Gloucester City exited the Trophy with a disappointing 5-2 mauling
from Eastbourne Borough who took advantage of some shocking defensive
gaps to demonstrate their shooting technique and leave the home
fans wondering exactly what is missing from a side that can impress
in spurts but seems unable to click into a consistent winning team.
City can point to a makeshift back line and were missing both of
our centre-backs, but even against Conference South opposition this
was a performance where most City players were found wanting in
quality if not in effort.
It looked as if it could be a very different game in the opening
minutes as City came close to creating early chances for Joe Tustain.
First Noakes and Wilson combined to produce a cross from the left
that just eluded the home strikers, then Webb charged down the right
and his low centre was pushed wide by Tustain at the near post.
The Eastbourne defence seemed sluggish and dazed in the face of
the City pressure, and they were soon punished for their slow response.
Michael Whittington was
allowed to run across the face of the defence without being closed
down and tried a speculative shot from 25 yards. Although on target
Lee Cook, the Borough keeper, seemed to have it comfortably covered
but hilariously pushed the ball gently over his head to drop into
the net. The visitors were not impressing and a City deluge looked
possible - as it turned out they might just have been giving us
a goal head start.
One of City's mounting problems is that we are simply too wasteful
with our chances and Fowler was unlucky when a clever run across
the defence to meet a Noakes cross ended with him getting his header
all wrong and wide. There were soon signs that Eastbourne were starting
to warm up and really we should have been on warning when Matt
Bath made a fine double save, reacting to beat out the initial
shot and recovering to smother the follow-up at the feet of the
attacker. However a couple of minutes later and further problems
down the left saw us slow to clear our lines. When the cross came
back in from the other wing Pat Harding on the Borough left had
time to bring the ball down and place his shot just inside the post
from a tight angle.
Our defensive woes were apparent again five minutes later when
we first failed to get rid of the ball despite several opportunities
to get it clear, and when the ball came back in again Harding was
again entirely alone on the far side of the penalty area. The winger
used his time well to drill in a good finish from the narrowest
of angles to beat Bath and put Borough into the lead. Things got
worse for City as a schoolboy error helped Eastbourne stretch the
lead before the break. Reid was booked for a reckless challenge
but the free kick seemed routine until Thommo's hurried clearance
was brought down by Adam Wilde. He clearly used his arm, but the
ref saw nothing wrong with it and with our players all staring at
the ref like statues Allan Tait picked up the ball and smashed it
beyond the helpless matt Bath. Rotten refereeing - but surely our
players have been around long enough to have learnt about playing
to the whistle?
Even at two goals down half-time hopes were high
of a second half charge against as a creaky looking Eastbourne
side defended in front of the T-End. Within moments of the re-start
that hope was dead in the mud as Eastbourne's Scott Ramsay chased
down a defensive clearance, racing beyond a static City defence
before knocking the ball beyond Bath. The ball dropped over Chris
Thompson, but the City skipper was having an uncharacteristically
terrible day. You had to feel for Tim Harris who must have been
felling a fortnight working on the defence had not been time well
Finally Tim Harris chased the game, pushing Welsh
up front with a reshuffle that also put Alex Sykes into midfield.
With Matt Bath again making a fantastic close range save it looked
as if it was too little too late, but the City chances were starting
to come and Welsh holds the ball up well to provide an attacking
platform. Hope was rekindled when Aaron
Wilson produced a wonderful strike from 30 yards and on the
right touchline. The winger chipped the ball towards the far post,
and with Eastbourne's keeper wildly back-peddling in the T-End
mud the ball dropped into the net. It was a wonderful goal, although
you had to think the keeper should have again been as pink faced
as his fetching shirt.
