Report: Carshalton Ath 4-3 Whyteleafe
An extraordinary afternoon of drama, twists, and turns ended in defeat for a spirited Leafe side and promotion for the jubilant hosts.
Kick-off was delayed for nearly an hour, due to the late arrival of the referee' return flight from Albania. Most unusual circumstances, however, the large crowd and two patient teams could at least enjoy the first real spring warmth and sunshine of the year.
Carshalton required a draw or better to ensure automatic promotion, although if Corinthian-Casuals failed to win at Ramsgate in the meantime the line would have already been crossed.
The home side were quickest out of the blocks, but it was the 17th minute before the first real chance of a goal, the prolific Tommy Bradford's rasping drive just narrowly wide of Leafe stopper Sheikh Ceeesay's right-hand post. Shortly after Omar Karoma's firm header was thwarted by Ceeesay and gathered at the second attempt.
Against the run of play, Leafe opened the scoring on 24 minutes when, following on from a cleared corner, Sam Clayton delivered a trademark cross from the right, headed low past keeper Billy Bishop by the still advanced centre-half John Scarborough.
Three minutes later Leafe left-back Anton Douglas was adjudged to have fouled in the area. Ceesay, a renowned saver of spot-kicks, obliged once more to keep the visitors' lead.
Koroma then hit the post for Carshalton whilst Clayton had a goalbound shot blocked just before the break.
With Corinthians 0-2 up at Ramsgate it appeared the promotion champagne could stay in the fridge for another week at least, but how quickly things would change.
Almost straight from the restart a lob into the Leafe box was met by a spectacular overhead kick from Kalvin Morath-Gibbs that hit the side netting. In reply, Bradley Simms advanced down the right for the visitors, his fine cross met by Vance Bola's head, but again finding the side netting.
Moments later Bradford did level the scores with a 20 yard shot that Ceesay will be have been disappointed to let by. That said, he soon redeemed himself with a fine double-save from two more Bradford left-footed strikes.
In a free-flowing and exciting game, before a bumper crowd of 588, Ola Sogbanmu missed an open goal on 55 minutes, heading wide with the goal at his mercy, then William Hutton, a recent recruit to the Leafe midfield, struck a 25-yard screamer, tipped brilliantly round his post by the alert Bishop.
Just a minute later Athletic's Michael Aziaya hit a thundering drive against Ceesay's post. Next it was Leafe's turn, Bola laying a neat pass back to Tom Pearson whose low left-footed shot was tipped round the post once more by Bishop.
From the resultant corner, Leafe took the lead once more with a goal almost a carbon copy of their opener. Meeting a short corner, Clayton crossed and Scarborough stooped low to head his second goal of the afternoon.
By now, however, news had circulated that Ramsgate had pulled the Casuals back to a 2-2 draw, the result meaning promotion was assured.
The fact being academic to the visitors they pressed further and on 63 minutes extended their lead when Bola latched on to a smart through ball and calmly curled his shot around Bishop into the corner of the net.
The home side then took over proceedings with Sogbanmu grabbing two goals in as many minutes, firstly a firm header in the 76th and next a shot in a crowded box in the 77th.
In reply, Clayton blasted his shot over the bar when well placed before Ceesay saved bravely, diving full stretch at the feet of Bradford.
With promotion celebrations already well underway off the pitch, it was left to Bradford to put the cherry on the cake with a winning Carshalton goal in the third minute of time added on, to send Colston Avenue into raptures.
For the visitors, it was a cruel end to the afternoon after a fine performance and equal contribution to a memorable game.
Leafe: Ceesay, Simms, Douglas, Graham, Scarborough, Simeone, Hutton (Hegarty 87), Taylor, Bola, Pearson (Ibrahim 65), Clayton. Subs not used: Clothier, Connaris