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Home   /   Sussex Women’s Challenge Cup Final – Saltdean United V Newhaven FC

For Zak Dove, his side has sailed through the Sussex Women’s Challenge Cup after what has been a rewarding season for Saltdean United. 

In the lead-up to the Cup final, Dove recounts the challenges he and the team have faced on their road to the final. 

“They’ve had a tough time over the last few years, obviously, I only came in at the start of last season, and it was a big change at the club with players moving on and stuff like that.

“So it shows that it’s been real progress and obviously, it’s good for results for the players.”

For Saltdean United, the goals just won’t stop coming.

In their last two cup games Dove’s side have scored an impressive nine goals with a stunning 7-0 win over Bognor Regis Town FC Women. 

“It’s something we’ve been working on since Christmas, scoring more goals because prior to Christmas we were really good defensively but weren’t scoring lots of goals. 

“So again, it’s another show that players are working hard and listening and doing the right things and obviously again, you get results from it,” Dove said, “so it’s good for us and it gives us massive confidence going into it.”

Away from the Cup Final, Saltdean United have faced its fair share of tests but Dove is keen to display how important the improvement is for his team and how things are starting to fall into place for the Tigers.

“We’ve had lots of changes obviously with the club, with all the building work that’s going on, it’s kind of showing that we’ve all the changes, everything’s going in the right direction. 

“We’re trying to push the club forward, trying to do things right and then obviously, if we can do on-field stuff right as well, results follow, players follow, and it makes everything a little bit easier. 

“So yeah, it definitely gives us a lot of confidence and we’re happy where we are at the moment, but we’ve obviously got a big week ahead with the cup final on Sunday, and obviously this cup final on Wednesday as well.”

Georgia Bridges has captained the tigers through the good and the bad. 

The forward joined the club in March 2021 and has been the glue which has kept the squad and fans together for several seasons. 

“She’s massive for us. She was there before me, before I came in and she was the first one to come and talk to me when obviously it got announced that I was taking over,” he said, “but she’s also the first person to come up to me and ask questions and sort of be the link between me and the group of players. 

“Before she was captain and then since I’ve come in, I’ve kept her as captain and she’s completely done everything right. 

“She just galvanises everything that you say, whether it’s fans, players, the club, she’s just a brilliant person to have around and she makes my life a lot easier, definitely.”

It was announced that Dove was set to manage the Tigers in March 2022, he came to a team that was struggling to stay up but he and the team have turned their luck around. 

With goals flying in during every game, it’s clear the work behind the scenes is paying off on the pitch. 

“There’s been quite a few challenges,” said Dove, “I’ve got to admit, at the start, it was tough, because like I said it was such a high number of players that left, obviously, the year before that they had a tough season where they stayed up, I think like it was a point on the last day of the season.

“So it was a big thing of trying to come in and sort of change your perspective because everyone in football knows that when there’s the perspective from the outside that the team is struggling, it can be really hard work to bring new players in or to get the players that are there to get on board with new ideas. 

“So it was challenging, but I think we’ve been in a really good place.” he said, “so it’s getting there, It’s definitely getting there.”

Saltdean United are set to play Newhaven FC in the Cup Final but what does Dove expect from the rival side?

“We’ll be competitive, we expect them to be really up for it obviously being a final. They’ve obviously got something to prove being the side that’s the league below us. 

“We expect them to be resolute and expect them to be competitive, physically and tactically. 

“So hopefully if we can get the game to settle down and play how we want to play then obviously we can imprint what we do, and hopefully get some success out of it.”

But Newhaven United manager, Andy Kerry is up for the challenge that awaits his side. 

“It means a lot, It’s a bit of a strange one because we kind of got there by default, because of the semi-final where Worthing played two ineligible players. 

“It kind of gave us a pathway to the final that we didn’t really expect.

“However, we beat Montpelier in the quarterfinals, so we had a good game there and we actually held our own against Worthing in the semi-final for large periods of the game.

“So although we’ve got there by default, we’re quite happy to be there and we’re going to enjoy the occasion.”

