Eastbourne Boro 2-2 Oxford City
By Oxford City FC
City share the spoils
10-man Oxford City picked up their first point of 2019 this afternoon in a 2-2 draw with Eastbourne Borough at a windswept Priory Lane. What the game perhaps lacked in quality was more than made up for in entertainment as both teams held and then squandered leads; Joe Oastler atoned for an exceptionally rare error by equalising from a late corner to give a sometimes lacklustre City a share of the spoils that, on balance, they just about merited.
Mark Jones made several changes from the XI that got hammered by Torquay United last time out. Three debutants – Tarik Moore-Azille, Brandon Thomas-Asante and Joel Dielna – came in alongside the fit-again Eddie Jones, with Tom Carter, Ryan Case, Jack Self and Thame-bound Craig Fasanmade making way. Eddie Jones, Dielna and Moore-Azille were joined by captain Oastler in defence, protecting keeper Craig King. Josh Ashby and Reece Fleet played as the two deepest lying midfielders, with wingers Kyran Wiltshire and Thomas-Asante flanking playmaker Zac McEachran, who played off Kabongo Tshimanga in the 4-2-3-1 formation that has become the Hoops’ preference in recent months.
Despite this raft of fresh blood, it was Eastbourne who made the brighter start to the game. As early as the fourth minute, Charlie Walker – comfortably the best player on the pitch for either side – hit a 25 yard free kick which looked destined for the top corner until King tipped it over. But despite Borough having the better of the opening exchanges, it was City who took the lead in the tenth minute. An innocuous Eddie Jones throw made its way to Tshimanga on the edge of the box, where he played a neat one-two with Wiltshire before using his body cleverly to manufacture a one-on-one which he finished with aplomb.
Until this point City had seemed to lack direction and purpose, hitting aimless long balls forward and losing possession cheaply on several occasions, whilst the wind was causing havoc for the Hoops’ back four. However, the goal seemed to settle them, and Thomas-Asante twice missed out on a debut goal with both efforts flying fractionally over the bar.
The Sports seemed particularly disorganised when defending corners; there were five in the first half, all delivered by Ashby from the right, and the combination of the conditions and some clever training ground preparation from the visitors saw the home side’s defence looking pretty ragged. Oastler found himself unmarked from one such corner in the 26th minute, but shot just wide from 12 yards. City were beginning to look in command, but Eastbourne fought back through the superlative Walker on 29 minutes. Loanee Stefan Ljubicic delivered a cross from the left, with Walker arriving late to tuck past King.
The goal swung the momentum back in the hosts’ favour, and they spent most of the remainder of the half on the front foot, without necessarily creating any clear-cut opportunities. At the other end, the hard-working Tshimanga was put through on goal by Thomas-Asante, but unfortunately his first touch took him away from goal and the eventual shot was comfortably saved by Sam Howes.
Mark Jones clearly expected more from his players as they emerged early from the changing rooms for the second half, but what followed was a rather drab 15 minutes that were littered with errors from both sides in a spell which was somewhat reminiscent of the goalless draw between these two in the season opener at Marsh Lane. Eastbourne eventually created a couple of decent opportunities around the hour mark, and as they built momentum, there was a calamitous error courtesy of two of City’s most reliable performers. The otherwise brilliant Oastler attempted to play a backpass to King when he could have let the ball run out of play. The ball was then intercepted by Ljubicic, who rounded King, with the keeper preceding to haul the striker down rather than allowing an easy tap in. Referee David Spain had no option but to dismiss the ex-Luton Town man, meaning that the away side brought on Steven Caro to become the fourth debutant of the day. McEachran, still carrying a knock picked up in mid-December, was the player to make way. Unfortunately, Caro’s first act in semi-professional football was to pick the ball up out of the back of the net as the diminutive Dean Cox dispatched the penalty with minimal fuss.
Then, in the 70th minute, Walker nearly opened up a 2 goal cushion with a magnificent bicycle kick which went just wide of the left hand upright. However, City then went up the other end and produced a spell of pressure that eventually told. Another succession of set pieces took their toll with Oastler, a menace all day in the opposition box, heading home an Ashby delivery to the back post.
City sat fairly deep for the remaining 17 minutes as the Sports sought to make their numerical advantage count. They manufactured several good chances, with the best of these a goalmouth scramble resulting in a goal line clearance from Eddie Jones. Just as it looked like City were home and dry, Ryan Hall burst in down the left hand side in the last of three added minutes. But Ashby was to deny him a chance to score with an excellent sliding challenge, capping a very effective performance where he covered every inch of the 3G surface, and ensuring that his team returned to Oxfordshire with a valuable point.
Whilst this was far from the prettiest performance Oxford City have produced this season, there were signs of promise in the shape of Ashby’s industry, Oastler’s dominance in both boxes and Tshimanga’s constant threat, along with several promising debuts. City will seek to build on this performance on Tuesday as they take on Welling United, who are pushing for promotion to the National League.