Sports and City Share the Points
By Kevin Anderson
A Desmond with the Hoops is just about right on the day
Eastbourne Borough had to settle for a 2-2 draw at Priory Lane on Saturday, ten-man Oxford City poaching a late equaliser after Borough had seemed to be on course for victory.
The home side had come from behind to lead 2-1 through Dean Cox’s penalty on 65 minutes, when City keeper Craig King earned an instant red card for hauling down Charlie Walker in front of a gaping goal.
Borough will have been disappointed, but this was a markedly improved performance, and the draw was a fair return for both teams in a lively and often quite gripping match. A workmanlike Hoops side had their moments and were certainly not the poorest recent visitors to the Lane. (Incidentally, we'd love to use that customary nick-name, but there was not a trace of any actual hoops on the City away strip, which did rather resemble a white pillowcase that you've accidentally put into a coloureds wash... We just hope we don't play you on a foggy night.)
Jamie Howell welcomed back Marvin Hamilton for his first start since an injury against Woking, on August Bank Holiday, and a shuffled back four saw Tom Gardiner rested for the first time this season. Kristian Campbell returned at left-back after his two-match suspension. There was a first league start for Andrew Briggs on the right of midfield, where the 18-year-old played tidily and intelligently.
As early as the third minute, Walker was bursting through on goal when defender Joe Dielma hauled him back. It was a wilful and risky offence, but referee David Spain – who in fairness was to run the game with authority and clarity – surprisingly declined a yellow card, and King splendidly saved Walker’s stinging free-kick.
Then Oxford, busy and compact, surprised the Sports with an 8th minute opener, front man Kabongo Tschimanga swapping passes with Kyran Wiltshire before shrugging off a feeble challenge to slot low into the corner from 15 yards.
But Borough steadied the ship, and with Ryan Hall and Kane Wills prominent - and a full-sail wind behind them - they were soon pressing. On the half hour Brighton loanee Stefan Ljubicic combined slickly with Campbell and Hall, before exquisitely setting Walker for a brilliant volleyed finish for 1-1. And before half-time the irrepressible Walker had almost put Eastbourne ahead but was cut short by a marginal offside flag. Charlie, signed as a front-man in the summer, has probably hit the target less often than he or his manager would like, but nobody can fault his energy and his capacity to make things happen. Playing off a target man such as Ljubicic is probably his best role, and the final dozen games of the season might well be productive....
After the break Oxford, with the gale now at their backs, seemed to be wresting back the balance of power. Harry Ransom and his new AFC Bournemouth partner Corey Jordan had their hands full with City’s bustling front pairing of Tschimanga and Thomas-Asante, and when on 47 minutes the latter missed a golden chance for 2-1, the Lane’s collective gasp of relief was audible.
But the Sports were playing intelligently into the wind, and steadily dominating midfield. Up front Ljubicic added height, good movement and a quite imperious presence, and Howell must be quietly pleased with the coup of his signing from Albion.
With the game opening up, and Borough playing now more expansively, a goal was on the cards. On 65 minutes, Walker pounced on a catastrophic back-pass from Oastler and a panicking King resorted to a rugby-style grapple to prevent him from scoring. Mr Spain’s penalty decision was an easy one, and with King departing down the tunnel, Cox slotted the spot kick past substitute keeper Steven Caro.
It was a double celebration for Borough’s popular midfielder, who on Saturday put his signature on a new contract to keep him at the Lane next season. Cox has been a huge success story, both personally and professionally, since signing for Jamie Howell in August.
At 2-1, an extra goal would have sealed it, and Charlie all but did so with his most spectacular moment of the afternoon - a breathtaking overhead kick, back to goal, which fizzed wide of the left post. Now, a precious – and relatively rare – home victory should have been in the bag, but although Borough now controlled most of the play, they were undone by a set-piece.
Josh Ashby’s right-wing corner curled long beyond the back post, where City skipper Joe Oastler took delighted advantage of slack marking to plant his header past Sam Howes.
Over to you, then, Borough. But rising to his thirty minutes of fame, Caro produced athletic saves, on either side of Oastler’s 73rd minute leveller, as City somehow resisted a torrent of home attacks. Ransom hit the target from a corner, but City defender Eddie Jones chested the ball off the line before, in a tumult of bodies, Caro fell gratefully on the ball.
And when Corey Jordan mirrored Harry’s goal attempt at the next corner, the reserve keeper conjured a point-blank reflex save to push the ball over the bar. With substitute Lloyd Dawes on to inject fresh pace, the home side kept City on the rack, but they never snapped.
For Oxford, then, a point salvaged – but for the Sports, two points dropped.
Borough: Howes; Hamilton, Ransom, Jordan, Campbell; Briggs, Wills, Hall, Cox; Ljubicic, Walker (Dawes 81). Unused subs: West, Blackmore, Gardiner, Myles-Meekums.
Referee: David Spain Att: 451
Borough MoM: Charlie Walker – a fine goal to cap a feisty performance