1st Round Proper
Saturday November 10th 2007
Kick Off 3:00pm
Weather: Cold and windy
Distance travelled: 160 miles
Commemorative red balloons, "Up for the Cup" t-shirts, extra turnstiles open - Eastbourne Borough were going to make the most of this day. And quite rightly so. This was a big occasion for the club. Only a few years ago Eastbourne's big cup days came along courtesy of the Sussex Senior Cup. Following their impressive rise up the leagues, cup games in the FA Trophy and the FA Cup are becoming more common and here was an opportunity to advance to the FA Cup Second Round Proper for the first time in the club's short history.
This was also a big day for Sussex football; the first time that the county had been represented by four teams in the FA Cup First Round Proper. Eastbourne Borough were joined by Brighton & Hove Albion, Lewes and Horsham.
The Weymouth fans also played their part in the occasion; they travelled in numbers and as expected, were brightly attired. Fans from both clubs had been asked to arrive early to avoid the queues, and an impressive 2711 people turned up. This gate must have surpassed all expectations. And did we have to queue! Myself and two friends (one Fenlander and one Mackem) had to stand in line for almost everything. At the bar, at the turnstile, at the chip hatch and for the toilets. Not unlike me in the queue for the loo, Priory Lane was fit to burst.
We witnessed another good cup match in what were difficult, blustery conditions.
The first quarter of the game was really all Eastbourne Borough. They bossed possession and they played a lot of neat football. The diminutive Matt Crabb impressed the most, who started like a terrier but displayed some silky skills to boot. Most of the danger seemed to come from Crabb who had the desire and ability to run at speed with the ball, something all defenders dislike. The first real chance came on the 18th minute when the Weymouth goalkeeper John Stewart was forced to make a good save.
Eastbourne maintained control throughout the half; for the final ten minutes of the half they tested the resolve of the referee's assistant with a number of long balls all of which were given offside. Right on the stroke of half-time Eastbourne Borough had a good opportunity to break the deadlock with an unchallenged header from ten yards straight at the keeper.
In the second half, the home team began in the manner they had finished the first. Within minutes they had a shot cleared off the line. This seemed to stir both the Weymouth team and the Weymouth bench into action. The away team went straight up the other end and had an effort that was headed over for a corner. Whilst waiting for the corner to be taken, Weymouth threw on the tall substitute Jefferson Louis. With his first touch he headed in from the corner kick. 1-0 to Weymouth after 52 minutes.
Weymouth had a couple of recognisable players in their team, namely Nick Crittenden and Paolo Vernazza. But it was this introduction of Louis that turned the game on it's head for the Terras. From that point, Weymouth took complete control of the game. The extra height in attack for Weymouth caused problems in the Eastbourne rearguard and Weymouth had two more chances on 72 minutes to increase the lead. Eastbourne were now firmly on the back foot.
Matt Crabb continued to show no fear with the ball at his feet, and he never gave up the chase, but you could feel the game ebbing away from Eastbourne. Around the hour mark the home team had a penalty shout waived away by the referee; we were too far from the action to see whether it was a legitimate claim or not.
Their resilience finally broke with three Weymouth goals in seven minutes, with a fine hat-trick from Stuart Beavon. The goals (80, 84 and 87 minutes) were all well worked and the Louis/Bevon partnership proved to be the difference between the two sides.
I actually missed the third goal (I was in the loo avoiding the final whistle queue) and Fenlander missed the fourth. But I was able to see the goals on TV this morning; the first time I have been able to say that on this FA Cup run.
The game was played out in good nature, and only three yellow cards were produced. Although the referee's assistants seemed to come in for a degree of abuse from the home support and in particular, from Jason Tindall the Weymouth manager. It takes a thick skin to run the line, especially with the crowd literally breathing down your neck.
Time for a cliché with which to summarise; this was a game of two halves. It really was. The first half belonged to the home side, who failed to capitalise. The second half belonged to Weymouth, who took their chances well. A thoroughly enjoyable clash. I think the scoreline flattered the away team a little, something echoed by the Weymouth fan I was standing next to. But credit to Weymouth for being the more clinical in the part of the pitch that matters.
We were treated to an impressive Sussex sunset as the light faded. Before the final whistle a couple of sorry-looking Eastbourne balloons drifted over the pitch and out towards the sea. This seemed to signify the end of the FA Cup dream for Eastbourne Borough. The club have much to look forward to this season, and promotion to the Blue Square Premier League is a fate in their own hands.
Of all the clubs that I have had contact with on this cup run, Eastbourne Borough have been the most welcoming. The response from the club has been terrific, and I intend to keep in touch. I thank them for their hospitality and I wish them well.
The baton now passes to Weymouth.
As I write this, I am preparing to watch the draw for the Second Round Proper. Will it be a trip to Dorset for a first ever visit to Weymouth FC or will it be a journey further afield?
Let the balls decide.