After two good wins in a row, Rangers approached their long trip to 2nd in the league JC Tackleway with confidence. Having lost the reverse fixture 6-1 at home, and the general consensus being that Tackleway were the best team the red & blacks had faced this season, there was no doubt that it was going to be a very tough encounter. Therefore anything that could be brought back to Eastbourne in the way of points would be a bonus. Rangers weren’t helped in this aim by having a severely depleted squad for the game. A total of eight players were missing including long term injury victims Glen Noble, Lee Chapman and Josh Kyte, as well as top scorer Ben Jesson who had family commitments. This meant that the management team had to give a start to Dan Chapman who was still struggling with the injury that had kept him out of the previous two games. They also had to ask Mike Pickard to come along and be the one and only sub, despite him not being fully cleared to play after his recent operation. Thankfully he agreed, which as it turned out was a probably a saving grace for the red & blacks.
After making the ridiculously long journey along Hastings seafront, the Rangers squad arrived to find what was easily the worst pitch they had played on all season. There were holes and ruts all over the pitch, the worst of which was in the goalmouths. Despite almost two dry weeks, the bottom corner of the pitch was like a swamp, and had the referee examined it beforehand, there would surely have been some doubt that the game would have gone ahead. With the pre-match formalities taken care of, Rangers lined up for kick off with the ever present Martin Bell in goal behind a back four of Dan Chapman on the right, the blossoming partnership of captain Dave Bennett-Tomlin & Tom Tribe in the middle, with Ricky Curran on the left. In midfield, Rob Anderson and Steve Green were charged with providing width on the right and left wings respectively. In the centre of the park Dan Harmer was given the holding role, allowing Jules Waters to be the playmaker and drive the team forward. Up front Sean Hardie was placed in the hole and given license to find space wherever he could in order to provide the ammunition for the red hot Connor Sullivan who was the lone striker.
Despite not having played a competitive game since the beginning of February, Tackleway started the game very quickly and looked very sharp. Rangers found themselves under sustained pressure for the first 15 minutes, with the ball spending most of the time in the red & blacks half of the pitch. Wave after wave of attacks were being launched against the Rangers goal, and it was taking some desperate and sometimes last ditch defending to keep Tackleway at bay. At the same time the red & blacks were struggling to get on the ball and launch any significant attacks of their own. But after weathering the initial storm, Rangers started to come more and more into the game. The work rate of everyone in a red shirt was starting to pay dividends, in particular the front two of Hardie and Sullivan who were chasing everything down and giving the Tackleway back four a torrid time. Green and Anderson were also now making regular forays down their wings and getting crosses into the box.
The Tackleway players were starting to become frustrated as Rangers were beginning to get on top. Their bickering amongst each other and arguing with the referee only served to spur the red & blacks on. Rangers very nearly opened the scoring after Anderson made another good run down the right and found Sullivan on the edge of the area in front of goal, but rather than pulling the trigger, he fed the ball onto the onrushing Green whose thunderbolt of a shot looked destined for the back of the net until a defender slid in at the last second with a very good block. The red & blacks continued to apply pressure, and eventually got their reward with about 25 minutes gone. It was no surprise that the goal was created and finished by Sullivan. He picked up the ball on the right hand side of the area, and then dropped his shoulder and beat a defender before heading towards goal. The full back got back to challenge him and looked to have won the ball, but Sullivan persisted and used his strength to get past the defender near the goal line. He then squeezed the ball past the keeper into the far corner from a tight angle. 1-0 and Rangers were buzzing.
Shortly afterwards Dan Chapman suffered a reoccurrence of his injury and although he stayed on until half time he couldn’t really keep up with the pace of the game meaning that Anderson had to hang back and cover for him which curtailed Rangers a bit on the attacking front. But they still managed to see it through to half time fairly comfortably with their lead intact. During the break the gaffer praised all the players for their efforts in seeing off the initial storm from Tackleway and working themselves into the game, and asked for more of the same application & desire in the second half. The gaffer was also forced to utilize his only substitute as Pickard came on at right back for the 2nd half in place of Chapman.
