Newhaven prosper in SCFL Shield group: 'It's been a joy to watch'
Newhaven are through to the semi-final of the SCFL Premier Division Supplementary Shield after topping their Group A table on goal difference.
After six hard-fought games against Eastbourne Town, AFC Uckfield Town and Little Common, the Dockers progressed to the knockout stage by the slimmest of margins – bettering Eastbourne Town’s goal difference by just three.
Both Newhaven and Eastbourne took maximum points in their four games against Uckfield and Common, and both sides won their respective home fixture against each other. But the Dockers just edged through having scored two more and conceded one less than their south coast rivals.
Newhaven will now travel to Group D winners Loxwood in the last four, with a place in the final up for grabs, and Dockers joint-manager Sean Breach is pleased with what he has seen from his team.
“We have played some really good football and it's been a joy to watch,” said Breach.
“We have scored some great goals and what has been nice is that the goals have been shared around. We've scored 17 goals in six games, but in truth we probably should have more than double that!
“And with exception to a poor first half away at Eastbourne Town, we have been excellent and deserved to win the group and progress, in my opinion.”
And fellow joint-manager Andy Cook agreed, adding: “Winning five out of the six group games was very good and despite a poor first half at Eastbourne Town, Breachy and I couldn't fault the lads.
“We have been defensively solid, dominated the midfield, created loads of chances and scored a lot of goals, which have been shared out. We have used a squad of about 18 and everyone has chipped in and played their part as we rotated where we could.”
After seeing a second consecutive league season ended prematurely, many wondered if we would see any football this side of summer. The SCFL, however, managed to plan this supplementary tournament and both Breach and Cook were more than happy to take part.
“It has been great to have football back,” added Breach. “When the league came to us with this opportunity, as a club we knew it wouldn't be ideal with no fans allowed in and no bar open, so therefore no revenue at all.
“However, we all agreed the most important thing was to get the players and ourselves back together as we knew January through to March was really tough for everyone. And we are all in a very lucky position to be able to be around football, as many people are still unable to get together.
“Also, I think the league deserve some credit as the easy option was not to put anything on. And I have really enjoyed this competition. In fact, I wouldn't be against a cup competition with this format being introduced when football is back to normal.
“On to the cup, from our perspective it has been really beneficial. All the players have had a good number of minutes, we have played around with a few different formations with players playing in different positions and we’ve also been able to give some first team minutes to young players like Aaron Winser and Herbie Rogers, who have really benefitted from this competition.
“When the groups were announced we knew it would be very tough. Little Common have always been a very hard team to break down in the past, Ivesy [Steve Ives] had Uckfield flying in the league and they have some really talented youngsters there.
“And we know what a top side Eastbourne Town are. A side that shouldn't be playing in this league. I must say as well, the Town fans were missed in the two games by both sets of players.”
Those sentiments were reiterated by Cook, who added: “It has been a welcome return to competitive football, although obviously not quite the same as completing the league season as we would have liked to have done.
“During the last lockdown we all knew deep down we wouldn't be finishing the season, especially with many teams having well over 20 league games left to play, us included.
“So, when it was announced there would be a supplementary competition for those who wanted to participate, we had no hesitation in entering and we are very glad we did.
“It's been odd though, as all games have been behind closed doors and it’s been a bit strange doing team talks on the pitch, not staying after games for a drink and something to eat, and basically turning up, playing and going home!
“But in these strange times you just accept it and get on with it and that's what the players have done too. They came back from lockdown in good shape having done their own fitness routines and also attended team fitness sessions on Zoom.
“And they picked up good form straight away which has seen us progress to the semi-finals.”
And on this week’s semi-final, Cook said his side are determined to win after the disappointment of two unfinished seasons.
“We play a resurgent Loxwood away on Saturday and they have done well in their group beating good sides, so it won't be easy. But there is a determination about us to go and win this competition after two incomplete seasons of disappointment.
“The players, management team and club officials who have done lots behind the scenes during this unusual season are fully focused and determined to win this semi-final and set up a cup final, and hopefully a nice day out for the supporters if the final is confirmed for a day after restrictions are lifted. Fingers crossed all round, but we have a semi-final to win first!”
And Breach is pleased to keep the momentum of the last couple of years going in this competition. “The lads look like they are enjoying themselves and for me that's really important,” said Breach.
“It keeps the momentum going of what we have built up the past few years, especially as it looks as though we will be in this league again after the disappointment of two stopped seasons where we had performed exceptionally well.
“We have lost only five of our 37 games over the 19/20 and 20/21 seasons and still aren't able to gain promotion. But there have been more important things happening than football and so there is no point sulking about it, and we will prepare to have another go at it when the league resumes.”
Newhaven’s semi-final at Loxwood is on Saturday (May 8), kicking off at 3pm, and will be played behind closed doors.