by Kevin Anderson
In a battle with the weather as well as with the league leaders Ebbsfleet, Eastbourne Borough came off second best to both opponents at Priory Lane on Saturday, slipping and sliding to a 2-1 defeat.
Borough supporters have had some disappointing results to put up with this season, but they cannot complain about shortage of entertainment. Saturday’s encounter was not so much affected by the weather as dictated by it: driving, relentless wind from end to end and hammering rain. You might as well have tried to launch a lilo from Eastbourne beach.
Ironically, it was only the excellence of the Priory Lane pitch that permitted the game to start, and to be played to a finish. Since major investment in the drainage some seven years ago, the club has seen just one postponement for rain – that Biblical monsoon just before a kick-off against Eastleigh in 2013.
By 3.00pm on Saturday the Priory Lane surface was green and glistening but easily playable. An hour or so later, with the rain still sweeping across piercing shafts from the floodlights, we must have been close to abandonment. Standing water in some patches saw players leaving the ball behind, and well-intended passes stopping dead in puddles. But referee Andrew Coggins correctly played the match through to a finish.
We had begun with a poignant minute’s silence. Already planned for Remembrance but doubly poignant after the awful events in Paris on the previous day, it was a tiny gesture but not meaningless : a powerful and quite wrenching image of young men, heads bowed and shoulder to shoulder against a battering storm. Supporters too, rivals in the sport but united in the things that matter. Football speaks any language, bridges every gulf, shakes every fellow player and fellow human being by the hand.
Then on with the match, and a dramatic start. Stone and Romain broke instantly down the right, and as the cross came in Sam Beale set up Nathan Collier, who skied his shot instead of burying it. Sixty-five seconds on the clock, and one of those pivotal moments on which a whole match can turn.
Reprieved, Ebbsfleet made the most of their good fortune, and there was more of it to come. After besieging the Sports goal for the next few minutes, they grabbed a 9th minute lead. Into the teeth of the gale, Lewis Carey tried a short goal-kick to Ian Simpemba, but an awful communications breakdown allowed Matt Godden to pounce and strike a deflected shot that arched past Carey into the net.
As Eastbourne cursed, Ebbsfleet celebrated a poacher’s goal. Worthy league leaders, they now imposed themselves on the game, using both possession and weather conditions intelligently and denying Borough a way back – although the home side did admirably create some chances. Nat Pinney skipped through the Fleet back line but had the ball nicked away from his toe. Craig Stone – a decent game against his former employers – hit a shot wide. Then Marvin Hamilton curled a ball in behind the defence but Romain was just beaten to it by keeper Brandon Hall.
And then it got worse. On 33 minutes Beale, squeezed for space on the edge of the penalty area, took the wrong option and tried to pass back to Carey. But the keeper missed his kick in the wind and the ball veered past him and over the goal-line for 2-0.
So much stout defensive work – which included keeping out an amazing 14 first-half corners – had been undone by two bizarre goals. With the second half to come, there was still hope, but a goal before the break would have been precious. In first-half stoppage time Pinney pounded through from half-way and struck a lovely low shot which Hall did well to keep out.
The second half saw roles reversed. Pegged back, Ebbsfleet created only two serious chances: a right-wing move halted by the excellent Hamilton, and a Danny Kedwell mile-high effort. Meanwhile Borough had masses of pressure with three attacking substitutions by Widdrington, but no breakthrough.
On 67 minutes, minor controversy: an alert Pinney nicked the ball as Hall launched a drop-kick out, but as he triumphantly netted, Mr Coggins pulled him back for an illegal challenge. Spectators of a certain age will remember George Best once executing exactly the same trick – and getting away with it.
Miguel Baptista was only just wide from 25 yards, and the tireless Pinney had two more efforts, one saved and one put high over the bar. But with the pitch now saturated, the minutes and the passes skidded away and Ebbsfleet were holding out. Finally, entering stoppage time, Kane Haysman struck an exquisite dipping shot from just outside the area for the goal of the game. Well, considering the previous two goals, it didn’t have too much competition.
Talk about live theatre: at times, this one was close to theatre of the absurd. We had seen drama, frantic action, heroic effort, but a goal in the final minute was poor compensation for a missed chance in the first minute. Players are only human, and Borough’s keen, committed squad has the character to start again.
Borough: Carey, Stone, Beale (McCallum 72), Evans (Haysman 55), Simpemba, Khinda-John, Hamilton, Collier (Lok 81), Pinney, Romain, Baptista. Subs not used: Bosma, Wilson
Ebbsfleet: Hall, Fish, Howe, Lewis, Clark, Bonner, Rance, Parkes, Kedwell (Sheringham 89), Godden (West 78), Kissock (Haynes 58). Subs not used: Miles, Acheampong
Referee: Anthony Coggins Att: 581
Borough MoM: Marvin Hamilton – the ultimate team player
Don’t miss out on all the latest breaking news where you live.
Here are four ways you can be sure you’ll be amongst the first to know what’s going on.
1 Make this website your homepage
2 Like our Facebook page at facebook.com/pages/Sport-Sussex
3 Follow us on Twitter @SportSussex
4 Register with us by clicking on ‘sign in’ (top right corner). You can then receive our daily newsletter AND add your point of view to stories that you read here.
And do share with your family and friends - so they don’t miss out!