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Home Kent Sport Article
Whitstable's historic FA Trophy run was finally ended by a last-minute Ebbsfleet winner at the Belmont.
Dan Keyte put the Ryman League Division 1 South side in front but the teams went into half-time all square thanks to an Anthony Cook strike for the Fleet.
And the visitors won the tie in the 90th minute when goalkeeper Luke Watkins, who had a superb game, was beaten by a Michael Thalassitis cross.
It was cruel on the Oystermen, who deserved a replay at Stonebridge Road after a dogged display against their more illustrious Kent rivals.
Whitstable's team bore four changes from their 3-1 defeat at home to Peacehaven & Telscombe a week earlier. In came Ross Webb, Dan Wells, Oliver Brown and Keyte.
Ebbsfleet, who beat Whitehawk 3-1 in their last game, were unchanged - although they only had four substitutes. Michael Corcoran, although named on the team sheet, had not made the trip.
On a heavy, bumpy pitch, the visitors started slowly.
And the Oystermen hit the front on 19 minutes. Jake Mackenzie worked a yard of space in the box and laid the ball back for Keyte, who drilled a low shot inside the near post with keeper Preston Edwards rooted to the spot.
Ebbsfleet looked stunned and the home side tried to press home their advantage. They failed to trouble Edwards but pinned the Skrill South side back in their own half for long periods.
When the Fleet did break out, Billy Bricknell looked to have left his shooting boots at home. He shot wide when a Cook cross fell his way, and then drilled a Daryl McMahon centre high over the bar.
But just as the Oystermen looked set to go into half-time with their slender lead intact, a piece of individual quality opened them up.
Cook turned left-back Ross Webb inside-out and raced into the box before drilling a low shot across Watkins into the far corner.
Ebbsfleet started the second half in positive fashion but it was the Oystermen who fashioned the next clear chance.
A corner from the right dropped at the feet of defender Laurence Harvey and only a desperate block at point-blank range stopped him from putting Whitstable back in front.
Cook carried the greatest attacking threat of any player on the pitch and he had the home defence worried whenever he ran at them. The winger cut inside two defenders on the Fleet right and arrowed a shot towards the top corner which was clawed out, at full stretch, by Watkins.
Whitstable's Oliver Brown had a shot from distance saved by Edwards, before Cook's dancing feet got him to the byline, from where he delivered a dangerous cross which the hosts just about cleared.
The visitors introduced Ben May for Bricknell and pushed Cook up front as a third striker for the last 20 minutes.
Edwards gathered in a tame Mackenzie effort before the Fleet hacked away another Harvey shot from inside the six-yard box.
It needed another brilliant save from Watkins to keep the scores level. Cook's free-kick from 20 yards was destined for the top corner but the goalkeeper flung himself high to his right and got fingertips to the ball. It hit the inside of the post and bounced across the goal line before Whitstable hacked it behind for a corner.
Alex Osborn almost won the game for Ebbsfleet but his curling effort floated just wide. And there was late drama at the other end when Edwards pushed Scott Heard's shot round the post.
Whitstable were within touching distance of a replay but then came a cruel twist as the clock ticked past 90 minutes.
Thalassitis dug out a cross from the right and the ball floated all the way over the despairing Watkins, who couldn't stop it dropping into the net.
Whitstable: Watkins, Kane, Maguire (Hafner 65mins), Webb, Harvey, D Wells, Heard, Brown (Baverstock 90mins), Thompson, Keyte, Mackenzie (Smith 88mins). Subs not used: J Wells, Hallett.
Ebbsfleet: Edwards, Sessegnon, Lorraine, Sankofa, Palmer (Howe 75mins), Osborn, McMahon, Rance, Cook, Thalassitis, Bricknell (May 70mins). Subs not used: Hall, Long.
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