Eastbourne Rangers welcomed Hawkhurst United to the SportsPark this week looking for revenge on the 2-1 reverse at the start of the season where rangers held the lead for a long period of the game only to concede two late goals. With gaffer Nick Stevenson away this left one half of the management team in place where Marc “Robbo” Mckay was looking to mastermind a win to secure three valuable points. Changes to the side are almost inevitable these days and this week was no different with Jules Waters unavailable due to work commitments, Mike Pickard unavailable due to family commitments, and Dan Chapman joining long term injury victims Glen Noble and Lee Chapman on the physios table. Nevertheless, it was still felt rangers could field a very strong side. Martin Bell, the only ranger to play every minute of the season, continued in goal and the back four tasked with protecting him was Rob Anderson, Dave Bennett-Tomlin, Tom Tribe and Ricky Curran. Chris Ward returned to the starting line up on the right wing after missing last weeks game at Tackleway while Ben Jesson also returned to the starting XI to partner Dan Harmer in central midfield. Recent signing Steve Green continued on the left wing while Sean Hardie and in form Connor Sullivan were the preferred pairing up front. Josh Kyte was a welcomed addition to the matchday squad after being absent for several weeks due to illness but he had to make do with a spot on the bench along side Andrea Chiesa.
The matchday preparations were somewhat disrupted due to late arrivals, and with Hawkhurst turning up in the wrong colour kit, this saw the red and blacks have to change into their blue training tops to ensure the game could go ahead. Far from ideal.
From the kick off it was clear that Hawkhurst had not changed from their style of play from the first meeting between the two teams – very, very direct and extremely physical all over the pitch. With the wind blowing across the playing surface, this saw most of the action come down rangers left hand side in the opening exchanges where Green saw a lot of the ball. Within the first minute, Green found himself clattered to the floor by a tackle from behind, and although the freekick was awarded, no further action was taken against the perpetrator while Green received treatment. This was a pattern of the first half with Jesson on the receiving end of a knee high challenge, again which went unpunished while Green was penalised for trapping the ball with his studs…..!
Rangers came close to unlocking the door on two occasions in the first half when a Green cross whistled across the six yard box when only a toe was needed to give rangers the lead while 6 minutes later, Jesson jinked through on the left into the 18 yard box with his cross being hit on to the foot of the post by a ranger, with a Hawkhurst defender hacking the ball clear. Despite these chances, rangers were struggling to find their passing game and the game was very scrappy to say the least. The combination of the over physical presence of the away side and the lack of protection offered to rangers by the man in the middle saw the rangers starting XI lose their cool and composure which led to accusing words towards the referee and opposition – something which needs to be cut out of their game.
Rangers had shaded the opening exchanges on chances created but Hawkhurst began to raise the tempo which saw Bell having to be at his absolute best to tip over a 30 yard rasping volley from the United central midfielder. On the half hour, the red and blacks received a killer blow. The Hawkhurst centre half launched a long throw into the rangers area, where the United striker reacted the quickest to volley home past a helpless Bell – quite simply appalling defending. 0-1.
This was now an even bigger challenge for the red and blacks as the away side clearly had their tails up. Rangers looked to respond but again, the lack of cohesion and spirit deserted rangers at times. Curran had a long range effort from 30 yards which the keeper watched sail wide while all other half chances were blocked or hacked away be resolute United defending. Six minutes before the interval, Hawkhurst doubled their lead, again with the help of some woeful rangers defending. A corner was whipped in from the rangers right which saw a Hawkhurst player flick the ball on with his head at the near post, seemingly unchallenged. As if this was bad enough, a second Hawkhurst player was left unmarked at the back post to nod the ball in powerfully from eight yards out, 0-2. A devastating blow but arguably what the red and blacks deserved.
The second half saw rangers string 5 passes together for the first time in the match from the restart only to see a wayward long pass trickle out for a Hawkhurst goal kick. On the hour rangers nearly gave themselves some hope when Hardie hit a thunderbolt of a shot on the volley only to see the keeper palm the ball around the post for a corner. Rangers now had to push forward with Hawkhurst now looking to sit back and hit on the break. Kyte was introduced from the bench in place of Ward which saw Green move to the right to allow Kyte to stretch his legs on the left wing. A few minutes later, rangers changed to a back three which saw Anderson join Harmer in midfield while Jesson joined Hardie and Sullivan up front to form a front to form a three pronged attack. On 70 minutes, Sullivan was chopped down on the half way line which finally saw the referee take out his notebook to book the Hawkhurst centre half, but moments later, almost to settle it up, Sullivan found himself in the book for dissent when a decision didn’t go the way of the rangers man.
With 15 minutes to go, Chiesa replaced Green who was struggling with a knock which saw the versatile Anderson change to his third position of the game – the right wing. Chiesa then joined Harmer in the middle of the park and showed some neat touches throughout the remainder of the game. Hawkhurst were now becoming very dangerous on the break against the rangers back three but some last ditch and solid defending from Tribe and Bennett-Tomlin kept United at bay, at least for the time being. However with two minutes to go, a ball into the rangers box was only half cleared. Rangers failure to step up saw a ball slotted into a Hawkhurst striker on the six yard box with the United man making no mistake with the finish into the far corner. 0-3.
The final whistle blew to put rangers out of their misery on a day that just wasn’t theirs for so many reasons, with the main reason being the squad looking unusually flat with most players lacking in desire – something that is rarely said of this rangers side. The lack of protection from the man in the middle was clearly a frustration, however the physicalness from opposing sides is something the red and blacks will have to get used, regardless of how much protection they are offered.
This defeat sees rangers sit second bottom of the league which is of huge disappointment. Should we find ourselves in this position? Maybe not. But the old saying of “you’re only as good as your last game” springs to mind and too many times rangers have fallen short this season. Things clearly need to improve starting with the Eastbourne Junior Cup semi final against Visick this weekend.
Member since: 25th July 2013
Eastbourne Rangers were formed in May 2009 and after a seasons worth of consolidation, we haven't looked back since. Four league consecutive titles in five years (which have seen the club promoted SIX...