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  • 04/06/10
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By winning their final match against UCF, their closest rivals, New Life retained the League title for a third successive season and, having beaten Selsdon Baptists in the Mike King Trophy Final some weeks earlier, achieved a League and Cup double.

The much extended season finally reached its conclusion on 22 May and with the top four teams in Division 1 due to be involved in matches played side by side on pitches at Coney Hall Recreation Ground, it was almost inevitable that key issues would remain to be resolved.

As it turned out, with Newgen and Selsdon Baptist Church now out of the running, everything rested on the game between New Life and UCF, with UCF needing only to avoid defeat to secure a first League title, whilst only a win would be good enough for New Life.

It was perhaps not surprising then that a combination of the tension of the occasion and stifling heat contributed to a somewhat scrappy start to the game, with neither side managing to impose much degree of control to their play.

The game came to life however after about 20 minutes when a perfectly weighted through ball bisected the UCF defence for Sammy Dieng to glide through and calmly slot the ball wide of UCF 'keeper Andrew Osei.

1-0 to New Life, but their lead only lasted for three minutes before Marc Lowther levelled the score for UCF from close range. Just four minutes later though New Life were back in front when, finding himself unmarked and in possession of the ball midway into his opponents' half, leading scorer Ruben Alibaj spotted that the UCF 'keeper had strayed way off his line and confidently lobbed the ball over him and into the net from 35 yards or so to restore his team's lead.

Finding themselves behind again, UCF probably then had their best spell of the game, creating several good chances in what remained of the half. Only a perfectly timed last ditch tackle thwarted Danny Jupe as he was put through on goal, an outside of the boot chip narrowly scraped over the New Life crossbar and 'keeper Ben Uzun was forced to make a scrambling save low to his right hand post shortly before referee Phil Stevens blew his whistle to signal half time.

UCF were however unable to maintain their momentum after the break and although New Life came close to extending their lead after 24 minutes with a shot which just cleared the crossbar, the game seemed to revert to the stalemate of the start of the first half.

What turned out to be the game's defining incident came after 30 minutes of the second half when, whilst trying to catch up with Alibaj, UCF centre-back Cameron Main caught the back of his calf, causing him to trip and, with no covering defender, after checking with his assistant that Alibaj had not come from an offside position, referee Phil Stevens produced the inevitable red card. Down to 10 men, UCF’s troubles increased when the resulting free kick was perfectly curled into the top corner of the net by New Life’s Adam Ash to increase their lead to 3-1. Surely now the title was firmly in their grasp?

By now UCF had already made two substitutions, which included Team Manager Rob Pickering bringing himself on, and in a last desperate ploy, with just a few minutes remaining, injured captain Andy Willetts also came on and his introduction had an immediate effect when a long throw somehow found its way to Pickering, who rose like a salmon to head into the net.

Now UCF needed just one more goal to secure the point they needed, but in truth were lucky not to go further behind as Dieng and Alibaj ran rings round what remained of their defence in the final few minutes, with Alibaj hitting the post after one interchange of passes when a goal looked inevitable.

The match finished then with UCF only one goal away from a first League title, but with the three points gained being sufficient for New Life to draw level with them on points and claim a third successive championship on goal difference in what was the closest ever finish to Division 1 in the League’s history.

Congratulation to Richard Howes and Jonathan Bryars for the way they and their players have conducted themselves throughout the season, and to Club Secretary John Dutton for his ever efficient administration behind the scenes.