Sports Battle to First Point
Nine men, ninety-nine minutes, and nobody wilted. Just another afternoon at the Beveree....
From a situation as precarious as the closing scene in The Italian Job, Eastbourne Borough rescued a point from the precipice at Hampton and Richmond on Saturday – finishing the match with nine men but a 1-1 scoreline.
By the very final whistle of a match that had grown ever more dramatic, ninety-nine minutes had been played. Every ball contested, every yard of grass covered. One team exhausted and frustrated, the other team exhausted but triumphant. And a one-all scoreline that probably neither team could complain at.
The Beavers are warm and civilised hosts, and “leafy suburbs” is no cliché, but an accurate picture of the Beveree, nestling just a long throw-in from the Thames and a mere portly stroll from Henry VIII’s Hampton Court. The turf is green, lush and elegantly diamond-patterned, and inelegant defenders can always gain a breather by booting the ball into the foliage around the pitch. And in the home technical area, one of the most improbable (and also very affable) partnerships in football: Alan Dowson, the man who could give Tommy elocution lessons, and Martin Tyler, the eloquent Voice of Sport. And you lot thought that commentators know nothing about the game.....
The Sports’ disciplinary nightmare continues. In just three games, the team has collected enough yellow and red cards to lay a path from centre circle to dressing room – and yet virtually all have been for minor or technical offences. It is rather like a driver finding himself in court for a string of parking tickets. And in each of the three matches, Howell’s side have conceded fewer free-kicks than the opposition: hardly evidence of a bunch of footballing hoodlums.
But back to the cards later. With Simpemba unavailable and Khinda-John suspended, Jamie paired newly-signed Gary Charman with Matt Drage at centre-half. There were also first starts of the season for Ryan Worrall and Charlie Harris, with Gavin McCallum rested.
Early stages were even, probing, inventive but without breakthrough. They gave no indication of the fireworks to follow, but both sides were moving the ball quickly and looking for goal. Harris and Odubade delivered crosses from the right, both created by Hendon but both too underhit to be dangerous, and then Harris shot too high from 25 yards.
The Beavers responded with a natty three-man move down the left, but Torres emphatically cleared the final cross. Then a similar incisive run by influential Hampton skipper Josh Casey produced a drilled low centre which Bailey Vose did well to hold. Meanwhile Jamie Taylor, sprightly as a young ‘un up front, was nicking balls from the feet of startled defenders in a virtuoso display of the striker’s art.
And on 14 minutes the Sports came close to opening the score. Yemi and JT conjured a chance for the onrushing Ryan Worrall, whose cracking shot was denied by Sam Howes’ brilliant reaction save. It was a clear signal to the home side that – despite the league table – they were far from favourites in this encounter. Charman’s long through ball earned a Sports corner on the right, sweetly worked by Odubade and Hendon, but Yemi’s chip floated too high.
Referee Matty Buonassisi was enjoying a good first half, keen to keep play flowing with advantage rulings, but he and his assistant angered Borough on 26 minutes, denying Taylor a strong penalty claim when the striker, on a superb curved run through the left channel, was bustled to the ground by Jack Cook.
Five minutes later the Sports came achingly close to the lead. A sensational five-man move (for the record, Hendon-Harris-Taylor-Worrall-Redmond) set up Charlie Harris, whose piledriver from 25 yards was bravely parried by Howes. And as Taylor pounced to strike the rebound goalwards, the home keeper produced a second reflex save to keep the ball out.
After half an hour of increasing Eastbourne dominance, it was time for the hosts to assert themselves, and the next few minutes saw a drastic swing to the Beavers. A terrific turn by Max Kretschmar produced a wicked shot that curled past Vose but cannoned off the back post and away, and then a scuffed effort by Ryan Moss nudged the same post before Vose belted it to safety.
And on 38 minutes Charman – who had looked comfortable on his return to first-team football after a Bognor back-seat role – slipped on a short square pass and Moss pounced, racing on goal. Charman’s stretching tackle caught the striker’s heel: a nailed-on red card, for Moss was clear on goal. Ironically the challenge was inches outside the box – a yard further, and under new rules the Borough centre-back would have copped only a yellow along with a penalty.
In the event, Borough defended the free-kick disastrously, with a flimsy wall allowing Kretzschmar’s scudding shot to sneak low inside the right-hand post for 1-0. The fatalists in the Borough ranks were fearing a second-half implosion – but instead the ten men produced a spirited and tactically perfect display.
On 51 minutes Yemi, teasing the defence with his expert close control, was brought down just outside the box, and from the free-kick Cook’s clumsy challenge brought down Matt Drage as he shaped to shoot. Up stepped Nat Pinney to smash the penalty past Howes for 1-1.
Settle for a point? Not likely, or certainly not yet. Hendon, as tricky as a kid with a tennis ball in the schoolyard, skipped through to set up Worrall, who pulled a powerful shot just wide of the left post. It was not to be Borough’s final chance, but meanwhile there was a defensive job to do.
Mr Buonassisi was by now losing some of his first-half Brownie points. His zeal for playing advantage almost cost Borough a goal, waving play on from a Hampton offside which permitted the home side to return instantly to the attack. Only a terrific Vose save, low at the right post from Cook, kept the scores level.
And then more controversy. Hendon delayed taking a throw-in but looked genuinely bemused to see a yellow card flourished, for at the same time the home bench had been holding up the substitution board, and the referee actually paused, allowed their substitution, and then resumed play after Hendon’s caution. It was to prove costly later.
For a while the teams traded attacks and efforts on goal – including yet another break by Hendon, whose final cut-back could not find Odubade, and the pass of the match from Taylor, long up to Yemi who set up a Harris shot. But steadily the home side were squeezing the tourniquet tighter, and on 83 minutes Brendon Kiernan had the ball in the Eastbourne net from an offside position.
We were into the end-game now, with tin-hats in the trenches for a Borough back line tirelessly marshalled by an uncrushable, inspirational Sergio Torres. Six minutes from time full-back Casey surged into the box from the left and took a tumble under a scrum of bodies. A hapless Will Hendon, who was probably not the guilty party, nonetheless saw Mr B. flourish a second yellow, and off he trooped. Kiernan stepped up to win the match for Hampton – and skied his spot kick miles over the crossbar.
Reprieved, the Sports gathered their strength and resolve for a final defence of the precious point. The drama was far from over, as an original four minutes of stoppage time turned into nine – including a stoppage while Matt Drage, his shoulder dislocated in an aerial challenge, popped it back in himself and played on. It was the final, improbable act of a slightly surreal afternoon.
At the final whistle, the whole team and staff made a point of going across to acknowledge the travelling support – who, significantly, had been won over from half-time gloom to second-half admiration. #rememberdarlo
Jamie Howell must have had better weeks than this one in his managerial career, but at least it finished on the upbeat. “It’s good to have a point on the board, of course, but this is not about the arithmetic, it’s about the morale. Every player gave everything, and today they got some reward. We are not pretending it was the perfect performance, but we can work with this.”
Borough: Vose; Hendon, Charman, Drage, Redwood; Worrall (Ransom 80), Torres, Harris; Odubade, Pinney (McCallum 69), Taylor (Crittenden 90+1). Unused subs: Horlock, Street.
Referee: Matty Buonassisi
Borough: Jamie Taylor – among several candidates