Crusaders Put Borough To The Sword
By Kevin Anderson
No shelter from the Hungerford storm as Borough slip to defeat...
Still not safe. Eastbourne Borough are still clinging to the National South cliff-face, six points and three places above the drop zone, after a storm-battered 2-0 defeat at Hungerford on Saturday.
One of these Saturdays, surely, Borough will grasp a win and haul themselves closer to safety. Six points from the remaining seven games should be enough – but the weeks are slipping by.
After a well-earned point against Chelmsford last week, interim boss Mark McGhee fielded the same eleven players – but not the same team. At the Lane against the Clarets, they had been committed and confident. On Hungerford’s sloping, storm-battered pitch they had no coherence and no compass. Second-best to an eager home side, and always second to the conditions, Borough conceded a goal at the end of each half.
The first of those goals was highly controversial. Two minutes before half-time, from a short-corner routine, Hungerford striker Rhys Kavanagh headed goalwards and Borough keeper Mark Smith dived to clutch the ball down by his left-hand post. To the naked eye the ball was on the goal-line, but a zealous assistant referee flagged for a goal.
Smith was incandescent, earning a yellow card and continuing a vocal protest which must have been taking him close to a red. Video and still images later showed that the ball - the whole ball - had not crossed the goal-line, but heck, the officials are human - and the weather as well as a bumpy uneven goal-line may well have hindered linesman Aurel Onita's view. But the damage was done and Borough were trailing.
The Sports had played up Hungerford’s steep slope, but with the driving gale, in a first half which they edged on both possession and chances. Home keeper Michael Luyambula saved athletically from a Mike West free-kick, and then brilliantly turned away a Corey Jordan volley from a corner. Then the young AFC Bournemouth loanee struck a wicked shot from 25 yards, turned away by Luyambula. And with the keeper scrambling, David Martin smashed a free-kick against the crossbar.
Referee Rob Whitton infuriated home supporters – and surprised Borough – when Josh Bingham’s robust challenge on Hungerford’s Mike Jones went unpunished. Jones continued briefly after treatment, but was substituted before half-time with a painful damaged shoulder.
The Crusaders had managed only one half-chance – a feeble Kavanagh shot from a good position – in the first 42 minutes. But then came Hungerford’s gifted opening goal, and the Sports were undone in a first half when they'd have hoped for an interval lead. There was time for one more well-struck effort from Westy, leapingly saved by Luyambula, and then for three Borough corners which had Hungerford scrambling. But no quick equaliser; and the Sports would face a challenging second half.
Against the battering storm – and now with driving rain too – Eastbourne could scarcely put two passes together. Hungerford chased and closed down relentlessly, with an energy that Borough could not match. Were they playing the right football on the wrong day? There had been moments of neat control and quick movement - more so in the first half than the second - from players like Mike West and David Martin, but the pitch and weather conditions were such that would have given a Sunday League side a fighting chance against Juventus. You don't invite Picasso to come and paint your garage door.
McGhee made two early changes, giving a fruitless half-hour to 16-year-old Brad Santos and a heartening half-hour to club captain Sergio Torres – who had not kicked a ball in anger since his injury in mid-January. And there was also a brief return off the bench for a lively Charlie Walker – albeit at the expense of Stefan Ljubicic, who had led the line bravely and positively.
The minutes were running out when Hungerford gave credence to their victory with a legitimate goal. A left-wing corner veered wickedly in the wind, was only half-cleared, and Marvin Ekpita popped it in at the right-hand post.
Off trooped a dispirited Borough, to face the wisdom of their manager behind a firmly closed dressing-room door. Storm force ten, in all respects.
Borough: Smith, Adebayo-Rowling, Jordan, Ransom, Campbell; West, Wills, Hall (Santos 60), Martin (Torres 60); Bingham, Ljubicic (Walker 75). Unused subs: Earl, Hamilton.
Referee: Rob Whitton Attendance: a hardy 195
Borough MoM: Corey Jordan - sensible and signs of his class