Eastbourne Rangers travelled to Crowhurst this week where a tough challenge was expected from a side who will no doubt be challenging for league honours come the end of the season. This challenge was made even tougher when no fewer than eight squad members were unavailable for varying reasons, a trend which seems to have become the norm these days for the rangers ESFL side. It was very fortunate that the rangers MSFL team did not have a fixture and this saw five players kindly agree to help rangers try to acquire maximum points for the second week running.
Martin Bell, one of two ever present players this campaign, was again between the sticks and came into the game in fine form. Greg Manton and Carl Kenward, who both returned in last weeks game against Tackleway, were positioned at centre half and left back respectively. MSFL vice captain Kyle Daines partnered Manton at centre half while the versatile Rob Anderson took up the right back slot, Anderson usually playing in a central midfield role for the MSFL team. Knowing full well that Crowhurst would line up with a 3-5-2 formation, the rangers management team opted to match the oppositions 5 man midfield with skipper Ben Jesson and the returning Sean Hardie tasked with keeping things ticking over in the middle of the park. Joining them was striker Jamie Strong, who usually plays a more advanced role, and he was given specific instructions of how to mount rangers attacks from the rangers engine room by utilising rangers wingers Dylan Nanuck and Matt Wheeler as much as possible. The long and lonely task up front fell to Mark Warren, who scored a double on debut last week; with his role identified as being both a target and an outlet in rangers attacking play where he would hopefully bring in willing runners into the game. Rangers had a four man bench with Rory Newby (carrying a niggling injury) the only recognised ESFL team regular and he was joined by defender Brad Meredith as well as forwards Glen Noble and Josh Kyte who have featured regularly for the rangers MSFL team this season.
The match got off to a cagey start with both teams taking stock of how the opposition would approach the game. Crowhurst looked to play the ball into their strikers as quickly as possible whereas rangers had to be more patient in their play having only the one striker up front. Rangers used the space on the wings well and Strong was able to find the dangerous Wheeler and Nanuck with comfortable regularity. And with the latter having more of the ball in the opening exchanges, he was able to test and push back the Crowhurst right wing back whose forays forward were rare early on.
Warren was getting through a huge amount of work up front with the three Crowhurst centre halves keen to play around Warren as much as they could, sensibly making their numerical advantage count in their defensive third. With the ball though, Warren was a handful and he executed some superb hold up play which often resulted in the rangers man gaining free kicks in dangerous positions. On 16 minutes, Warren earned rangers a freekick 20 yards from goal. Strong rifled in a low drive which cannoned veraciously of the post and into the path of the following Nanuck, but Nanuck’s first time snapshot fired narrowly wide of the upright.
Six minutes later and Warren earned rangers another freekick with two Crowhurst defenders bundling him over 25 yards from goal. Strong lined up behind the ball again and this time his dipping freekick evaded the despairing dive of the keeper and found its way into the roof of the net to give rangers a crucial lead.
Crowhurst had a couple of chances to draw level, but were first denied by an excellent low save from Bell, and then thwarted by a covering tackle from Daines after a Crowhurst striker was “dummied” through on goal by his strike partner. Rangers hit the woodwork again before the interval with the quick feet of Hardie bamboozling the home defenders but his shot ricocheted off the near post to safety.
One nil at half time but rangers knew there was a long way to go and expected a fight back from the hosts in the second period. There was call for more of the same at the break with the only slight negative being rangers were sometimes taking unnecessary risks at the back.
Rangers doubled their lead on 57 minutes with a strike of good fortune. Strong fed the ball to Wheeler on the right hand side and his attempted cross ballooned off of the leg of a defender and dipped over the keeper into the net to give rangers a much needed 2 goal cushion.
Crowhurst got themselves back into the game with 22 minutes left on the clock when a cross from the rangers left was headed in expertly by the home striker right into the corner past the despairing dive of Bell. Rangers then made a triple change which saw Anderson, Wheeler and Warren replaced by Meredith, Kyte and Noble with fresh legs very much the order of the day.
Rangers were now looking to hang on and “dig in” for the remainder of the game, while Crowhurst were now throwing all they could at rangers. The home goal scorer thought he had equalised on 75 minutes but his curling, dipping effort was tipped over by Bell in what was a quite sensational save to keep rangers ahead.
Three minutes later, rangers got a third which proved just how crucial that save from Bell was to be. Strong picked up the ball in midfield and he released the fresh legs of Kyte down the rangers right. His pace took him through on goal but he was cynically taken down inside the box with the referee pointing to the spot, issuing a yellow card to the defender in the process. Up stepped Strong who slotted the ball past the keeper, who got a good hand to the ball, and rangers were 3-1 up and looked good for the win.
The last 12 minutes, which saw a good few minutes of injury time added, rangers held on for a deserved victory. There were many stand out performances with each and every player doing exactly what was asked of them. Anderson saw off the danger of the Crowhurst left back with aplomb while the rest of the back four were rocks and were in an uncompromising mood. Dylan and Wheeler were both excellent on the wings while the midfield trio of Strong, Hardie and Jesson truly immense. Warren worked himself into the ground upfront and was a constant nuisance to the Crowhurst back three. The three rangers substitutes also contributed hugely with Meredith’s long throw pegging the home team back in the last 20 minutes and the pace of Kyte and Noble a constant threat to the tiring Crowhurst legs in behind the back line. Also we should not forget to two key saves that Bell made in each half of the game when rangers only had a slender one goal advantage. But the Seaside Café MOM was awarded to Dylan Nanuck who had a great game on the left wing, with the threat he was posing often pinning back one of Crowhurst's main creative threats, the right wing back.
Our deepest gratitude should be given to Daines, Anderson, Kyte, Noble and Meredith who all kindly agreed to help out a severely depleted ESFL squad – without them, these three points would not have been possible to secure and any title hopes would have gone out of the window in the process. A special mention and big thank-you to Ade Willoughby who kindly ran the line for rangers, not putting a foot wrong all game.
Our thanks also to Crowhurst who, as ever, were excellent hosts thus making Crowhurst Recreation Ground one of the nicer grounds to visit in the ESFL. We which them all the best for the rest of the season but the sides are due to meet on another two occasions before the season is out, games which are expected to be as tight as this one.
If rangers are to mount a serious title challenge, player availability and commitment simply must improve for the second half of the season. Consistency and commitment at any level in any sport is the key to success, and with these essential commodities in place, only then can any side be successful on a regular basis.
Pictured - Jamie Strong
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...