Yet again on Saturday, Eastbourne Borough slipped to a dispiriting away defeat – this time to modest opponents who scored three headed goals, two of them by veteran striker Paul Furlong.
A trip to Rockingham Road is an odd experience: like an episode of Life on Mars, for the creaky old stadium looks unchanged since the 1970s – open terraces of concrete and corrugated iron, and old advertising boards long out of date. But for Borough, it was more like a slice of Groundhog Day.
Not for the first time this season, they came away muttering furiously and indignantly at crucial refereeing decisions, at least one of which swung the game against them.
And not for the first time, they had to look back on avoidable goals cheaply conceded.
Are there reasons for defeat? Or excuses?
There is often a blurred line between the two, and manager Garry Wilson and Nick Greenwood know that they must tackle the errors, as well as finding ways to shore up the morale of a team that has rarely been dealt a fair hand by Lady Luck.
A bright Borough start came almost as a pleasant surprise, as they took the game to Kettering with good possession and confident passing.
But they were undermined by a 17th minute goal by the 42-year-old Furlong – only just on the pitch as a substitute. Two chances to clear the danger were missed as Kettering pressed the left of the Borough defence, and a long cross reached Furlong, whose header from just inside the box looped over Rikki Banks and just under the bar.
Eastbourne responded well enough, Jamie Taylor’s persistence creating a chance for Matt Crabb, who shot cleanly but too close to the keeper.
With Steve Masterton strong in midfield and Ethan Strevett once again playing his perpetual-motion role, the prospects still looked positive.
But then three minutes before the break came the pivotal moment of the match.
Tempers flared as striker Isyden Christie reacted aggressively to a tackle, and after momentary mayhem, referee Mr Atkin produced yellow cards for Christie and Furlong, but a red for Matt Smart, who had looked more sinned against than sinning.
Trooping off at half-time, the anger in Borough ranks was tangible, and after the break Kettering cannily stretched the play and made the extra man count. But even 10 players on the pitch should be able to defend corners – which Eastbourne glaringly failed to do.
On 61 minutes a quickly taken corner found Brett Solkhon unmarked to head home from inside the six-yard box. Borough might have clawed one goal back, but at 0-2 the game was slipping away from them.
The action was still far from over. Liam McDonald crunched into Darren Baker with an awful challenge that was audible at the back of the stand. Video evidence later suggested a two-footed tackle but the Kettering player escaped with only a caution. A seething Wilson was dismissed from the technical area for his comments to the fourth official.
With positive substitutions, Eastbourne responded with a flurry of useful moves. Taylor was denied a pretty clear penalty as he darted into the box and was tripped. Masterton had two well-struck efforts saved, and Nathan Crabb outpaced a tiring home defence but only hit the keeper with his cross.
Furlong had the last word with a late final goal from another corner – three Kettering goals, three headers. In early season, with Borough scoring three or four a game themselves, the slips at the back seemed not to matter. Now they matter mightily.
Kettering: Halstead, Graham, Roper, Flanagan, Kelly, Solkhon, McKoy, McDonald, Marna, Collins (Furlong 16), Christie (Challinor 76). Subs Not Used: Noubissie, Pryor, Blythe.
Booked: Furlong, Christie, McDonald, Challinor.
Goals: Furlong 17, Solkhon 61, Furlong 86.
Eastbourne Borough: Banks 6, Nelson 6, Austin 7*, Baker 6, Jenkins 6 (Johnson 60, 7), Brinkhurst 6 (Walker 79), Masterton 7, Strevett 7, Smart 6, Matt Crabb 6, Taylor 7 (Nathan Crabb 79). Subs Not Used: Weatherstone, Elphick.
Sent Off: Smart (43). Booked: Masterton.
MoM: Ben Austin – never let his team’s heads go down Att: 1,146. Ref: Mr R Atkin 4