Rangers made the long trip to Hawkhurst United in the hope that they could earn their first three points of the season after back to back defeats had left them dwelling near the foot of the division two table. The only absentees from the squad were Conor Middleton (injured) and Dan Chapman (away) so the management team had a very strong squad to choose from. Martin Bell took the gloves and hoped for his first competitive clean sheet while Ricky Curran and Rob Anderson were recalled to the started XI to play at right and left back respectively. Dan Harmer returned to centre half after playing centre midfield seven days previous, with Mike Pickard slotting in next to the rangers vice captain. Skipper Dave Bennett-Tomlin was asked to play in front of the rangers back four which saw the returning Lee Chapman and Jules Waters pairing up in centre midfield. Glen Noble and Connor Sullivan got the green light to play on the left and right wing while Ben Jesson was given the tough task of leading the rangers line on his own.
Talk before the game was to put the previous two results to one side and start a fresh. Rangers were expecting a tough, physical battle but the feeling was that this game was winnable. With plans issued in detail, rangers set about the task of gaining their first win of the season.
From the start it was clear to see that the opposition possessed those that had clearly played at a higher level in previous years. This combined with the power of the home side saw rangers take a while to adapt but they held their own in the opening exchanges. The home side’s directness and physical strength on the ball caused rangers many problems in the penalty area but the red and blacks stood firm with Bell in the rangers goal outstanding. With the extra cover Bennett-Tomlin was providing Hawkhurst found it difficult to play through the middle which turned their attentions to the wings. Anderson at full back was particularly busy seeing off the oppositions winger on numerous occasions with some last ditch challenges to keep the hawks at bay.
At the other end, Chapman nearly put rangers ahead after 22 minutes when his turn on the edge of the box allowed him to shoot at the Hawkhurst goal. With the keeper well beaten the ball shaved the net but was agonisingly the wrong side of the upright. Rangers continued to stick to their game-plan and were still able to look threatening down each flank with the pace on Noble and Sullivan. On 27 minutes rangers took the lead though such an outlet. Waters picked out the run of Noble on the left whose first touch took him inside the defender on the edge of the area. Noble unleashed a right footed shot, which took a slight nick on the way through, with the keeper looking on despairingly as the ball crept under his “ample” frame and in to the back of he net. 1-0 rangers.
With half time on the horizon, rangers knew that coming in at the break a goal to the good would give them a huge boost. Keeper Bell took one for the team just minutes before half time rushing out at the feet of a home player taking a hit on his hip for his troubles. Hawkhurst continued to be direct with the rangers goal peppered with long throws and deep crosses, which in the main the rangers defence and Bell coped with. The half time whistle blew much to the relief of rangers. The job was nowhere near done, a fact that was reiterated at half time to the management to the 11 rangers warriors. Rangers had ridden their luck a tad and were probably behind in terms of both possession and territory but they had the all important goal that separated the two sides.
With no changes made at half time rangers set about their task to killing off the game. The home side, of course, had other ideas – they knew they were still well in the game and their game plan hadn’t really changed from the opening forty-five minutes. The Hawkhurst number 10 was causing rangers all sorts of problems by dropping deep into the gap between the home teams attack and midfield and now with the Hawkhurst right winger coming more into the game, rangers knew they were in for a battle. With 57 minutes on the clock, Noble linked well with Jesson down the left and a rangers break saw them penetrate the home sides back line. Jesson squared the ball to Sullivan (who had made good ground to join the attack) and he made no mistake by sticking the ball in the onion bag only to see (for the second week running) a dubious (and game changing) flag raised by the oppositions linesman. Had the goal have stood, maybe – just maybe rangers would have been home and dry.
With half an hour to go rangers made a double substitution with Chris Ward and Josh Kyte replacing Connor Sullivan and Glen Noble, who had worked tirelessly for sixty minutes. This double change nearly paid dividends almost instantly as minuted later more good work down the left saw a cross from Kyte fizz across the Hawkhurst six yard box with Ward agonisingly close to toeing home – so close! At the other end, Bell was very busy between the rangers sticks with the rangers number one pulling of three world class saves while he could only watch while a Hawkhurst effort from close range rattled the rangers bar, ricocheting to safety. The onslaught from the home team was continuous and rangers were dropping deeper and deeper into their own third which invited pressure from their opponents. With Jesson now looking extremely lonely up front and being marked by a “seasoned” defender of some quality, the red and blacks found it increasingly difficult to retain the ball. The Hawkhurst number 10 and right winger were now looking even more threatening as rangers legs tired from the physical battle they had faced from the first minute.
With 6 minutes left on the clock, a flowing Hawkhurst move started and finished by the Hawkhurst number 10 left Bell with no chance with the striker finishing well from just inside the rangers area, 1-1. The home fans would say this was no more than they deserved…. but nonetheless a cruel, cruel blow for rangers. If that wasn’t cruel enough, with just 3 minutes remaining a Hawkhurst player won the ball 40 yards from goal and seemingly waltzed through the tiring rangers legs and applied an accomplished finish to give his team an unlikely 2-1 lead…..! Mugged, for the second consecutive week. L
Hawkhurst saw the last few minutes out and rangers came off the pitch knowing that they were just minutes away from getting something from the game. Neutrals would say that Hawkhurst deserved something from the game, and possibly they would be right. But that game changing moment when the flag went up to deny the triple champions doubling their lead will always be looked on as a game changing moment. That being said rangers fitness levels as a unit are maybe not quite up to scratch yet with possibly the “unchallenging” friendlies provided by what should have been decent opposition, partially to blame. With the Hawkhurst manager admitting his side didn’t deserve to win in this fashion, this will be of no consolation to rangers when they look at the league table.
Positives from the game were that rangers showed they can change their style and still be competitive in what is a very tough league, possibly the toughest division outside the premier division. MOM was awarded to Martin Bell who made 4 or 5 classy saves throughout the game with Rob Anderson at right back running him close.
Next week rangers face Wittersham at the sports park. And with every game becoming bigger as the season goes on due to the lack of points acquired, every ranger needs to stand united through these hard times.
3pm kick off, see you all there.
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...