By Kevin Anderson
Eastbourne Borough had to settle for a 2-2 draw at Priory Lane on Saturday, ten-man Oxford City poaching a late equaliser after Borough had seemed to be on course for victory.
The home side had come from behind to lead 2-1 through Dean Cox’s penalty on 65 minutes, when City keeper Craig King earned an instant red card for hauling down Charlie Walker in front of a gaping goal.
Borough will have been disappointed, but this was a markedly improved performance, and the draw was a fair return for both teams in a lively and often quite gripping match.
Jamie Howell welcomed back Marvin Hamilton for his first start since an injury against Woking, on August Bank Holiday, and a shuffled back four saw Tom Gardiner rested for the first time this season.
Oxford, busy and compact, surprised the Sports with an 8th minute opener, front man Kabongo Tschimanga shrugging off a feeble challenge to slot low into the corner from 15 yards.
But Borough steadied the ship, and on the half hour Brighton loanee Stefan Ljubicic combined slickly with Kristian Campbell and Ryan Hll, before exquisitely setting Walker for a brilliant volleyed finish for 1-1.
After the break Oxford, with a gale at their backs, seemed to be wresting back the balance of power.
Harry Ransom and his new AFC Bournemouth partner Corey Jordan had their hands full with City’s bustling front pairing of Tschimanga and Thomas-Asante.
But the Sports were playing intelligently into the wind, and steadily dominating midfield. Up front Ljubicic added height, good movement and a quite imperious presence, and Howell must be quietly pleased with the coup of his signing from Albion.
With the game opening up, and Borough playing now more expansively, a goal was on the cards. On 65 minutes, Walker pounced on a catastrophic back-pass and a panicking King resorted to a rugby-style grapple to prevent him from scoring. Mr Spain’s penalty decision was an easy one, and with King departing down the tunnel, Cox slotted the spot kick past substitute keeper Steven Caro.
Now, a precious – and relatively rare – home victory should have been in the bag, but although Borough now controlled most of the play, they were undone by a set-piece.
Josh Ashby’s right-wing corner curled long beyond the back post, where City skipper Joe Oastler took delighted advantage of slack marking to plant his header past Sam Howes.
City somehow resisted a torrent of home attacks. Ransom hit the target from a corner, but City defender Eddie Jones chested the ball off the line before, in a tumult of bodies, Caro fell gratefully on the ball.
And when Corey Jordan mirrored Harry’s goal attempt at the next corner, the reserve keeper conjured a point-blank reflex save to push the ball over the bar. With substitute Lloyd Dawes on to inject fresh pace, the home side kept City on the rack, but they never snapped.
Borough: Howes; Hamilton, Ransom, Jordan, Campbell; Briggs, Wills, Hall, Cox; Ljubicic, Walker (Dawes 81). Unused subs: West, Blackmore, Gardiner, Myles-Meekums.
Referee: David Spain
Borough MoM: Charlie Walker – a fine goal to cap a feisty performance