Turning around an early setback, Eastbourne Town finally asserted their league leaders’ credentials with a convincing victory – and an eleven-minute Liam Baitup hat-trick – against Crawley Down Gatwick on Saturday.
Before this game against the County League strugglers, boss John Lambert had remarked that some people might be seeking a whole bag of goals, but he would simply be happy with the points. In the end, he got both – but there was a first half spell when Town looked as if they might get neither. After an uneventful opening spell, the Down were suddenly up.
A tenth-minute corner swung in to the far post and was blocked on the line, only for Charlie Dodd to stab it into the net for 1-0.
Town’s response was fierce but not always best co-ordinated. Possibly sensing weaknesses in a Crawley Down side that has won only once all season, they opted for the long ball, but lost a lot of possession in the process.
Added to some wild shooting, it wasn’t pretty.It took until the half-hour for a genuine Town chance – a Baitup header from Joe Dryer’s cross, drawing an excellent twisting save from keeper Seb Bos.But in the few minutes before half-time the game swung back. Bos pulled off terrific saves from Dryer’s angled shot and Sean Kelly’s power header, and then – in the third minute of stoppage time – Town were level.
Liam Upton got round the back on the right and Matt McLean converted the cross from close range to equalise.
It was a real turning point. From the very start of the second half John Lambert’s side were on the front foot, and from a free-kick Jack Turner’s spinning header caught the underside of the bar and sneaked into the net.
Emergency keeper Ross Sutton replaced the injured Greg Nessling, but there was nothing makeshift about the home team’s play now.
Dan Smith curled a wonderful strike across the keeper and into the top corner for 3-1, and finally Town were looking like league leaders.
With fifteen minutes left Baitup notched the first of a lightning hat-trick – the whistle, Nigel Baker had got most things right and he enhanced the afternoon with some easy, intelligent control.
But when Baitup bundled Bos over and slotted home for 4-1, his decision to allow the goal to stand was surprising.
Never mind. The Down had no way back by now, and on 83 minutes Baitup turned the centre-backs inside out – or more correctly, outside in, to switch to his favoured right foot and score confidently.
The game was all wrapped up by now, and Baitup tied the final knot with four minutes left, rounding the keeper and scoring from 15 yards.