Eastbourne Rangers played their final game of the season last night, a cup final spectacle against Little Chelsea with both sides eager to lift the Eastbourne FA Junior Cup. The two teams had already met three times this season with Little Chelsea securing a hatrick of victories, but the red and blacks knew they were in with a chance of a win based on the fact they had taken little Chelsea to the wire in two of those games.
Rangers were able to name a fifteen man squad despite having to do without the cup tied Steve Green and Jamie Strong, the injured Mark Hymans and Glen Noble, and the unavailable Lee Chapman who chose to go on his honeymoon rather than feature in a cup final! :-)
The rangers starting line up consisted of the every present Martin Bell in goal with skipper Dave Bennett-Tomlin partnered by the irrepressible Tony Derese at centre half. Rob Anderson and Ricky Curran were given the green light and right and left back respectively while the rangers management team opted for a three man central midfield in the form of Dan Chapman, Jules Waters and Dan Harmer. Providing the width on the rangers flanks were the talented Sean Hardie and Connor Sullivan while talisman Ben Jesson led the line on his own. Mike Pickard, Tom Tribe, Chris Ward and Josh Kyte were the four rangers substitutes.
With a very specific game-plan explained to the squad, rangers were in a confident mood despite the opposition bringing in several of the towns "big guns". In the early exchanges, both teams tried to get a foot hold in the game. Little Chelsea saw plenty of the ball across their back four with Jesson working tirelessly to close them down with added support from Sullivan and Hardie. In possession of the ball, rangers looked extremely dangerous down the flanks, and it didn't take long for Little Chelsea players to start up-ending the rangers pace men with Hatdie, Sullivan and Jesson on the receiving end of some poor challenges. An almost needless foul on a ranger after 22 minutes just inside the Chelsea half led to an opening goal for the triple champions. Waters swung in a cross from the rangers right which saw both the keeper and Little Chelsea defenders converge on the ball. With nobody taking sole responsibility, a Little Chelsea defender glanced the ball over his keeper and into the back of the net. 1-0, a dream start.
Rangers knew that the onus was now on the away team. The three man midfield of Chapman, Waters and in particular Harmer (who was given a particular screening role which he carried out with aplomb) saw Little Chelsea grow more and more frustrated with themselves and the referee. With the rangers back four standing firm which saw both full backs carry out their duties to the letter, and the towering combination of Derese and Bennett-Tomlin at the heart of the rangers defence, chances for Little Chelsea were in the main restricted to long range efforts (which Bell mopped up comfortably) while many of their attacks were forced wide and snuffed out which played into the hands of the red and blacks.
Little Chelsea's best chance of the half came from a break down the rangers left. The Chelsea winger got himself to the byline and pulled the ball cross the area only for the cross bar to come to rangers rescue when it seemed easier to score. Rangers nearly doubled their lead 10 minutes before the interval when a quick rangers break saw Sullivan feed a first time ball to Jesson. After taking his first touch away from the defender, Jesson outpaced the Little Chelsea man but his shot narrowly fired past the top corner and went off for a goal kick. So close....
Little Chelsea we're almost given permission to keep the ball in their own third which often saw the back four have plenty of time on the ball. But their usage was restricted to playing long balls out wide or long balls aimed at their target man up front, who saw very little of the ball in the opening forty-five minutes with much of the credit due to Bennett-Tomlin, Derese and Harmer. Bell in the rangers goal gathered plenty of long balls and crosses which clearly saw him grow in stature as the game went on. Sullivan and Hardie were causing problems up front who were switching wings at will while Chapman and Waters supported Jesson at sensible moments of the half.
Rangers held on to the lead until half time with the dressing room more than satisfied with first half proceedings. Everything had gone perfectly, better than perfect in fact. Little Chelsea found themselves back out on to the pitch five minutes before rangers and the match officials - maybe things were a little less happy in their changing room.....
