Richard Day reports from Greatness ParkGillingham began their defence of the John Ullmann Cup with a 5-3 penalty shoot-out triumph at a chilly Greatness Park last night after the two sides had shared six goals after extra-time.
Sam Muggleton, Michael Freiter, Greg Cundle, Charlie Webster and Aiden Blanchard all held their nerve to despatch their spot-kicks with some aplomb to finally end the brave challenge of the previously unbeaten Sevenoaks.
There were nine schoolboys in the Gills squad under Darren Hare and Bryan Bull, the rest were first-year scholars, and they were made to work hard for the win in a game where you were able to utilise five rolling substitutes. For the first 70-odd minutes they totally dominated, played at a good tempo, closed down, passed and moved well and had the game won but ultimately they failed to kill off their opponents despite numerous chances.
But then the home side, who play in the Ryman Youth League and are coached by former Tottenham and Chelsea midfielder Micky Hazard, fought back from two goals down to take the tie into extra-time and then went ahead before eventually succumbing to penalties.
The Gills went ahead in the tenth minute, a neat move ended with Webster being played in to the right of goal and he fired a low shot across Calum Keswick into the far corner.
Just a minute before the break it was two-nil, Blanchard found space on the left and his fierce strike was deflected past the keeper.
Numerous other chances came and went for the visitors and it wasn’t until the 73rd minute that the Oaks finally made either of the Gills two keepers really work.
Two minutes later though they pulled one back when James Hunte rounded Connor Vincent to score and with the momentum now in Sevenoaks favour they went on to equalise in the dying seconds through Jonny May who rammed home a rebound following a corner.
Saul Greenhalgh should have put Town ahead but somehow cleared the bar (and the ground) from around five yards after Vincent parried another Hunte shot but they did go ahead moments later.
With 109 minutes on the clock Tom Worner scored from close range after a Gillingham defender deflected a free-kick into his path.
With five minutes remaining however the Gills levelled matters, from Blanchard’s right-wing corner skipper Michael Freiter had a header blocked but Webster was on hand to turn in the loose ball and send the game to spot-kicks.
Muggleton sent Keswick the wrong way, Freiter beat the keeper with pace, Greg Cundle again sent the keeper the wrong way and Webster confidently fired in his before Blanchard settled matters, after some shenanigans with Keswick, by blasting the ball home.
Sam Kent, Greenhalgh and Harry Dobson converted theirs for Sevenoaks but Luke Nalder saved the second penalty from Worner low to his left.
Gills – Nalder, Emptage, Muggleton, Munnery, Staunton, Freiter, Hendricks, Blanchard, Sellens, Webster, Arif Rolling substitutes – Cundle, Lelliott, Iandolo, Dickenson, Vincent