I came back, for the third Chatham Town game in seven days, to see them play at home to Cray Valley Paper Mills. The significance of this game couldn’t be downplayed, as Chatham required just one win to ensure the title of the Isthmian League South East Division in their first season back at this level, since promotion from the Southern Counties East Football League (SCEFL) last season. This would seal a wonderful season, reflecting the forward drive the club have displayed, investing in their club and playing squad, as well as the excellent leadership provided by manager Kevin Hake.
In Chatham’s way today, were Cray Valley Paper Mills, themselves having had a very positive season despite the loss of manager Kevin Watson, back in November, to Herne Bay. New manager, Tommy Osbourne has steered his side to secure themselves in fifth place just a point ahead of Sheppey United but with a game in hand, with three to play. Osbourne and the players and fans of Cray Valley would also be desperate to win today to cement the play off place.
Both sides have scored goals freely this season, Chatham Town’s Jack Evans leads with 21 goals, with Dan Bradshaw, 16 goals and Emmanuel Oloyede, 14 goals. Cray Valley Paper Mills goals have flowed from Daniel Bennett, with 19 goals, Adam Coombes, 15 goals and Ade Adeyemo, 14 goals.
Cray Valley Paper Mills have attracted an average attendance of 137 this season. Chatham Town attendances average 931 this season, with last Monday’s match with second place Ramsgate, attracting a club record, 2540 fans.
As the game started the sun was bright and it felt like Spring was finally breaking through the cold and wet. Cray Valley Paper Mills sensed the anxiety in Chatham Town’s players and created a few early chances. Manager Kevin Hake worked hard on the touchline to settle his back line and midfield, to ensure they kept positionally savvy.
In the 36th minute and with rain beginning to fall, Chatham Town were awarded a penalty. Nzala was brought down by Chris Lewington in the Cray Valley Paper Mills’ goal. Lewington earned a yellow card before the stalwart, Jack Evans stepped up for his second crucial penalty finish in seven days, after scoring the winner away at Lancing last week.
Both sides continued to work hard in driving rain, but as the teams left the pitch at half time, it was the home side who held the advantage.
The second half started well with both teams playing positive attacking football. Chatham had a penalty appeal turned down and Cray Valley Paper Mills created two dangerous chances, which they failed to convert.
Then, with the tension growing more visible in the 2329 fans attending today, in the 80th minute Matt Bodkin hit a cross aiming for the head of Emmanuel Oloyede. The ball went past Oloyede and past Lewington, in the Cray Valley Paper Mills’ goal, before settling into the net to send the crowd and those on the Chatham bench, wild!
There was time for more anxiety and drama when Cray Valley Paper Mills clawed back a goal through Ade Adeyemo. The away side sensed a possible comeback and threw everything to get the all important point off Chatham, but sadly for them, to no avail.
As the whistle blew it sank in around the ground that Chatham Town had done it. Successive promotions in two seasons and Champions of the Isthmian League South East Division, at the first attempt. The away side left sportingly, despite the misery of losing ground on their play off rivals, while Chatham returned to the pitch to be presented with their medals and to lift the trophy.