Two early headed goals from Ben May ended Eastbourne Borough’s FA Cup dream at the third qualifying round stage as league rivals Ebbsfleet United held on to complete a 2-0 victory (Writes Stephen Kent)
Sporting a strong side that included midweek hat-trick hero Chris Shephard and cup veteran Gary Hart, it was the visitors that started the quickest from the opening whistle.
Boro’s Darren Lok cut in from the left wing and shot just wide of the right post after a minute and Charlie Gorman’s 30 yard chip was just headed out of the box by defender Joe Howe.
But a few moments later it was the Fleet that would dominate for the rest of the half as they nearly went up on nine minutes as striker Billy Bricknell was denied at Craig Ross’s near post after a great block from the keeper.
Ross continued to impress, pawing Anthony Cook’s free-kick over the post. However there was nothing he could do as the resulting corner from Cook was headed in unchallenged by May to put Ebbsfleet ahead after 16 minutes.
The defining moment of the game came shortly after as Daryl McMahon brought down Matt Aldred 25 yards from goal, a decision hotly contested by Boro manager Tommy Widdrington, and Cook once again supplied May with a floating free-kick to head home for a two goal advantage.
Looking a shell of the side that defeated Farnborough 5-2 that previous Tuesday, Boro struggled to maintain possession and their only other chance to score in the first-half was a Simon Johnson shot from 35 yards struck well over the post.
Six minutes after the break, May squandered a huge chance to get his hat-trick after rushing onto an Alex Osborn cross and somehow chipping the ball onto the crossbar from only three yards away from goal.
Apart from Boro shouting for a penalty when Elliott Levy was brought down softly in the box, little else happened in the following minutes as Ebbsfleet started playing more defensively to consolidate their lead.
Widdrington brought on Tony Garrod and Sam Cole 20 minutes from time to try and break through the stern Ebbsfleet defence, but apart from a couple set pieces and long attempts, the Sports couldn’t get close to the six yard box right until near the end of the game.
On the 86th minute Aiden Palmer made a defensive mistake off a Boro long ball and allowed it to fall to Hart who’s quick turn and shot was brilliantly saved by the legs of Fleet keeper Preston Edwards at his near post.
Assistant Coach Darren Baker stepped in to take over Widdrington’s media duties after the final whistle and no doubt shared in his boss’s frustration that afternoon;
“It was a disappointing game for us, we were looking to do well in the cup this year. The first half hour of the match in particular wasn’t like us at all.”
“The style and the tempo that Ebbsfleet played was quite direct and effective. They held onto the ball well and it definitely killed our momentum, we just couldn’t get started.”
Speaking about the two headers from May that decided the encounter between the sides,
Baker said, “Those goals we let in weren’t like us at all.
(Ian) Simpemba and (Adam) Watts are both good in the air and usually don’t let many people past them but unfortunately it happened today.”
Looking forward to another tricky away match, this time against Chelmsford City this Saturday, Baker remains in a positive state of mine;
“Everyone’s low at the moment but we have to pick ourselves up.
“We responded brilliantly after the Sutton game last week and I’m confident we can do it again.”