Rangers finally got back to competitive action on Saturday in an eagerly awaited cup quarter final derby against friends and neighbours, Eastbourne Athletic. Both teams had clearly been struggling for numbers in recent times and nothing was to change for this game. Rangers were missing six players for varying reasons with recent new signing Steve Green cup tied, Ryan Webb working while Mike Pickard was recovery from surgery. Lee Chapman was also missing due to a freak work related accident on Thursday and with long term injury victim Glen Noble seemingly no closer to a return another blow to follow was the absence of winger Josh Kyte through illness. This left the rangers bench with two half fit players in the form of Dan Chapman and Mark Hymans, both of which suffered injuries during training in midweek. Rangers were fortunate to be able to add the colossus Andrea Chiesa to the sparse matchday squad with the big man the only fully fit substitute.
The ever present Martin Bell took the gloves for the sixteenth time this season while skipper Dave Bennett-Tomlin was partnered by young pretender Tom Tribe who had impressed in recent friendlies. Either side of the centre half pairing saw Rob Anderson and Ricky Curran hoping to provide some width to proceedings while Jules Waters partnered Dan Harmer in centre midfield. Connor Sullivan was tasked with keeping the oppositions right back busy on the rangers left while Chris Ward, fresh from a "perfect" hatrick in a recently friendly, maintained his position on the right. This left the ever improving Sean Hardie to partner talisman Ben Jesson up front.
The rangers players were carefully briefed on what to expect from Athletic as it was no secret the way the "hornets" would set their stall out as the two teams had come up against each other last season, with athletic coming out on top with a win and a draw. With that in mind, there was no reason for athletic to change their tactics.
From the kick off athletic sat deep when rangers were in possession and looked to hit on the break while rangers were trying to unlock the athletic door with two banks of four between them and the goal. Briefed to shoot on site, long ranged efforts from Waters and Jesson were gobbled up by the big athletic keeper with considerable ease. Jesson looked a constant threat when pulling out to the rangers left, linking well at time with Sullivan in the process, while Hardie looked superb in everything he did from the start with his excellent first touch ensuring his hold up play was made that much easier.
Athletic rarely threatened, but did show flashes of neat counter-attacking football on a couple of occasions, with there best opportunity snuffed out by the excellent recovery run of Anderson down the rangers right. The Hornets also looked to capitalise from set plays and long throws but Bennett-Tomlin and Tribe as well as Bell in the rangers goal, were in the main equal to the task.
Athletics style of play made in very difficult for clear cut chances to be made, but rangers best chance of the half came surprisingly from a set piece on the half hour. Waters swung in a corner from the right hand side, which evaded the athletic keeper at the near post, the ball bouncing at the back post in the six yard box. A half clearance found Bennett-Tomlin on the angle ten yards out, but his effort failed to test the keeper with his shot going wide of the upright. A huge chance.....
Rangers continued to push while Athletic continued to sit back, waiting for a chance to break. Their combination of little and large up front failed to offer too many opportunities but to be fair, they maybe didn't see as much of the ball as they would have liked. At the other end, Hardie was causing problems for athletic up front by combining well with both rangers wings and Jesson who was playing in the hole, but what rangers couldn't do was break the athletic back line which was always lying extremely deep. Frustrating for rangers and the onlooking supporters but devilishly effective.
On the half time whistle it was clear that Athletic we're the happier of the two sides. Despite the tactics of athletic, the rangers management team called for more quality in the final third, with both full backs instructed to overlap the rangers wingers with Sullivan, Jesson and Hardie were instructed to shoot on sight ensuring any spillages from the keeper were followed up.
The next forty-five minutes was to be crucial for both sides, with this the only competition that both had a realistic chance of securing silverware for the 2013/14 season. From the restart, rangers looked sharp and mounted an attack of good promise and good passing football which just went wayward, again in final third. This was an encouraging sign though considering how the first half had been a tad dour. Anderson was now finding the opportunity to get forward from right back but the game defining moment came from the opposite flank on 52 minutes. Sullivan received the ball 25 yards out with his back to goal, and in a blink of an eye, cut inside rolling his man in the process. Sullivan then produced a magnificent strike which nestled in the Athletic top corner, with the keeper absolutely stranded - surprisingly Sullivan's first goal of the season, what a way to get it. Someone had been listening at half time.......
This is precisely what rangers needed as surely now, athletic would have to break ranks and come out to attack rangers which would hopefully leave them exposed at the back with the rangers front four hoping to capitalise. However, any side can be at their weakest when they have just scored and rangers are no different.
Moments after the rangers goal, an athletic midfielder breached the rangers back line, but with only the keeper to beat, his tame effort was gleefully gathered by Bell when perhaps the better option was to try to round the keeper.
On 55 minutes, the game took a turn for the worse. A clumsy tackle from Harmer saw former ranger Chris Langford left on the floor in agony with a suspected broken leg. An ambulance was called which saw the game delayed by half an hour. Both sides were clearly shook up in what was a terrible accident to a character much loved by both teams. Harmer, who was clearly distressed, was quietly given his marching orders by the referee. To their credit, athletic opted to continue with the game, maybe sensing a victory due to their numerical advantage.
Rangers reshuffled the pack with Ward making way for Chiesa who slotted in at centre back with an onslaught of aerial balls expected. Tribe moved to right back while Anderson was moved into centre midfield to provide some extra bite. Hardie was now the Lone Ranger up front with Jesson being switched to the right wing. The game however, seemed understandably flat with both teams struggling to come to terms with what they had just witnessed. Athletic were the more fired up side and showed a lot more intent on the break, with the extra man clearly helping. Player manger Lee Boniface came closest for the hornets after a neat passing move saw Boniface unleash a vicious drive from 20 yards which flashed just wide, Bell in the rangers goal a spectator.
There were a few skirmishes in both penalty areas, with Hardie causing more problems with his close ball control in the athletic 18 yard box, but he just failed to get his shot away on a couple of occasions. Athletic surprisingly continued to sit back when the rangers forwards were in possession with Jesson sometimes at walking pace on the wing, with nobody in yellow willing to make a challenge.
Rangers held on for the much needed win, which was well earned through patience and perseverance. The MOM award was given to Hardie who was exceptional throughout both up front with his strike partner and more so when he was on his own showing superb work ethic. Bennett-Tomlin and Waters ran him close.
Although it was pleasing to progress to the next round, the shine was obviously taken off this victory due to the injury sustained by Chris "Langers" Langford which affected both sets of players, especially those closest to him and Dan Harmer, who is expectedly distraught about the whole incident. We wish the former ranger a speedy recovery, and news as of Monday 3rd March 2014 if that Langers does not require surgery as initially thought, and has been discharged from hospital.
It goes without saying that we all wish him all the best in his recovery.
Rangers now face Visick in the Eastbourne Junior Cup semi final on Saturday 29th March the sports park, 2.30pm kick off but first take on Catsfield next week in a league six pointer. A must win for rangers.
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...