Sports season ends with a thriller against Saints
Fox in the box? Ox in the box! A remarkable season goes down to the very last kick....
It isn’t over till it’s over. Two goals up, then pegged back to 2-2 by visitors St Albans City, Eastbourne Borough’s season ended in the 93rd minute of their final fixture – with an unbelievable winning goal by Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Who writes these scripts? The result left the Sports in eleventh place – exactly in mid-table – and balanced out the National South season very neatly: won 16, drawn 10, lost 16. And the other notable statistic? Borough were the league’s highest scorers outside the top three, and Priory Lane saw more goals scored that any other National South ground: 81 goals, or just shy of four per game. It has rarely been dull at the Lane this season.
Some of those goals, of course, were chalked up by opposition teams, all too grateful for Borough’s frequent generosity. But win, lose or draw, the entertainment levels have seldom flagged, and Saturday’s riveting contest was no different.
Acting manager Hugo Langton began, and ended, the afternoon still unsure of his Priory Lane future, but he cut a dignified figure and has been a steady hand on the tiller since the departure of Tommy Widdrington – who was present at Saturday’s game. For a man of integrity, honesty and unfailing good humour, look no further than Hugo.
In a nice mix of youth and experience, young Harry Ransom earned a full debut in midfield alongside club player of the year Mark Hughes, while unsung hero Craig Stone turned in yet another solid shift in a back line of youngsters.
The opening phases of this game were a bit scrappy, but almost all the first-half chances fell to the Sports. Nat Pinney scuffed a shot across the face of goal and Mark Hughes powered a header just over the crossbar from Worrall’s corner. Two more Pinney efforts were saved, and one rippling left-wing move finished with a Jamie Taylor header into the hands of keeper Russell. It was promising, but lacking the fluency of recent weeks.
City had offered little in response, but two minutes before the break the whole ground gasped as Kieran Monlouis fired a missile of a shot from 18 yards, which Jordan Holmes astonishingly touched on to his left-hand post at full stretch. The young AFC Bournemouth keeper has been a class act during his loan spell, and if Jordan does not one day pull on the Cherries jersey in the Premier League, this reporter will eat his notebook.
The visitors, who were league pace-setters in the autumn, still have a decent side and they opened the second half more brightly, with Charlie Walker’s volley drawing another awesome reaction save from Holmes. But four minutes in, the Saints defenders were left as flat as flip-flops when Pinney burst between the centre-backs, swerved past the keeper and even had time to beat centre-half Tom Gardiner a second time before slotting in the opening goal.
Stung into action, the Saints responded with two great efforts from Sam Merson – son of Arsenal legend Paul – but the young Sports centre-back pairing of Khinda-John and Hobson were in no mood to buckle under. And on 66 minutes, that man Pinney struck again, beating the City defence with pace and strength to rifle in a left-footed shot off the underside of the bar.
At 2-0, it should now have been a routine job, but Borough rarely seem to do routine victories. With fifteen minutes left, Merson pounced to beat Holmes from just inside the box, and St Albans, with a switch of formation were suddenly swarming all over Eastbourne. The influential Ben Herd – moved forward from full-back in the Saints reshuffle – buckled under a Simpemba challenge which looked as lethal as a sponge washbag. Up stepped Shaun Lucien from 20 yards, and over the wall and into the top corner went the free-kick to equalise.
For such a spirited comeback, the Saints were worth a point – but they were denied. On 84 minutes Langton, with typical enterprise, used his last available substitution to try and win the game, and on came young Christian to add a new attacking dimension. The Portsmouth loanee, still only 18, has been on a learning curve in these months, but his skills are sublime – and with three stoppage minutes played, from Josh Hare’s half-cleared corner, the Ox steered his way round the left side of the defence, jinked on to his right foot and smashed in an unstoppable winner. Melchester Rovers 3, St Albans City 2.
Borough: Holmes; Hare, Khinda-John, Hobson, Stone; Worrall (Connolly 66), Hughes (Simpemba 75), Ransom, McCallum (Oxlade-Chamberlain 84); Pinney, Taylor. Unused subs: Horlock, Bosma.
Referee: an intelligent Aji Ajibola on the whistle Att: 621
Borough MoM: Nat Pinney – formidable up front