Following a postponement from 1st May and the heavy rain that followed, it was touch and go as to whether the final took place. A massive thank you goes to the staff and Chairman at Southend Manor Football Club, who worked hard to remove the standing water from the pitch and make the game playable.
Despite the best efforts of the ground staff, the two teams took to a pitch that was to prove boggy and sometimes made the bounce of the ball unpredictable. Certainly those who had chosen white boots soon regretted their decision!
Following the pre-match rituals, including a time of prayer by both teams, Shoebury kicked off and both teams looked to get a feel for the ball and the pitch and settle into a rhythm. The ealry exchanges were evenly matched, with both sides having a share of possession, but no clear cut chances of note. As the half went on, Shoebury started to get on top and some of the Rayleigh passes began to go astray.
Twenty minutes in, and slightly against the run of play, it was Rayleigh who took the lead. The ball broke for them in midfield and a quick ball played in behind the Shoebury centre-halves allowed two Rayleigh strikers to run in on goal. The Shoebury defenders appealed for offside in vain as striker Pete Davenport rounded the keeper at the edge of the box and then slotted home from a tight angle.
The Shoebury-dominated crowd were silenced, but not for long, as they soon got behind their team once more and encouraged them forwards. Special mention must be given to the 100+ supporters who turned out to watch their heroes in action. Support for both sides throughout was vocal and good-natured and added to a wonderful atmosphere under the floodlights at the Southchurch Arena.
Shoebury were undeterred by the opening goal set-back and continued to play their football as they looked to get back on top. Fifteen minutes later, they got their reward, as Rayleigh failed to spot the danger when Tom Sibthorpe picked up the ball in midfield and was allowed to drift into space twenty five yards from goal. Sensing his opportunity, he unleashed a high shot that had the Rayleigh keeper back-pedalling furiously but unable to reach the ball, as it flew in just under the crossbar. The crowd went wild and the scores were level once more.
As both sides realised the need to quickly re-establish themselves as top-dog, the intensity of the game increased for a while, with both sides making committed tackles and contesting every loose ball. One such tackle by Pete Davenport was just a little too committed and led to the referee brandishing the only yellow card of the evening.
As darkness drew in, the floodlights came on, much to the exuberant crowd’s delight and oohs and aahs were heard around the ground, rather like at a firework display! There were no more fireworks on the pitch and the teams went in at half-time with the scores at 1-1.
With the match finely balanced, both sides made changes, in an attempt to unlock the other’s defence. Both sides had chances, with Shoebury coming closest when the Rayleigh keeper fumbled a shot from a corner and as he juggled with the ball, two Shoebury players advanced on him. However, rather than being able to get the ball, the referee adjudged them to have fouled the keeper and the moment of panic passed. At the other end, Shoebury’s high line was causing the Rayleigh attackers problems, as they were caught offside on numerous occasions.
The longer the half wore on, the more likely it seemed that the match would be decided on penalties. But as one or two pairs of legs began to tire, Rayleigh finally managed to edge in front once more, Pete Davenport scoring his second goal of the night.
Both player/managers, Chris Watts of Shoebury and Jon Gurel of Rayleigh, who had done battle from their technical areas up to this point, came on for late appearances, in an attempt to galvanise their respective teams’ performances in the final quarter, with the game still finely balanced.
Shoebury tried to push forwards once more, but as they sent men forwards, they were left a little exposed at the back. A Shoebury attack ended up with the Rayleigh keeper, who hoofed a long ball up-field. The difficult bounce of the ball caused problems for both striker and defender on the edge of the Shoebury box, but as the striker got away for a second, the keeper came racing out and inadvertently tripped the striker. The assistant referee raised his flag and Rayleigh were awarded a chance to seal the victory from the penalty spot. Up stepped Davenport, to slot home his third goal of the evening and give Rayleigh daylight between themselves and their opponents with only ten minutes remaining.
Despite Shoebury’s best efforts and a couple of quick breaks, they were unable to create any more clear-cut chances and Rayleigh held out for the win, which sees them cap a magnificent season with the SCFL Cup.
Many of the supporters stayed to watch the presentations in the bar after the game, giving a loud cheer for the efforts of the Shoebury players as they collected their runners-up medals and a louder cheer for the Rayleigh team as they collected their second piece of silverware of the season.
Thank you to all who took part or came along to watch for making this a special SCFL evening.
More photos and news on the league and cup can be found at www.sc-fl.org.uk