Defeat, but no disgrace, for Sports at Ebbsfleet
On terms for most of the game, Borough finally succumbed in the final quarter to go down 4-1 at title-chasing Ebbslfeet United in the National South on Saturday.
On terms for three-quarters of the game, Eastbourne Borough finally succumbed in the final quarter to go down 4-1 at title-chasing Ebbslfeet United in the National South on Saturday.
This was no feeble surrender. With the clock showing 88 minutes, the score stood at 2-1 and Borough, despite a second-half buffetting from the home side, were still in the game – including passing up a couple of golden chances to equalise. But by 90+5, a late goal and an even later penalty had secured three points for the Fleet, and given the final scoreline a slightly flattering sheen.
Earlier, the enormous home crowd – just short of 2,500 – had been first frustrated by Borough’s resolute first-half performance, and then stunned when a Ryan Worrall penalty gave the Sports a 38th minute lead.
“I’ve put all my experience on the pitch,” was Hugo Langton’s comment on his line-up as they took the field to face a highly-priced Fleet side desperate for points. In the second leg of his fiery managerial baptism, Langton welcomed back Jordan Holmes, Josh Hare and Nat Pinney to the side which narrowly lost at Dartford, and he set up with a 3-5-2 grouped around the granite figure of Ian Simpemba, and designed to shore up a midfield and defence which had been stretched at Princes Park. With Reece Connolly given a start up front alongside Taylor, Pinney had to wait his turn on the bench.
The stand-in boss must have been pleased with the opening half-hour. Borough went toe-to-toe with home playmakers Andy Drury and Sam Deering, and quenched the sparky attacking threat of the Fleet strikers. Deering took an early tumble under Kiran Khinda-John’s challenge but referee Elliott Kaye was unconvinced: by the end of the afternoon Mr Kaye was to award a penalty to each side, and turn down four more.
The next phase saw only half-chances at either end. A McQueen shot was solidly blocked by Shaun Hobson, and then the young AFC Bournemouth defender hit a lovely long ball to Taylor, who was just beaten to it by the fearsome figure of Nathan Ashmore, storming out from the Fleet goal.
Then McCallum deftly played in Ryan Worrall, who tripped in the box under challenge: nothing doing from Mr Kaye. Within minutes Ryan had almost notched an unaided goal of his own, a fabulous dipping effort thwarted only by an equally stunning Ashmore save, one-handedly tipping it past the far post.
Still the sparring went on, and still no breakthrough. Khinda-John produced an immaculate goal-saving tackle to stop Bubb’s clear run on goal, and then on 37 minutes the Sports claimed the lead. As the home centre-backs hesitated, McCallum raced through the centre and struck an absolute missile of a shot, goalbound until Ashmore twisted and got a strong hand on it – but he could only deflect the ball to Ben Wood, whose instantaneous hand was enough in Mr Kaye’s eyes for a yellow card and a penalty. Worrall stepped up and confidently despatched the spot kick.
With shudders of discontent among the massed ranks of home supporters, Borough actually finished the half on top. Fleet boss Daryl McMahon sent his misfiring side out early for the second half, and as they sheepishly patted the ball around waiting for the re-start, Eastbourne fans dared briefly to dream of an historic victory – for in 16 previous encounters, Borough had failed to defeat the Fleet.
Early exchanges were ominous, and a direct free-kick in the D, for a Kiran foul on Bubb, had to be stoutly defended as the home side flowed forward with more pace and purpose. Jordan Holmes took an awful tumble, catching a high ball as Bubb – unpunished by the referee – clattered into him. He received prolonged treatment, to unseemly howls of time-wasting from a corner of the home crowd, but Holmes defied them to soldier on for another fifteen minutes, before he was replaced by Lewis Carey.
But those fifteen minutes were to turn the match. With Borough looking shaky down the left side of their defence, Deering raced through and hammered a low cross-shot which Holmes bravely pushed out, but it rebounded off Bubb and into the net past the helpless keeper for 1-1. Then Andy Drury played the sweetest of weighted passes in behind left-back, and substitute Anthony Cook beat the hobbling Holmes by a whisker to give Fleet the lead.
But although the balance of play was now with Ebbsfleet, the game was very much alive and the visitors had their moments. Gavin had brilliantly nicked the ball from a scrambling Ashmore, but his shot on the turn only found the side-netting when it was possibly easier to score. And on 72 minutes Borough had a huge shout for handball as Pinney’s shot was blocked, and the rebound spun to Jamie Taylor, who uncharacteristically popped the ball wide.
But the Fleet would not be denied. Carey had already denied a scorcher from Bubb with a great one-handed save, but on 88 minutes – from a dubious free-kick awarded against McCallum – he was left exposed, and Bubb drilled home his own second and Ebbsfleet’s third.
And in the fifth minute of stoppage time, that man Bubb got lucky again – with his second opposition goalkeeper of the afternoon. Chasing a through pass, he took a somersault over the diving Carey, who had already got a hand to the ball, and a trigger-happy Mr Kaye gave both a penalty, smashed in by Aaron McLean, and a yellow card to Carey for added insult. It summed up Borough’s afternoon.
Borough: Holmes (Carey 73); Khinda-John, Simpemba, Hobson; Hare, Hughes, McCallum, Stone, Worrall (Oxlade-Chamberlain 73); Connolly (Pinney 69), Taylor. Unused subs: Tate, Bosma.
Referee: Elliott Kaye Att: 2,477
Borough MoM: Ian Simpemba - tower of strength