Another extraordinary Saturday afternoon at Priory Lane saw Eastbourne Borough – leading 1-0 at 90 minutes – surrender three precious points in stoppage time and lose 2-1 to visitors Basingstoke Town.
Despite losing Marvin Hamilton to a 34th minute red card, the Sports had taken the lead straight after half-time with a brilliant Kane Haysman goal, and remained in control until a disastrous implosion in the five added minutes, conceding two scrambled goals and seeing Ian Simpemba also sent off.
Borough must think the whole world is against them at the moment. They have gathered five red cards in four games, and potential victories keep turning into narrow defeats. Now only two points above the drop zone, the Sports must be looking over their shoulders.
On Saturday the man in the middle – in every sense – was Ian Cooper. He does have history with Borough, and they might be better kept apart.
Several key decisions on Saturday, including his use of yellow and red cards, left spectators baffled and Borough absolutely seething.
It might have hurt less if Basingstoke had deserved their win. On paper they have a strong experienced squad – which took them to the play-offs last season – but on the day they were second-rate: ponderous in defence and careless going forward. Even with a man advantage, their play was littered with unforced errors and they failed to test new Eastbourne keeper David Gregory until the 89th minute.
Early chances had been few in a low-quality opening half-hour, with former Sports striker Liam Enver-Marum splaying Town’s only chance well wide. But on 34 minutes Hamilton lunged for a ball he had miscontrolled and caught Nathan Smart with a fully stretched leg. It looked a yellow, but within literally two seconds Smart was theatrically writhing, Mr Cooper was waving red, and Marvin was walking. Widdrington shifted to a 4-3-2, wisely keeping both Romain and Lok up top, where their relentless foraging was to tie up the entire Basingstoke back four all afternoon.
Less than two minutes after the break, Borough were ahead with one of the goals of the season. Sam Beale fed Lok, whose perfect lay-off allowed Romain to cut in from the left and set up Kane Haysman for a wonderful top-corner strike.
For the entire second half, Borough then dictated the game. Lok might have doubled the lead on 56 minutes after great work by Romain, but the low cross was too quick for him. Meanwhile, Mr Cooper’s refereeing grew ever more baffling. This reporter’s notebook recorded at least four Basingstoke fouls worthy of yellow cards: two were by skipper Jay Gasson – the second of which was not even given as a foul, but left a brave Bouwe Bosma hobbling off to be substituted. And Bird, already cautioned, should clearly have gone after crudely dumping Romain on the touchline.
But the only yellow flourished was to a blameless Kiron Khinda-John when Enver-Marum blatantly feigned a body-check. Preceded as it was by a free-kick against Khinda-John for an immaculate text-book tackle, this was simply hapless refereeing. It wouldn’t have mattered if Borough had seen the game out. But a minute into added time, they failed to defend a cross to the back post, where Chris Flood headed against the bar and Manny Williams scrambled in the rebound for 1-1. Simpemba, incensed at an unpunished handball in the build-up, vented his feelings ripely at Mr Cooper and had to go off – leaving his side naked at the back as Williams then pounced on a fluffed clearance to poke in the winning goal.
Each season has its highs – witness that unforgettable 7-4 against Hemel in the Trophy – and its lows. In both their heads and their league position, Borough must ensure that this is the lowest the season goes.
Borough: Gregory; Khinda-John, Simpemba, Hamilton; Collier, Baptista (Worrall 65), Bosma (Pinney 83), Haysman, Beale; Romain (McCallum 74), Lok. Unused subs: Rodgers, Tate. Referee: Ian Cooper:
Borough MoM: jointly to the strike pair of Romain and Lok