Essex Under 16s staged a remarkable fightback to score three times in eight minutes and snatch a dramatic, last-gasp 4-3 win against London to get their South East Counties Championship campaign off to a perfect start on Remembrance Sunday.
Trailing 3-1 with only five minutes of regular time left to play, Essex looked defeated despite a hard-working performance at Glebe FC. However, late strikes from Kai Stephen, Ted Turnham and Luke May-Parrott sealed a memorable win.
Despite enjoying the best of the opening exchanges, Essex couldn’t find a first-half breakthrough and were 2-0 down at half time. Lukas Zabulionis halved the deficit five minutes after the restart, yet London had quickly restored their two-goal lead from the penalty spot.
The visitors enjoyed a lot of early possession, but their first chance of note came on 21 minutes when Samuel Bayon pulled a low centre back to Taylon Welcome, who mis-hit his effort inside the box. Chances then went to London as Troy Perez-Duah’s corner was nodded just past the far post by Gabriel Spennato and Perez-Duah tested goalkeeper Tom Ballard with a long-range free kick.
London took a 27th-minute lead. Treyell Gordon found himself through on goal and he sent an angled finish along the ground beyond Ballard. Just three minutes later, Essex were stunned by a second goal. Skipper Nathan Gale sent a brilliant, swerving shot into the top right-hand corner from 30 yards.
Essex’s second-half response was swift. Zabulionis cut into the penalty area and curled a fine finish inside the far corner but, only four minutes later, the visitors had a mountain to climb again. Gale netted his second of the afternoon from the spot after Amir Hassan had been tripped in the box.
Looking for his hat-trick, Gale then curled wide having created space for himself but, as Essex looked for a way back into the contest, Zabulionis’ left-wing cross was volleyed just over by Tommy Ainsworth. Zabulionis himself then headed just wide from Casey Lockhart’s dead ball.
Zabulionis was involved again having been threaded through on goal and denied by a fine stop from London ‘keeper Luis Martinez. Essex had been knocking on the door though, as it looked like time was running out, there was hope on 75 minutes. Stephen side-footed home an excellent, low finish at the near post to make it 3-2.
On 78 minutes, Essex were incredibly level. A free kick was chipped into the penalty area and, with the ball bouncing around, Turnham was on-hand to squeeze it home.
Essex were buoyed, and May-Parrott had already fired just wide before he won it three minutes into added time. The ball was drilled into the penalty area from the right flank and May-Parrott shot home via a deflection to seal a most remarkable turnaround.
Essex: Tom Ballard (Brentwood Town), Samuel Bayon (Essex Schools), Matt Newberry (Ilford), Myles Onu (Ilford), Ted Penn (AFC Sudbury), Ted Turnham (Brentwood Town), Taylon Welcome (Ilford), Mason McCorkell (Ilford), Josh Ambrose (Braintree Town), Lukas Zabulionis (AFC Hornchurch), Kai Stephen (Ilford). Substitutes (repeated): Luke May-Parrott (AFC Hornchurch), Finley Long (Braintree Town), Casey Lockhart (Buckhurst Hill), Tommy Ainsworth (Essex Minors [Hornchurch]), Louis Shamshoun (Billericay Town).
London: Hasan Chaudhry (Balham), Gabriel Spennato (Dulwich Hamlet), Kalan Rock (Dulwich Hamlet), Georgi Steeds (Dulwich Hamlet), Kian Nash-Hill (Balham), Corey Doyle (Doverhouse Lions), Treyell Gordon (Sutton United), Juan Rios-Berrio (Tooting & Mitcham United), Gaizka Garcia (Tooting & Mitcham United), Nathan Gale (Welling United), Dwayne Clarke (Doverhouse Lions). Substitutes (repeated): Zayn Box (Fusion), Idris Belazregue (Holmesdale), Troy Perez-Duah (Unattached), Amir Hassan, Luis Martinez (Doverhouse Lions).
Referee: Karl Parker.
Assistant Referees: Desmond Chin and Ross Mortimer.