Sometimes you get the feeling before you even leave the house that it’s not going to be a good day. A quick check of the internet had confirmed that “planned engineering works” were adding an unnecessary half an hour to an already tortuous journey (how can a twenty mile journey take an hour and a half in this day and age?) and, added to that, Eastbourne play in red, which is always going to temper my support for them somewhat. On paper, this was a fixture with a bit of spice behind it. Eastbourne Borough were unbeaten in all competitions this season and sit at the top of the Conference South, whilst Weymouth spent heavily to get into the Conference in the first place and almost bankrupted themselves in the process. They’re still there, but in 17th place – uncomfortably close to the relegation places. A clear out in January got rid of most of their most expensive players (and a manager, Gary Hill, who curiously lost interest when it became apparent that the money had run out), along with an enforced tempering of expectations on the terraces.
Priory Lane is not an unattractive place to watch football – almost entirely covered and with two bars, one of which was pleasingly empty more or less constantly. They are also the owners of the world’s best scoreboard. The people of Eastbourne had turned out in numbers, too (estimates before the match had put the expected crowd at around 1,800 to 2,000 – in the event, 2,700 turned out). In the first half, Eastbourne dominated and should really have gone in at half-time a goal up, but the crowd was strangely quiet (this happens a lot at matches like this – the majority of the crowd either don’t want to sing or don’t know what to sing, and the atmosphere suffers accordingly – there were periods during this match when you could have heard a pin drop during open play). Matt Crabb had two chances well saved by the Weymouth goalkeeper Stewart, but there was something ominous about all of this – Eastbourne were having the majority of the possession but looked relatively blunt going forward. Weymouth were largely pegged back in their own half, but looked more dangerous when they did manage to get forward.
The turning point came eight minutes into the second half, when Weymouth brought on Jefferson Louis. Louis (who some of you may remember from an old episode of “Match Of The Day Live when, after an FA Cup match between Oxford and Swindon, Louis was caught on the dressing room camera bounding across the screen naked in a manner that revealed a frankly prodigious appendage) ran onto the pitch for a Weymouth corner, straight into the penalty area and headed the ball home with his first touch. In all honesty, Eastbourne didn’t have much to give after that. They still had just about the majority of possession, but were maddeningly bereft of the incisive pass that could cut a whole in a reasonably solid Weymouth defence. It was, I guess, the difference between being semi-professional and professional – Weymouth were that bit better organised, and their players were marginally better disciplined. The final score, however, was something of a travesty – a hat-trick in the last nine minutes from Stuart Beavon made the game safe for Weymouth, although by the time of the fourth goal I had done something that I only very, very seldom do. I’d left the ground early was already safely (and warmly) tucked up in the bar watching the results coming in from elsewhere. Brighton’s last minute equalizer at Cheltenham Town, a point for St Albans and news of AFC Wimbledon’s 1-0 against AFC Hornchurch were something of a consolation for what felt like a bit of a wasted afternoon.
Elsewhere, the FA Cup First Round was something of a disappointment, thanks in no small part to the draw itself, which was a very poor one. Rushden beat Macclesfield (though this hardly registers as a “surprise”) and Barrow held Bournemouth to a draw and Staines Town got a draw at Stockport County. The interest to be had was in the details. Altrincham may have lost 2-1 against Millwall, but their goal (which I will definitely be posting up on here when I can find it) is a contender for “Goal Of The Season”. Likewise, Nigel Brake scored from forty yards as Horsham made it two Sussex teams in the second round with a 4-1 win over Maidenhead United in front of an impressive crowd of nearly three and a half thousand. I will be be looking with interest to see how many of them are back for their next Ryman League match. All eyes will now be on the recently relegated Torquay United, who are playing out a somewhat peculiar role-reversal against the former non-league giant-killers Yeovil Town live on BBC1 at lunchtime.