Crowborough Athletic 1-0 Eastbourne United - I think we won tonight just through pure fight and determination, says Crowborough Athletic boss Sean Muggeridge

Tuesday 02nd August 2022
Crowborough Athletic 1 – 0 Eastbourne United
Location Crowborough Community Stadium, Fermor Road, Crowborough, East Sussex TN6 3BU
Kickoff 02/08/2022 19:45

Southern Combination League Premier Division
Tuesday 2 August 2022
Stephen McCartney reports from Alderbrook

CROWBOROUGH ATHLETIC manager Sean Muggeridge says he promises his side will start playing better football after grinding out a smash-and-grab victory over Eastbourne United.

The Crows finished in tenth-place in the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division last season, as well as reaching the Challenge Cup Final where they lost 5-2 to quadruple winning side Sheppey United.

Crowborough Athletic last played in the Sussex County League back in 2014 and were making their home debut in the rebranded Southern Combination League Premier where they pulled off a surprise victory over much-fancied side Eastbourne United.

Anthony Storey’s side dominated possession and were the better side but Crowborough Athletic goalkeeper Martin Grant was in outstanding form.

A clinical finish from teenage winger Ben Hermitage ensured Crowborough Athletic finished the opening week of the season with six points on the board in second-place behind early leaders Broadbridge Heath.

“I’m very, very pleased.  I think Eastbourne United will be contending for the league, they’ve got quality players and we had to match them in every way tonight and I think we’ve beaten a very good side there,” said Muggeridge.

“We’ve played so many games where we’ve absolutely dominated and a team has had one chance and scored and we’ve lost 1-0 before so I’m not worried about how many chances we have.  The main thing tonight was getting the result.

“These early doors results and points on the board are very, very important and how you get them sometimes.

“You know how I play normally, pretty good football, get the ball down and play but when you’re playing against quality players like that, sometimes you don’t get the time on the ball. You have to play it a little bit long.

“They probably only had three (chances) really and they didn’t really have any clear-cut chances I don’t think and the same as us.  We didn’t have anything really in the second half but on the other hand I think we looked comfortable, even though Martin Grant made a few saves.

“The players gave me everything, which they do these boys. Passion, energy.

“It is early days. I know what football is like. It can bite you on the bum.  One minute you’re second from top and you can be down in midtable again but I’m going to try not let that happen.”

Muggeridge made seven changes to the side that came away from last season’s runners-up Saltdean United with a 2-1 victory at the weekend, with Grant returning in goal and more experienced leaders within the ranks, especially in key defensive positions.

Eastbourne United made just the one change from Saturday's 3-1 win at home to Horsham YMCA and have slippped down to tenth-place in the pecking order at this early stage.

Muggeridge said: “We had experience today, we didn’t have experience on Saturday, but we’re getting a side now.  The subs are just as good as the players on there. 

“I think we had to make those changes. We knew we were going to be against a very physical side as well and we needed that experience.   We had a lot of young players on Saturday but in games like this we need experience like John Sinclair, Tom Boddy, Jack Funnell and Tom Pearson, who came on.  They’re experienced players around the youngsters and that’s the way we want it.”

Fifth-placed finishers Eastbourne United started the game on the front foot and played at a frenetic pace and were dominant in midfield.

Left-back Daniel Bolwell whipped in a cross from within the left-channel and a flick on from striker Max Thompson in the middle set up a chance for a back-post free-header from Alfie Headland, which was comfortably gathered by Grant after only 89 seconds.

Crowborough Athletic’s first opening arrived in the 11th minute.

Eastbourne United’s left-back Daniel Bolwell tripped right-winger Harry Brown and right-back Jack Funnell swept a free-kick into the box from the half-way line where central midfielder Ollie Hyland’s downward header was comfortably gathered by visiting keeper Phillip Hawkins.

Muggeridge said: “There wasn’t a hell of a lot of clear-cut chances in the whole game.  Ollie can do that, his defensive headers are superb.  We’re trying to get him to be more advancing and do better in those sort of positions but it was a chance but it was only a half-chance really.”

The home side failed to create many chances and shortly afterwards Brown’s floated corner came in from the right and the ball was cleared away by Eastbourne United’s centre-half Sam Cole but striker Morgan Vale smacked a right-footed hooked volley over the crossbar after lurking in space on the edge of the penalty area.

Eastbourne United were dominant in midfield and they hit the home side on the counter-attack in the 17th minute.

