Eastbourne Rangers made the short trip to Bexhill Road this week to face title challengers Old Hastonians. Hastonians conquered Rangers earlier in the season after the red and blacks had put in their most dismal first 45 minutes of the to date which saw Hastonians go in three up at the break. A spirited fight back from rangers wasn’t enough in the second half with rangers pulling back two goals, and this time, rangers were determined not to make the same mistake again.
Rangers would have to go about their business without defenders Greg Manton, Steve Green, Carl Kenward, and Rory Newby while skipper Ben Jesson and the versatile Sean Hardie were also unavailable along with long term injury victim Dan Chapman. With the absence of both the captain and vice-captain, Lee Chapman was given the armband and was also tasked with marshalling a new look rangers back four. Luke Barber was called out of retirement for the second time this season to partner Chapman at the heart of the rangers defence while Brad Meredith was given the nod at left back. At right back, Adam Daubeney was given an immediate debut after signing from Hailsham Town in what was to be a true baptism of fire for the new signing. Rangers opted for a five man midfield which saw Tony Derese take up the anchor role while Jamie Strong and Mark Warren added support to the central area. Matt Wheeler and Dylan Nanuck were tasked with providing the width on the rangers wings while Dan Wilkes was given the tough role of leading the rangers line on his own. Connor Sullivan and Bobby Allen were on the rangers bench.
Within 30 seconds of kick off, and with the rangers back line still finding their feet, Hastonians Will Cullen burst through into the rangers area with just Bell to beat. Bell stuck out a leg, and Cullen went down, but the referee opted not to award a penalty with the ball seemingly running away from goal with Bell claiming the home player had gone down too easily. For the first 15 minutes, the home side really put pressure on rangers, and it seemed like one way traffic. Cullen had another early chance from a corner but Bell was equal to the effort towards goal which then saw Cullen scuff the rebound wire. Some meaty challenges from the home number 11 also added some extra spice to the game with Derese also in amongst the thick of the action.
On 19 minutes though, rangers opened the scoring against the run of play. Wheeler charged down a clearance from the home defender which saw the ball balloon up in the air. Wheeler then found Wilkes with a bicycle kick with Wilkes in turn finding Nanuck on the left hand side of the box. Nanuck cut inside and rifled in a low shot past the keeper to give rangers an unlikely lead. 1-0.
This goal seemed to settle rangers down and they were now looking more likely to add to their tally. Wheeler was a constant thorn in the side of the experienced Hastonian defenders, and the little man should have had a penalty when he was brought down just inside the corner of the 18 yard box. The referee gave the foul, but not for the first time was in a poor position, and awarded a freekick which Strong whipped over the home keepers bar.
On the half hour, rangers had a glorious opportunity to double their lead. A blind and short back pass from the Hastonians skipper saw Wilkes race between the two centre backs and Wilkes burned away towards goal. Wilkes steadied himself against the onrushing keeper only for the home number one to pull out an outstanding stop down to his right after Wilkes had looked to stroke the ball past him. Six minutes before the interval, rangers came within a whisker of doubling their lead. Some neat play in and around the Hastonian box saw Warren nod the ball back to Strong who was hovering on the edge of the area. But his first time half volley shaved the outside of the far post with the keeper completely rooted to the spot. So close….
At half time rangers knew they were in a good position and despite the early exchanges where the home team were on top, rangers had compiled more chances than the hosts and probably should have been out of sight by now. That said, Hastonians were tough competitors with an experienced riddled team sure to come out hard in the second half.
In the early moments of the second period, there were more huge challenges from the home number 11 and Derese, with the former eventually finding himself in the book for a challenge on rangers midfield enforcer. The directness of some of the home sides play were causing a few problems to an otherwise steady new look rangers back line. One such instance was when a ball was clipped over the top and Cullen raced away. Just as he was about to pull the trigger, Chapman made a heroic, least ditch challenge to clear the danger and keep the score at 1-0.
Hastonians rung the changes which saw player manager Dan Foster enter the fray up front for the hosts which was to add a further aerial threat to a small looing rangers back line. Rangers also made a change with Wilkes having put in a lonely but tiring shift up front and this saw Sullivan enter the fray in a straight swap. With both front lines refreshed, this posed different challenges for defenders on both teams. Resolute defending from rangers continued to keep Hastonians at arm’s length, and despite putting territorial advantage on the red and blacks, they failed to test Bell who hadn’t had a shot to save all game.
At the other end, rangers were still looking for that all important second goal. Warren had two good opportunities to give rangers that all important cushion. The first was from a corner when he was left completely unmarked and had an age to bring the ball down on his chest in the area, but unfortunately his snap shot sailed wildly over the bar. Moments later, Warren pounced on a rebound in the area but his first time shot cannoned off the foot of the post and away to safety.
A further change from Hastonians saw them push Dom Clarke up front from his central defensive role as the home side went to three the back in a quest to find an equaliser. This immediately gave rangers more room on the wings and the fresh legged Sullivan was also causing problems. It was in fact Sullivan who felt he should have had a penalty with 10 minutes to go after it appeared he was shoved over in the area, but again the appeal was turned down by the referee who was quite a distance away from the incident. At the other end, Hastonians had a huge appeal of their own when Foster felt he was bundled over by the impressive Derese in the box, but again the appeal was waved away.
In the 92nd minute, rangers hearts were to be broken. A tired looking challenge from Warren, who had impressed in the middle, resulted in a free kick to Hastonians 35 yards out in a central position. This saw a stampede of 6 foot plus home players pile into the rangers area. The freekick was curled in and was glanced on by Chris Moon over the fists of Bell to finally give the home side the goal they had been striving for, which was just their second effort on target in the game….. a truly crushing blow.
As rangers took the restart, the final whistle blew to end a tense contest – rangers had come so close to picking up maximum points against all the odds, but the pressure had been building in the dying moments of the game with the home side pushing on. Unbelievably, the happier of the two managers was not Foster who saw this as a huge opportunity missed based on the strength of his own side against a rangers team missing over half a dozen regulars. That said the spirit and determination of those in red was plain for all to see with everyone contributing to what could be a huge point come the end of the season.
Massive thanks to Luke Barber for filling in during rangers hour of need and special thanks to Bobby Allen who ran the line for most of the game and was an unused substitute. There were some excellent performances thoughtout including Barber and Chapman at the back, while Warren in a deeper than usual role was also superb. But the Seaside Café MOM was awarded to midfield enforcer Tony Derese who was an absolute rock/beast for the entire 92 minutes.
Despite conceding late on, rangers should be happy with their days work as this was very much a point gained. It was disappointing that rangers couldn’t kill the game off after spurning at least four good chances with the score at 1-0, but that’s football. Next week rangers travel to bottom side Ticehurst FC where rangers will be looking to extend their unbeaten run to 10 games.
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...