Slough came into the match knowing their promotion hopes could only realistically be kept alive with a win whilst crossing their fingers other results went their way. However, despite the overwhelming odds against making the play-offs the Rebels players, managers and fans left Arbour Park deflated after a late sucker-punch goal.
Whilst it is still mathematically possible, Slough would need to win at Truro City next Saturday whilst also hoping that Billericay Town are defeated – with goal difference then coming into play – and for St Albans City, Dartford and Wealdstone to do no better than draw in their respective matches.
The only change for the Rebels was the reintroduction of Guy Hollis after he had served his suspension.
Eastbourne were immediately on the front foot, with Jack Turner having to make a save within the first minute following a good header from Josh Bingham. The visitors followed this up with a succession of corners with the Slough goal under a huge amount of pressure.
It took Slough ten minutes to register their first chance of note. Francis Amartey did well to battle his way through the Eastbourne defence and into the penalty area, however his shot was partially blocked.
A few minutes later, some good one touch passing from the Rebels gave Lench a chance from 25 yards but the ball flew just past the post. Later, a patented Guy Hollis long throw saw Sam Togwell connect sweetly with his header but it was straight at goalkeeper Sam Howes, who would go on to have a great game.
Just after the half hour mark, another Hollis throw was only partly cleared with Lench able to chest the ball down before shooting and forcing a good save from Howes.
On 35 minutes, following a long period of possession for the Rebels, George Wells found Manny Williams in a bit of space on the edge of the box. The experienced striker had time to look up and place his shot into the top corner, but once again Howes was equal to it, denying what would have been a great goal.
Howes made his first, and possibly only, mistake a few moment later. Yet another long throw came in with the Eastbourne keeper flapping at the ball. Lench was able to control it before seeing his shot blocked with Williams’s follow up also blocked.
The second half got under way with a wobble for Slough. With the ball in his own box, Hollis looked to clear, but instead the ball flew straight up into the air. Turner missed with his attempted punch and Bingham tried an overhead kick, which went wide.
Slough then really should have taken the lead on 50 minutes. Amartey did superbly to fight off a defender whilst keeping the ball in play before crossing it in from the byline. He found Lee Togwell in space between the six yard box and penalty spot just needing to direct it towards goal, but he mishit it and the ball went wide to the amazement of everyone.
The Rebels were now really turning up the heat and creating chances at will. Amartey again fought off defenders before Williams took over, laying the ball off to substitute Billy Clifford to shoot. Instead the Billericay loanee missed his kick.
With 25 minutes remaining, Slough’s joint managers opted for an all-out attack approach, with a draw of no real use to them, and introduced Dan Roberts in place of Mark Nisbet.
Another glorious opportunity came the Rebels’ way on 73 minutes. Lench delivered a corner and found Wells unmarked eight yards out, but he couldn’t control his header and it flew over the bar.
Two minutes later Roberts had the fans ready to celebrate as he cut in to the box, but his shot was well saved again. It was now starting to feel like the goal would never come.
The Rebels stuck to the task though, with Lench the next to weave through defenders before seeing his shot saved by the impressive Howes. Louie Soares would soon follow the same path with his shot also saved by the keeper.
With the minutes ticking away, the Rebels knew they still needed a goal to keep their promotion hopes alive. And on 88 minutes, Eastbourne looked to have cleared the danger once again but the assistant referee flagged vigorously to signal a handball offence in the penalty area. After consulting with him, referee Philip Steynings pointed to the spot.
After a significant delay following Eastbourne protests, Clifford took his chance to put Slough ahead, hammering the spot kick down the middle, giving Howes no chance. As things stood, the Rebels were just one point off seventh spot with one game to play.
But Slough were unable to hold on and in the fifth of six minutes added, Eastbourne took the chance which guaranteed National League South football for them next season.
Eastbourne manager Mark McGhee sent centre-back Harry Ransom up as an extra striker, and the visitors broke clear. Ransom got his head powerfully to a cross, and the ball fell to Charlie Walker, whose fierce shot was pushed away by Turner, but only to Nico Cotton, who dodged a challenge before firing home at the far post to send his side into delirium.
Report: Will Tuck
Eastbourne Borough Line up
Sam Howes, Tobi Adebayo-Rowling, Tom Gardiner, Kane Wills, Corey Jordan, Harry Ransom, Mike West, Sergio Torres (c), Charlie Walker, Josh Bingham (Nico Cotton 58), David Martin (Andrew Briggs 83). Unused substitutes: Ayman Gharbaour, Daniel Blackmore, Gregor Shaw.