On Thursday evening Newhaven under-18s will go head-to-head with the champions of the Ryman U18 South Division, Whitehawk, as the sides meet in the final of the Sussex Bluefin Dennis Probee Youth Cup.
It is the first time the Dockers have reached this stage of the competition but will go in to the tie as massive underdogs.
The Hawks clinched their league title with a 3-3 draw against Three Bridges last week, and were 6-0 winners against Newhaven in the FA Youth Cup earlier this season.
Since that defeat, however, the Dockers have gone from strength to strength, putting together their own title challenge – as well as this cup run – and face a winner-takes-all league decider at AFC Uckfield Town just three days after the final.
Manager Kieran Ridley told us his side are prepared for the game and is ‘determined to make the most of it’.
“I am really looking forward to Thursday’s game,” said Ridley. “It seems ages since we beat AFC Varndeanians (12th February) and although we’ve had a lot to play for with the league, everyone has been eyeing this game for some time now. You don’t get to play in cup finals very often and we’re determined to make the most of it.
“We’ve prepared as well as we can and I know we’ll give it everything. I’m grateful to Steyning U18s who hosted us at their superb 3G facility last week and we won that game 3-0. We learnt a lot that day and put a few things into practice. The league allowed us the weekend off in rest so that’s definitely helped with a few niggles.
“We know the quality of the opposition we’re up against. Whitehawk beat us 6-0 in the FA Cup back in September but we’ve improved since then. There’s an intriguing crossover too – their captain Luke Emberson has been on dual registration with our first team, but Whitehawk’s involvement in cups and his own Sussex inclusion has limited availability.
“I know their manager Jude quite well, he’s got them playing some really good stuff and I must congratulate them on winning the Ryman Youth League last week.
“The lads follow the cup final up with another huge game on Sunday at AFC Uckfield Town. A win will seal a second league title in three seasons, whilst anything less hands Uckfield the league. It’s a really great position to be in at this stage of the season and it’s testament to the lads that they’ve done so well.
“We’ll give the game everything we’ve got and you never know what can happen on the night. We’re the underdogs, we’re well aware of that. All I want to do is come off that pitch having made everyone proud. If we achieve that, anything else is a bonus.”
To get to this stage Newhaven faced a first round tie at Westfield, where they were 5-1 victors, before a home walkover saw them past a Wadhurst Juniors side who were unable to field a side.
A 3-2 victory at Hassocks Juniors followed in round three, before a comfortable 3-0 quarter-final success against Wick saw them in to the last four. The semi-final saw Newhaven drawn at home against AFC Varndeanians, where a Dan Meekings penalty separated the sides in a 1-0 win.
There were goals galore in Whitehawk’s first two rounds, as a 7-4 win saw them past Sedlescombe Rangers before a 5-1 victory against Worthing United Colts eased them in to round three.
Penalties were needed for the Hawks in the third round after a 1-1 draw, after extra time, against Burgess Hill Town saw them eventually prevail 5-4 on spot kicks. A 2-1 win at home against Roffey booked a semi-final place where an incredible match saw Whitehawk win 7-6 on penalties, despite being reduced to nine-men during the ninety minutes.
Newhaven captain Harry Mills was full of praise for his team mates and is looking forward to the challenge against their higher-league opponents.
“As a team I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved,” said Mills. “Making the semi-final was a huge occasion for us and the feeling of reaching the final is unbeatable. Each player has worked incredibly hard to get this far and the commitment from the boys this year has been faultless.
“This season the boys have continued to surprise me with their top standards and dedication to the team. This cup run would not have been possible without the repeated hard work put in at training, allowing us to take each game at a time and progress in this tournament.
“Furthermore, a large part of our success has been through a lot of planning from the coaching team. Each one of them has brought a different style to our team, and a different perspective. This has allowed us to see the game from all angles, including that of top first team players, and experienced coaches. I cannot thank the coaches enough for what they have done for us as a team this season.
“Whitehawk are a top side, and I look forward to playing against them. Their fast tempo football will be a challenge for us so I look forward to seeing how we respond to that. No matter what the outcome I will continue to be proud by what it means for us as a side to make the final.”
The match takes place at Sussex County FA headquarters in Lancing on Thursday 6th April and will kick off at 7.15pm.