An FA Cup thriller that veered between elation and despair for Eastbourne United finished all square at the Oval, after visitors Herne Bay snatched a 94th minute equaliser.
The contest resumes again this evening (Tuesday) on the Kent coast, and on balance both teams deserve a second shot at a place in the next round, and a visit to the winners of the Molesey-Folkestone Invicta replay. All four goals came in the final quarter of the game, but there had been much to entertain from the start.
Princes Park Oval scrubs up well these days, with everything smart and shipshape, and the club were rewarded with a healthy attendance - swelled by a fair few Borough fans needing their fix of football. Ironically, the Herne Bay team bus had mistakenly found its way to Priory Lane before reverting to the Oval, and with United’s blistering start to the game, the visitors must have felt they were playing the whole town of Eastbourne.
Certainly United boss Simon Rowland, in a few short weeks, has instilled a passion and will to win in his men which makes them a force to be reckoned with.
Weathering the early onslaught, Herne Bay gradually found their shape and rhythm, and their lively front players – twins James and Michael Turner – prompted several slick pass-and-move attacks. Just on the half-hour their neat interplay drew an excellent stop from Young, diving bravely at James Turner’s feet.
At the other end Jack Divall struck a good chance straight at Bay keeper Jack Delo, who then produced a brilliant reflex save to deny Ryan McBride. We reached the break scoreless, but the fuse was fizzing, and the half-time tea-bar wisdom agreed that goals would surely follow in the second half.
Once again United opened strongly, several times threatening to get in behind a fragile-looking Bay defence.
But the first keeper in action was Young, flinging himself into two wonderful saves in a minute, both from Dean Grant.
Finally on 63 minutes the deadlock was broken. In a goalmouth clatter of legs, referee Shaun Scott – who was handling a volatile game with skill and assurance – gave a penalty to Herne Bay, crisply converted by Danny Walder for 1-0.
Shaken and in need, United turned to their talisman McBride, and on 72 minutes the big striker did not fail them. Taking a ball with his back to goal, he swivelled superbly and cracked in an equaliser from 15 yards. All square, and all to play for.
And six minutes later the home side were ahead. From a corner, Shaun Loft rose to glance a perfect header inside the far post. With the next round now within their grasp, United needed just to play out the final minutes. But given the option of finishing the game off with another goal, or of running it down, the home side did neither.
Herne Bay found the legs for a final push, and in the fourth minute of injury time substitute Kane Phillip won a free-kick just outside the box, which was drilled in and flicked just inside the near post by Jordan Casey. Elation and despair, in just about equal measure – and back to Kent to start again.
United: Young, Agutter, Harrison, Loft, Ben Dartnell, Kneller, Divall, Franklin, McBride, Tate, Taylor. Subs: Snashall, Ham, Farrant, Scott Dartnell, Miszkiewicz, Rogers.