Cup semi final day finally arrived with Eastbourne Athletic the opponents for Rangers on the sports park 3G. Rangers were again without Greg Manton with Brad Meredith, Jamie Strong and Dan Chapman also unavailable for varying reasons. The only change from the 2-0 victory over JC Tackleway saw Dan Wilkes come in for Connor Sullivan who had picked up an injury during the week which saw him have to settle for a place on the bench.
Having played Athletic several times in the past, Rangers knew they were up against stubborn, workmanlike opponents who were very used to rolling up their sleeves to work hard for one another, and they didn't disappoint. Athletic lined up in a 4-5-1 with the lone front man being joint player manager Will Brooke, while his co-manager took the gloves in between the sticks as an emergency goalkeeper.
Rangers shaded possession in the early exchanges, and indeed chances on goal, but Athletic were very dangerous on the break with Brooke causing problems with clever runs and movement. Brooke had two sights of goal in the opening 45 minutes, but one chance was snuffled out by a combination on keeper and defender while the other saw a shot flash wide across the face of the Rangers goal. Athletic were making full use of the rolling substitution rule in order to keep pace with Rangers, who in earnest, struggled to get going which was in part down to the hard work of their opponents.
Rangers had a few chances to open the scoring but poor finishing and decision making in the final third kept the scores level until the 32nd minute. Another mazy run from Dylan Nanuck down the Rangers left saw him be more direct on this occasion as he attacked the Athletic box. His shot could only be parried by the keeper which left Mark Warren with the easiest of tap ins to give Rangers a one goal lead.
An impact injury to Wilkes saw Sullivan enter the fray and he almost doubled Rangers lead. His free kick on the angle nearly caught the keeper napping at his near post, but the Athletic number one scrambled the ball away to safety. 1-0 at half time.
It took Rangers 12 minutes to double their tally after good work from Wheeler down the right saw his cross slid in first time by Sullivan who had timed his run perfectly. Despite being two goals up, Rangers found it hard to find their rhythm and at times appeared to be very lethargic in possession when quicker, passing football should have been the order of the day. Wilkes was reintroduced to the game for Warren with Wilkes causing the Athletic back line many problems, but reluctance to test the keeper usually saw the the defence come out on top.
With 15 minutes to go, Athletic were given a lifeline with a well taken goal. A cross was too easily put in from the Rangers left, and Brooke stole in between the two Rangers centre halves. His header was met with aplomb and found its way into the bottom corner giving Bell absolutely no chance. 2-1 Rangers.
Athletic appeared to keep a lone striker in operation despite time ticking away, but Rangers still looked more likely to score next, most notably with Wheelers shot hitting the woodwork and rebounding to safety. In the dying moments, the athletic defenders along with the keeper pulled off some goal line heroics, and as the ball was cleared the referee blew the full time whistle. Rangers were through to the Eastbourne FA Junior Cup Final, a competition they won two years ago - a competition they may well not have a chance of winning again should they make the leap to intermediate football next season.
The Seaside Cafe MOM was awarded to skipper Ben Jesson who was, as ever, dominant in midfield. This game was indeed a tough challenge as the score line suggests, but this was a significantly below par performance from Rangers; a performance which cannot be repeated in the next fixture against Old Hastonians in the league next week. That said, we should take nothing away from Eastbourne Athletic who opted to frustrate Rangers with a bustling and hard working performance. Good luck to them for the rest of the season.
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...