Two late goals denied Deal any reward after producing their best performance of the season against high-flying Sheppey on Monday.
In front of a crowd of 186, the highest for a league game at the Charles Ground since August 2005, the Hoops’ were leading 3-2 with four minutes of normal time remaining but Sheppey then scored twice from set-pieces to snatch a victory which moved them to joint top of the table.
It was a cruel outcome for Derek Hares’ side, especially as the defeat saw the Hoops slip to 17th in the table, and the stunned Deal manager admitted afterwards: “I don’t know what to say really, I’m just gutted for the players. Sheppey are a top side and I thought on the day we were certainly their equals.
“I couldn’t fault the effort put in by any of the players but it wasn’t just that, it was the quality they produced as well and the Sheppey people said to me afterwards that if we carry on playing like we’ll have nothing to worry about.”
Right from the start Deal were quick to the ball and sharp in the tackle and Sheppey, who had beaten fellow title-chasers Ashford in their previous game, had to live off slim attacking pickings in the opening half hour. The Hoops, however, were unable to turn their superior possession into a goal and then a rare misjudgement by skipper Dean Hill allowed Dan Bradshaw to race clear and put Sheppey ahead seven minutes before half-time.
That could have knocked the stuffing out of Deal, but instead they started the second half in just the same positive fashion and this time didn’t have long to wait before achieving a tangible end product. With just three minutes gone Dan Adams fed Harry Alexander in space on the left edge of the Sheppey area and the young winger claimed his first goal for the club with a low drive into the far corner.
Despite losing Lee Scott soon afterwards through injury the Hoops remained on top and they went in front when Adams converted a 60th-minute penalty after Jack Paxman had been brought down in the box.
At the other end James Tonkin remained relatively untroubled in the Hoops’ goal, but he could do nothing about the 75th-minute equaliser that George Batten blasted past him into the top corner from fully 25 yards out.
Five minutes later, however , Deal edged back in front when Alexander’s intended cross drifted into the net over Sheppey keeper Dean Warford and the Hoops looked set to start 2017 in flying fashion.
But then a rash challenge by substitute Carl Munday on the edge of the Deal penalty area presented Sheppey with a 86th-minute free-kick opportunity which Karl Miller-Neave gratefully accepted, and two minutes later Bradshaw was on hand to bundle the ball over the line following an inswinging corner to complete the visitors’ dramatic late comeback.
Deal: Tonkin, Paxman, Bagley, Hill, Scott (O’Brien 55), Anderson, Reeves (Munday 78), Walsh, Coyne (Bigginton 81), Adams, Alexander.