Town implode in the final half hour at the Saffrons

Billy Medlock strikes for Town
Billy Medlock strikes for Town

Eastbourne Town remain anchored at the foot of the Ryman South table after a dramatic defeat at the Saffrons on Wednesday night.

Visitors Sittingbourne dominated three-quarters of the game, taking a 1-0 lead before Town scored twice in an excellent spell just after half-time.

But the final half-hour saw three goals conceded, a red card and further ugly scenes as the teams left the field.

As the skies glowered low over the Saffrons, conditions were not perfect for either side, and the smallish crowd huddled against the elements, grateful at least for some live football after the many New Year postponements.

But the pitch was playable and Town had nobody but themselves to blame for the defensive failings which ultimately cost them the points. As so often this season, the problems lay not with scoring but with conceding.

Coaches will tell you that defending often starts from the front, and there were times when, with four strikers across the front line, the Town midfield was overrun by a mobile and incisive Sittingbourne side with space to play in.

Sittingbourne started forcefully, with quick and vigorous attacks and an abrasive edge that unsettled Town, and keeper James Broadbent needed to be alert to prevent a couple of early chances.

Home attacks were fewer, but Leighton Shaaf saw a smart header saved on 16 minutes, and just after the half-hour Aaron Watson and John Lansdale combined to set up a good chance for Spencer Sachies, who blazed his shot over.

Then, with a goalless first half looking likely, Sittingbourne snatched a 43rd minute lead. Broadbent excellently beat away a goalbound strike from Ryan Golding but was helpless to stop Joe Taylor cracking in the rebound.

But after half-time Town came out a transformed team, pressing forward with new purpose and pace.

Four minutes in, Sittingbourne failed to clear a free-kick and Billy Medlock’s instant turn and shot found the bottom corner from ten yards.

And on 52 minutes Medlock again was on hand to pop in from close range after a swift right wing move. From back foot to front foot in three minutes, and Town were flying.

“What did you put in their tea?” asked a diehard Saffrons spectator by the dugouts. “It’s called shouting” replied manager Tony Reid with a grim smile.

In fairness to the Town boss, he cuts an intelligent figure on the touchline, coaxing and motivating to tease the best from his players.

The next phase was crucial. Town pressed to extend the lead: Medlock, now on fire, saw his angled shot brilliantly saved, and from the corner young Max Hollobone hit a wonder strike from 25 yards that skimmed just too high. At 3-1 or even 4-1, Town would have had breathing space.

Instead it was Sittingbourne who battled back and got the breaks. 67 minutes: Mick Dunson equalised from a needlessly conceded corner. 74 minutes: Luke Girt poked the visitors ahead after Town failed to clear their lines. 77 minutes: a sweeping crossfield move was finished by Taylor for 4-2.

The match was won and lost, but the drama wasn’t over. Sachies was fouled, squared up to his opponent and earned an instant red card for an apparent head-butt.

After a brief eruption of anger in both camps, the final few minutes were less inflamed, but as the teams trooped off there was a confrontation in the tunnel that appeared to see at least one punch thrown.

A shabby end to a dismal night for Town, and Ryman South safety is no nearer.

TOWN: Broadbent, Lansdale, Sutton, Salami, Davidson, Pollard, Sachies, Hollobone, Medlock, Shaaf, Watson.

Subs: Reid, Daly, Mybae, Brown, Elliott.

Att: 165

MOM: Billy Medlock