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Herne Bay 1 Dartford Royals 2
Dartford Royals captured the South East Counties Regional League Premier Division title in the most dramatic manner possible with a 96th minute winner in their final match of the season at the home of their closest rivals, Herne Bay.
Jenny Rose thumped home a superb goal to seal the title for her team and end their opponents' challenge for league honours. Any result other than a Royals win would have left the door open for Herne Bay to win the league by picking up points from their final two matches and it seemed certain that Emma Brown's equaliser had secured Bay a vital draw until Rose's late strike.
This title showdown was a tense and at times controversial affair with frequent stoppages for injury and committed challenges all over the pitch. There was little to choose between the teams in the opening exchanges and neither goalkeeper was troubled until the 22nd minute as defences dominated.
Bay keeper Sarah Cooper made a smart save to parry a close range effort after a left wing corner, before the best chance came on 34 minutes when Bay's Kate Foster was brought down after a clever turn but Debbie Blackmore dragged her spot kick wide of the left hand post.
Herne Bay pressed strongly for the rest of the half, Emma Brown having a shot well held by Royals keeper Jody Lazell, who then kicked clear a dangerous cross by Isabella Tulett. Home keeper Cooper did well to deny Sophie Longhurst whilst Emily Brown had a shot after a scramble in the Dartford box.
The second half was a much more open affair with chances plentiful at both ends. The drama started with a Dartford opener on 48 minutes. An inswinging corner from the right by Faye Bingham was caught by Cooper right under the bar, but she was adjudged to have carried the ball over the line as she landed.
Herne Bay now needed to press forward and they did so immediately, Foster hitting the post with a shot from a narrow angle and Tulett ran right through the Royals defence before poking a shot inches wide. Skipper Rachel Tracy tested the Royals defence from several free kicks and the visitors were hard pressed.
Royals still looked dangerous on the counter attack but it was Herne Bay who scored a fine equaliser on 67 minutes, Emily Brown racing clear to beat the advancing Lazell with a rising shot in off the underside of the bar.
Both keepers were to distinguish themselves with excellent saves in a thrilling final quarter. Cooper did superbly to deny Kelly Philpott in a one-on-one as did Lazell to save from Vicky Holness. The same player went very close with a volley just over from a right wing cross and Royals' Vicky Bull was inches away from converting after excellent work from Bingham.
There were several minutes of additional time owing to several injuries and when Cooper made another good save from Susie O'Neill it seemed that the points would be shared, leaving Bay with the task of taking maximum points from matches against Crockenhill and Anchorians to take the title on goal difference.
However, Royals grabbed the glory with a minute left. Rose had a great deal to do as she was played in on the left, judging a bouncing through ball to perfection to loft a shot beyond Cooper's dive to spark wild celebrations. There was still time for Herne Bay to force two corners before the final whistle was met with joy and despair in equal measure.
It was a fine effort from both teams who will meet again in a fortnight to contest a League Cup Final which promises another enthralling contest. Herne Bay provide an excellent match day atmosphere which far outshines clubs at much higher levels of the pyramid and have a team to be proud of but on this day it was champions Dartford Royals who took the honours.
Herne Bay: Sarah Cooper, Emma Brown, Kayleigh Mount, Beth Nugent, Debbie Blackmore, Kate Foster, Carly Farrow, Emily Brown, Isabella Tulett, Vicky Holness, Rachel Tracy. Subs: Bella Smith, Harriet Chapman, Sarah Holmes.
Dartford Royals: Jody Lazell, Lee-Anne Beaney, Louise Lynch, Ellen Thomas, Faye Bingham, Vicky Bull, Jenny Rose, Kelly Philpott, Sophie Longhurst, Susie Benham, Susie O'Neill. Subs: Emily Arnold, Laura Donnelly, Lauren Walsh, Kerry Whitehorn.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
Photos by www.jamesprickett.co.uk:
(top) Jenny Rose gets in a shot watched by Rachel Tracy
(middle) Susie Benham challenges Vicky Holness
(bottom) Dartford Royals celebrate winning the title
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