Sports Exit the Senior Cup in Extra-Time Drama
Harsh result but heartening performance as Borough are left wondering how they lost...
Eastbourne Borough suffered the cruellest of exits from the Parafix Sussex Senior Cup in a seven-goal thriller at Priory Lane on Tuesday night.
Borough led for long spells of a tightly-fought contest with Crawley Town and were 3-2 up going into stoppage time. But a 95th-minute equaliser from former Sports forward Dean Cox took the match to extra time, and Crawley edged ahead with a penalty to clinch the tie at 4-3.
Lloyd Dawes had given the Sports an 18th minute lead, volleying in from 15 yards after Town had flimsily defended a searching Gavin McCallum cross. But it was cancelled out on the stroke of half-time by Thomas Verheydt, stabbing in his shot from close range after Crawley recycled an attacking move - despite a brave save from Mark Smith, who was in the sort of all-action under-pressure form which you always suspect that keepers love best.
The 1-1 interval scoreline was probably less than the Sports deserved, and certainly the visitors had been shaken by Borough's eager, front-foot performance. A neutral would seriously have wondered who were the full-timers and who were the semi-pros out there.
Credit also to Jamie and his staff here: if recent form has been frustrating for supporters, it has been doubly so for the manager. Tactically, he went back to basics with a sound 4-4-2 shape which everybody understood. And psychologically, whatever was said behind the firmly closed door of the dressing room seems to have been just right. Football, like many aspects of management and leadership, is so often push-me-pull-you. Players know when they've made mistakes or under-performed. Don't belittle them, don't demolish their confidence even further. Tell them what they are doing right as well as what they're doing wrong.
Indeed, it is a lesson we could all take to heart, supporters and reporters too. And on Tuesday night, the list of what the team did right would more than fill this page. Yes, the final scoreline was the wrong way round - but the positives to take, even in defeat, simply changed the whole spirit and mind-set of the club. This was the Borough of old.
But back to the action. Crawley came out after the break with a higher paced game, and then the Division Two outfit - all but one of whom have had first team experience this season - took the lead when a right-wing cross was unluckily deflected into his own net by James Haran.
But two goals in two minutes swung a pulsating tie back in Eastbourne's favour. On 67 minutes the excellent Dawes beat Crawley keeper Yusuf Mersin to a long Harry Ransom pass to equalise, and then Gavin McCallum cracked a scorcher from Sergio Torres's feed to put Borough ahead.
Giving everything for the cause, in probably their best performance of the season, Borough had two great chances to extend the lead on breakaways, and those misses were to prove costly. Even so, the home side thought they had done enough, as they repelled all of Crawley's increasingly desperate attacks. Referee John Pike had mysteriously played 20 seconds short of the 45 minutes in the first half, but he found a generous four minutes of added time and - actually just into the 95th minute - Cox's curler sneaked in for the equaliser. The man with the whistle cut a genial figure in the midst of the flurry of action around him, keeping his cards in his pocket even when tempers spilled over immediately before extra time - a fortunately brief confrontation sorted by senior players and staff. For Mr Pike, it must have felt like being a pedestrian stuck on the central reservation of a high-speed dual carriageway...
Seven minutes into extra time, striker Boudewijn muscled Torres off the ball, and then went down under challenge right on the 18-yard line, although his tumble was certainly inside the box. Without a VAR to call on, Mr Pike pointed to the penalty spot, for Verheydt to grab a 4-3 lead which they defended against all Borough's efforts. With just two minutes of the 120 remaining, Will Hendon - who played outstandingly throughout - seemed to be taken out by Mersen's bulldozing challenge, but Mr Pike declined to even up the penalty tally. And even on the final whistle, a Borough corner was headed wide by Harry Ransom.
There had been heroic performances throughout the team, from Smith's fabulous goalkeeping, through a midfield of Ransom, Wills and the tireless Sergio Torres, to the dashing runs of Dawes up front. Even the less noticed members of the team had played their part - Udo at right-back had left some errors from Welling well behind him, and gave his best. James Haran is impressing more with every game and has seamlessly slotted into the back line - alongside an imposing and often under-rated Khinda-John. Shaun Odojie gave glimpses of his exciting potential - as well as managing impressively for a spell in an unfamiliar midfield role!
Unable to separate the Man of Match candidates, the club's social media officer Tom Harris put it out to public vote: Smith 24%, Hendon 32%, Dawes 44%!
And among supporters trooping away into the cold damp night, there was one common view: a harsh result, but a very heartening performance.
(Photo credit: Jamie Evans)