Eastbourne Borough come from behind in thriller to earn FA Cup replay

As the infamous pantomime Ghostbusters song goes: we’ll have to do it again, then, won’t we!

Monday, 4th October 2021, 5:44 pm
Action from Eastbourne Borough's FA Cup clash at Horsham. Picture by Derek Martin Photography and Art

Horsham and Eastbourne Borough could not be separated after a compelling FA Cup tie on Saturday, and the 2-2 draw handed both clubs a second chance in a Tuesday replay.

But this was no slapstick nonsense - and just a few scary moments. Despite almost impossible weather conditions - relentless driving rain and brutal gales which would have kept a trawler fleet in harbour – the two sides played with skill, stamina and creative intent.

The home side, deservedly two up at half-time, had real hopes of a Cup upset, but the Sports turned it around in every sense.

Hospitable Horsham’s splendid new stadium looked smart and shining – indeed glistening – as floodlights pierced the sweeping sheets of rain from the very first whistle. No executive boxes, and in truth some shortage of cover for the 619 crowd, since the ground is still a work in progress.

For nostalgics, The Camping World Community Stadium does not have the creaky old charm of the Queen Street ground which Horsham vacated over a decade ago, but it’s a lovely facility and a credit to all the club’s officials and workers.

Non-league weather is a great leveller and it soaked absolutely everyone, players, officials, supporters, even reporters. Your Herald reporter’s team-sheet was washed out and unreadable by half-time…

Fortunately, the football was far from a wash-out. With the raging gale at their backs, the Hornets flew at Eastbourne from the start and were rewarded with a goal after just six minutes.

Eddie Dsane, a wizard all afternoon on the left wing, picked the back-door lock of the Borough defence, and his low ball across the goalmouth gave Lee Harding an easy finish for 1-0.

The Sports were stung into a swift response and almost equalised within a minute: Charlie Walker played in Greg Luer, whose low shot was saved by keeper Sam Howes and bashed away by Harding – goalscorer turned goalsaver.

But Borough struggled to get their passing game going, and Horsham were in confident command. Charlie Harris fizzed a cross-shot just wide of the left post after a swift right-wing break, and then the former Sport – who played at the Lane under Jamie Howell – saw another useful effort saved.

In response, Eastbourne could offer only a 30-yard James Hammond free-kick, headed narrowly over, and a curling shot by the quietly improving Charlie Towning which didn’t quite curl enough. But in fairness, against the gale, these footballers were about as challenged as a local rambling club battling up the Himalayan foothills.

Then the action was back to the windward end, and on the half-hour as Horsham pressed to make the meteorology count, Doug Tuck’s cracking shot was denied by a superb Lee Worgan reaction save.

With a change of ends, a single-goal deficit would have been manageable for Danny Bloor – who described his team as “absolutely dreadful in the first half, back to much nearer our best in the second”.

But two minutes before the break Dsane drew a rather cheap foul, dead centre and about six paces outside the penalty area.

Harris hammered it, Worgan scrambled desperately across his goal, and the ball curled just beyond his grasping fingers into the net. And the whole ground – barring the Borough dugout and the sodden huddle of away supporters – rose about ten feet in the air.

Two-nil, then, and a scent of victory in the nostrils of this committed, buoyant Horsham side. But as the teams turned around for the second half, so did the flow of play and control. The home defence would need some stamina, some heroics, and possibly some good fortune.

The Sports – as in previous recent games – had a bench packed with strikers and a manager unafraid to use them. Charley Kendall was introduced with immediate impact, and just five minutes into the half Walker halved the deficit, smashing in a lovely shot on the turn after Hammond had charged down a clearance.

Forty long minutes, then, for the Hornets to hang on – although they almost restored the two-goal cushion when D’Sane slalomed in from the left and blazed his angled shot against a shuddering crossbar. If this FA Cup tie had a single turning point, that was it.

Borough did not panic, but they did steadily turn the screw tighter. By midway through the half, the strike force was refreshed with Joel Rollinson and Josh Oyinsan – although the latter substitution came at a price, Chris Whelpdale limping off after a painful collision with Howes.

From a recycled corner, Mitch Dickenson’s header was saved right on the line, but an equaliser was starting to look inevitable, and it came on 76 minutes from the penalty spot. Kendall was felled as he pounced on Oyinsan’s cutback, and Hammond emphatically converted the spot-kick.

Rollinson, on a lightning break, and Harding, with a gaping goal, had respective chances to send their teams through, and at the last, a Hammond free-kick skidded inches wide of Howes’s left-hand post.

But, when the teams had volleyed and thundered through the final draining minutes, a draw was about right, and the 600 went home soggy but richly entertained. And so, back to a Tuesday night date at the Lane.