Four goals inside eight first-half minutes helped Herne Bay hammer neighbours Whitstable in a thrilling nine-goal Isthmian South East game on Monday.
The Oystermen actually drew first blood early on through Kemo Darboe but it was 4-1 to Bay by half-time with Aaron Millbank, Kieron Campbell, Rory Smith and Bode Anidugbe turning the match on its head with four goals in quick succession.
Herne Bay captain Laurence Harvey added a fifth before Whitstable pulled one back through Harry Goodger, only for late Bradley Schafer and Zak Ansah goals to round off the victory which puts Herne Bay back in the play-off places, heading into 2022.
The hosts had an opportunity inside the opening minute when Millbank found space in the penalty box but he couldn’t direct his header towards goal.
But just two minutes later, the Oystermen broke the deadlock in front of 1,119 fans at Winch’s Field. Recent signing Callum Watts fed Darboe and he beat home keeper Jordan Perrin to net his fourth goal of the season.
Searching for a response, Herne Bay winger Campbell drove down the left flank and cut back for Ansah who was thwarted by a block from Whitstable keeper Dan Eason with seven minutes played.
Ben Smith’s side had appeals for a penalty waved away by referee Rhys Battye 10 minutes later when skipper Harvey went to ground just inside the box following a challenge by Danny Walder.
The Oystermen had enjoyed the better of the early stages, with their fluid formation leaving them spaces to exploit in midfield, although Bay began to threaten themselves when Harvey stepped out of defence.
Midway through the first period, Bay felt Darboe had fouled home defender Dan Johnson. Instead play continued, with Stephen Okoh firing across the face of goal.
Just before the half-hour mark, Darboe had a glorious chance to double his team’s advantage. A left-wing Alex Gaggin cross found Darboe, only for Darboe to fire wide when he should have done better. It proved to be a costly miss.
The hosts then levelled in the 35th minute. Millbank slammed home his fourth goal of the season from close range after Eason had parried Ansah’s initial shot following good work by the impressive Campbell.
Four minutes later, Herne Bay went ahead. Ansah chipped the ball beyond Whitstable’s defence and Campbell kept his cool to expertly dink the ball over Eason.
Two became three as Jacques Kpohomouh found Smith and he managed to find the far corner of Eason’s net from the right wing - although whether Smith meant to shoot only he will know!
And the home team added a fourth when Jack Parter tried to play through Anidugbe. Eason was first to the loose ball, although his clearance cannoned off Anidugbe’s knee and rolled into the empty net for his fourth goal of the season.
On the stroke of half-time, Smith had the opportunity to add his second, firing just wide at the end of an eventful first period.
The second half was less than 30 seconds when Herne Bay threatened once more as Millbank broke through and poked narrowly wide.
With the Oystermen’s defence still stretched after the restart, Ansah tested Eason before Millbank blazed over.
But Herne Bay put the result beyond any doubt with their fifth goal in the 55th minute when Harvey headed home from close range.
Three minutes later, Kpohomouh crossed for Millbank whose effort hit the post.
Whitstable made three substitutions on the hour mark and they almost immediately paid off, Goodger volleying in from Walder’s free-kick after a header hit the post.
Midway through the second half, Perrin denied Whitstable skipper Tom Mills before the Oystermen’s penalty appeals were turned down as the basketball-esque encounter continued at an incredible pace.
The game was now very stretched, with Perrin making a fine save to deny Okoh 16 minutes from time while, at the other end, Eason parried Ansah’s free-kick.
The frantic action continued as Campbell bent an effort on to Eason’s crossbar. Ansah had a great chance with 87 minutes on the clock but dragged his shot wide.
Bay rounded off their win in the final seconds of normal time as substitute Schafer blasted into the top corner in emphatic style. Then, Ansah added their seventh via a deflection in stoppage time - his 12th this season.
Bay are fifth in the table while Whitstable are 16th and it means Bay have completed the league double over Whitstable this season, having beaten them 2-1 at the Belmont in August.
There was a Herne Bay debut for Kpohomouh who replaced Dan Carrington in defence in one of two changes. The other switch saw Millbank start ahead of Schafer who dropped to the bench.
Whitstable also made two changes to their starting line-up, Watts came in for his first start while Mills also came back in. Tom Carlton dropped to the bench, while Sam Itauma was not involved in the Oystermen’s squad.
Herne Bay: Perrin, Kpohomouh, Parter, Harvey, Johnson, Anidugbe (Carrington 90mins), Smith (Ramadan 80mins), Antonio, Ansah, Millbank (Schafer 68mins), Campbell. Subs not used: McFarlane, Hanley.
Whitstable Town: Eason, MacKenzie, McIlroy (Aiyelabola 60mins), Baker, Thomas, Mills, Gaggin, Walder, Darboe (Goodger 60mins), Watts (Griffiths 60mins), Okoh. Subs not used: Carlton, Brown.
Referee: Rhys Battye.