Eastbourne Borough 0, Poole 0: A game that had everything, apart from goals
Chances galore, disallowed goals, world-class saves, two red cards - in fact everything except goals.Â Eastbourne Borough had to share the points at Priory Lane on Saturday after a toe-to-toe encounter with Poole Town.
The small-scale Dorset club have been National South's surprise package so far this season, rising to a heady fourth place in the table, and on this form they have a genuine play-off chance. Quick, uncomplicated and effective, Poole will worry any opponent, and by the final stages Borough were at full stretch even to earn their point.
Tommy Widdrington's 4-4-2 set-up was a statement of intent, giving licence to the creativity and pace of Miguel Baptista and Alex Smith, and the home side started strongly with two efforts from Baptista, one too high and the other deflected for a corner.
Buffetted by waves of Eastbourne attacks, the Dorset men were struggling for their sea-legs as Baptista wove twice more through their ranks, and Nat Pinney's quick brain and feet created two more snap efforts at goal.
At the other end it had been a full six minutes before Jordan Holmes, newly signed from AFC Bournemouth, even touched the ball. But Poole steadily winched themselves into the game and tested the young loan keeper with a low diagonal shot from Marvin Brooks. Then right-winger Luke Burbidge - a threat all afternoon - fizzed over a cross which striker Richard Gillespie reached, but with only a slight glancing header which failed to trouble Holmes.
The play soon swung back to the River End, where Pinney's footwork mesmerised the Poole defence before setting up Jamie Taylor for a sweet shot from the D which was just off target. The Sports momentum was now growing, and as Poole turned to more spoiling tactics, Taylor was twice stopped by illegal challenges earning yellow cards for Jake Smeeton and Steve Devlin.
Then on 36 minutes the Dolphins thought they had a breakthrough. Holmes tipped a Devlin shot against the underside of the bar, and as it spun back out Burbidge nodded the rebound in. Hearts were in mouths as a flag went up on the far side, and dozens of the Lane's more mature supporters had the image of a youthful Geoff Hurst and a Russian linesman flashing before their eyes. But this time it was a Niet and not a Da: Burbidge had been offside as the first shot came in, and Borough breathed again.
Back came Borough. Ryan Worrall's astute short free-kick released Taylor into the right channel, but the striker's smart shot only found the side netting, and we reached half-time with the deadlock surprisingly still unbroken.
The second half resumed in similar fashion, like two relentless tennis players mixing heavy forehands with occasional scrambles at the net. On 56 minutes from a long Smith cross, Pinney bundled ball and keeper over the goal-line, but unsurprisingly, referee Aji Ajibola was having none of that and the goal was disallowed.
Burbidge was still buzzing like an unswattable wasp on the right wing, creating two great chances that kept Holmes on his toes, and then Khinda-John smartly closed him down as he threatened yet again. Meanwhile gorgeous midfield work between Taylor and Pinney set Smith away, and his testing cross was desperately cleared at the back post. And a crossfield pass from the same player set up Baptista for an absolute pile-driver which keeper Hutchings did well to beat away.
On 72 minutes Holmes was under the hammer again, conjuring a literally world-class save to push Luke Roberts' missile of a shot up and away from the far corner. The crowd gasped and even Poole Town applauded. Borough coach Hugo Langton was less moved by the 19-year-old's heroics. "He spent the whole of Friday's training session pulling off saves like that," observed Hugo knowingly after the game, as the affable Aussie grinned modestly. With Charlie Horlock currently sidelined and Lewis Carey unavailable, the Sports have good reason to be glad of Widdrington's strong relations with clubs of Bournemouth's stature.
But into the final quarter of the match, and the action was about to catch fire. Alex Smith had already earned the most improbable yellow card of the season, copping the full force of a Poole free-kick between his shoulder-blades as he retreated innocently and with his back to the action. Who writes these directives to referees?
Tommy introduced Romain and Oxlade-Chamberlain off the bench, but before they could really influence the action, the focus of attention switched to Mr Ajibola and his cards. Craig Stone tackled Jack Dickson, taking the ball but using what the referee reportedly judged to be excessive force. A tricky decision. But Poole players reacted en masse, and suddenly the lighted match was in the paraffin can and a dozen or more players were pouring in on the scene.
With order restored and retrospective justice imposed, off went a furious Stone. There was a yellow for Baptista and there should have been another for Steve Devlin as the pair squared up. But mysteriously Luke Pettefer appeared to present himself and take the rap instead of his team-mate - who was already on a yellow and would therefore have been dismissed. Accidental, or selfless, or simply cynical? Either way, Devlin stayed on the field, and we were 10 versus 11.
The extra-man advantage lasted only five minutes, before another red-mist moment saw former Borough full-back Lewis Tallack kick out needlessly at Romain, so he had to go. Two more excellent saves by Holmes snuffed out Poole's final threat, and then Mr Ajibola finally called time on a goalless draw which, on balance, was just about right.
Borough: Holmes; Hare, Simpemba, Khinda-John, Stone; Baptista, Hughes, Worrall, Smith (Oxlade-Chamberlain 73) ; Pinney (Romain 78), Taylor. Unused subs: Bosma, Street, Dutton.
Referee: Aji Ajibola Att: 568
Borough MoM: Jordan Holmes - Premier League class at the Lane