By Josh Pettitt
EASTBOURNE United were handed the faintest hope of survival on Wednesday after a miraculous 1-0 win over fourth-placed Peacehaven.
The game did not go to script for the Oval visitors. A second-minute goal from Jamie Buckett and a tenacious hassling of Peacehaven’s superior players – which spilled over into a flash of four yellow cards for United in the second half – was enough to stun the visitors in the first half.
Peacehaven undoubtedly had the better players, but United had more grit and determination and it was only from the 70th minute onwards when their victory looked in doubt.
First team coach Paul Sargent’s rant at the unfortunate Buckett for failing to chase down a lost cause sparked a spiralling panic. And the young side – who have not found winning easy this season – almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
As the final whistle blew Peacehaven captain Adam Kneller, who joked with fans before the kick-off, “Didn’t fancy the Barcelona game then?”, sank onto his haunches in a picture of disbelief and disappointment.
Any dreams of topping the table had taken a bitter blow.
United boss Paul Daubeney, who was plotting an ambitious – if unrealistic – late surge up the table said, “I think when teams look to play us, they put a couple of their best players on the bench and they get complacent. Maybe a few more might do that.”
The home side showed great intent from the kick-off and in their first foray into opposition territory snuck the goal that won them the game. Siao Blackwood tied a Peacehaven defender in knots in close quarters and sent a cross spinning into the area.
The delivery found Buckett unmarked in the box and his header bounced past goalkeeper Joe Adams and glanced off the right-hand post for 1-0.
Although Peacehaven tried to shrug off their complacency in the most unlikely of starts, United pressed hard and a makeshift defence of central midfielders Ashley John-Baptiste and Ollie Lee starved the dangerous Ryan Bradley of a single shot on goal in the first half. Peacehaven star and former United player James McKenzie showed the away side’s frustration with an early booking and United comfortably saw out the first half.
The home side picked up from where they left off with Nik Chamberlain – who has been playing for a third division Icelandic side for most of the season – and the battle-hardened Nick Barden bossing the midfield and bolstering the resolve of the inexperienced side.
But late on Buckett, who had run himself into the ground with a man-of-the-match performance, failed to run down an innocuous back pass. In a rush of blood Sargent singled out Buckett for his lack of commitment and United had a mutiny on their hands.
United coughed up a flurry of chances for Peacehaven to pounce on in the dying stages. Bradley stung the hands of ‘keeper Grant Fitzgerald , Adam Daubeney cleared an effort off the line and substitute Clive Snell shook the crossbar with a thunderous final effort.
Sargent said of the fracas, “It rocked the boat at that point but I wanted that reaction. We’ve rolled over far too often this season.
“It had a different feel tonight, like it was a team performance which we’ve not felt all year. We’ve always wanted to see what they do first but tonight, for the first time all season, we set our stall out first.”
UNITED: Fitzgerald 7, Daubeney 7, Le Beau 6, Lee 7, John-Baptiste 8, Stracey 6, Blackwood 8, Chamberlain 8, Strong 6 (Davey 6), Bucket 8, Barden 7.
Booked: Bucket, Strong, John-Baptiste, Stracey.
Referee: Kevin Roberts 7.
MoM: Jamie Buckett.