The second half saw Little Chelsea continue to give away cynical fouls with the only surprise being the referees cards staying in his pocket early on. Ten minutes in rangers made their first change of the night with Kyte replacing Waters. This saw Sullivan and Jesson share shifts in central midfield while Kyte occupied his familiar left wing birth. A few minutes later, rangers had a glorious chance to double their lead. Jesson tricked his way through the Chelsea area and found himself bearing down on the keeper six yards out. The Little Chelsea number 2 clipped the rangers man to the floor which "denied an obvious goal-scoring opportunity". Imagine the surprise when only a yellow card was produced rather than red! And to make matters worse, Jesson dusted himself down but rattled the penalty against the bar - a double blow for rangers as they should have been two goals to the good against ten men....
This passage of play appeared to take the game to another level from a physical point of view. On 63 minutes Derese clashed heads with the Chelsea centre half in the rangers area which saw the Little Chelsea man leave the pitch as stitches we're required. Despite being dazed, Derese was able to continue even though bizarrely the Little Chelsea players were calling for punishment for the rangers man...
Derese soon suffered what Little Chelsea would call retribution in an over physical challenge, with the referee finally taking action against the perpetrator just moments later. Despite all the aggravation rangers did get the all important second goal on 68 minutes. Rangers mounted an attack on the Little Chelsea goal with the ball breaking to Hardie on the edge of the area. Without having time to think Hardie pulled the trigger first time which saw his shot curl delightfully into the top corner of the net. 2-0 rangers....
Little Chelsea then switched to 3-5-2 but having a two goal cushion, rangers did not need to change their gameplan. Despite being booked already, the Little Chelsea number 9 can consider himself lucky to to receive a second yellow after he needlessly pushed Anderson to the floor. Moments later, Curran was on the end of a disgraceful two footed lunge by the Chelsea central midfielder, and despite taking advice from the assistant referee, only a yellow card was brandished.
Back to the football, rangers mounted a good attack on 74 minutes which saw Sullivan look to burst thorough the Chelsea back line. His flick saw the Chelsea number two (remember him) deliberately handle the ball 27 yards out. Remarkably, no second yellow for the Little Chelsea player but moments later, from the resulting free kick, rangers didn't care. Up stepped Sullivan to despatch an absolute rocket which burst he net directly above the keeper to give rangers an unassailable 3-0 lead, which was fully deserved.
Rangers then made their final two changes which saw Ward (fresh legs) and Pickard (aerially superb) replace Hardie and Harmer with a high ball onslaught expected from the opposition. With a minute to go (and eight minutes injury time) Derese was adjudged to have fouled a Little Chelsea inside the rangers area. Rangers felt aggrieved, Derese had won the ball, and won the ball outside the area. The icing on the proverbial cake was the referee sending Derese off for a second bookable offence. Remarkable, truly remarkable. The Little Chelsea number 9 gave Bell no chance with the penalty, and at 3-1 the opposition sensed they could still get something from the game with eight minutes left.
Harmer was reintroduced for Jesson with Harmers aerial presence very much needed in midfield as Pickard had now dropped in next to Bennett-Tomlin. With Little Chelsea pushing for a further goal, this left them open at the back with rangers still managing to skirmish forward on the odd occasion. Only half chances and unpredictable goalmouth scrambles were a threat to the rangers goal but rangers stood firm; rangers stood strong because they believed. 3-1 was the final score and this was fully deserved with neutrals at the ground in agreement and very impressed with rangers disciplined and exceptional play.
With the whole team exceptional with everybody doing their bit, the rangers centre halves were singled out for particular praise. Had Derese not received a harsh red card, he may well have picked up the MOM award. The Eastbourne FA opted for rangers skipper Bennett-Tomlin who had edged it as he was exceptional at the back throughout the game. The entire team deserved a clean sheet on the night but it wasn't to be.
After a tough season in the league rangers are pleased to have secured their fourth successive piece of silverware. With many people writing rangers off in this cup final, it just goes to show what plenty of heart and desire can give you.
See you all next 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...