Aside from the Cup Final, Newhaven have had a season to remember, they currently sit at the top of the Division 1 South League.

Kerry’s team are just inches away from sealing the League for themselves with just two games to go. 

“Yeah, definitely we’ve had, we’ve had a really good season.

“So far this year we were knocking on the door for winning the League and we only need two points from our last two games.

“Ever since preseason, we’ve kind of knitted together and there’s been a bit of a buzz about the squad this season and I think winning so many games this year has really helped us confidence-wise. 

“There’s a bit more belief than perhaps we’ve had in recent seasons, we go into the game next Wednesday with no fear and to be honest, nothing to lose because we are the underdogs.”

Kerry’s underdogs haven’t always had the easiest of runs but have stuck together through the good and bad times so was this success something he expected from his side?

“It really wasn’t expected,” he said, “we thought we had a better chance of being more successful than recent seasons and our aim was to finish sort of top three, top four.

“With a few players disappearing from other teams, and a bit of movement here and there, we thought maybe this season we can have an impact but I don’t think we expected to win 19 out of 20 games so far. 

“That’s been a fair achievement, it really has but, credit to everyone who’s played, and credit to the coaching staff that we’ve got.

“It’s just all gone very, well since preseason, we started really strongly in pre-season, and then it just went on and on and on from there.

“It’s been excellent. It really has.”

The goals for Newhaven haven’t stopped coming either, with 11 goals scored in their last three games, Kerry is keen to display the team’s hard work which has aided them to success, especially the likes of Lucy Collins, one of the many players currently sitting with more than ten goals to their name this season. 

“We’ve worked really hard in training this season on creating more chances and taking the chances and there’s been a noticeable improvement. 

“This season we’ve got, four players in double figures compared to previous seasons, I think over the last sort of four or five seasons, we haven’t got anyone into double figures in competitive games,” Kerry said, “but we’ve got Lucy Collins on 20, Chloe Evans, who scored 16 or 15.

“There’s big goals from other parts of the team as well, it’s been a big plus for us this season, and certainly something that we have worked really hard on and got the rewards for it now.”

With the final not far away, what does Kerry expect from Saltdean United?

“I’ve watched them a couple of times now, just to get a feel for what they’re about and they’ve got some very good players,” said Kerry, “so we’re under no illusions that it’s going to be a really tough ask to compete and to get something out the game.

“We’ll give it our best shot.

 “We’re well aware of the dangers that they pose, they’ve got some real attacking threats up top of which players that we’ve been familiar with over recent seasons, so we’re aware of them come up against them a couple of times for other team and then defensively, very strong. 

“I’ve seen them a couple of times and the players they’ve got to play centerfield are extremely good, so all in all, we understand it’s going to be a real tough challenge but, as I said earlier, it’s easy, for us, there’s no pressure, we’ve got nothing to lose. 

“We’ll just go and give it our best shot that we possibly can.”

But Kerry’s side struggled to fight against Saltdean United. 

For the first time in their history, Saltdean United have won the Sussex Women’s Challenge Cup Final after a dominant 3-0 win over Newhaven. 

Five minutes in, the Tigers captain fired the first shot after a confused scramble in the Newhaven box. Georgia Bridges scored the first goal of the night, opening up a ruling game for Saltdean. 

The moment the game kicked off, Saltdean United were in control. 

Newhaven’s defence had to work fast as Zak Dove’s side were quick to set the tone with their skipper, Bridges sealing the first goal of the game. 

Newhaven’s goalkeeper Annie Hills, attempted to recover after the chaos in the box whilst defender Jess Mead quickly came to her aid to defend the goal but it wasn’t enough as Saltdean sent themselves 1-0 up. 

The goal didn’t help Newhaven wake up, it only made Saltdean want more.

Just five minutes later, Paula Howells tested Hills again with a stunning cross into the box but the Newhaven keeper saved the shot, keeping her team firmly in the fight for the cup but soon Howells’ constant efforts would be rewarded.

