Eastbourne’s determination to run non-stop, get numbers behind the ball and deny Sutton space and time paid off with a hard-earned point at The Lane. In an open game the visitors had taken a deserved lead in the closing stages of the first half and would have been disappointed not to take that advantage into the break having just about shaded the play, but were pegged back almost at once by a U’s penalty. The second forty-five was a different story, with Sutton upping their tempo and spending most of the time in the visitors’ half but unable to create enough clear chances as the Sussex side defended their valuable point with spirited determination.
Sutton started brightly, and the first ten minutes hinted at a fruitful night as crisp passing and a positive intent put Borough onto the back foot. However, in a pattern set to be repeated throughout the night, every time a U’s player found space or went past his man a red-shirted defender appeared at once to close things down. In fact the first real chance didn’t come until the 15th minute, the result of a swift counter-attack. Craig Dundas played a superb pass down the left wing and Craig Watkins raced clear, winning a corner. From the dead ball Sam Page found himself with an almost free header inside the 6-yard box but somehow the ball squirted square rather than goalwards and Eastbourne scrambled it clear.
The visitors were starting to come more into the match and seemed to pick up every loose ball and Sutton, having failed to learn the lessons from Saturday, reverted to a more long-ball game that rarely saw them win a header against a dominant Borough defence. Watson might have scored when he latched onto a neat chip into the box but his somewhat improvised lob over Kevin Scriven hit the bar and went out for a goal-kick. Page again managed to get on the end of dead-ball move, heading Harry Beautyman’s free-kick tamely at ‘keeper Walker. Watson again caused problems for the U’s, shooting straight at Scriven after a quick break. The U’s repeatedly gave the ball away inside their own half and Eastbourne gained reward for their approach in the 43rd minute when a powerful header from a Sutton goal-kick sent Watson free of the U’s defence and he went round Scriven before sliding the ball home. The visitors’ lead lasted barely more than a minute as Dundas fed Tony Taggart on the right and the winger cut inside his marker into the box. Quite why referee Ben Knight waved away the calls for a penalty when Taggart’s cross was beaten away basketball-style is a mystery but when the ball came back out to Michael Boateng the full-back was needlessly tripped and this time the referee did point to the spot, Watkins dispatching the kick confidently.
The U’s displayed a lot more purpose right from the start of the second half with a renewed focus on a shorter game and with the visitors having to defend deep and in numbers for much of the half a winner seemed inevitable, but Eastbourne refused to give up and always seemed to find a tackle or block to deny Sutton. Anthony Riviere shot narrowly wide with his right foot after a good, patient build-up but it was only in the last ten minutes, perhaps with Borough tiring from their efforts, that the chances really started to flow. Taggart put in a good run and cross from the right which Walker grabbed at the second attempt in front of a clutch of U’s forwards, then Page fed Leroy Griffiths on the left and he flicked the ball on to Beautyman whose cross saw Taggart’s header tipped over the bar by Walker. Griffiths again did well on the left only for his inviting cross to evade a string of waiting amber shirts and Hunt saw a good header saved by Walker. In the closing seconds Crabb tried his luck with a free-kick but the ball curled a couple of yards wide of Scriven’s right-hand post. All in all, a frustrating night for the U’s but a point well-earned for a hard-working Borough side.
Eastbourne: M Walker, D Baker, S Cole, M Smart(sub G Charman), A Lacey, O Rowe, S Johnson, S Anderson, B Watson, G Hart, M Crabb(sub S Brinkhurst). Subs n/u E Strevett, E Remy, C Masters.