A late strike from captain Sam Willett saw Eastbourne United avoid relegation by the narrowest of margins on a dramatic final day of the season.
United were bottom of the table and required victory at Pagham but also needed Arundel and Shoreham to lose their matches. Arundel were walloped 6-0 by sixth placed Broadbridge Heath while Shoreham also suffered a heavy 4-1 defeat against fourth placed Newhaven.
United though simply had to win and a draw or defeat would have seen Arron Hopkinson’s men relegated.
United took the lead at Nyetimber Lane on Saturday through Dan Rogers on 19 minutes but the hosts soon drew level through Liam Brady. Striker Sam Schaaf made it 2-1 just after the break for United before Pagham’s Alfie Davidson levelled the scores once more.
United seemed destined for the drop but with just six minutes remaining, Willett pounced for the crucial goal that will see United remain in the Southern Combination Premier league next season, which will be their 125th year.
Shoreham finished bottom with 24 points while Arundel were second bottom on 27.
United also finished on 27 points but stayed up on goal difference - United were -51 and Arundel were -54. Fine margins but a tremendous achievement as they were rock bottom on two points with zero wins after 16 matches when Hopkinson took charge.
Eastbourne United chairman Billy Wood tweeted, “Many doubted, many didn’t believe it was possible and I along with the other believers were called unrealistic. The beauty is we did it, we survived! I love this club! What a story! Tonight we celebrate, tomorrow we plan for the future.”
Manager Hopkinson added, “Wow get in. So proud of these lads. 14 points behind when I come in and we were going down even with 10 minutes left today. Winning Goal at the end and other results went our way! Wow so proud.”
Arundel tweeted: “Congratulations to @eastbourneuafc on taking advantage of our slip up today and remaining in the ‘Premier Division’. Hopefully we will be back the season after next to complete again in the Premier.”