A three-goal burst in the final 15 minutes saw Eastbourne Borough through their FA Cup tie at Waltham Abbey - a match that proved fully as tricky as it had looked on paper.
Trailing for some of the first half and much of the second, Borough finally drew on their superior class and fire-power to close the game out. But it had been quite a challenge.
For Borough, FA Cup surprises in recent years have been unpleasant ones. Several times they have been sent spinning to defeat by lower-league opponents. But this time the script had a happier ending.
Just 15 minutes from time, and with Eastbourne trailing by 2-1, man of the match Chris Shephard stepped up to fire home a 25-yard free-kick, and spark a storming finish to the game that saw his side into the next round.
It had all started with a wobble. The Eastbourne players looked uneasy on a less than perfect playing surface, and they were rocked in the early stages by a vigorous Waltham side riding high on a sequence of six successive victories.
On 16 minutes Louis Bristow’s stooping header put the home side ahead, and with the Borough back four persistently harried into errors and poor decisions, you feared there might be worse to come. But going forward, Eastbourne looked more coherent, and Charlie Gorman – who again proved a driving force in midfield – smashed powerful shots against both crossbar and post to signal a revival.
Just past the half-hour Shephard fed Charlie Adameno, and the striker swivelled and struck a lethal low shot from 16 yards to put Borough level. Shortly afterwards, Nick Jordan pulled off a superb save from a Clark Akers free kick and the teams reached half-time on level terms.
But if Borough expected to run the second-half show, they were shaken on 58 minutes when Jordan only snatched at an Akers free kick from wide out on the left, and saw it squeak through his hands and into the net.
Decisive substitutions on the hour, with Ollie Rowe and Darren Lok giving fresh legs at both the back and the front of the team, swung the game back in Eastbourne’s favour.
Skipper Rowe was an instant influence, calling, commanding, urging his side. And Lok proved again that pace and relentless hunting down the ball can make him a nightmare to play against.
Shephard’s free-kick equaliser eased the thumping hearts, and two minutes later – not for the first time – a canny Gary Hart pass unlocked the home defence and Lok, shrugging between two defenders and keeping his balance brilliantly, cracked an emphatic strike for 3-2.
Just three more minutes and it was 4-2, Shephard converting his own penalty after being pulled down.
“The result was never really in doubt,” said Widdrington afterwards. “We played the better football, and when you play teams lower than you, you need to dominate the ball. They didn’t trouble us, other than their two goals. It’s a mentality thing. We did have to work hard, but I never expected us to lose the game.”
Waltham: Bransgrove, Paveney (sub Llewellyn 68m), Beford, Attard, Sargent, Akers, Bristow, Burns, Maxwell, Elms (sub Jones 51m), Peagram.
Borough Jordan 6; Hamilton 6, Uddin 6, Cole 6 (sub Rowe 62min, 8), Noone 6; Adelsbury 7, Gorman 8 (sub Johnson 73min); Shephard 8*; Hart 8, Adameno 7, Knight 5 (sub Lok 62min, 8).
Subs not used: Morgan, Gilbert, Baker, MacFarlane. MoM: Shephard – creative presence and game-changing goals
Referee: Richard Kendall 8