall (Aylesford), Samuel Aziaya (Bromley), Charlie Dale (Dover Athletic), Jacob Gilbert (Bearstead), George Hall (Bearstead), Ross Johnstone (Kennington), Jacob Grant (Folkestone Invicta). Substitutes (repeated): Zak Emmings (Aylesford), Zach Collett (Dartford), Joshua Ladlow (Bearstead), Ryan Tyler (Dover Athletic).
Referee: Sam Wigington (Stanford-le-Hope).
Assistant Referees: Oliver Walker (Barking) and Charlie Roberts (Gidea Park).