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Kent Under 18s staged a remarkable second-half fightback to stun Essex in a long-awaited return to South-East Counties Championship action.
In a first representative fixture since March 2020, Essex took a 2-0 lead within half an hour. But, after seeing Kent halve the deficit shortly before the interval, a final 18 minutes to forget saw the visitors score four times to seal victory.
It was a first match in charge for new Under 18s Management Team, Tom Harding and Eamonn Kearney, and the duo will have seen plenty of positives to take into the remaining fixtures against the Amateur Football Alliance and Bedfordshire, despite the disappointing end to the game.
Essex dominated for much of the first half, but took 20 minutes to break the deadlock. Sid Walker curled home a fine finish from 20 yards. That lead was doubled nine minutes later courtesy of another excellent long-range effort as Leur Hysaj fired a fine, angled shot into the far left-hand corner of the goal.
Kent goalkeeper Matt Larkin made a good save to tip Daniel Hoxha’s dipping effort over the bar and his heroics helped his side get back into the game. Jamie Finlayson rifled home a low strike three minutes prior to half time to give the home side something to think about.
The visitors threatened after the break as Jayden Wilson saw his shot along the floor well saved by Essex ‘keeper Jake Anderson, though they grabbed a leveller on 72 minutes. Jack Nelson was sent through on goal and he curled into the far right-hand corner.
Two minutes later, the turnaround was complete. Reiss Skeen drilled home a brilliant free kick before repeating the trick on 83 minutes, this time Skeen converting from fully 35 yards.
Within a minute of the fourth, the visitors added a fifth. Harry Laurence twisted his way through and found the back of the net. Essex were spared conceding again two minutes from time when Wilson’s angled effort bounced to safety off the foot of the post.
Essex: Woody Wells (Aveley), Finn Wilkes (Chelmsford City), Reiss Hatwell (Brentwood Town), Sam Carter (Concord Rangers), Osazee Osas (Grays Athletic), Jack Turner (Barking), Kevin Kwiek (Bowers & Pitsea), Sid Walker (Brentwood Town), Daniel Hoxha (Aveley), Leur Hysaj (Barking), Kian Herbert (Chelmsford City). Substitutes (repeated): Freddie Lambert (Aveley), Sam Wade (Chelmsford City), Zolani Dlodlo (Concord Rangers), Jake Anderson (Walthamstow).
Kent: Matt Larkin (Tunbridge Wells), Jayden Wilson (Ashford United), Harry Laurence (Erith Town), Bleu Landau (Sheppey United), Michael Peate (Sevenoaks Town), Thomas Wills (Dover Athletic), Sam Archibald (Erith Town), Jamie Finlayson (Dover Athletic), Jack Nelson (Dover Athletic), George McIlroy (Whitstable Town), Jeremiah Bamgbose (Whitstable Town). Substitutes (repeated): Reiss Skeen (Sevenoaks Town), Jenson Cromanty (Metrogas), Alfie Prior (Whitstable Town).
Referee: Fabio Roque.
Assistant Referees: Craig Wood and Alfie Treacher.