FA Vase Semi-Final Second Leg
Sholing won 4 v 6 on aggregate
The Oval, Eastbourne
Match Rating: 4
At the conclusion of my earlier game at Falmer, I made my way eastwards by train along the south coast to Eastbourne, before embarking on the half hour walk from Eastbourne train station to The Oval, arriving during the half time interval.
Having visited The Oval last August, the only alterations for today's big game was the erection of a marquee and the presence of a burger van. The programme was once again very good here, printed in colour and gave a very good background to today's game.
Reaching the semi-final stage has been a fantastic achievement for Eastbourne, a step six club, and the first time in many years a Sussex League club has got this far. To reach this stage they have beaten Arundel, Phoenix Sports, Chessington and Hook, South Park, Hanworth Villa (a crazy game that I witnessed in January), Morpeth Town and Ampthill Town. They are almost certain to gain promotion to Division One of the Sussex County League, most likely as champions. Sholing have beaten Winchester City, Follands Sports, Reading Town, Hullbridge Sports, Larkhall Athletic and Wisbech Town in their FA Vase campaign. They are favourites to win the Wessex League Premier Division, although they are suffering from a crippling fixture backlog, in third place and seven points behind leaders Alresford but with six games in hand.
Today's second leg match was set up beautifully following a 2-2 draw in the outskirts of Southampton last Saturday. However, my heart rather sunk as my Twitter feed informed me during my walk to the ground that Sholing had opened up a three goal lead in the first half, scoring on 9, 26 and 41 minutes to seemingly have settled the tie in their favour, with popular opinion amongst the crowd being that the hosts just didn't perform in the first half, possibly suffering from stage fright, as they overwhelmed by Sholing's attacking intent.
Eastbourne came out in the second half full of attacking intent, having no doubt been reminded by their manager that they might never again be close to playing at Wembley. On 51 minutes they were denied what, looked like a cast iron penalty, when the Sholing keeper made a hash of trying to punch the ball away and instead clattered into half time substitute Jason Taylor - one had every sympathy when his protests at a poor refereeing decision in such a huge game earned him a yellow card. Eastbourne looked likely to score at any minute now, Wes Tate had a shot cleared off the line before they pulled one back on 57 minutes. Tate crossed the ball from the right, Jack Divall headed it back across goal and Matt McLean nodded in front close range. It seemed that Sholing had scored a killer fourth goal on 65 minuted when a header from a deep free kick was ruled out for offside, and on 68 minutes it really was game on as Eastbourne scored their second. A free kick was initially hit against the wall, Tate drilled in a low long range shot from the rebound which the keeper couldn't hold onto, and Jamie Crellin smashed home the loose ball. Credit to Sholing now that they steadied the ship and Eastbourne's threat surprisingly diminished for the next ten minutes or so, before threatening again with long balls into the box and getting as many shots in as possible. However on 89 minutes, their hopes of a stunning comeback were extinguished when Sholing made the game safe when they scored. Nick Watts took possession on the edge of the area after an initial shot was blocked, took a touch before driving the ball into the net. Eastbourne still tried to attack but it was game over and the final whistle was greeted with understandable wild celebrations from the Sholing players as they raced over to their small group of fans, as the club can now look forward to their date at Wembley on May 10th against West Auckland Town. This will still be a successful season for Eastbourne United, with the league title theirs to lose and a Division Two semi-final to contest.