Right-back Ellis Cormack fed the ball into George Taggart, who picked the ball up and drove forward before feeding Aaron Hopkinson.  The winger fed the ball back to Taggart, who unleashed a low left-footed drive towards the bottom right-hand corner from 25-yards, which was comfortably held by Grant, smothering the ball low to his right.

Crowborough Athletic struggled with Eastbourne United’s high tempo with the score level and the away side created another opening.

Simon Johnson, who bossed the midfield, swept the ball out to Bolwell, who whipped in a cross towards the back post for Taggart, who rose above Crowborough’s left-back Reece Anderson but steered his header harmlessly wide.

“Yes, they were quality, they’ve got Simon Johnson, he’s played for Eastbourne Borough in the Conference so we knew that (they would dominate the midfield), added the Crowborough boss.

“I thought we did ok against him. They didn’t really open us up. They had a few corners and free-kicks.   Players like that will dominate most midfields but I thought we had a game plan and I thought it worked.  I thought we did alright in the first 20 minutes as well.”

However, Crowborough Athletic grabbed what turned out to be the winning goal with 24 minutes and 17 seconds on the clock.

Attacking midfielder Harry Forster showed plenty of desire to get to the ball first before a couple of opposing players just inside the Eastbourne United half and produced a sublime 30-yard diagonal pass along the rain-starved playing surface.

The through ball left Eastbourne United’s right-back Cormack in trouble, failing to cut out the sublime pass which sent Hermitage through on goal and his composure was clinical, slotting a right-footed shot across Hawkins, the ball trickling inside the bottom far corner, bringing a ripple of applause from the home fans in the crowd of 175.

Muggeridge said: “Harry can do that. We had Jacob Lambert last year who was similar to Harry.  Harry has been at the club before but he’s been at university so we waited for him to come back. He’s got strength and power and he just needs a little bit more time and I think he will be a top player.

“The pass through to Ben – we didn’t take a chance on Ben tonight – we gave youth a chance. He started tonight and he’s delivered a great finish against a top goalkeeper as well.”

The goal lifted Crowborough Athletic’s confidence but Storey’s men were still the better side and created, and missed, several more chances.

Winger Hopkinson floated in their second of seven corners, which came off a Crowborough head at the near post but Headland flicked his header just over the crossbar at the far post.

Taggart raised both of his arms up as he delivered a left-footed inswinging corner from the right and the ball was knocked down at the far post by Cole and Grant stuck out his leg to make a vital save at his near post.

The busy Crowborough keeper made another comfortable save at his near post to prevent Hopkinson scoring from a tight angle after his defence ensured Taggart’s drilled low shot was blocked inside the penalty area.

Eastbourne United created one further chance on the stroke of half-time when Taggart picked up a loose ball in the middle of the pitch and drove forward and drilled a low left-footed drive from 30-yards towards the bottom right-hand corner, only for Grant to get down low on his knees to make a comfortable save.

When asked about the goalkeeping situation at the club, Muggeridge insists the jersey will be shared between Grant and Cameron Hall this season.

He said: “We’re very lucky at this club because we’ve got two quality goalkeepers who can play in any team in our league but they bounce off each other. Cameron played really well on Saturday and then Martin comes in and does that after not really having a lot of game time.

“They’re both number ones, we have an agreement where they’re both our number ones.  We swap and change, they go on holidays and things like that and they’re just so close together in training, it’s competitive and they want to be number one but they’re both competing for the same shirt and they’re both as good as each other.”

Eastbourne United started the second half on the front foot. In fact they dominated possession for the vast majority and looked the more likely to score the next goal.

Hopkinson was fed down the left and got the better of Funnell before drilling a low shot towards the bottom near corner from a tight angle, only for Grant to make another block at his near post before hoofing the ball away after only 185 seconds into the second half.

Grant was called into action again in the 12th minute, following a well-worked move.

Substitute right-winger Dee Okojie threw the ball to Johnson, who played a first time pass to find Cormack within the right channel and his cross was trapped by holding midfielder Brett Patton on the edge of the box before cracking a low left-footed drive towards the bottom right-hand corner from 22-yards, only for Grant to dive to his left and grab hold of the ball.

“I think they had a lot of possession, they had a lot of corners and free-kicks without really opening us up,” said Muggeridge.

“The game plan wasn’t actually to sit in to be fair, but we knew we had to try to hit them on the break because we knew they would come at us because they were 1-0 down but it wasn’t really the plan.  I’m not going to say I’m a genius in that way, it wasn’t the plan, we just battled and battle and battled and the back four were superb.”

Nothing was going to get past Grant, despite Eastbourne United throwing bodies forward as they went in search for the equaliser that they deserved.

