EASTBOURNE United AFC continued their amazing revival by denting the promotion hopes of arch-rivals Hailsham Town in an absorbing but often scrappy local derby at the Beaconsfield on Boxing Day.
After losing six of their first eight games, United have now lost just one of their last 13, a run which has lifted them from rock bottom to mid-table security in the County League’s second division table.
For Kenny McCreadie’s men, defeat means a mountain to climb if they are to have any hope of catching runaway leaders East Preston. A Peter Cooper (pictured) penalty after a quarter of an hour’s play was all that divided the two sides. Simon Catt was brought down in the area by Craig Ottley and Cooper’s spot kick was perfectly placed to the left of the diving Russ Tanner.
Hailsham struggled to get into their stride and when prolific scorer Danny Leach was able to break free, advancing keeper Adam Sargent was equal to the occasion.
Catt’s fierce drive on the turn flew into the arms of Tanner as United edged the first half with Ottley atoning for conceding the penalty by heading off the goal-line to deny Cooper as half-time approached.
The hosts piled on the pressure in a bid for a second half equaliser and Sargent made two fine reflex saves to deny Leach after initially allowing a slippery ball to escape from his grasp.
But the United keeper looked fortunate to escape punishment when he appeared to trip Leach just outside the area. However referee Peter Lindsey saw nothing wrong with the challenge.
Hailsham surged back but continually ran up against a double brick wall in the respective shapes of central defenders Peter Featherstone and skipper Lee Jules who were dominant throughout.
At 64 minutes McCreadie made a double substitution when Steve Dallaway and Ryan Alexander replaced Shane Saunders and Ottley. Featherstone was booked for stopping Leach in full flight, but Ben Billings wasted the free-kick by firing over the bar. It was to prove his final act as he was immediately replaced by Ashley Hull. But try as they did, Hailsham could not find a way through a dogged United defence and Steve Earley’s frustrations crossed the boundary line after the final whistle when he was shown a red card for foul and abusive language.
HAILSHAM: Tanner 7, Stevens 7, Ottley 6 (Alexander 64), Earley 5, Richardson 7, Fletcher 6, Salvidge 6, Jarvis 7, Leach 6, Saunders 6 (Dallaway 64), Billings 6 (Hull 73)
UNITED AFC: Sargent 8, Lee 6, Hughes 6, Jules 7, Featherstone 7, Stracey 6, Bunn 7, Trickett 6, Cooper 8, Catt 7, Russell 6.
REFEREE Peter Lindsey MoM: Cooper