From a situation as precarious as the closing scene in The Italian Job, Eastbourne Borough rescued a point from the precipice at Hampton and Richmond on Saturday – finishing the match with nine men but a 1-1 scoreline.
The Sports’ disciplinary nightmare continues. In just three games, the team has collected enough yellow and red cards to lay a path from centre circle to dressing room – and yet virtually all have been for minor or technical offences.
With Simpemba unavailable and Khinda-John suspended, Jamie paired newly-signed Gary Charman with Matt Drage at centre-half. There were also first starts of the season for Ryan Worrall and Charlie Harris, with Gavin McCallum rested.
On 14 minutes the Sports came close to opening the score. Yemi and Taylor conjured a chance for the onrushing Ryan Worrall, whose cracking shot was denied by Sam Howes’ brilliant reaction save.
Charman’s long through ball earned a Sports corner on the right, sweetly worked by Odubade and Hendon, but Yemi’s chip floated too high.
Referee Matty Buonassisi was enjoying a good first half, keen to keep play flowing with advantage rulings, but he and his assistant angered Borough on 26 minutes, denying Taylor a strong penalty claim when the striker, on a superb curved run through the left channel, was bustled to the ground by Jack Cook.
Five minutes later the Sports came achingly close to the lead. A five-man move set up Charlie Harris, whose piledriver from 25 yards was bravely parried by Howes. And as Taylor pounced to strike the rebound goalwards, the home keeper produced a second reflex save to keep the ball out.
And on 38 minutes Charman – who had looked comfortable on his return to first-team football after a Bognor back-seat role – slipped on a short square pass and Moss pounced, racing on goal. Charman’s stretching tackle caught the striker’s heel: a nailed-on red card, for Moss was clear on goal. In the event, Borough defended the free-kick disastrously, with a flimsy wall allowing Kretzschmar’s scudding shot to sneak low inside the right-hand post for 1-0.
The fatalists in the Borough ranks were fearing a second-half implosion – but instead the ten men produced a spirited and tactically perfect display.
On 51 minutes Yemi, teasing the defence with his expert close control, was brought down just outside the box, and from the free-kick Cook’s clumsy challenge brought down Matt Drage as he shaped to shoot. Up stepped Nat Pinney to smash the penalty past Howes for 1-1.
And then more controversy. Hendon delayed taking a throw-in but looked genuinely bemused to see a yellow card flourished.
Six minutes from time full-back Casey surged into the box from the left and took a tumble under a scrum of bodies. A hapless Will Hendon, who was probably not the guilty party, nonetheless saw a second yellow, and off he trooped. Kiernan stepped up to win the match for Hampton – and skied his spot kick miles over the crossbar.
The drama was far from over, as an original four minutes of stoppage time turned into nine – including a stoppage while Matt Drage, his shoulder dislocated in an aerial challenge, popped it back in himself and played on. It was the final, improbable act of a slightly surreal afternoon.
At the final whistle, the whole team and staff made a point of going across to acknowledge the travelling support – who, significantly, had been won over from half-time gloom to second-half admiration.
Jamie Howell must have had better weeks than this one in his managerial career, but at least it finished on the upbeat. “It’s good to have a point on the board, of course, but this is not about the arithmetic, it’s about the morale. Every player gave everything, and today they got some reward. We are not pretending it was the perfect performance, but we can work with this.”
Borough: Vose; Hendon, Charman, Drage, Redwood; Worrall (Ransom 80), Torres, Harris; Odubade, Pinney (McCallum 69), Taylor (Crittenden 90+1). Unused subs: Horlock, Street.
Referee: Matty Buonassisi
Borough: Jamie Taylor – among several candidates