Essex Under 18s suffered late extra time heartache as Sussex’s Jasper Pattenden headed in a 118th-minute winner to seal the South East Counties Championship in the competition’s first ever final at Sheppey United FC’s Havill Stadium.
Earlier, Essex had dealt Sussex a late blow of their own as Callum Fitzer struck in regulation stoppage time to take the tie to an extra period after Sussex’s Pattenden and Essah Jennah had edged the South Coast county ahead. Misha Djemaili’s first Essex goal had given his side an early lead.
Essex, along with Hertfordshire, switched from the former East Anglian Counties Championship to join the South East Counties last summer. The new additions took the league to seven members, with the sides split into two groups as both winners played a ‘play-off’ final on neutral territory.
Essex had topped Group ‘A’ with three wins over Kent, London and Middlesex while Sussex beat Amateur Football Alliance and Hertfordshire to top spot in Group ‘B’. On a superb surface at Sheppey, a fast start saw Sussex’s Rob Deda fire a low 25-yard free kick wide of the near post, before Essex took the lead on just five minutes.
Djemaili took a neat touch and arrowed a fine, low shot into the far corner. But the lead only lasted four minutes as Pattenden cut inside and curled a brilliant effort into the top right hand corner. As the first half moved on, it was Essex who grew into the game more and they had a number of opportunities to regain the lead.
Skipper Albert Keith pulled a shot inches wide and then saw another effort well held by Sussex goalkeeper Luke Glover. After a good move by Essex, Afolabi Soyemi-Ololade lobbed just over the top and Kieran Southgate’s shot along the floor was blocked, with Keith’s rebound saved by Glover.
Sussex stopper Glover then held onto Soyemi-Ololade’s effort at the second attempt but, on the stroke of half time, it was Sussex who came within a whisker of the lead. Ricky Aguier’s drive bounced off the foot of the left-hand post.
In a calmer second half, Sussex took the lead on 63 minutes. A cross along the ground was converted at the far post by Jennah. Then Fitzer struck in stoppage time, brilliantly spinning a defender and firing a fierce shot into the roof of the net.
On a hot afternoon, extra time action was limited, but Essex were hindered just three minutes into the additional period as Sam Mvemba was sent-off after receiving a second yellow card. Sussex looked to take advantage when Jennah brought a decent stop from Essex ‘keeper James Scammell.
But, at the other end, Fitzer was denied by a good stop from Sussex’s Glover. Sussex won it late on as a right-wing cross was cut back to the far post, where Pattenden headed in to win the title.
Essex: James Scammell (Thurrock), Ryan Knight (Romford), Sam Mvemba (Romford), Wyan Reid (Thurrock), Jack McQueen (Barking), Jake Jolliffe (Shenfield School), Tyler Richardson (AFC Hornchurch), Misha Djemaili (Romford), Afolabi Soyemi-Ololade (Grays Athletic), Albert Keith (Tilbury), Kieran Southgate (Aveley). Substitutes (repeated): Callum Fitzer (Maldon & Tiptree), Enock Soganile (Shenfield School), Dantai Demontagnac (Shenfield School), Tajuoleen Salawa (Romford).
Sussex: Luke Glover (Haywards Heath), Joel Daly (Whitehawk), Lewis Broughton (Whitehawk), Darius Goldsmith (Worthing), Lucca Cocoracchio (Loxwood), Fintan Walsh (Whitehawk), Rob Deda (Whitehawk). Harrison Mott (Worthing), Alfie Rogers (Whitehawk), Josh Gould (Lewes), Jasper Pattenden (Worthing). Substitutes (repeated): Ricky Aguier (Lewes), Tom Cooklin (Whitehawk), Harrison Parker (Lewes), Rob Mailia (Whitehawk), Essah Jenneh (Hastings United).
Referee: Colin Rogers (Sittingbourne).
Assistant Referees: Chris Russell (Sittingbourne) and Neil Currams (Sittingbourne).
Fourth Official: Andy Samways (Sheerness).