The Sports fought manfully and kept the tie alive until the final minutes, but the batteries looked drained as Oxford – who had taken the lead midway through the first half – stood firm and then pinched a late second goal to progress by 2-0.
“I am immensely proud of my players,” said Bloor at the end of an epic season which has witnessed goals, drama and excitement by the barrowload.
“We have achieved Eastbourne Borough’s highest league position since 2009. That’s a major achievement and we have transformed the club.
“Naturally it doesn’t feel good tonight, but when we have time to reflect properly, it will have been a really good season.
“We have one of the lowest playing budgets in the league, but when you have lads who will give every ounce and every yard for the club, you realise that character and commitment come far above money.
“I’ll be interested to see the match statistics but I think we had more of the ball than Oxford.
“We huffed and we puffed but ultimately on the night it wasn’t quite enough. I must pay tribute to the board and all our club workers, and to the supporters who have really bonded with us.”
Borough had arrived on the end of a six-match winless streak, and although the players defended with assurance and worked hard to create openings, they found Oxford in ebullient mood and strong physical shape.
The early momentum was with the home side, but clear scoring chances were few.
Borough had a sniff of goal on 17 minutes with a sweet flowing move which was cleared for a corner. At the other end, Lee Worgan had been untroubled in the Borough goal until the 23rd minute, when a right-wing corner was swung long beyond the back post, where Elliot Benyon’s header powered into the top corner of the net despite Worgan’s full-stretch efforts.
City’s quick, busy and quite aggressive style was permitting Borough no breathing space, and up front Charley Kendall was living off limited service.
But the second half saw the Sports take much better control, pressing City back and looking relentlessly for chinks in the home defence.
Dom Hutchinson, introduced off the bench, made an instant impact and carved himself a terrific shot that beat the keeper but hammered against the crossbar.
And on 76 minutes, Oxford doubled their lead with a messy goal. Ewan Clark squeezed his way in from the right, and Worgan saved but saw the ball spin high in an arc before landing almost on the goal-line, where George Harmon forced it into the net.
Bloor introduced Leone Gravata – the eternal substitute who will surely have a bright future in a starting shirt – and the Langney youngster caused Oxford as many problems in fifteen minutes as they had faced in the previous 75.
But the Borough machine, simply, was running on empty and City saw the game out.
Every campaign ends somewhere, and the Sports under Bloor should hold their heads high.
As the floodlights dimmed and the loyal travelling fans clambered back aboard the packed supporters’ coach, Borough chairman Dave Blackmore took the wider perspective.
“It’s always hard to lose a game of football,” Blackmore told the Herald, “but looking back over the whole season, you can’t be disappointed.
“I’ve just spoken to the players and said a huge, huge thank you on behalf of Eastbourne Borough the club, Eastbourne the town, and of the fans who have travelled to follow them.
“Single-handedly, that group of players has turned this club around from having crowds of 500 up to crowds of 1700.
“And more than that, I know personally that they have touched so many people this season – and have actually given people some joy and relief after some of the darkest moments of their lives.
“Coming out of a pandemic and into uncertainty, people have bonded and found a fresh sense of community.
“And that group of players have given their absolute all, the whole season long.
“And when we get this in perspective, we’ve probably finished up where we fairly belong.
“We are the sixth best team in the league, which is a fantastic achievement.”