Forster tripped Hopkinson on the edge of the penalty area but Taggart drove the resulting free-kick into the wall and seconds later the ball came back to Hawkins, who launched a big kick straight back down the middle of the pitch and Thompson’s flicked header from the edge of the box was routine for Grant.

Grant was beaten the once, in the 86th minute, when his defence switched off following Okojie’s throw but Thomson’s cross from the right-by-line clipped the top of the near post before going behind for a goal-kick.

The resilient Crowborough Athletic defence did their job – with Tom Boddy brilliant and leading by example wearing the captain’s armband for his home-town club – despite Eastbourne throwing Cormack forward in attack and Okojoe temporarily replacing him at right-back before re-joining a four-man attack.

The home side had one chance to seal the deal at the death when Grant’s big kick straight down the middle of the pitch was flicked on by Hyland but substitute lone striker Tom Pearson got in behind Bolwell but lashed his half-volley high over the crossbar.

With the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division being a much stronger division, Muggeridge has challenged his young side to reach the top four in their new surroundings this season.

“I’m not a person that gets excited about things like that (being second in the table after two games), it’s good to see that.  Getting the monkey of our back on Saturday was the most important thing. We dug in and got a result there and tonight we dug in and got a result and we will start playing some better football but at the moment it’s horses for courses.  We know they were going to be physical and experienced. 

"We brought in a couple of experienced players that we didn’t have on Saturday in Boddy and Sinclair and it worked.

“I haven’t been in this league since 2014 so I’m just getting used to this league and the players. I know some, some I don’t but middle of the table would be a success for us but I want to go higher and try to get to the top.

“It’s all about consistency with the youngsters, you don’t always get that but hopefully we can and get more and more confident and we can challenge at the top of the league.

“If we can get in the top four that would be fantastic, really fantastic. If we can get anywhere near the top that would be massive for us.  I think that’s where we are.  I’m not a defeatist manager, I’d like to say we can win it but top four would be fantastic for the club, it would be brilliant.”

Crowborough Athletic are at home to Crawley Down Gatwick in The FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round on Saturday, a side that are in seventh-place after one game, a 5-0 home win over Loxwood.

The Crows recent FA Cup history has been pretty awful.

They have not won at the first hurdle since beating Lingfield 2-0 in the Extra Preliminary Round on Friday 4 August 2017, which was the clubs first win in the competition in five seasons.

“Crawley Down Gatwick are a good side. You don’t beat a team 5-0 for nothing and unfortunately we lost to them last time in the FA Cup (losing 4-3 at this stage in 2020).  It’s funny how things come round but we’ve got another very, very tough game.  You don’t get any easy games at this level, so I think it’s going to be a tough game for us.  If we play with energy like we did tonight, I’m pretty confident we can do it.”

When asked who he believes will be up there challenging in this division, Muggeridge replied: “I think Eastbourne United will. I think the quality they’ve got and they didn’t play that bad tonight. We just matched them in every way and it could’ve gone either way so I think they’re going to be up there.

“Eastbourne Town will be, they’ve got Jude MacDonald who is a quality coach, who was at Whitehawk with my son Henry and it looks like Broadbridge Heath but you don’t know.  Newhaven have got a 3G pitch and that normally generates money for extra players.

“I think it was such a big game for us tonight. I think Eastbourne United will be up at the top. It makes the players believe as well. I said to them before the game you don’t worry about the players that they’ve got because they’ve got quality players. I just said you’ve got to go and match them.  The fact they didn’t expect us to have fight in us. I think we won tonight just through pure fight and determination.”

Crowborough Athletic: Martin Grant, Jack Funnell, Reece Anderson, John Sinclair, Tom Boddy, Harrison Mayhew, Ben Hermitage (Harry London 75), Ollie Hyland, Morgan Vale (Tom Pearson 52), Harry Forster (Dominic Welsh 79), Harry Brown (Kyle Anson 63).
Sub: Dilan Nlendi

Goal:  Ben Hermitage 25

Booked: Morgan Vale 51, Tom Boddy 72, Dominic Welsh 80

Eastbourne United: Phillip Hawkins, Ellis Cormack, Daniel Bolwell, Brett Patton, Sam Cole, Alfie Headland, Aaron Hopkinson (Matthew Rodriques-Barbosa 84), Simon Johnson, Max Thompson, George Taggart, Tyler Scrafton (Dee Okojie 51).
Subs: Harry Sands, Jack Hobden, Will Amoah

Booked: Daniel Bolwell 26

Attendance: 175
Referee: Mr John Pike
Assistants: Mr Duncan Brooker & Mr Paul John