Brightlingsea Town 1-3 Rayleigh Town (BBC Essex Saturday Premier Cup Final) 150524 5

Rayleigh Town Lift Saturday Premier Cup

Brightlingsea Town 1-3 Rayleigh Town, Wednesday 15th May 2024, Aveley FC, Kick-Off 8:00pm, BBC Essex Saturday Premier Cup Final.

Rayleigh Town Manager, Rob Hodgson, hopes their first ever BBC Essex Saturday Premier Cup Final victory will be the catalyst for more success at the club as two Arnold Acheampong goals (one penalty) and another from Owen Barratt saw them lift the prestigious silverware at Aveley FC’s Parkside home.

Acheampong put the ProKit UK Essex Olympian League Premier Division leaders in front with a brilliant free kick on 45 minutes and added a second from the spot in the 61st minute. Barratt put the match out of Brightlingsea’s sight with a 73rd-minute third, meaning Cal Lee’s own free kick nine minutes into injury time was a mere consolation.

“We're definitely looking to push on,” explained Hodgson about Rayleigh’s future after the match. “We know that, obviously, it's the first time us being in the Thurlow Nunn [Eastern Counties League] for quite a while, so it'd be nice to kick on. I don't want to say where we expect or hope to finish next season, but we will be looking to push up the table, 100%.”

Rayleigh started quickly in this final and, inside the 1st minute, Brightlingsea goalkeeper Matt Grove was forced to claw Barratt’s close-range header back out from on the goal line. However, Brightlingsea weathered that storm and crafted a 24th-minute opportunity of their own. Ashley Sauka, who had scored in three separate rounds on his team’s way to the final, was sent through on goal but Rayleigh stopper, Joshua Hudson, proved equal to his prodded effort.

Set pieces appeared to be a route towards a breakthrough for Rayleigh, Barratt again nodding narrowly wide from a corner on 28 minutes and the unmarked Ollie Quick getting underneath his 34th-minute effort at the near post and heading over. Brightlingsea’s threat often derived from quick breakaways, though it was their own dead ball, a Lee free kick, which brushed the top of the net on its way over on 37 minutes. That was as close as they came in the first half.

As the interval approached, Grove was called into action again to thwart Rayleigh’s experienced Joe Olley at the far post, diving at his feet to deny him a tap-in when ready to pounce. Tough Rayleigh did grab a lead seconds before the whistle when Acheampong tried his luck from long range and brilliantly found the top corner to give his side a deserved lead. It was an excellent strike, and Hodgson revealed it was partly down to an instruction given to his players in training.

The former Hullbridge Sports boss explained: “We've been telling our players for weeks and weeks and weeks now to pull the trigger on the edge of the area. Because we work on patterns and things like that, a lot of it is to get the ball wide and cut inside for tap-ins, but we've tried to encourage shooting on the outside. So, thankfully, it was four quick passes up and there was nothing on them. He took the advice and he shot and it was a great goal.”

But Hodgson knew he still had second-half changes to make: “I think they kept trying to switch it into our left-back position. Their right-wing was holding and, to be fair to him, he was good with his movement. He was coming inside a lot and our left-back was struggling to deal with it in the first half. They tried that again in the second half, but I think we dealt with that a little bit better.”

Brightlingsea, of the Essex & Suffolk Border League, still re-emerged from half time with renewed purpose, however, and top scorer Sauka stayed just onside in the 51st minute to charge through on goal to the right, but he disappointingly shot high and wide of the near post. At the other end three minutes later came a potentially pivotal moment.

A neat ball was sent over the top to Rayleigh wide man Charlie Little, whose goalbound half-volley was acrobatically saved, one-handed, by diving ‘keeper Grove. Nevertheless, Rayleigh were able to double their lead on 61 minutes through Acheampong again. Youngster Barratt dribbled into the box and was fouled, enabling the skilful winger to find the bottom corner with a cool penalty for his, and his team’s, second.

Rayleigh were flying by this stage and some subsequent excellent build-up from Acheampong again saw him surge forward and square to Barratt. His low strike across goal from the left was agonisingly wide, but he did deservedly get on the scoresheet on 73 minutes. Barratt progressed to just inside the box and waited patiently for the opportunity to drill into the bottom left-hand corner.

It was at this point that Hodgson felt Rayleigh had finally killed the game off: “I felt that we got the ball down a lot more, we moved the ball a lot better. They were tiring, space was opening up, gaps were opening up and we were looking to punish a little bit more. I felt more comfortable then, but they were dangerous, they kept trying to go in behind and they did have a little bit of pace in the wide area, so they were causing problems.”

Deep into injury time, Acheampong, a constant threat, nearly grabbed his hat-trick, but he shot straight at Grove from ten yards. And it was Brightlingsea who had the final say with a goal of their own in one of the final attacks of the match. Moments before full time, Lee’s free kick deceived the goalkeeper and snuck under the crossbar into the net.

“I'm delighted,” Hodgson summarised, with football at a higher level in front of them next term. “We made hard work of it first half, but the boys were nervous because of the occasion. Once we had a chat with them at half time, they sort of grew into the rhythm and I was happy with the second half performance. It was well deserved.”

Brightlingsea Town: Matt Grove, Cal Lee, Ricky Griggs (C), Jake Bethell, Ben Elliott, Matt Simmons, Daryl Wallis, Liam Close, Ashley Sauka, Rocha Fosker, Dom Ryan. Substitutes: Richard Ekins, Rowan Hunt, Terrance Kangandu, Lee Gomesh, Phillip Burnett. Manager: Keiron Baker.

Rayleigh Town: Joshua Hudson, Charlie Seaden (C), Louis Bazely, Taylor Armstrong, Ollie Quick, Alfie Larkin, Charlie Little, Joe Olley, Owen Barratt, Adam Wright, Arnold Acheampong. Substitutes: Nathan Scarborough, Jimmy Dalton, Matt Tapley, Ben Baxter, Rob Hodgson. Manager: Rob Hodgson.

Referee: Richard Baker (Colchester).

Assistant Referees: Joe Wise (Basildon) and Robert Willcocks (Braintree).

Fourth Official: Simon Brickwood (Canvey Island).

Attendance: 208.


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