Sheppey remain in pole position in the title race after a win at K Sports on Easter Monday - despite their title fight having been taken to the final day of the season.
The Ites won 5-1 but, with second-placed Chatham also surprisingly hammering Deal 7-0, Sheppey are only two points ahead, going into this weekend’s league finale in the Southern Counties East Premier Division.
Prolific marksman Warren Mfula put the Ites quickly 2-0 ahead before second-half strikes by Billy Bennett and Jefferson Aibangbee, either side of a Herve Mbongue penalty. A late goal by substitute Connor Wilkins put further gloss on the scoreline from a Sheppey perspective.
There was nearly a dream start for the visitors inside the first two minutes - as their manager Ernie Batten came up against sons George and Ian in the opposition dug-out. A right-wing cross fell to Dean Grant but the experienced attacker drilled narrowly wide.
But Batten senior’s side did break the deadlock in the eighth minute. Home keeper Charlie Walker couldn’t get enough on a Richie Hamill corner and the ball fell kindly to Mfula who fired home.
The hosts should have levelled with 12 minutes played, however, with their first real chance.
Poor defending by Hamill and then Jahmal Howlett-Mundle presented Mbongue with a chance but his effort hit Adam Molloy’s left-hand post.
Mbongue was causing problems all of a sudden and, soon after, he turned Howlett-Mundle before missing the target when he should have done better.
The home team were made to pay for those misses in the 15th minute as Mfula expertly found the bottom corner from Aibangbee’s lay-off, although Sheppey's celebrations were dampened slightly by the news Chatham had already raced into a 2-0 lead of their own inside 25 minutes.
Midway through the first period, Mfula broke through and came close to completing a first-half hat-trick, only to see his shot fall just wide of Walker’s left-hand post.
K Sports were creating chances of their own, though, and Tarik Ibrahim forced a save out of Molloy after he had cut inside before a long-range snapshot by skipper Harvey Killick flashed inches wide on 38 minutes.
Aibangbee could have added Sheppey’s third and put the result beyond doubt in the first half but blazed over the bar.
On the stroke of half-time, the Ites hit K Sports on the counter as Ashley Sheppard hit the post with his strike.
And two minutes into the second half, the hosts pulled a goal back through a penalty. Mbongue charged down a lazy pass by Helge Orome and then was fouled by the away defender. Mbongue kept his cool to send Molloy the wrong way to halve the deficit.
Orome had the opportunity to make amends at the other end in the 53rd minute but headed wide Grant’s delightful left-wing cross.
Sheppey nerves were becoming apparent, as Aibangbee squandered a good opportunity to restore his side’s two-goal advantage just before the hour.
But the Ites did make it 3-1 with 61 minutes played.
Initially, Walker had done well to palm away Renford Tenyue’s right-wing cross but influential midfielder Bennett kept his cool, found space and dinked the ball in, with injured K Sports defender Stephane Nzimbakany being replaced by Calum Holtam after his part in proceedings following a lengthy delay.
Six minutes later, three became fourth for the Ites as Aibangbee spun on the edge of the area and found the bottom corner. That was Sheppey's 100th league goal of the season too.
Mfula thought he had completed his hat-trick when he steered in Orome’s right-wing cross but the goal was ruled out for offside.
With six minutes to go, two Sheppey substitutes combined for their fifth to round off their victory. Henry Dasofunjo fed Wilkins who blasted past Walker in emphatic style.
For K Sports - who had called up four under-18s players in 17-year-olds Holtam and Toby Sargeant and 18-year-olds Harvey Baxter and Ollie Lankshear - Mbongue bent over a free-kick two minutes from time. The quartet joined 17-year-old Luke Frost in their squad.
There was to be one final chance for Mfula to complete his hat-trick, only for the striker to be met by a brave save by Walker.
The Ites are now on 99 points from their 37 league fixtures but they will still need to beat basement boys Tower Hamlets if they are to definitely claim the league title.
Chatham end their campaign at Erith Town and will hope for a favour from Tower Hamlets which could yet see them finish top of the table.
K Sports: Walker, Dance, Sargeant (Baxter 74mins), Utazi, Nzimbakany (Holtam 66mins), Killick, Ibrahim, Frost, Lankshear, Mbongue, Ghali (Pagett 69mins).
Sheppey United: Molloy, Tenyue, Hamill, Howlett-Mundle, Sains, Orome (Wilkins 77mins), Prime, Sheppard (Gillies 62mins), Aibangbee, Mfula, Grant (Dasofunjo 69mins). Subs not used: Hagan, Oldham.