United made table topping Eastbourne fight all the way for their three points at Priory Lane and things could have been different had referee Smith awarded a second penalty to United in first half stoppage time when Jay Lovett tripped Staforde Palmer on his way to goal.
The home sides intentions were made clear within the first five minutes when Andy Ballard launched a throw into the centre of the United box that Andy Atkin met but his header was just wide of the target. At the other end United started to create openings of their own, Ram Marwa was just a pace short of reaching a Liam Collins through ball and Marwa then set up a chance for Danny Allen-Page but his shot was blocked away by Andy Ballard.
With fifteen minutes played Alessio De Angelis started to realise he was going to have a busy evening as first he saved from Kember, this being quickly followed by a Scott Ramsay shot that went over the crossbar from a tight angle. Another long throw caused chaos in the United area as the ball bounced to Matt Crabb at the far post, his header being held by the well placed De Angelis.
Better was to come from the Italian stopper as first he acrobatically tipped over an Atkin header before a goal bound shot from Ramsay from the edge of the area was tipped around the post at full stretch. With the United goal still intact it was skipper Nevin Saroya who nearly gave the visitors a shock lead when his free-kick from 35 yards sailed over everyone including keeper Lee Hook only to come back into play off the face of the bar and was cleared.
Atkin sliced an effort wide at the far post with the goal gaping and then a minute later the title chasers finally broke the resolute United defence. Lovett's cross from the right was nodded down by Ramsay to Pat Harding who proceeded to thrash the ball high into the net giving De Angelis little chance.
The final five minutes of the half saw chances come and go at both ends and an equaliser for United. Atkin raced away having beaten the offside trap and found strike partner Ramsay in space but the striker surprisingly lost his composure and blazed over the bar. Just a minute later United's Staforde Palmer was heading for the byeline only to be needlessly tripped by Marc Pullan and referee Smith duly pointed to the spot. In the absence of regular taker Josh Scott, skipper Saroya stepped up and coolly beat Hook to level the scores.
Saroya was well placed just a minute later to clear from his own goal line and then when the ball was returned to the Sports area Palmer again raced past Lovett only to be tripped yet again, sadly this time to the amazement of all around Mr Smith waved away the claims for a second penalty kick.
Chances were to be few and far between in the second half as the home side took a stranglehold on the game, showing why they are where they are in the table. Ten minutes into the half and once more De Angelis had to be at his best to palm away a swerving Armstrong drive and be alert enough to pounce on the loose ball as Atkin closed in. Still the home side pressed for the goal that would take them four points clear of second placed Lewes, Crabb hit a stinging drive that De Angelis could only push up into the air but Liam Collins was on hand to clear. Midway through the half Robbie Kember firstly saw De Angelis deny him with another fine save and despite meeting the loose ball, his shot struck his own team-mate and went wide.
The Sports then made what turned out to be a substitution of magical proportions as Matt Smart joined the fray and just two minutes later was in the perfect place as another far post exocet from Ballard was helped on by Atkin and he forced the ball home amongst a melee of swinging legs. With United offering little in reply, it was the home side who secured the points with 12 minutes to go as Atkin slid in to net a near post Allan Tait cross.
Report by Kevin Watts.
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