Two smashing Nat Pinney goals, and a fine whole-team performance, saw Eastbourne Borough through a tricky FA Cup tie against AFC Sudbury at Priory Lane on Saturday.
Straightforward it wasn’t.
In their Ryman North division, Sudbury have been high-flying and free-scoring – witness the two 4-0 victories in their previous FA Cup rounds – and they pushed the Sports all the way. They often attacked with pace and freedom, but were frequently let down by careless passing, and threw away a number of potential goal-scoring moves.
Tommy again opted for the 5-3-2 formation which had served Borough well at Oxford City, and it worked. A solid defensive core permitted full-backs Craig Stone and Sam Beale to forage forward repeatedly, and at the hub of midfield Miguel Baptista had his most influential game yet in a Borough shirt.
Up front, Gavin McCallum and Nat Pinney were again in the form that would have troubled any opponents, never mind a Ryman North defence. And Pinney secured the victory with two superb goals – one a fine individual strike and the second a sublime team move that was seriously worthy of the Nou Camp.
The big striker was almost on the scoresheet after 35 seconds, fed by Gavin but foiled by a desperate sliding clearance from a Sudbury centre-back. And the game’s explosive start continued with an alarming tackle by AFC skipper Sam Clarke on Baptista, clattering the playmaker’s ankles and earning a yellow card. The remaining 85 minutes were happily free from further controversy as Sudbury settled into their own pattern, sometimes drawing nine men back but often springing out, with lively winger Sam Bantick often the channel for their attacking moves. Big centre-forward Luke Callander fired one 20-yarder narrowly over Carey’s crossbar, but otherwise the visitors lacked the final punch.
Meanwhile Borough were steadily squeezing the pressure, with slick movement and lovely little triangles – often prompted by Baptista’s exquisite footwork – that had Sudbury chasing shadows. And after several near misses, Eastbourne broke through on 34 minutes. Neat work down the right side saw the ball switched across to Pinney just outside the D of the penalty area. A glance up, a tiny shimmy to shape his left foot, and a torpedo of a shot across the keeper and into the bottom right corner: 1-0. Pinney at his best, said one spectator close to the press benches – but don’t speak too soon, chaps...The Sports flooded forward, and brave Sudbury were all but swamped. From Gavin’s freekick, cleared but then recycled by Jack Evans, Craig Stone hit an unbelievable volley that AFC keeper Oliver Bowles kept out with an equally incredible save. And then dazzling interplay with McCallum set Pinney free but his final angle was too narrow and he only found the side-netting. Half-time, and at 0-1 Sudbury were still alive. Or so they thought. Within ninety seconds of the restart, Borough doubled the lead with one of those goals that imprints itself on the memory. Baptista headed flick out to Stone – Stone drilled low pass to Pinney on edge of box – Big Nat exchanges short passes with Gavin, and then spirits the ball wide of a flailing keeper and into the corner of the net.
The game was by no means over. The Sports were grateful for Beale’s cool-headed clearance off the line from a Sudbury corner, and then Bantick – who had switched to the left wing, probably to escape Adam Watts’s tight policing – set up a wasteful Callander. Meanwhile further Borough chances fell to the lively Kane Haysman and to McCallum, but the lead always looked comfortable.
Three minutes into stoppage time, Bantick’s breakaway run and finish put a flattering gloss on the scoreline at 2-1, but by then Borough were already in the next round. Pinney at his best? Pinney at his very best.
Borough: Carey; Stone, Khinda-John, Simpemba, Watts, Beale; Baptista (Romain 68), Haysman, Evans; Pinney (Collier 74), McCallum (Lok 74). Referee: Paul Casey