Well, at least this is one way to keep the season alive. Defeated by a single late goal at Bath City on Saturday, Eastbourne Borough now have just two games left to claim the point which will guarantee National South survival.
With a tough trip to Ebbsfleet in ten days’ time, the home fixture with floundering Gosport Borough this Saturday gains huge importance and gives the Sports a welcome chance to secure their league status – and, perhaps, to rediscover the quality which has been shown in patches this season.
Aside from the endless trundle down the M4, there are worse places to watch your football.
But it’s much more enjoyable when you win. The Sports have picked up just a single point from their last five games, and this visit to another club still scrambling just above the drop zone had not looked easy. A low-quality game seemed to be heading for a draw until Bath claimed it in the final phase.
With a fit squad, Tommy was spoiled for choice. Callum Buckley was the only starter of the three current loanees, and once again he impressed. The 20-year-old from AFC Bournemouth has adjusted well to the hammer-and-tongs National South, combining a physical presence with intelligent reading of game situations.
Buckley survived some quite heavy-duty encounters with big striker Nick McCootie, who had clattered him within the first five minutes and was to put Ian Simpemba out of the game with a later challenge.
Eastbourne had the first scoring chance, Elliott Romain heading a tempting chance too high from Ryan Worrall’s corner. A minute later, a quick throw out by Carey sent Gavin McCallum racing away, but his one-two with Pinney was cut out.
Then City had two great chances to edge ahead. First McCootie crunched Simpemba wide on the right touchline – unpunished by referee Tim Wood – and cut in to set up Dave Pratt, who shot wastefully into the side netting.
Then a sweet right-wing move and cross found Andy Watkins, whose point-blank header was denied by a blinding Lewis Carey save.
With wide men McCallum and Romain often sitting quite deep, the supply lines to strikers Pinney and Taylor were sometimes stretched. Borough are at their best when they hunt in packs, pinging the passes and dizzying the opposition. That rarely happened at Twerton Park, where the big sloping pitch, bumpy in parts, favoured more basic methods.
Even so, Borough had the better of the first half. McCallum – putting his lavish skills to good use in recent games – checked in from the right side of the box and curled a gorgeous left-foot shot around keeper Phillips which just cleared the far post. And right on half-time Nathan Collier stole in on a swinging free-kick, but Phillips smothered his shot from a very tight angle.
The second half belonged to Bath. Pratt’s canny movement and McCootie’s physique caused persistent problems and on 53 minutes Pratt went down under a pincer movement from Simpemba and Beale. Mr Wood’s penalty award was arguable rather than nailed-on, but in any case Liam Kelly hammered the spot kick against the underside of the bar and Carey scrambled it away.
Simpemba – still struggling from the McCootie foul – was replaced on the hour by Khinda-John, and with Darren Lok bringing new vigour up front, the Sports were well in the game.
Borough had been defending set-pieces pretty well, despite Bath’s size and physicality. But the winning goal, on 81 minutes, was contentious on two counts. Wide on the City right, Pratt won a doubtful free-kick with a stumble and tumble after losing possession. The kick was delivered and well defended, but recycled by Billy Murphy with a dibble to the edge of the area, where centre-back Jack Batten looked offside as he met it in an empty penalty area to finish easily past Carey. Photo evidence showed only the tightest of margins either way, but 1-0 it was.
With little time remaining, Borough foraged forward with Lok again at the spearhead, but right on the final whistle, his excellent turn and shot was goal-bound until full-back Dan Ball dived to block it with his head literally at knee-height – and Darren was absurdly penalised for a high boot. Lows and highs: Borough could certainly do with some of the latter.
Borough: Carey; Stone, Simpemba (Khinda-John 60), Buckley, Beale; McCallum, Worrall (Evans 81), Collier, Romain; Pinney, Taylor (Lok 64). Unused subs: Bosma, Haysman.
Referee: Tim Wood Att: 533
Borough MoM: Callum Buckley – committed and assured