Eastbourne Borough returned defeated and dejected from Farnborough on Saturday, and a season that had seemed full of promise is slipping into mid-table neutrality.
With supporters equally disappointed, manager Tommy Widdrington – perhaps now looking towards a relaunch next season - is also his own sternest critic, and the Crawley Town friendly tonight (Tuesday) will give an instant chance to look hard at his squad.
Farnborough’s talisman was young striker Dan Bennett. As well as scoring both goals, Bennett caused nuisance all afternoon and was involved in two match-turning incidents early in the second half.
On 51 minutes, with the game balanced at 1-1, he took a dubious tumble just outside the box to earn his side a free kick, from which he headed Farnborough into the lead.
And just two minutes later – with no blame attached to Bennett – Marvin Hamilton collected a jaw-dropping second yellow card for what seemed a clean and well-timed tackle. Bennett did not even go to ground but a zealous linesman’s flag condemned Hamilton to a trudge to the dressing room.
Spoiled for choice in several positions, Widdrington’s selection may have raised an eyebrow or two. Gavin McCallum was paired with Nat Pinney up front, and there was a start for young Ryan Worrall, while a formidable bench included in-form striker Darren Lok as well as midfield enforcer Matt Aldred.
Borough began confidently, and it was no surprise when they took a 15th minute lead. Worrall – neat and intelligent throughout – set up Sam Beale, who crossed from the left for McCallum to turn and shoot home from 15 yards.
Farnborough looked wobbly and naïve, but they attacked without fear and on 21 minutes they shook Eastbourne with an equaliser. Bennett found space on the right and jinked in to strike a fierce shot past Lewis Carey.
By this time Hamilton had already collected his first yellow, correctly given for a block on Louis Theophanous, and Worrall followed him into the book for a mistimed tackle.
But the Sports still looked the better organised side, and just before half-time some classic approach play set up two good chances for Pinney, one saved and the other inches wide.
Then came the disastrous few minutes after the break, and suddenly Borough were chasing the game. Widdrington brought on fresh legs in Aldred, Lok and Chris Sessegnon, and even with ten men they might well have salvaged something.
Farnborough, now battling with all the defiance of the students on the Les Miserables barricades, were defending ever deeper, as Borough threw bodies forward. Pinney headed one chance into keeper Mareck Rodak’s arms and blasted another one wide. McCallum headed against a post from Beale’s cross, and Beale himself ghosted into a shooting position but struck too high.
And in a frantic finale, Johnson’s free kick found a trio of Simpemba, Lok and McCallum all in clear space beyond the defence, but incredibly Rodak defied all three to preserve Farnborough’s three points.
Farnborough: Rodak, Richens. Freddie Grant, Fearn, Siaw, Treacher, Bennett, Harry Grant, Page (Sow 76), Theophanous (Chambers 87), Beckles (Perch 71).
Borough: Carey; Watts, Simpemba, Hamilton; Evans (Sessegnon 56), Sinclair (Aldred 73), Worrall (Lok 73), Beale; Johnson, Pinney, McCallum. Unused subs: Haysman, Khinda-John.
Referee: Michael George Att: 381
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