Tonbridge Invicta 4 Ashford 4
(After extra time; Tonbridge Invicta win 4-2 on penalties)
TONBRIDGE INVICTA manager Lee Chambers hailed his players’ character after they fought back to win the Les Leckie Cup – in his final game in charge.
The thrilling contest at Sevenoaks Town’s Greatness Park finished 4-4 in 90 minutes, and after a goalless extra time Invicta went on to win 4-2 on penalties.
Tonbridge Invicta opening the scoring in superb fashion in the fifth minute when central midfielder Kane Ramsell spotted Ashford goalkeeper James Atkins off his line and swept a right-footed shot over his head into the roof of the net from 35 yards out.
Invicta went 2-0 up after 21 minutes when Ramsell crossed from the right for James Knight to pick his spot.
They could have been out of sight when Ramsell curled a shot against the top of the far post from 25 yards, with the Ashford keeper rooted to the spot.
But Ashford turned the game upside down when they scored twice inside 60 seconds in the 34th minute to restore parity.
A poor clearance by goalkeeper Sam Jenner was picked up by right winger Josh Jones, who skipped past three defenders and fired home with his left foot.
Tonbridge then lost the ball from the kick-off, Jones broke down the right and cut the ball back for Matt Forster to score at the near post.
Ashford took the lead three minutes into the second half when Stephen Cowell chipped the ball to Forster, who stroked his shot past Jenner.
They appeared to have the game wrapped up when they scored again in the 70th minute.
Forster swept the ball out to Jones on the right and he cut in and scored at the near post.
But Chambers pulled off a tactical masterstroke by throwing centre-half Oliver Hogben forward as a target man.
Tonbridge Invicta gave themselves a lifeline by pulling a goal back with five minutes left.
Knight swung in a free-kick from the left and Hogben glanced his header into the far corner.
Ashford’s Bryan Pearce, who had been substituted, was sent off for arguing about the build-up to the goal.
Atkins managed to tip over Josh Marshall’s drive but then the Ashford keeper made an error to hand Tonbridge Invicta a dramatic late equaliser in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Atkins tried to pluck a cross out from underneath the bar but the ball came out to Ramsell. His drive was blocked and Jack Moore buried the rebound.
Both sides were clearly tiring in extra-time but Ashford finished strongly with Forster’s left-foot shot kept out by Jenner stretching to his left.
In the shootout Jenner saved the first penalty low to his right, then punched James Haylock’s effort away as he drove his kick down the middle.
Kyle Walker stepped up to bury his penalty and hand Invicta a famous victory – and their first Les Leckie Cup win.
Chambers said: ‘There was a lot of character shown from the boys today. They knew what it meant to me in my last game as well but they need to take all the credit today.
‘I thought it was a good game of football tonight, two teams that like doing things the right way, two good footballing sides,’ he added.
He said of his last game at Tonbridge Invicta after a quarter of a century: ‘It’s unbelievable to go out on a massive high.
‘We were lucky over the years rebuilding this football club to pick up silverware and to add another one to the collection. Today is fantastic.’
PICTURE: TROPHY HUNTERS: Tonbridge Invicta celebrate their dramatic victory