Bill and Ben ensured that Ebbsfleet United made it to the final of the historic 125th Kent Senior Cup Final at Priestfield Stadium on May 5 after goals from May and Bricknell overcame Whitstable Town.
The Ryman League side didn’t quite repeat their near heroics of the FA Trophy tie between the teams earlier this season, but their dogged resistance kept the result in the balance until Bricknell’s late strike wrapped it up for Steve Brown’s men.
The Fleet boss rung the changes – seven of them in all – with Brandon Hall starting in goal and Chris Sessegnon, Paul Lorraine, Yado Mambo, Michael Corcoran, Ben May and Michael West all coming into the team following the 3-0 win over Staines at the weekend.
It was nonetheless a strong side and Whitstable, ostensibly the home team in this rearranged tie with Fleet wearing their away colours, struggled to get the ball out of their half for much of the first 45 minutes. Anthony Cook was lively from the off and within the first five minutes he had a shot palmed away by goalkeeper Luke Watkins from the right wing and then a smart effort from the left flashed off the crossbar and away to safety.
On eight minutes Daryl McMahon whisked one just to the right of the upright after Sessegnon’s long-range pass had freed West to set up the chance. It was proving to be a useful runout for West who may have looked a yard off the pace in terms of fitness but whose touch remained effective. On 16 minutes he fired into the side netting after a carefully weighted lob over the Whitstable defence from Cook. And four minutes after that he started a fine move involving McMahon and then got on the end of the Fleet skipper’s return pass into the six-yard box but Watkins was down at his post to deny West a goal.
Fleet played a neat passing game and the Oysters’ defence had their work cut out keeping Cook, West and McMahon from delivering a killer ball, but for all that May and Alex Osborn struggled to get behind the visitors’ defence. Cook had another chance from distance on 26 minutes, his swerving shot parried behind by Watkins, and then Lorraine headed a corner goalwards that was cleared off the line by Craig Maguire with a suspicion of handball.
McMahon came close again courtesy of a tackle 25 yards out with such pace on it that it carried the ball looping towards the goal, where Watkins had to back-pedal to get a hand underneath it and push it clear. But for all the Fleet pressure, it was Whitstable who nearly opened the scoring on 35 minutes when one-time Fleet transfer target Scott Heard got space down the right to whip in a fine dipping shot that Hall did very well to claw away from his goal.
The lead that Fleet had been threatening to take duly arrived two minutes later, Cook and Sessegnon combining to feed May inside the box. With his back to goal and time to turn, May fired a low shot beyond Watkins to give his side one foot in the final.
The second half was a more muted affair as Whitstable blunted the Fleet attack and enjoyed more possession of their own. Four minutes after the restart, Heard got in behind Sessegnon and provided a dangerous low cross along the six-yard box past Hall. It needed the merest of touches and Mark Murrison slid in to oblige but succeeded only in knocking the ball inches wide – a big let-off for the Fleet.
Cook drove a low free-kick through a packed penalty area that Watkins turned round the post before the Oystermen picked up the pace again. Joe Kane drew Hall into a low save and then substitute Ashley Baverstock twice almost hauled his side back into the match. On 76 minutes he rasped a shot just over the bar and a minute later kept another effort down, forcing Hall to push it behind for another corner.
Fleet rang the changes and Mambo, who had battled well but clearly looked short of match fitness and with a heavily bandaged knee, made way for Osei Sankofa – while Bricknell and Dean Rance also saw action. Whitstable clearly still had intentions of pushing the game to extra time and they left themselves short at the back in the dying minutes, allowing May to get a shot away inside the box that looked goalbound but Watkins stretched out a leg to deny him.
The goalkeeper’s relief was short-lived, however, as moments later Bricknell showed why he is now second in the Skrill South scoring charts as he hammered home the decisive goal to send his team to their first Kent final since 2008.
TEAM: Hall, Sessegnon, Howe, McMahon (Rance 77), Lorraine, Mambo (Sankofa 73), Osborn (Bricknell 73), Corcoran, May, West, Cook. Subs not used: Edwards, Palmer