Iden progressed through to the final of the Birchwood Group challenge cup defeating Battle Baptists 4-2 after extra time at the park on Saturday afternoon. Manager Chip Winton had to make changes to the side 30 minutes before kick-off due to transport issues with himself, Justin Wall and Kyran Wall replacing the travelling trios.
For many of the players it would have been the first time they had set eyes on each other as the Baptists gained promotion only this season, but one player of the travelling side actually had once been an Iden player – Dean Boyd – and it was Boyd who opened the scoring with a fantastic effort from 25 yards, putting Iden behind early in the first half.
The home side’s afternoon shortly got worse with Ben Heffernan replacing the injured Kyran Wall then, bizarrely, no less than five minutes later, Heffernan grounding himself and needing to be replaced by Jake Bryant.
Battle must have thought “happy days” as their opponents rejigged. Boyd shot and was saved well by Shane Ridgers, with the ball falling to an untracked winger to score into an empty net.
With nothing to lose, the attacking threats of Chris Gould, Sam Cooper, Rob Levett and manager Winton went on the hunt of a goal before the break. The feeling running through the home side was simply that the game could still be won.
An unlikely player, Darren Warne, very nearly halved the deficit with a bullet header from a beautifully driven corner from Gould. The ball flew past the keeper but pinged off the inside of the post into the hands of the goalie before the ref blew for half time.
The second half started and from the off it was all about the home side, with the front pairing of Cooper and Levett causing a serious threat. Iden needed a touch of class to break the Baptists’ strong hold and it came from the outside right foot of manager Winton, who floated in an alluring cross and found Cooper’s big head, resulting in a goal: 2-1 game on!
In a very short space of time decisions went against the home side, from fouls to offsides, resulting in Iden losing not only a player but also the manager for foul and abusive language . . . How would Iden respond?
Returning Captain Tom Harris took to the task of sorting his side, moving himself into midfield and Warne to centre back and what a call it was. Iden dominated the game with 10 men. Some strange decisions from the officials provoked many players, resulting in bookings, yet all seemed forgiven when Gould supplied a cross that either Levett or the opposing goalkeeper bundled into the net for an equaliser. Definitely one for the dubious goal committee.
With 10 minutes of regular time remaining, Iden pressed hard with a numerical disadvantage but found themselves lucky not to be given a penalty against them. Ridgers claiming that a high ball fell awkwardly on his back/neck, Luke Willis in concern picked up the ball and booted out for a throw before the referee had blown his whistle to halt the game. Full time followed and extra time loomed.
Remarkably, Iden took the lead for the first time, Warne setting the pacy Cooper through, who struck with a beauteous finish. The Baptists looked deflated, Iden were buzzing. After playing 105 minutes (50 of them with 10 men) the likes of Justin Wall and Big Francis Walker struggled to talk yet saved enough energy to dig in. Many players started to cramp up yet the home team stayed as one, fighting for each other.
The icing on the cake was applied in comical fashion really thanks to a Levett strike. Chasing down a punt from his keeper he was struck by the opposite number one making a clearance – leaving him an empty net to score in with his “uncramped leg”.
A 4-2 win and in the circumstances a brilliant effort made by all. The final will be played on Monday April 13 at Eastbourne Borough FC at 7:30pm against Hollington FC.
Iden team: Ridgers, Walker, Willis, Harris (c), Wall (Heffernan, Bryant), Wall, Warne, Winton, Gould, Levett (Oakman), Cooper. Subs not used: Tiltman and Wilson