By Ken McEwan
After a dream first half followed by a nightmare second period, Eastbourne Borough edged nervously into the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup in what was a truly amazing game at Priory Lane on Saturday.
It looked all over bar the shouting as Borough marched triumphantly off the field at half-time four goals to the good.
There seemed no way back for a surprisingly poor-looking Hamlet side which had been reduced to 10 men after Iffy Allen had been sent off for a reckless challenge on Dean Cox.
But Jamie Howell’s men obviously prefer the opposition to be at full strength. Just three weeks previously, they had conceded three goals against a man-short |Slough side and incredibly history was to repeat itself.
In the space of six sensational minutes the visitors scored three times and that £15,000 FA prize money was looking in serious jeopardy.
But Borough held on, keeper Mark |Smith saving the day in the last minute, dashing from his goal to clear a weak back pass from Harry Ransom and so preventing Afolabi Akinyemi from scoring what would have been a sensational equaliser.
The Sports got off to a great start, going ahead in the fifth minute when highly impressive new loan signing Alfie Rutherford’s deflected drive flew into the back of the net.
Only keeper Preston Edwards’ outstretched foot prevented Rutherford from doubling the score before an offside flag ruled out an effort by Sergio Torres.
At 16 minutes came the goal of the season, a blistering strike from the left by Ryan Hall which fizzed into the top corner of the net. Match of the Day where were you?
Cox made it 3-0 from the penalty spot in the 29th minute after Magnus Okuonghae had clattered into Rutherford.
Hamlet’s day was going from bad to worse as Allen was red-carded in the 39th minute and when, four minutes later, Hall skipped past two defenders to make it 4-0 it seemed the money was well and truly in the Borough bank.
Even in bottom gear and rather unwisely content to sit back, Borough seemed in no real danger in the second half but the mood of the home fans was changing at the sudden home lack of urgency.
Even when Dipo Akinyemi converted Dominic Vose’s corner in the 79th minute to make it 4-1 there seemed no real cause for concern.
But three minutes later a sense of unease spread around the Lane as home hesitation allowed Nyren Clunis through for an uncomfortable 4-2 scoreline.
That unease became nervous tension as a shell-shocked Borough allowed Kingsley Eshun to race away and reduce the deficit to just one goal.
It was now panic stations for the hosts and every Eastbourne heart missed a beat in the final minute when |Smith had to charge out of his goal to clear virtually off the foot of Akinyemi.
So Borough just made it, but only, incredibly, by the skin of their teeth.
During the interval a home supporter asked me, “Am I really at Priory Lane?’
At the final whistle the answer, most certainly, would have been yes.
Borough: Smith, Adebayo-Rowling, Campbell, Wills, Ransom, Gardiner, Cox, Torres, Walker (Odubade 75) Hall, Rutherford.
Referee: Warne Cartmel,
MoM: Ryan Hall: two goals, one that would have graced Match of the Day. Att :570.