About 80 miles to the west, Southampton and Portsmouth had been thrashing out a local derby. It was definitely the south coast’s main feature to our B movie. Quite surreal to be watching our club hoof it around a freezing cold and muddy field in Eastbourne when 25 months earlier we had graced Anfield.
A visit to Eastbourne meant three things: a detour to Lewes to meet an old friend, a chance to have a couple of pints of Harveys Ale and a trip to the brewery shop, and another opportunity to get completely lost in a strange seaside town I had never been to before. Fortunately I didn’t miss any of the game.
Just as well, because most of the best play was in the first ten minutes, capped by an excellent Asa Hall goal from outside the box, clubbed into the corner, giving the keeper Knowles no chance.
We started where we left off against Oxford, all drive and determination. Before he scored Hall had already brought off a good save by Knowles following a Craddock run and cross.
The first ten minutes were all us, but then Tyler was brought into action having to block a chance from their centre-half Pullen at the far post from a corner.
I made a note then there was a lull at this point and I think it was here that we transformed from the confident side that took on and beat Oxford, to the competent side which has gone all of these games away from home without conceeding a goal.
Hall had another chance from a Nicholls corner.
Taylor had an opportunity for Eastborne, Kovacs being caught square (again) but he shot wide.
After about half an hour Jarvis got a bloody nose for his trouble and wandered around like a window-licker with toilet paper stuffed up his nose.
A good move started with Craddock dribbling the ball into the box before crossing it to Gnapka, Elphick (I think) cleared it, only as far as Nico who then played Gnapka in for an excellent chance which the Frenchman drove wide.
Just before half time the strangely named but constant pain in the neck Enver-Marum had a chance to level it, before Tyler pulled off an excellent save.
Half time then, and as ever, we had had lots of half chances and ensured both Knowles and the little man who retrieved the ball out of the car park both earned their money.
Before I carry on I’d better name the team. Tyler remained between the posts, Newton stayed at right back, Kovacs and Pilks in the middle and Murray on the left. A settled back five then. In the middle a threesome of Nico, Hall and Jarvis, with Jarvis on the right of the three, and Craddock was on the left, but slightly further forwards, but not quite up front. MBH started up front in his ugly yellow boots, but took them off at half-time fortunately. It was tricky for MBH because whilst he was involved in much of the play in the first half in the second half he was increasingly isolated, and not being a Hatch, couldn’t get on the end of the long balls or hold the play up as well. That said, we did play some good intricate football today and often it was the pitch which confounded us.
Apart from the attempt just before half time the Eastbourne Borough threat had subsided as the half wore on. However, they almost equalised from the kick off – the lively Benjamin shooting wide.
Pilks then played a good ball to Hall who got it out to Craddock who linked up with MBH but the ball bobbled and it went into the car park again.
We started to kill off the game by pushing up and causing Eastbourne to go longer and longer, this meant that all Kovacs and Pilks had to do was to pick up the pieces which they ably did.
Craddock scrambled a ball to MBH who got it back to Craddock who crossed it wide to Gnapka who messed up again and tripped over his feet.
MBH laid it wide to Craddock, Hall tried to flick it to Murray who was overlapping (I kid you not) Gnapka picked up the ball and passed to our old friend Asa who shot from 30 yards this time – having mastered the 20 yard effort earlier.
Glenn Austin tripped Murray as he was threatening to go around him and got the first yellow card of the game.
Then is was Jarvis’s turn to keep the little man who retrieved the balls busy, by launching one out of the ground after a long throw by Newton found its way to Jarvis from a mass of bodies. The ball must have bobbled on a cowpat I think.
Hall won a header and found Newton on the right, who in turn played in Jarvis, Pilkington played it forwards but lost possession – however Eastbourne just hoofed it when a proper counter attack would have been more effective.
To be honest I started drifting off at this point and started thinking about work and what time I will have to bunk off to get to York for 7:45.
MBH got to the byline and a right foot cross found Newton however it looped up and Knowles scrambled it away. The resultant shot took a deflection and we won a corner. Which Nico fluffed. He had another bite of the cherry but Knowles gathered easily.
Eastbourne struggled to find their men up front, their play usually broke up of its own accord but where it didnt Luton invariably did the simple things well at the back.
From a Luton throw on the right Jarvis passed the ball into the path of Gnapka who won a corner. Nico managed to reach Kovacs this time and it bounced out to Craddock who played a horrible slice into the car park. Cue the little man, who was working up quite a sweat.
Someone who hadn’t been working up a sweat was Mark Tyler who thankfully was alert enough to make an excellent save from Enver-Marum whose shot was heading for the top right corner from about 10 yards out.
MBH was replaced by Nwokeji with about 10 mins to go as ever he made a nuisance of himself in the short time available to him.
Gnapka made a poor challange on Benjamin which was later than a late bus, and picked up a yellow card.
Elphick did an impersonation of dear Brko with an overhead kick but it was well saved by Tyler.
As usual Nico made lots of last ditch tackles and excellent blocks today, however it’s all the rest that so often lets him down. If I had to pick a Hatter to put his neck (or indeed any other part of his anatomy) on the line it would be Nico. If only he were a centre half, he could nod stuff away and get in the way all afternoon, without having to worry about the passing and catching up with the nippy midfielders of the world.
Apart from another couple of ballooned efforts from Craddock, that was about it – I must admit, it was one of those games that once we were one up the result didn’t really seem in doubt.
Having watched the team away from home a number of times under Money now, this seems to be the theme, keep it tidy at the back by denying the home side the opportunity to pass it around. A sort of stifling play. Not very pretty, but it has proven to be very effective. In fact it is now over 700 minutes without conceding a goal away from home in the league. That must be a club record by some distance I would have thought. We seem to have discovered a (not very pretty) methodology. If by following this methodology away from home it means we get to trade the likes of Grays, Salisbury and Eastbourne for the likes of Port Vale, Bradford and Northampton then so be it. Mind you, even that doesn’t seem terribly enticing.
Six points in six weeks against Eastbourne then – I do hope they don’t go bust and do a ‘Chester’ on us. How those St Evenage fans must be twitching at the thought of losing six points.
What a bad position Chester are in. To be wholly fair to the Conference organisers they have bent-over backwards to accommodate them this year. Allowing them to start the season late and now they have missed the last two games. The first because their players went on strike and now because the Police wouldn’t police the local derby and so the council shut the ground. It’s not looking good for them I must admit. Somehow though, I think the authorities will still manage to find a way of preventing them going out of existence. Which is the right thing, of course.
Looking at the forcast now, it looks like more snow on Tuesday, so that might just decide whether or not I nip off work early to set off for York. It might just tip the balance.
So we remain 5th, level on points with Rushden, but with a game in hand on them. As I said before we still are yet to play Stevenage, York, Mansfield and Rushden away. It is those fixtures, and perhaps the Chester expungification that will decide how far towards the top we go. You never know…
My thanks to all of you once again for leaving so many positive and constructive comments on the blog. In addition to those Hatters living abroad who post on here (and no, I don’t include Wales or Scotland in that) looking at that widget thing on the page it seems that I have regular visitors from the US, Canada, Albania (Albania!!) China, Japan, Malaysia, Qatar, Singapore and one has cropped up from South Africa, in addition to Spain, Austria, Sweden and France a bit closer to home.
Welcome one and all. It makes me feel very humble to think that people thousands of miles away in countries I will never get to visit take the trouble to read my rantings.
Come on you Hatters!