Saturday 10th May 2008

Saturday 10th May 2008
Stephen McCartney reports from Wembley Stadium

THE BRAVEHEARTS from Ebbsfleet United have brought home the FA Carlsberg Trophy to the PROUD Kentish Football Family for the very first time - defeating favourites Torquay United in an emotional day out at Wembley Stadium today.

At least 25,000 fans made the pilgrimage from Kent to Wembley Stadium and thanks to another HEROIC display from the Fleet - eclipsing their games against Burton Albion and Aldershot Town - brought the silverware back to Stonebridge Road.

A combination of Danny Slatter, whose been out all season, having endured two operations on his injured knee, and club skipper Paul McCarthy climbed those 107 steps towards the Royal Box to hold aloft Non-League Football’s biggest prize.

It sparked off the biggest party in Kent - it doesn’t get any better than this!

Former Torquay United man, Chris McPhee went from zero to HERO, all within the space of five minutes towards the end of the first half.

He bounced back from his 40th minute penalty miss - the first one of his professional career - saved by goalkeeper Martin Rice, to lift the Wembley Stadium roof, on the stroke of half-time.

Striker John Akinde, who worked tirelessly throughout on this big stage, chased down a long ball from Frenchman Sacha Opinel and stole the ball off Chris Todd down by the left by-line.

The home-grown teenage striker side-footed the ball across the face of the goal-mouth and McPhee slid in at the far post to stab the ball into the bottom right-hand corner from six-yards - getting to the ball before defender Kevin Nicholson - to send the Fleet fans wild.

However, after a nervy start from the Kent side, it could have been so different if luck turned against them in the opening fifteen minutes.

Ebbsfleet United goalkeeper Lance Cronin proved once again why he’s England’s best with the game’s first chance.

Cronin got down low to his left to turn Nicholson’s left-footed drilled 30-yard free-kick around his post.

Nicholson then turned provider when his free-kick was glanced agonisingly past the far post by striker Tim Sills, just eight-yards from goal.

But when Roscoe D’Sane, who later went off with a shoulder injury, drilled his 14th minute right-footed shot past the foot of the right-hand post from ten-yards, after Lee Phillips headed back Nicholson’s cross, that gave the Kent side the kick they needed.

Stacy Long, tipped by many to score at Wembley today, had the Fleet’s first chance when his right-footed shot from 25-yards sailed just over the crossbar.

Torquay United, however, looked dangerous early on and another Nicholson cross was headed over from eight-yards, this time by Sills.

And a towering header from Chris Zebroski dropped over Cronin’s crossbar from ten-yards before the Fleet’s best chance arrived on 21 minutes.

Akinde’s square pass to Long was cut out and the ball found it’s way to Michael Bostwick, whose right-footed drive brought a fine low save from Rice, diving to his right, who gathered the ball at the feet of the approaching Luke Moore.

The Fleet were now getting to grips with the big occasion and Moore tried his luck from the edge of the shot but once again Rice made the save.

Opinel, meanwhile, tried his luck from distance after 27 minutes, his right-footed shot from 30-yards, curling agonisingly past the top of the far post.

And Bostwick’s right-wing cross was met by a towering header from Akinde, six-yards out, which dropped agonisingly past the post.

But the Fleet fans were celebrating for a brief moment when referee Mr Martin Anderson pointed to the penalty spot after 40 minutes.

McPhee played in Moore behind the Torquay defence and the home-grown striker was brought down by Rice, who was booked.

Rice, however, dived to his left to make the save from McPhee’s spot-kick.

However, McPhee scored his 12th goal of the season - and most precious of his life - when he converted Akinde’s low centre on the stroke of half-time.

McPhee tugged his shirt as he celebrated, revealing a white t-shirt with “4 U SIS” written on it in black letters - and later dedicated his goal to his sister who suffers from MS.

Cue wild scenes of celebration from thousands of Kent fans and the realisation that the Fleet were only 45 minutes away from something very special.

The Fleet’s confidence - both on and off the pitch - grew and several Ebbsfleet Wave’s went around half the stadium - Fleet fans booing their Devon counterparts for not taking part.

Just past the hour, Long’s right-footed free-kick was parried by the diving Rice into Akinde’s path and his stabbed shot agonisingly bounced off the foot of the left-hand post, rebounded off the young striker and rolled wide.

Torquay United were denied an equaliser with seventeen minutes left when Sills’ header was kicked off the line by Long, positioned beside the left-hand post.

But James Smith, who formed a resilient partnership with McCarthy at the heart of the Kent side’s defence, squandered an excellent chance to double the lead just two minutes later.

Smith was left unmarked just eight-yards from goal but could only steer his header from Long’s free-kick over the crossbar.

And when Torquay missed another excellent chance, you knew that the name of Ebbsfleet United would be engraved on the Trophy.

Substitute Elliott Benyon could only look on in despair as his glancing header, following Zebroski’s cross from the left, sailed just past the far post.

Long cracked a right-footed shot just over the crossbar from 12-yards, following another excellent run from Akinde, who had squared the ball to the man that scored late into extra time to seal the Fleet’s 1-0 win over Burton Albion in the quarter-finals.

And the scenes after the final whistle will live in our memories forever.


Ebbsfleet United: Lance Cronin, Peter Hawkins, James Smith, Paul McCarthy, Chris McPhee, Neil Barrett, Michael Bostwick, Stacy Long (Gary MacDoanld 83), Sacha Opinel, Luke Moore, John Akinde.
Subs: Sam Mott, Chukki Erribenne, Mark Ricketts, George Purcell.

Goals: Chris McPhee 45

Missed Penalty: Chris McPhee 40 (saved)

Booked: Paul McCarthy 11, James Smith 72, Luke Moore 76

Torquay United: Martin Rice, Kevin Nicholson, Steve Woods, Chris Todd, Lee Mansell, Tim Sills (Kevin Hill 88), Lee Phillips (Danny Stevens 45), Chris Hargreaves, Roscoe D’Sane (Elliott Benyon 66), Steve Adams, Chris Zebroski.
Subs: Chris Robertson, Matt Hockley.

Booked: Martin Rice 40

Attendance: 40,186
Referee: Mr Mark Atkinson
Assistants: Mr John Flynn & Mr Barry Sygmuta
Fourth Official: Mr Stuart Attwell