By Ken McEwan
One player sent off, another injured, an awkward Tuesday night replay coming up in Hertfordshire – the problems just piled up for Jamie Howell on a freezing afternoon at Priory Lane.
The Borough boss’s impressive CV includes an FA Trophy semi-final appearance with Bognor Regis, but on the strength of Saturday’s performance the only hope Borough players have of a Wembley appearance will be in a seat via the purchase of a ticket.
In front of their poorest Saturday crowd of the season (277) Borough bossed the first half but failed to turn possession into goals against their Evo-Stik South Premier League opponents.
But with the lively Lloyd Dawes limping off in the 39th minute and Will Hendon sent off in the 67th, The Sports found themselves battling for survival.
In fairness, Howell’s men are not enjoying a lot of luck these days and after three successive league defeats confidence is low.
The impressive Gavin McCallum’s free kick six yards from the corner flag caused all sorts of problems in the 16th minute and a minute later a Matt Drage free-kick cannoned off the post.
The inevitable opening goal came from the penalty spot in the 36th minute, Matt Drage firing perfectly into the corner of the net after McCallum had been brought down in the area by Ed Asafu-Adjaye.
Borough came out in the second half expecting to go through the motions, cruise into the next round and pocket £5,000 from the FA as a result.
But the only certain thing about football is its uncertainty and what was totally unexpected was Royston’s ability to up their game and put the hosts under real pressure for the first time.
True, keeper Josh Tibbetts made a great save to deny Sergio Torres, but all of a sudden it was the visitors who were winning the 50-50 balls and looking hungrier to get a result. John Frendo put the ball into the net after keeper Mark Smith had parried the ball but the offside flag was up and then Lee Chappell’s fine effort came off the bar.
Borough’s problems dramatically increased in the 67th minute when Hendon received his marching orders in the form of a second yellow card for pulling back sub James Potten. The resulting penalty taken by John Frendo was superbly saved by Mark Smith, diving to his right.
Royston finally got their reward in the 85th minute when a corner by Josh Oyinsan was headed clear by Ian Simpemba straight to Potton whose ferocious return took a slight deflection on the way into the back of the net.
Eastbourne: Smith, Hendon, McCallum, Wills, Simpemba, Khinda-John, Harris (Redwood 64), Torres, Dawes (Ransom 39), Taylor (Pearson 89), Drage. Unused subs: Plummer, Platt.
MoM: Gavin McCallum: hard-working and constructive.
Referee: Alex Blake.