Not too much went right for a valiant Borough side in South London on Tuesday, and they came away pointless from an eventful and entertaining contest.
When league leaders entertain a side scrabbling for points near the bottom of the table, you half expect a result like this. But the scoreline alone tells less than the full story. Reduced to ten men through Richard Pacquette’s dismissal before the half-hour, Eastbourne put up a terrific fight and stayed within sight of a point until the very final minutes.
With a flu bug in the AFC Wimbledon camp, there might have been worse times to visit the Dons, and the early exchanges were pretty even. But the home side still looked fluent and confident, and a Minsull header against the underside of the bar raised the stakes in the ninth minute as Borough found themselves on the back foot.
Jamie Taylor responded with a trademark curling shot that brushed the crossbar at the other end, and although Wimbledon were enjoying better possession, there was little to choose at this stage.
Eastbourne – already deprived of Simon Weatherstone who had tweaked a muscle in the warm-up – suffered the loss of Matt Langston with a knee injury on 22 minutes, but Gary Elphick slotted in quite seamlessly and the Borough ship seemed steady.
Then on 28 minutes came a match-changing moment. Richard Pacquette – who had suffered some undeserved abuse from home fans for his previous MK Dons connection – burst through and stretched for the ball as home keeper Seb Brown went down at his feet.
The striker’s challenge was reckless rather than malicious, but referee Mike Bull took the harsher view and showed him the red card.
Mike Bull? A name all too familiar to Borough players and management, for it was Mr Bull who sent off four Eastbourne players in two visits to Priory Lane – in the infamous Tooting and Mitcham FA Cup tie and the dramatic nine-man draw against Darlington.
Garry Wilson’s comments were typically measured afterwards, but the feeling persists that Mr Bull’s trigger finger might be slightly too sensitive.
Either way, the dismissal left Borough with backs to the wall, and they defended cannily until deep into first-half stoppage time, when a cross from the left was not cleared and Mark Nwokeji popped it in from six yards.
At 1-0 the game was by no means out of reach, but the early minutes of the second half found Borough squeezed back and very nearly swamped by wave after wave of home attacks.
Through resolute defending, Dons were thwarted – and even when they did get through or around the Eastbourne defenders, they found Rikki Banks in outstanding form, with some excellent positioning and shot-stopping capped by one astonishing double save from Reece Jones.
Then came Borough’s best spell: sensing that his side were only defending their way to defeat, Wilson threw on Nathan Crabb alongside Taylor to give Borough some real outlets from defence.
For a good 20 minutes, roared on by a sizeable travelling Borough army, the ten men in red and black were actually running the game. Two efforts from Taylor – one wide of the near post and one superbly tipped away by Brown – were as close as they came to an equaliser.
But it was not to be. On 80 minutes Ricky Wellard looked offside as he nipped behind the defence for 2-0, and in the final minute an absolute cracker from Rash Yussuf found the top corner to seal Eastbourne’s frustration.
Next up - a mere trip to Crawley Town!
Boss Wilson said, “We lost our centre half (Matt Langston knee injury) after 20 minutes and Simon Weatherstone in the warm-up. When I saw the referee I know we would have a player sent-off.
“He (Pacquette) was try to get the ball. The keeper didn’t have the ball under control and the striker has every right to go for the ball.
“If it had stayed 11 v 11 we would have been well in the game today.
“We changed the formation and put two strikers on to try and get at their centre halves. We had a period in the game where I thought if we scored we might get back into the game but it was not to be.
“I was delighted with my players ‘endeavour, effort and spirit today. I told them afterwards let’s not dwell on this one, we dust ourselves down, come in for training on Thursday get ourselves ready for the Crawley game.”
AFC Wimbledon: Brown, Hatton, Minshull, Franks, Bush, Yussuff, Gregory (Jones 46), Wellard, Jackson (Main 68), Kedwell, Nwokeji.
Subs not used: Turner.
Booked: Hatton. Goals: Nwokeji 45, Wellard 80, Yussuff 89.
Eastbourne Borough: Banks 9, Nelson 8, Austin 8, Langston 7 (Elphick 22), 7), Jenkins 7 (Baker 84), Johnson 7, Strevett 7(Nathan Crabb 62, 6), Smart 8, Matt Crabb 7, Pacquette 5, Taylor 7.
Subs not used: Atkin, Brinkhurst.
Sent off: Pacquette Booked: Smart
MoM: Rikki Banks – bravery and some stunning reaction saves
Referee: Mr M Bull 5. Att: 3,364