Eastbourne Rangers faced a tough trip on bank holiday Monday where they were to lock horns with rivals Herstmonceux in what was a must win game for the men in red and black. A win for ceux would almost certainly guarantee their division 2 status for next year while a win for rangers would hopefully nudge them up the league table towards safety of their own. For big games such as this, having a strong squad to choose from is a massive bonus, and with no fewer than 17 rangers available, this saw the unfortunate Chris Ward and Tom Tribe miss out from the matchday squad. Martin Bell, as ever, was the man with the gloves while rangers selected a backline of Ricky Curran and Steve Green (who was returning to his old stomping ground) at left and right back respectively. Skipper Dave Bennett-Tomlin partnered Belgian sensation Tony Derese at the heart of the rangers defence while Dan and Lee Chapman were the preferred choice in centre midfield. A reshuffle on the rangers flanks saw former ceux man Sean Hardie line up on the right while Connor Sullivan was given the green light on the opposite wing. Tasked with firing in goals for rangers was the combination of Ben Jesson and Jamie Strong who had linked up very well two games previous. Rangers named a strong four man bench of Mike Pickard, Rob Anderson, Josh Kyte and Jules Waters.
From the kick off rangers started the slower of the two sides but gradually picked up the pace which enabled them to compete in this vitally important clash. It was clear early on that this battle could potentially be won on the wings with both Sullivan and Hardie looking particularly menacing giving both ceux full backs a hard time. For ceux, their number 11 looked a constant threat on the ball on the left wing but Green marshalled him well in the early exchanges. Bennett-Tomlin and Derese did well to look after the pacey ceux number 9 who was bound to be a good outlet for the hosts throughout the game. In the heart of the rangers midfield, the Chapman’s found themselves in a battle with three ceux midfielders but Dan and Lee marshalled proceedings superbly despite being outnumbered.
Strong in particular looked a threat up front, and after he found Jesson in the box, rangers should have taken the lead only for Jesson’s shot to be fired tamely at the thankful ceux keeper. Rangers did manage to take the lead on 21 minutes when Strong and Hardie combined on the right. A quick throw from Hardie into the feet of Strong saw Hardie follow his throw and receive a clever back heal from Strong on the edge of the box. With a blink of an eye, Hardie retuned the ball to Strong, who had penetrated the ceux back line, with Strong making no mistake with a low finish past the despairing keeper. 1-0 rangers, and on the balance of play, fully deserved.
Rangers now had something to defend but continued to take the game to ceux who struggled to deal with Hardie in particular, despite swapping their full backs over to contain the former ceux man. Another opening formed on the edge of the ceux box when Jesson jinked through which saw Strong screaming for the ball unmarked to the left. But Jesson failed to get the ball out of his feet which allowed three covering ceux defenders to usher Jesson to relative safety. On 24 minutes, ceux restored parity. A through ball found the run of the pacey ceux striker who looked to be through on goal. Green was the covering defender, and despite a lunge for the ball, the rangers man sent his opponent sprawling in the area, with the referee awarding a spot kick with no further action against Green. The ceux full back calmly despatched the penalty, 1-1 and game on.
This did not deter rangers as there was a steely determination about the way the starting XI conducted themselves. All over the pitch the red and blacks continued to win 50:50 challenges, and with Strong holding the ball up superbly in the final third, this often saw Lee Chapman making bursts from midfield as well as the overlapping runs of Hardie and Sullivan giving good support to Strong. On the stroke of half time, rangers restored the lead. Some neat play in and around the area saw multiple ceux defenders attracted to Jesson on the edge of the box. This saw space open up for Strong who was found by Jesson’s slide pass, and with just the keeper to beat, Strong made no mistake by smashing the ball past the keeper. 2-1 at half time.
The rangers players were reminded that they were only half way home, and with Green and Curran given specific instructions on how to deal with the ceux number 11, the management team were happy and confident the game could be won, with the next goal being crucial.
Rangers started sharply and it was obvious that they were more fired up for the game than their opponents. Strong had an early half change to secure his hatrick on 52 minutes but his half volley scrapped the top of the bar. With Hardie and Sullivan now swapping wings at will, they were becoming much harder to handle for the ceux full backs, who looked a weak link in the ceux defensive line up. A poor challenge by ceuxs earlier scorer saw the referee add him to his notebook, with the perpetrator substituted shortly after. Rangers then made their first change a few minutes later with Curran making way for Anderson in a straight swap at left back.
On 63 minutes, rangers were in sight of a well earned 3 points. Hardie, again, linked well with Strong in the penalty area with the latter making absolutely no mistake with his finish to secure a well earner hatrick, his second treble for rangers this season. 3-1.
This saw rangers make their second change of the afternoon with Jesson making way for Kyte which saw Sullivan join Strong up front. The game was now wide open with ceux pushing more men further up the pitch which meant the introduction of Kyte was very timely with the little man producing several bursts from the left hand side. It was in fact a break from Lee Chapman, one of many, which saw rangers seal the game on 71 minutes. Again, with ceux stretched and Chapman’s drive attracting the attention of several ceux defenders, this time it was Chapman who found Strong on the edge of the area. With a touch or two to get the ball out of his feet, Strong sent a dipping shot over the keeper (who possibly should have done better) to seal his FOURTH goal of the afternoon. Was it time to celebrate? 4-1.
With a three goal cushion and the damage seemingly done, rangers made their final change of the afternoon with Pickard replacing Strong. This saw the rangers substitute form a back five with the management team expecting an aerial onslaught for the remainder of the game. This saw the energetic Sullivan leading the line on his own.
A few minutes later, a burst from Kyte nearly saw the little man inflict further misery on ceux, but the ceux keeper did well to shepherd the rangers man wide which allowed reinforcements to arrive. With further men pushed forward by ceux, it was always going to be an entertaining last 5 minutes. The rain had now made the pitch a perfect passing surface (although it was already very good), and a superb through ball (from the full back area) from the ceux creative midfielder pierced the channel between the rangers right back and centre half. With the ceux number 9 having timed his run perfectly, he progressed into the box, delivered a dangerous cross which Pickard cruelly diverted into his own net. 4-2 and ceux sensed it wasn’t quite curtains.
This theory was quickly disparaged a few minutes later. Sullivan delivered a dangerous corner, and almost returning the favour, a ceux defender diverted the ball into his own net to make it 5-2 to rangers. There was even time for a sixth goal in the dying moments in the pouring rain when Kyte and Sullivan combining in the ceux area with Sullivan converting from 8 yards out to continue his good run of goal scoring form. 6-2 was the way it finished and this was deserved win for rangers.
Collectively the entire team, including substitutes, did their jobs with Hardie and Strong the pick of the bunch. The Chapman’s were also superb in the middle of the park, locking horns with three ceux midfielders for most of the game. Bennett-Tomlin and Derese looked steady and assured at the back, but the MOM was awarded to Strong – four goals and superb link/hold up play.
This win sees rangers move up the league table but the red and blacks are still looking anxiously over their shoulders. A win this Saturday against basement club (and ever improving) Ninfield II should almost certainly secure rangers division two status for next season. Those that have an eye on the cup final just 48 hours later should be aware that league status is the clubs main priority.
Rangers V Ninfield II, 3pm Kick Off, The Sports Park.
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...