A night of extraordinary drama saw Eastbourne Borough tumble out of the FA Trophy, beaten on penalties by Leiston at a fogbound Priory Lane on Tuesday.
This tie had already lurched through an initial 1-1 draw, with two late penalties, followed by the frustrating events of the previous Tuesday, when Leiston’s journey to the South Coast got no further than the Dartford Crossing. This time, the Suffolk club actually made it to Eastbourne, and their journey was not in vain.
After 120 minutes of increasingly tense and pulsating football, the two sides stood level at 2-2. Then, in the first penalty shoot-out at Priory Lane for over a decade, the first seven spot-kicks were scored before Tom Murphy saw his kick saved, leaving Ollie Brown to despatch his penalty and win the tie.
But Leiston - and home supporters - arrived to find Priory Lane enveloped in fog. It was the sort of weather that shuts down airports, and has dog-walkers peering out throught the curtains and changing their minds. If the Lane were a motorway, they would have closed it. A more local fixture would certainly have been called off, but Leiston needed something to show for their nine-hour round trip.
Injuries to Smith, Khinda-John and Stone forced Tommy Widdrington’s hand into lining up with a back four - the only four defenders available. In front of them Miguel Baptista returned to midfield and all three main strikers started the game.
Before kick-off, the fog seemed every few minutes to lift and then close in again, and the match began in farcical conditions. From the main stand, neither goal was visible, and spectators followed the action by catching glimpses of ghostly figures and guessing which direction they were moving.
As best this reporter can tell, the first half included two or three near misses at each end. Nat Pinney and Jamie Taylor each hit curling shots just wide, while the visitors actually forced four corners. But the only definitive fact was that half-time arrived goalless. Unfortunately for Borough, it was the lively
visitors who took advantage on 49 minutes, Matt Blake planting a firm header past Horlock.
Leiston held the lead for over 20 minutes, until Jamie Taylor nipped in to equalise from an excellent ball into the box from Baptista.
And as extra time began, the blanket of fog was back, thicker and darker than ever. Twelve minutes in, a neat right-wing move fell to Ian Simpemba and the Borough skipper - an inspiration all night - turned impressively in the box to rifle a low shot just inside the left-hand post and give his side the lead.
Now it was a matter of seeing the game out, and Eastbourne seemed to have done so - until 90 seconds from time. Substitute Joe Francis scampered clear to square for Heath to whack in a triumphant equaliser.
And so to the penalties. Hughes, Romain and Worrall all scored decisively to keep pace with Leiston’s successful strikes, but when Tom Murphy saw his understruck shot beaten away, Leiston were twelve yards from a stunning victory, and Brown made no mistake.
Borough: Horlock; Hare, Simpemba, Dutton, O’Reilly; Baptista (Street 115), Hughes, Worrall, Romain; Pinney (Murphy 72), Taylor (Tate 115). Unused subs: Fellrath, Ransom. Referee: Paul Kelly Att: 262
Borough MoM: Ian Simpemba