Could damp night in West Sussex help turn Eastbourne Borough’s season around?
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After a grim run of results – just one victory in 12 games – the Sports notched a precious 2-1 win at Wick on Tuesday night to ease into the last eight of the Sussex Transport Senior Cup.
Before any thoughts of a spot in the Brighton showpiece final, though, there is a little matter of an intriguing East Sussex derby. The quarter-finals have paired Borough at home to Hastings United – on a date in the New Year still to be determined.
And an unusual pattern of results, in the three rounds staged so far, has left Borough in pole position as the highest-ranked club in the last eight. Albion’s under-21s were tipped out by Steyning Town, while Crawley Town fell to Worthing – who were then beaten on penalties in the next round by Littlehampton Town.
Borough have so far dispatched Billingshurst – with a comprehensive 6-0 that saw your striker Fletcher Holman rifle five goals – and, on Wednesday, a combative Wick. But the next hurdle is a much higher one, in the shape of Hastings United.
The Us are one of four Isthmian Premier clubs who will take places in the last eight. FA Cup battlers Horsham are already through – and heading on January 9 for Princes Park Oval, where Anthony Storey’s battlers will be full of belief – and will have more than an outside chance of victory.
And competing for that last place in the quarter-finals, Whitehawk and Bognor Regis Town will face off next Wednesday, with the winners heading to Littlehampton.
Plenty of permutations, then, but Borough’s place was secured on a grey, chilly night at Wick. It felt almost like one of those away trips where the Langney lads of Len Smith’s generation had once forged the club’s present and future. Genial gatemen, a well-grassed pitch under slightly patchy floodlights, and opposition full of local players and full of commitment.
New owner Simon Leslie was there of course. He still happily takes in every leg of his Borough journey, byways as well as highways – and the 30 or so weather-beaten loyalists who made the trip could probably count up 500 years of support between them.
Their reward was an absorbing toe-to-toe contest. For the first ten minutes Borough laid siege to the home penalty area before taking the lead. Billy Vigar – highly impressive on the night – forced a defender into an error and set up Shiloh Remy, who skipped through challenges and fizzed a brilliant strike into the top left corner.
Remy almost doubled the lead – and almost broke the crossbar – with a cannon of a shot from Leone Gravata’s curling cross. And – for once in a season of trials and challenges – Beard’s men were actually enjoying themselves.
But Wick’s response was admirable – direct and uncomplicated, disrupting Borough’s passing game and creating their best chance of the half, a glancing header by Jake Hawker which just cleared the far post. Then just before half-time Borough won some breathing space with a second goal, a magnificent cross from the left met by Vigar with an unstoppable header.
The second half was all about managing the game, and the Sports did so comfortably enough – until referee Mr Wallace judged a 71st minute challenge on James Thurgar to be worth a penalty – tucked away by Josh Irish.
Cue a nervy last twenty minutes as the Wickers threw everything at their professional opponents. 2-1 it finished, and – as coach Jay Lovett commented afterwards – “A win is a win, and we’ll take it any day of the week. Wick are a very decent side and made us work hard. We’ve got some boys back from injury, and we can go on from here.”
Last Saturday had ended with frustration on all sides, as dense fog enveloped Priory Lane and the National South contest with Taunton Town was abandoned at half-time. The Somerset visitors had held a narrow 2-1 lead, which will count for nothing when they take a 400-mile round trip to Sussex on a Tuesday night – yet to be arranged – in the New Year.
Tomorrow (Saturday) Mark Beard’s squad have the luxury of a free day, having already exited the FA Trophy. With a couple of new faces in the squad, and another week of injury recuperation, the Sports should be tuning up nicely for a short trip to Welling United, and a reunion with old friends including former boss Danny Bloor.