Defeat At The Beavers
A confusing evening in SW London .....
After their euphoric opening-day victory, Eastbourne Borough bumped back to earth at Hampton and Richmond on Tuesday night, losing 3-1 in a match which rarely followed the script.
Borough's performance was well above awful, but well short of the fluent and dominating display which had easily dispatched Hemel on the opening day. Why? Football - thank goodness - is not an exact science, and there are lots of variables.
First, Hampton were lively opponents with heaps of pace and a refreshing instinct to "get the ball and run". Fresh up from winning the Ryman Premier, they will upset a lot of teams this season and might well push for the play-offs. Borough certainly found themselves on the back foot for quite long spells.
Second, the home side had the better of a bizarre sequence of events that saw match referee pull up injured, and replaced after a 20-minute delay by his senior assistant Damith Bandera. When the match finally ended, well after 10pm, we had seen two penalties, a disallowed goal and a whole clutch of yellow cards, and Hampton had sometimes seemed more in control of the play than Mr Bandera.
But back to the start. The Sports were welcomed in leafy South-West London by a warm evening, a smart green pitch and a friendly home club. Tommy made just two changes from Saturday's starting line-up, with Nat Pinney replacing the rested Jamie Taylor and Craig Stone getting the nod over Ryan Worrall in midfield.
The game exploded rather than started. Two minutes in, striker Nicke Kabamba pounded through from half-way, cut in from the left and struck a low shot that Lewis Carey stopped with his feet. Within a minute, Borough had almost grabbed their own freakish opener, home keeper Aaron Howe just pushing Miguel Baptista's curling free-kick over the bar after it had caught defender Tom Jelley's head.
But that was the end of Howe's night, hobbling off with a muscle pull and replaced by Billy Bishop, the reserve Hampton keeper who was to grab his 85 minutes of fame with quite a flourish. And romping down the Beveree slope, the Beavers continued to look the busier side until Mr Yianni's 17th-minute injury. The customary tannoy announcement produced a volunteer from the crowd to take the flag, and Mr Bandera took over the whistle, but the lengthy delay had helped nobody.
Brian Dutton - once again impressing at centre-back - was the first victim of the new referee's zealous match control, copping a harsh yellow card, and then suffered a second time when Mr Bandera disallowed his sweeping finish from another Baptista free-kick - apparently for an Ian Simpemba foul. With penalty areas these days as choked and chaotic as a crowded tube train, it is hard for any referee to get it entirely right.
But around the half-hour mark (this reporter's note-book and stop-watch were by now failing hopelessly to keep exact times) Simpemba himself was the impeded by a defender's clamping hold, and Mr Bandera correctly awarded a yellow card and a spot kick, which Pinney hammered in for 1-0.
The lead lasted only nine minutes - long enough for Arinse Uade to earn a second Borough booking - before Mr Bandera evened up the penalty count. On the edge of the box Kabamba turned Simpemba and, perhaps making the most of the contact, went sprawling over. Home fans screamed for a red card but the Sports skipper incurred only a yellow. Jelley stepped up to score from the spot, via the inside of the left-hand post.
Within two more minutes Hampton were ahead. A long, raking free-kick from the left was knocked back from beyond the far post, half-cleared, and then drilled back in through a tangle of players by Jamal Lowe. A 45-minute half had actually lasted 68 minutes, and we all needed a cup of tea.
Within seconds of the restart, spirits lifted by the cuppa, Eastbourne raced through in the shape of Elliott Romain, whose cracking low shot was deflected inches wide by Bishop when at least half of the ground thought he had scored. It was as close as Saturday's hat-trick hero was to come, and it set the pattern for a frustrating second half.
On 51 minutes Pinney's perfect pass set up Baptista for an absolute screamer which drew an equally superb save from Bishop, on the angle of crossbar and right-hand post. Then Romain hit a shot against a defender's hand, although a penalty award would have been harsh. And possibly the clearest chance to equalise fell to Taylor, on as a substitute, whose planted side-footer was excellently stopped, and then gratefully clutched, by Bishop.
Meanwhile the Beavers were perfecting their own brand of game management, routinely taking half a minute or more to restart play when the ball went dead. Most referees would swiftly put a stop to that, but there was no apparent action from Mr Bandera.
And with the clock running down, Borough ran out of chances. Pinney - carded earlier for dissent - tried one long shot when a better pass to the available McCallum might have been wiser, and then caused panic with expert close control, but his lay-off to Mark Hughes was charged down.
Hampton, who had seen much less of the ball in these later stages, then sealed the victory on 81 minutes. Kabamba, with a flick that was either inspired or accidental, released Lowe into the box for a scorching finish past the helpless Carey.
There was time for a vital Leon Solomon tackle to deny Taylor in the box, and for a final Bishop save from a Pinney free-kick, but Mr Bandera allowed less than three minutes of added time, and by then the points were won and lost.
Borough: Carey; Hare, Dutton, Simpemba, Uade; Baptista, Stone, Hughes, McCallum; Pinney, Romain. Unused subs: Horlock, Khinda-John, Azaiya
Referee: Savvas Yianni, replaced by Damith Bandera (17mins) Att: 525
Borough MoM: Brian Dutton - bringing valuable experience at the back