Championes, Championes !
U18s snatch league title by one point with victory over K's
Championes, Championes rang around Banstead Athletic’s Merland Rise as Tunbridge Angels’ Under-18 side celebrated winning the Ryman Youth Eastern Division. A week previously they had looked on in despair as their Cup Final opponents, Whitehawk, celebrated in the same manner, now it was their turn.
And with the title win comes the opportunity to avenge that defeat as Whitehawk will visit Longmead Stadium on Tuesday evening for a play-off semi-final.
A damp, cold evening was ultimately brought to a memorable conclusion, but nobody was taking anything for granted as hosts and basement club, Kingstonian threatened to tear up the script for the evening.
Sid Sollis served out the last of his suspended games and the management team opted to go with two up front, Jack Cussen and Guy Taylor, to add the cutting edge.
The Angels suffered a setback in the minutes before kick-off when skipper Callum Adonis-Taylor reported feeling ill and needed to be replaced by Ryan Gallifant.
Perhaps this contributed to a disorganised opening 10 minutes in which Kingstonian scored and also had another couple of good chances that could have left the visitors with a mountain to climb.
With no team sheet for the hosts available I can only refer to the Kingstonian side by number.
After two minutes, a cross from the left brought a hasty clearance under pressure that only managed to strike the unwitting torso of Oliver Baker and rebound past a stranded Lewis Mitchell.
Encouraged by their early success, Mitchell had to make two more saves, one a plunging effort at his near post as Kingstonian looked to capitalise on their opening.
Tonbridge, in the meantime, were looking out of salts. Their passing, normally sharp was poor and service to the front two, who were also making ill-judged runs, was sparse.
When, after 17 minutes, Mitchell was once more brought into action it was time for somebody in a Tonbridge shirt to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Up stepped captain for the night, Tommy Chapman.
A free kick from the left from Chapman saw Liam Smith’s header deflected wide for a corner and the Angels finally showed signs of coming to the party.
Then, after 34 minutes, a defence splitting pass through the middle from Chapman sent Cussen clear to bury his opportunity into the bottom corner.
The Angels were now a different side and pulling all the strings. Jack Bray and Taylor had chances which they pulled wide before, on the stroke of half-time they received a free kick on the right hand side of the box, 20 yards from goal. Chapman drilled the free kick, low past the wall and into the corner to give Tonbridge a half-time lead.
Early second half success gave Tonbridge some breathing space as, after two minutes, another free kick, from who else but Chapman, was beautifully flighted towards the late run of Bray who stole in to head home.
One more goal could have made the second period a lot more comfortable for the Tonbridge support but, unfortunately, that was a long time coming as chances came and went with regular abandon.
The Kingstonian goalkeeper did well to save twice at the feet of Taylor whilst a header from Smith also went wide.
But, after 66 minutes, it was Kingstonian that had the opportunity to bring themselves right back into the game when they were awarded a penalty, seemingly for handball, that also brought a booking for Baker.
Mitchell judged correctly saving the well-struck spot kick low to his right.
Man of the Match Chapman hobbled from the pitch to be replaced by Jardell Conteh with 10 minutes remaining.
The party could begin in the first minute of added time when a cross from the left was bundled home by either Liam Smith or a defender but after the season the Tonbridge player has had who is going to deny him the final goal.
The final whistle saw the Tonbridge bench empty as they joined their team mates for the excited celebrations. This is the fourth successive year that this talented team have won their relative age group since coming together as 13-year-olds.
Please come along on Tuesday evening to give them your valued support as they endeavour to become the Ryman's "Champions of Champions". Kick-off at 19:45.
Thanks as ever to Wink Tomkinson for report