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Ebbsfleet United 1 Whitehawk 2 match report (after extra time, aggregate 3-3, Ebbsfleet won 3-2 on penalties)

By Steve Tervet

Nathan Ashmore was the hero as Ebbsfleet beat Whitehawk on penalties to reach the National League South play-off final.

The former Gosport keeper saved from Sam Rents and Jake Robinson in the shootout to spark a pitch invasion and send Fleet through to a winner-takes-all match against Maidstone at Stonebridge Road next Saturday.

Whitehawk won 2-1 on the day as the semi-final finished 3-3 on aggregate and they had the best chances in normal and extra time but somehow Fleet clung on.

Nathan Ashmore celebrates with Kenny Clark and Matt Godden Picture: Ruth Cuerden
Nathan Ashmore celebrates with Kenny Clark and Matt Godden Picture: Ruth Cuerden

It was all worth it as Ashmore kept his cool amid the amazing drama to keep the promotion dream alive for Daryl McMahon, his players and the Ebbsfleet supporters - who got right behind their team as Whitehawk pressed for a winning goal.

Ebbsfleet were unchanged from the first leg, while Chris Sessegnon was picked to face his former club in Whitehawk's only change. Sessegnon replaced Liam Graham at right-back.

The lead Fleet had worked so hard for in the first leg was wiped out within four minutes.

Dave Martin stood up a cross from the left and Nick Arnold volleyed the ball past Ashmore to level the aggregate score.

Former Dartford winger Martin looked to have the beating of Fleet right-back Dean Pooley and his next cross was headed clear by Kenny Clark as Danny Mills lurked in the middle.

A clear tug by Sessegnon on Matt Godden inside the Hawks penalty area went unpunished by referee Anthony Serrano.

At the other end, Pooley bundled into the back of Sergio Torres and the home side struggled to deal with Arnold's free-kick, which eventually ricocheted behind for a goal kick.

The hosts started to build a head of steam and when Anthony Cook's low drive from the left took a deflection, Godden almost nipped in to score.

Fleet equalised on 23 minutes. Kenny Clark forced home a Sam Deering corner from the left to put the men in red back in front overall.

Godden nearly made it 2-1 moments later but his header was brilliantly clawed out by Nick Ross in the Whitehawk goal.

Sam Deering stretches to control the ball Picture: Ruth Cuerden
Sam Deering stretches to control the ball Picture: Ruth Cuerden

A niggly match threatened to boil over at times and Mr Serrano struggled to keep control.

Deering's next corner was head over by Anthony Acheampong, who was adjudged to have fouled his marker. Acheampong tangled with Jordan Rose at the other end, the Hawks defender cautioned for lashing out at Acheampong after unsuccessfully screaming for a penalty.

The dangerous Martin turned Clark inside-out although the centre-half recovered well to block Martin's cross behind for a corner.

Whitehawk were furious when a coming-together between Kedwell and Rose saw the big defender end up in the away dugout. The visitors then rushed to surround Mr Serrano when Stuart Lewis challenged Sessegnon in the corner but this time the referee wasn't bullied into issuing a card.

Ashmore came to Ebbsfleet's rescue on the stroke of half-time when he stretched to turn Martin's header round the post.

But the Hawks started the second half in the same way as they had the first - with a goal.

Again Martin was the architect, latching onto Arnold's crossfield ball, beating Pooley and crossing for Mills to loop a header over Ashmore.

But the focus was taken away from an intriguing contest when trouble broke out in the away end. Stewards and police moved in but it took them several minutes to remove the perpetrators.

Jake Robinson touched a left-wing cross just wide of the near post and with Pooley really struggling to contain Martin, Fleet boss Daryl McMahon took action. Pooley was replaced by Jordan Parkes and Ebbsfleet changed shape to 3-5-2 with Cook and Deering operating as wing-backs.

Deering's clever ball over the top sent Godden racing through and he attempted to lob Ross but the goalkeeper was well-positioned to make a crucial save.

Matt Godden on the run for Ebbsfleet Picture: Ruth Cuerden
Matt Godden on the run for Ebbsfleet Picture: Ruth Cuerden

But all the pressure came from Whitehawk in the closing stages.

Rose headed over from Arnold's corner and Torres rattled the angle of crossbar and post when Fleet failed to properly clear a corner.

At the other end, Ross got behind a powerful Godden strike and substitute David Ijaha fired a shot into the Swanscombe End before Mr Serrano blew his whistle to signal the end of a frantic 90 minutes.

McMahon sent on Tom Bonner and Charlie Sheringham for extra time, with Deering and Cook making way.

The visitors almost scored a third goal within five minutes of the restart. Martin tricked his way past three Fleet defenders and Ashmore did well to rush out and dive at his feet.

That was the best chance either side created in a cagey 15 minutes before the change of ends.

Whitehawk kept pressing as the semi-final entered its final 15 minutes. Robinson's shot deflected behind and from the resulting corner, Mills flashed a header wide when he should have scored.

Five minutes from time, Kedwell ran through onside but Ross raced out to save and Godden then curled a shot wide. That was the final chance in extra time.

Parkes, Sheringham and Godden scored their penalties and Ashmore's heroics meant Stuart Lewis' failure from 12 yards didn't matter.

Home supporters flooded the pitch as the players jumped for joy at the end.

Ebbsfleet: Ashmore, Pooley (Parkes 66mins), Howe, Lewis, Acheampong, Clark, Deering (Bonner 91mins), Rance, Kedwell, Godden, Cook (Sheringham 91mins). Subs not used: Miles, Shields.

Whitehawk: Ross, Sessegnon, Rents, M'Boungou, Rose (Graham 82mins), Mendy (Ijaha 66mins), Arnold, Torres, Robinson, Mills (Gotta 111mins), Martin. Subs not used: Gargan, Fraser.

Attendance: 1,942.

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