After 22 minutes Howells fired home and sent her side 2-0 up after a composed shot from the edge of the box which narrowly missed Hills’ hand.

Despite their 2-0 lead, Newhaven keeper Annie Hills kept out some incredible chances from Caitlin Sullivan. 

The rest of the half saw Saltdean control the game, having greater possession and using that to fire many shots that refused to hit the net.

Despite their defensive work no opportunity was given to Newhaven to sneak a goal back.

Frustration seemed to grow for Saltdean United, despite their 2-0 lead at halftime, Dove’s side could have potentially scored many more, sealing the cup in the first half but the Newhaven defence were determined to not let anymore hit the net. 

Halftime loomed over the finalists and with their 2-0 lead, Saltdean looked to add to their tally but the Newhaven defence came out fighting. 

Despite Newhaven’s best efforts, Sullivan had finally got what she had worked for. Sullivan has given their all to this final, creating incredible runs and constantly testing the defence of the opposition with her shots. 

In the 61st minute, her hard work finally paid off. A one-on-one play-through against the defence saw a composed shot slot itself in the far corner of the goal making the score now 3-0 to Saltdean United. 

Saltdean may have controlled the game but Hills controlled her goal, making an incredible save in the 65th minute to keep the score at 3-0.

The Tigers continued to press, constantly claiming possession and firing shots towards the goalkeeper however Newhaven managed to hold on.

After 90 minutes and three minutes of added time, Saltdean claimed a historic win against Newhaven.

Speaking at full time Kerry sheds light on his thoughts about the final.

“I think we always knew it was going to be tough, we knew we were up against it. They are a good side with some good players and they play in the League above us.” 

“I think conceding early made it harder but I was glad we just stayed in it and didn’t concede more goals throughout.” 

Despite the scoreline, Newhaven didn’t give in easily, they constantly chased after loose balls and continued to press when they could, something Kerry was proud of. 

“I was happy about that.

It would have been easier to just give in and concede more goals but I thought we actually stood up and tried to get up the pitch but credit where credits due, you have to take your hat off to Saltdean they’re a great team, they play excellent football and they have some very good players.” 

Their challenging journey with Dove in their own league and the cup finals have finally paid off as Bridges rose the trophy high before her team.

Speaking after full-time, Saltdean manager Dove said: “I think first half we really looked after the ball well, had lots of chances, probably should’ve been further ahead but spoke at halftime about dictating the game, again should’ve taken more chances but like you said, composed.”

“It was good, it was what we wanted.”

He was keen to praise his side for their hard work and their mindset throughout the game and their season so far.

“That’s one thing you can’t question about us, the group of players we have, their mentality is brilliant.

“The group has been brilliant, they look after each other,” he said, “Yeah they have faults like everyone else but mentality-wise, they’re top-notch.”

Dove’s side has faced many challenges in the run-up to this Cup Final. With players leaving and goals lacking he quickly sought to change this in training.

“We’ve worked on it a lot since December. We’ve got so much talent it’s just trying to get it out. 

“They’re getting their rewards which is even better.” 

Despite being 3-0 up Saltdean continued to push for more goals, constantly attacking and not letting the opposition breathe in their half.

“I think it shows our mentality.

“We always want to be better, there’s always room to improve.”

Stats: (Saltdean United-Newhaven): Goals (3-0) Shots (16-1) On Target: (8-1) Corners (11-0) Fouls (2-1) Offside (4-0) Yellow Cards (0-0) Red Cards (0-0)

Saltdean United: Blair Hamilton (GK), Annalise Brown, Katie Steer, Charley Boswell, Megan Gates, Katie McIntyre, Georgia Bridges, Nirnh Andersson, Molly Hill, Caitlin Sullivan, Paula Howells 

Newhaven: Annie Hills (GK), Jess Mead, Faye Hannaford, Ellie Coade, Summer Dutton, Charlotte Markmam, Katie Franks, Harriet Mckelar, Chloe Evans, Lucy Collinson, Lauren Enirincham 

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June 2024