Tackleway had also made a change at half time, as they had moved their very quick centre back up top on his own, and pushed their starting centre forward back into midfield. They were obviously hoping to get back control of the middle of the park, and hit Rangers on the break with their pace. This move yielded almost immediate benefits, as within a few minutes of the restart, Rangers were caught out by long ball through the middle. This found Bennett-Tomlin isolated against their new striker the number 4, who turned on the after burners and accelerated through on goal before slotting the ball past a stranded Bell. 1-1 and Tackleway really had their tails up now. The goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of the red & blacks a bit and some of their previous shape and solidity seemed to desert them as Tackleway piled on the pressure. Shortly afterwards Rangers found themselves behind. Pickard was beaten down the flank by their winger who then played in a ball from the touchline towards their number 4 who was in a perfect position in front of goal to provide the finishing touch. However Tribe stuck out a long leg to try and make the interception and stop the ball reaching their striker, but he only succeeded in diverting the ball into his own net. 2-1 and in the space of 5 minutes Rangers had been rocked, and were now up against it.
Tackleway were now looking for the killer blow, and they came close on several occasions but couldn’t quick apply the finish to their build up work. They did get the ball in the net, but it was ruled out by the referee after the number 4 profited from being in an offside position to tap in after Bell could only parry a long range shot. To their credit, Rangers didn’t give up, and started to work their way back into the game again. Green in particular was beginning to get quite a bit of joy down the left flank, ably assisted by Curran. Green was taking a bit of a battering as on several occasions the Tackleway full back had to resort to crude challenges to stop the speedy Rangers wing man from getting past him. It wasn’t too much of a surprise when the full back ended up in the referees notebook after one foul too many.
As the match entered the final 20 minutes or so, it had become a very open and entertaining game, with chances coming and going at both ends. Sullivan and Green both saw shots go wide, while Hardie didn’t quite manage to get enough power on his shot to beat the keeper after good build up work. Tribe even had a chance to make amends after his own goal, but only managed an air shot when well placed from a corner. At the other end Tackleway also saw several chances go wide, and those that were on target were being well dealt with by Bell. As the final few minutes ticked away, Rangers kept pushing hard, but it didn’t look like it was going to be for them. Then as the referee indicated that the game was about to enter injury time, Curran picked the ball up on the left and drove forward over the half way line. He then looked up and hit a long ball into the Tackleway box, where their defenders seemed to have switched off as Sullivan had been left unmarked near the penalty spot. The ball in landed perfectly on Sullivan’s head and he had time and space to guide it up and over the keeper who was caught off his line. All the Rangers players and supporters held their breath as seemingly in slow motion the ball dipped under the crossbar and dropped into the back of net. 2-2 and cue major celebrations amongst the red & black faithful.
Rangers still had a couple of minutes of injury time to see out, which wasn’t entirely comfortable as Tackleway nearly broke through on a couple of occasions as they threw everything at Rangers looking for a winner. After what seemed like an eternity, the referee did blow his whistle, and the red & blacks could celebrate taking a hard earned point back to Eastbourne. Tackleway will no doubt considered it 2 points dropped, but from Rangers point of view a point was deserved due to their efforts throughout the match. Apart from a 15 minute period at the beginning of the 1st half and a 10 minute period at the beginning of the 2nd half, the red & blacks had matched what was pretty much the same side who had defeated them 6-1 at home before Christmas. Prior to the game given the relative positions of the teams, and the previous result between the two, Rangers would certainly have accepted going back to Eastbourne with a point from this very tough fixture. It also kept Rangers recent good run going, and saw the squad leave Hastings with their confidence and belief boosted, which will hopefully stand them in good stead for the next two games which will be very important in how the season ends up for the triple champions.
After the game the gaffer was quick to praise every player for their hard work and application. But for the second week in a row there was no doubt that Connor Sullivan was man of the match. His two goals plus his immense work rate throughout the 90 minutes were key, and hopefully his good run of form will continue through to the end of the season.
Next week Rangers return to the field of dreams for a home game against Hawkhurst. When Rangers went up there early on in the season, they were unlucky to lose 2-1 in what was a very tight game. Another close game is to be expected, but with home advantage and Rangers high on confidence due to their current good run, hopefully they can come out on the right side of the score line this time and continue their push up the table and away from danger.
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...