Deflation for Eastbourne Borough - but they will bounce back
Eastbourne Borough’s New Year began with the narrowest of defeats at Priory Lane on Tuesday night as visitors Maidstone United edged an entertaining game by 3-2.
Borough were out of the traps like greyhounds, and in the first five minutes Maidstone literally could not get out of their own half. A first-minute rangefinder by Chris Whelpdale, with the outside of his right boot, curled tantalisingly just wide of to top corner, and as the Sports kept up the pressure, the Stones’ defence was breached in the fourth minute.
A hapless back-header from midfield was pounced on by Joel Rollison, racing through the middle, and his first touch was an exquisite strike, dipping over goalkeeper Chris Lewington and into the net off the underside of the bar.
But that goal was merely the trigger for a first half of furious goalmouth action. By now, the Stones had just about got their boots on – and shaking off that sluggish start, they had conjured a fortunate equaliser within just six minutes. Juan Luque and Noah Chesmain exposed the Borough right flank with an overlap, and Chesmain’s cross was met by Charlie Seaman, whose shot bounced down into the ground and freakishly over Franco Ravizzoli.
And three minutes later, as the pace increased further, Maidstone snatched the lead – from an Eastbourne corner. Greg Luer had left the defence for dead but was stopped at the expense of the flag-kick, but it was cleared through a midfield as empty as a lock-down car park, and brilliant interpassing set up George Porter. Ravizzoli denied his first effort with a terrific save, but Luque followed up with an easy finish.
The home side, furious with themselves, responded with energy and on 26 minutes they were deservedly level. Maidstone had made a slightly questionable fashion statement with their all-purple away strip, but they were as mobile as purple bricks as Charley Kendall raced in behind them to flash a perfect ball across goal. Meeting it with perfect timing, Whelpdale crashed home the equaliser from ten yards.
It was 2-2 before the half-hour, then, but nobody was settling for stalemate. Charley Kendall powered through but was denied by an athletic Lewington save, and then the excellent Rollinson set up Whelpdale, whose shot crashed against the right post and away.
In fact, the next significant action came from the touchline. Noah Chesmain had been a rabbit in the headlights against the Sports’ attacking pace, and his manager Hakan Hayrettin saved him from further distress with a substitution. The reshaped Stones brought on a lively Justin Amaluzor, and instantly looked better balanced.
The first half had been been played like kids in the playground – and we wondered whether tedious normality would be restored after the break. Not a bit of it. Two minutes in, George Porter spirited his way in behind the left of the home defence and produced a lovely cross, achingly just out of Ravizzoli’s reach but met with a close-range header by veteran striker Scott Rendell for 3-2.
And, rather like those playground contests, there was a sense of “next goal is the winner” - and so it proved. The rest of the second half was less frenzied and – with an experienced Maidstone side frequently slowing down restarts – the Sports could not recapture their earlier momentum.
The loss of the influential Chris Whelpdale to a nagging injury, and then also of right-back James Vaughan, changed the dynamic as well as the team shape. Rollinson slotted in efficiently in defence but his forward pace was missed. Borough had more of the ball and the territory, but the sharpness was not quite there.
Indeed, with 15 minutes left, the Stones almost extended their lead, Elokobi putting Rendell through, but the striker’s lob just cleared the crossbar. It didn’t matter: the Sports still trailed until four minutes into stoppage, when Luer’s goalbound shot beat Lewington but was dramatically headed off the line by Seaman.
Deflation, then, for Borough, in their first competitive action since mid-December. But with 26 league games still ahead, Danny Bloor’s men will surely be back in the groove before long.