Eastbourne Borough returned frustrated from Bromley on Saturday, beaten by a second-half deflected goal – and by their own inability to turn promise into points.
After the pale Bank Holiday defeat at St Albans, this was a stronger performance and a pretty even game, with both sides creating chances, and the Sports gave champions-elect Bromley a real fright, reducing the home side to siege tactics in the final stages.
The game opened brightly with a Darren Lok volley deflected just over, and then a goal disallowed at the other end, with Jamie Slabber correctly ruled offside.
The home forwards, full of pace, were finding ways to turn the Borough back line, and Moses Ademola was wasteful with two good chances to give his side the lead.
Eastbourne responded with their own lively forward moves, well supported by the midfield trio of Johnson, Worrall and Evans – the latter player, indeed, giving his best performance since signing from Sutton United in the New Year.
But going forward isn’t everything. There are two halves to a football match: the half when you have the ball and the half when the opposition has it. And both of Bromley’s crucial strikes came when Borough lost the ball and failed to close ranks quickly enough.
On 29 minutes an Eastbourne move broke down in the home penalty area, and within 10 seconds the ball was in their own net.
Ademola, Brad Goldberg and Slabber swept upfield like sabre-whirling dervishes, and Lewis Carey’s brave attempt to stop Slabber’s goalbound shot only saw the ball spin in an achingly slow arc to nestle inside the far corner for 1-0.
Angry with themselves but not daunted, Borough responded well. Ian Simpemba, up for an Adam Watts free-kick, rose highest but his header was well saved by Alan Julian.
Then, two minutes before half-time, they were deservedly level with a superbly crafted goal. From the right touchline, Gavin McCallum’s chip forward was expertly nodded out wide by Worrall to Johnson, who drilled it across goal for young Ryan to fire coolly past Julian.
With the full second half to come, both teams must have felt they had a platform to go on and win the game. But just seven minutes after the break, midfield mistakes – and a touch of misfortune – allowed the Ravens to seize the lead.
With eight Borough players in the Bromley half, they lost possession and allowed Reece Prestedge to race through and feed Goldberg. The young striker cut inside from the left and struck a right-footed shot that was going wide of the far post until it took a cruel deflection off the body of Simpemba and skidded into the net.
Bromley, a bit surprisingly, withdrew into a defensive shell, and Eastbourne would need to prise it open. Pinney and Haysman brought fresh legs up front, and Jack Evans started to spray a range of superb passes that Beckham would have been proud of.
McCallum exchanged passes with Pinney to race free through the middle, but Julian saved bravely at his feet. Then Haysman skipped in from the left wing with only Julian to beat, but the big keeper miraculously blocked his initial shot and then the follow-up.
Jake Botting, the 16-year-old Academy striker, was given a brief taste of the action, but this was not to be the day for dream debuts. The gap between mid-table and top of table was only inches, but it might as well have been a mile.
Bromley: Julian; Rodgers, McNaughton, Holland, Anderson; Ademola (Dubois 66), Prestedge, Fuseini, Cook; Slabber (May 70), Goldberg (Waldren 80).
Borough: Carey; Watts, Simpemba, Khinda-John, Beale; Evans, Worrall, Johnson; McCallum (Botting 86), Pacquette (Pinney 65), Lok (Haysman 70). Unused subs: Aldred, Sessegnon.
Referee: Alan Young
MoM: Jack Evans – his best game yet for Borough