That gave us a little belief and Welsh looked like
he was in a position to run through on goal but instead tried
to pass the ball on to Whittington and the move broke down. Two
other City attacks were thwarted by what can be conservatively
described as marginal offside decisions, and that's being wildly
generous to the linesman who seemed to have his flag in his eye
all night. At least we now had even more excuse for our defensive
gaps as we were doing our utmost to push forward and neither full-back
was providing much cover. Eastbourne's Pat Harding could have
had a hatrick as he cut in from the left wing and with no-one
able to get close fired a raking shot onto the City cross bar.
That would have been a more fitting way to finally
seal the game that Eastbourne's fifth goal on 70 minutes. A long
punt forward from an indirect free kick for another offside decision
sailed goalward and dropped into the net with Ramsay sticking
his arm up despite the City defence being convinced he hadn't
touched it. The ref did more to endear himself to the City faithful
as he awarded a goal, the complete disbelief of both sets of players
and lack of any traveling support lending the whole thing a strangely
surreal and comic quality.
There was little left for either side to fight for,
but Eastbourne's sub Matt Crabb managed to entirely misread the
game and get himself sent off having only been on the pitch for
six minutes. Jonny Miller
had made a solid impact down the right having himself come off
the bench, but quite why Crabb decided to launch himself at the
City full-back only he will know. Not only was it two footed,
it was high over the ball and the kind of tackle that breaks legs
- it was a relief when Miller gingerly got back to his feet. Even
this ref gave Crabb his marching orders, despite talking to his
assistant who gave every sign of having failed to see the tackle
despite being 20 feet away. Eastbourne's Matt Smart got booked
for lunging at a City player in the predictable mass squabble,
but several players from both teams could easily have been booked
as they handbagged each other.
T-Ender Match Snaps
The camera don't do night
time - donations towards better kit always gratefully received.
With Tom Hamblin banned
and Lyndon Tomkins out for another few weeks with his hamstring
problem City were left without a specialist centre-back in the side.
That left Chris Thompson and Jason Welsh the losers in the 'defender
lottery' and Joe Tustain partnering Whitts up front. Reid got the
nod at right-back after Miller's howler against Mangotsfield.
"I think we need
to forget the double bagging and just work on the single bagging
Thommo and Welsh might
both be OK as centre-backs alongside another player used to playing
in the position - with the pair of them back there it was as painful
as the ceremony to swith on Gloucester's Christmas lights. Even
putting Mustoe back there helped, and Welsh certainly carried a
much greater attacking threat than the sadly hapless Tustain. By
the time we made the switch though we were 4-1 down and there was
too much left to do.
This 5-2 defeat is our
heaviest FA Trophy exit since that of 1986 when we went out 4-0
at Trowbridge Town. It was also City's heaviest beating since Tim
Harris took charge and the wrost since our 4-0 defeat at King's
Lynn over a year ago in November 2005.
It would be all too easy to look to blame some shoddy refereeing
for this defeat but City were out gunned by an Eastbourne side
that showed some impressive finishing and accuracy. Our defensive
frailties were well exposed and with plenty of room and time Eastbourne
could have made the scoreline even less flattering to a Tigers
team that showed plenty of willing but little class or composure.
We did enough at times to unsettle the higher division opposition
but with key players missing we lacked any real leadership or
belief on the pitch. The result itself is no disgrace, but there
is a distinct lack of inspiration and leadership on the field
that is just beginning to worry - the next few weeks bring a flurry
of league fixtures and some good results are needed to lift the
Our next opponents Banbury United will be dispirited on Saturday
after a 3-2 Trophy defeat to Conference South side Lewwes means
they miss out on a plumb tie with local giants Oxford United in
the 1st Round. Team Bath were crushed 3-0 by another Conference
South side Havant, but Bath City had better luck with Polish striker
Zarczynski on target to record a 1-0 replay win at Tooting &
In the only league match tonight neither Cirencester or Cheshunt
will be too pleased with a 3-3 draw that keeps both clubs in the
bottom six. At least Ciren striker Neil Griffin will have enjoyed
the night as his late equaliser completed a hatrick.