Published: 11:54, 12 May 2022
| Updated: 12:55, 12 May 2022
Margate under-23s relied upon the woodwork before they took control of their Kent Intermediate Cup final against Rusthall Reserves at Hartsdown Park on Wednesday.
Rusthall twice went close towards the end of the first half through George Montgomery and Michael Tubb but Margate led at half-time as striker Shaun Nketiah converted a penalty.
After the restart, Rusthall went in search of a leveller, however Margate’s defence held firm and Mitch Harman found the bottom corner on the counter-attack to seal the win.
Margate under-23s manager Paul Lamb said: “The boys work really hard.
“It wasn’t the fluid performance that we wanted but the boys kept their shape well, they worked within their shape well, and we’re such a young side coming up against a big, physical team.
“So that was a good test for them and they came through it really well.”
The only chance in a cagey start to the game saw Rusthall’s Chris Ells do well to track the run of Ellis Codd as the Margate player tried to sneak in at the back post with four minutes on the clock.
Nine minutes later, both sides created an opportunity apiece, with the final beginning to liven up.
Impressive Gate skipper Josh Oliver crossed from the right after a fine run, although Rusthall cleared their line and went close themselves at the other end. A left-wing cross fell kindly to winger Ryan Hinkson but he missed the target.
Margate goalkeeper Tom Paris was forced into his first action in the 18th minute, easily gathering a speculative shot from Rusthall captain Kane Ramsell.
On 26 minutes, Rusthall threatened from a free-kick before Margate cleared their lines and Jack Miller lifted a Sam Belsey lay-off over the bar at the other end.
Adam James almost mustered a goal out of nothing for Rusthall on the half-hour mark. He got plenty on the ball as he headed a long free-kick from defender Michael Gwotowiski towards goal from the edge of the penalty box but the back-pedalling Paris stayed alert and managed to tip over.
Rusthall went close once again in the 39th minute when a sublime 20-yard drive from Montgomery cracked against the upright after an Ells left-wing cross had only been half-cleared.
Three minutes later, Margate were, once again, living dangerously. Ells was involved for Rusthall again as he combined with Tubb before the latter’s effort struck the base of Paris’ left-hand post.
But it was Margate who drew first blood in the first minute of first-half stoppage-time, making Lee Chambers' team pay for those missed chance.
Belsey did well to initially win the ball back for Gate and attempted to jinx through - with new Margate first-team manager Andy Drury watching on - before he was adjudged to have been felled by Rusthall defender Matt Summers by referee Rhys Jeffery. Rusthall goalkeeper Jack Turnbull went the right way but couldn’t keep out Nketiah’s spot-kick.
Margate were the first side to go close in the second period, Harman driving down the right before he shot wide.
Rusthall were well in the tie at this stage, and they twice went close just before the hour mark.
A quick Ramsell free-kick caught the Gate defence napping as Paris parried Hinkson’s strike and, from a corner by Ramsell, Gwotowiski sent a header wide.
Midway through the second half, Rusthall frontman Adam Jones found space in the area, however he got his strike all wrong.
At the other end, Margate substitute Luke Burchell couldn’t quite force home a long throw at the back post but Lamb’s team did double their advantage seconds later.
Harman turned down the opportunity to set up Nketiah as Gate broke at real speed and, instead, calmly slotted past Turnbull himself to make it 2-0.
Margate’s second goal effectively ended the contest and they dominated throughout the latter stages.
A tame Belsey effort was easily gathered by Turnbull who then had to make a fine fingertip save to deny Oliver the goal his all-round performance had deserved.
Nketiah could have added his second and his team’s third on the night in the dying stages, although Turnbull parried his shot at the near post, while Margate's Jack Miller was named player-of-the-match.
Manager Lamb was pleased with how his Margate players adapted to playing a more experienced side.
“It’s [a case of] not getting too frustrated when it’s not going how you want it,” he explained.
“It’s good for them to get that experience and, hopefully, some of them can step up into more senior football.
“That’s what we are aiming for with the lads and a lot of them are really working hard towards that.”
Margate under-23s: Paris, Codd, Carter, Johnson, Geddes (Weatherley 72mins), Lamb, Harman, Miller (Greig 82mins), Nketiah, Oliver, Belsey (Bridger 88mins). Subs not used: Madimba, Savill.
Rusthall Reserves: Turnbull, Tubb, Ells, Summers, Gwtowiski, Montgomery, Hinkson (Stevens 67mins), Ramsell, Coleman (Strickland 76mins), Jones, Milham (Burchell 55mins). Subs not used: Boodle, Eagor.
Referee: Rhys Jeffery.