The Sussex Schools U18s squad completed “the perfect season” after defeating Northumberland 2-0 in the ESFA National County Final at Birmingham City FC. Sussex went through their whole SEESFA League and National Cup games undefeated, scoring 31 goals in the process and conceding 10 in their 8 games. Their route to the National Final stated with an emphatic 8-0 win at home to Worcestershire with Tom Watson (Cardinal Newman) scoring a hat trick. Round 2 saw the squad travel to Somerset with Pat Webber (Worthing College) and George Cody (Chichester College) both claiming that they scored the winner for Sussex with five minutes to go to win 3-2. Old rivals Essex were the opponents at Worthing FC in the quarter finals and the squad put in a mammoth performance to win 3-1. Charlie Coppola (BHASVIC) was the star, scoring the opening goal in this convincing win. The Semi Final saw another home tie against Surrey, who were looking for revenge after a 7-3 humbling in the league campaign. With a heavily changed side Surrey took the lead and with Sussex looking like they were going out of the competition Coppola was the coolest player in the ground to equalise with literally the last kick of the game. Despite playing the better football Sussex saw themselves go 2-1 down, but again equalised through and outstanding Cody free kick. Sussex were now dominating, but couldn’t take the lead. More heartbreak saw Surrey take the lead with two minutes to go and again it looked like Sussex were going to miss out, but Coppola again equalised to send the game to penalties. In one of the most exciting games I have ever witnessed Sussex midfielder Guy Bolton (BHASVIC) struck home the winning penalty to set up the ESFA National Final at Birmingham City.
Now to the final Sussex took on Northumberland with Pat Webber (Worthing College) missing out due to signing an extended scholarship with championship side Ipswich Town at the weekend. Jack Punter (Worthing College) took his place at full back. Sussex started strongly with positive possession and movement through the midfield. This led to an early opening goal when George Cody’s (Chichester College) clip into Charlie Coppola (BHASVIC) fell to the feet of Guy Bolton (BHASVIC), who arrowed the ball into the top corner to give the Northumberland keeper no chance. After taking the lead Sussex should have kicked on, however Northumberland came into the game and created chances with the post and bar coming to Sussex’s rescue. Luke Emberson (BHASVIC) also made a last ditch block on the Sussex goal line to keep Northumberland at bay. At the other end Ross Edwards (Worthing College) had a golden chance to extend the lead, but squandered the chance with the goalkeeper smothering the ball at his feet. At half time coaching staff Dave Hall (Worthing College) and Jude MacDonald (City College Brighton) made a couple of tweaks to the formation and this paid off straight away with Sussex doubling their lead with the first chance of the second half. A Jack Whitmore (City College Brighton) free kick was expertly met by Henry Watson (Cardinal Newman), whose header beat the keeper to spark wild celebrations. Both sides looked to create chances with Northumberland hitting the crossbar for a third time, however it was Sussex who were more controlled in possession and managed the game superbly to become National Champions for the second time in four years. Stand out performances were Guy Bolton, full backs Jack Punter (Worthing College) & Luke Emberson and Lucas Rodrigues (City College Brighton) with the commentators giving man of the match to Sussex skipper Jack Whitmore.
In his final game in charge of the Sussex Schools u18s squad Dave Hall was full of praise for his squad“what a fantastic way to go out with a second national title. Four years ago the aim was to get players and Colleges’ wanting to play for Sussex and show how talented players in this area are. I like to feel that this has happened and this is why I’m stepping aside to let someone else take it to the next level. I have been privileged to work with so many talented players during this time and I thank them, all College staff and player families for their support because without this support none of this success and player development would be possible. In terms of the final I felt that we were the better side technically, however we did ride our luck, especially in the first half. However I can’t praise the squad highly enough for their work ethic, character, game intelligence and ability to quite rightly take their place as the top county in England. This adds onto the superb 16s National win as well, so the future of football in Sussex is definitely looking bright.”