A tense match, especially for those on the touchline, saw Sevenoaks come back from a goal down to claim a draw against a forceful and determined Croydon Athletic team which was enough for them to secure the Tandridge Division C title and end the season with a trophy and an unbeaten record.
Croydon needed to win to give them a chance and they started with the clear intent of putting the game out of Sevenoaks reach as soon as possible. Arron Donald was in the heart of the action from the off, getting in some decisive blocks in the first few minutes. This Croydon side were a strong team, adding a strong physical presence to their undoubted skill and organisation. The home team had to weather this storm and hope it would blow out or be blown away.
They were struggling to get the ball out of their half for the first 15 minutes, no sooner was it cleared then it was coming back in as the determined Croydon players tried to make that vital break through Gradually, Sevenoaks began to edge back into it and nearly took the lead with one of their first attacks. Eddie Lane burst into the box and Kai Okulaja got a shot in but the goalkeeper smothered the ball after a little bit of penalty box pin ball. Kai however picked up an injury in the melee and hobbled off, which could be a serious blow to the home side’s chances.
Shortly afterwards, Croydon took the lead. It was perhaps inevitable, but it was still a little fortuitous. Sevenoaks failed to close their forward down and he took the opportunity to float in a shot cum cross which evaded the despairing reach of George Porter in goal. The visitors celebrated wildly as did their supporters did at the side of the pitch.
That burst of engagement from Sevenoaks faded for a while as Croydon rode the wave of confidence following the goal, the Blues were really under the cosh and were being out fought and out thought. Nerves appeared to be getting to them but they stuck at it and although they had to defend for much of the half they were still only a goal down and if this team has shown anything throughout the season, it is that they don’t give up and they have a goal in them.
The referee blew for half time and the team were able to grab a breather to return for a vital final 40 minutes.
The second period almost started with a disaster for Sevenoaks, a mix up between the centre-backs almost allowed the Croydon striker through but George Porter made a vital save with his knee to save the day (for the moment, anyway). They put that behind them and play calmed down and they began to ask some proper questions of the away team for the first time in the game
After 10 minutes that pressure paid off. Brandon Parsons collected the ball near the halfway line and drove forward, looking up he laid a delightful ball through to Okulaja on the right. With defenders bearing down on him, he held his nerve into the box and his shot went under the goalkeeper and into the net to level the scores. He was then swamped by his teammates as the home supports yelled their appreciation.
There was still 30 minutes to play and everything to play for so Sevenoaks could not site back. A draw would be enough for them but Croydon had shown enough intent so far to suggest they could readily get a goal in that time.
The game was beginning to open up. Croydon looked especially dangerous from set pieces and had a couple of good chances with a rasping shot sailing just over and shortly after a free kick slamming against the cross bar. The visitors were pushing high up the pitch and often their goal keeper was the only one remaining in their half. The upside for Sevenoaks was that they looked dangerous on the break and created a number of chances that would surely have settled the game but for good defending and excellent saves from their goalkeeper.
It was end to end stuff and as the game entered the last 10 minutes the tension was getting unbearable for both sets of fans, the away fans were getting quite rowdy and so were their players as the pressure to find another goal grew on them. They were giving away fouls and taking issue with the referee’s decisions
The last five minutes were breathless, Croydon pushed forward, George Porter stopped a shot from point bank range. A lightning break from their penalty box nearly won Sevenoaks the game. Kai rode an attempted block, leapt a crude tackle and lined up a shot but it flew narrowly over.
The clock ticked down and it was almost Croydon’s moment. Joe Benfield nearly had an Eriksen moment as a mistake gifted an opening to the other side, they were in on goal but he made a remarkable recovery appearing from nowhere to block the ball as it headed towards the goal.
The resultant corner was cleared and the ball went up the other end and a few moments later the whistle blew, the Croydon team fell to the ground in despair but for Sevenoaks it was a moment of sheer joy, they gathered together and then opened the circle to welcome the injured Josh Penfold to enjoy those team celebrations, a reflection of the team spirit that carried them to the title.
A fantastic performance, a fantastic result and they finish the season with a record of 14 wins , 2 draws but no losses. They had some good wins at the beginning of the season but have had to dig out results on a number of occasions but just as they did today they never stopped believing, or working for each other until the final whistle blew.