The Conference South play-offs are all but out of reach for Eastbourne Borough after a 3-1 home defeat to Havant and Waterlooville on Saturday.
After a goalless first half, when Borough should really have been ahead, the Hawks struck twice in four minutes just after half-time. And when the home side did claw one goal back, Havant scored a third within seconds to keep distance between them.
Missing the injured Marvin Hamilton and Chris Sessegnon, boss Tommy Widdrington set up with a novel formation which saw skipper Ian Simpemba spend most of the game as a holding midfielder. And with strength and shape in midfield, Borough dominated most of the first half.
Darren Lok was terrorising the big Havant defence, and centre-back Brian Dutton was lucky to escape a yellow card from referee Savvas Yannis for a tackle-cum-wrestle on the effervescent striker.
Mr Yannis already has history with Borough: at Havant in November his failure to overturn a blatantly offside goal had cost Borough the game, and – ironically appointed for this return fixture – he was to leave Eastbourne seething once again with a couple of crucial decisions.
The first-half chances fell to Eastbourne. On 13 minutes Kiran Khinda-John headed against the crossbar from a corner and Hawks keeper Ryan Young gratefully saved Lok’s follow-up shot. And on the half-hour Nat Pinney, who had replaced a limping Richard Pacquette, pounded on to Lok’s flick and was clear on goal, but the goalkeeper recovered to snatch the ball from his feet with the goal gaping.
Havant’s best response came from Harry Cornick – on loan from AFC Bournemouth and with Championship appearances to his name this season – who glanced the top of the crossbar with a swerving 25-yarder.
Three minutes after the break, Dean Sinclair should have given Borough the lead from Pinney’s cross but within 12 seconds it was in the Borough net at the opposite end.
Cornick’s streaking run stretched the home defence, and his low pass gave Bradley Bubb a simple tap-in for 1-0.
Four minutes later the lead was doubled, but with a goal that Mr Yannis should never have allowed to stand. Ben Wright met Ben Swallow’s drilled corner with an unstoppable strike – but his marker Khinda-John had been cynically obstructed by Ed Harris to allow Wright the free shot.
And between the two Havant goals, Dutton repeated his earlier wrecking foul as Lok yet again broke free, finally incurring the yellow card which would have meant dismissal but for his earlier escape.
Simon Johnson limped off following a haymaking foul by Brian Stock, and his replacement Sam Beale gave useful added width on the left, and from an excellent ten-pass move it was Beale who played in the killer pass for Pinney to score neatly from ten yards.
2-1, and 20 minutes for Borough to save the game. Or so they thought. But within just 20 seconds of the restart Hawks substitute Shamir Mullings restored the two-goal cushion with an absolutely stunning first-time volley, dipping over Lewis Carey and into the top right corner.
Borough: Carey; Khinda-John, Simpemba, Watts; Evans, Johnson (Beale 62), Sinclair, Raymond, Haysman (McCallum 67); Pacquette (Pinney 24), Lok. Subs not used: Worrall, Aldred.
Havant: Young, Strugnell, Cummings, Stock, Dutton, Harris, Swallow, Donnelly, Wright (Mullings 69), Bubb (Blanchett 69), Cornick (Connel 84).
Subs not used: Hooper, Ryan
Referee: Savvas Yannis
MoM: Darren Lok – ceaseless motion