Eastbourne Borough get reward for a long storm-hit journey west

A five-hour coach journey, into the strongest headwinds that England has seen for a decade: but Eastbourne Borough’s reward for their long haul to Chippenham was a useful point from a toe-to-toe 1-1 draw.
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Ahead of the game, just a point and one place separated the two clubs in a National South table with a whole clutch of teams still jockeying for the play-off positions. The run-in promises plenty of excitement, and the Borough’s season is still alive and intriguing.

Hardenhuish Park, modest and homely, and always welcoming to opponents, is never a stroll in the park, and always a toe-to-toe challenge for visitors. The grassy surface, sloping north to south and spongily soft from the morning’s hammering belt of rain, glistened in early Spring sunshine – and a feisty gale on the tail of Storm Eunice was driving end to end down the slope.

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Deprived of left-back Jack Currie, recovering from illness, Danny Bloor reshaped his starting eleven with Mr Versatility, Joel Rollinson, slotting in on the left of the back line. Jake Elliott returned at right back and Luke Nippard partnered James Hammond in midfield. But the big team news was the return of the Big Guy.

Eastbourne Borough were in the wars at Chippenham / Picture: Lydia RedmanEastbourne Borough were in the wars at Chippenham / Picture: Lydia Redman
Eastbourne Borough were in the wars at Chippenham / Picture: Lydia Redman

And what a return. Mitch Dickenson, a towering figure in every sense, had not pulled on a Borough shirt since November 20th – fourteen long games ago – but you’d never have known it. Assured and powerful, Mitch dominated the Sports defence, and no Chippenham striker came near him – in any sense. Alongside Mitch, Trent Mahorn was quick and eager: heart on his sleeve and a young man in love with the game.

The Bluebirds opted to play down the slope in a first half which saw Borough under pressure, but it was patchy rather than sustained, and well defended overall. Indeed, the Sports had their share of chances, Charlie Walker spinning one shot just wide, and home keeper excellently denying Dom Hutchinson at his near post.

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For much of the half, the Bluebirds were busy but blunt, and the Eastbourne goal was rarely under direct threat. A flurry of action just before half-time saw Charley Kendall create his own chance with quick feet, but Harrison Minturn smartly denied him.

- and eventually among the goals / Picture: Nick Redman- and eventually among the goals / Picture: Nick Redman
- and eventually among the goals / Picture: Nick Redman

Half-time then, and the goalless score-line looked pretty satisfactory. With a little wind assistance now from Eunice, the Sports must have been eyeing three points. The game, however, was about to upgrade from brisk-and-breezy to tempestuous…

Seven minutes in, Walker’s direct free-kick from fully forty yards cannoned off the Chippenham crossbar, and Borough were raising the pressure minute by minute and yard by yard. Then, on 56 minutes, home centre-forward Jordan Young launched himself elbow first into a challenge with Elliott, and the Eastbourne full-back instantly crumpled. Referee Scholes did not even stop play at first, but then after three minutes’ medical stoppage for a cut head, a groggy Elliott was substituted.

In the first half, Joel Rollinson had copped a yellow card for a high-foot collision which had looked unintentional, but some neutral observers saw this challenge as worthy of a red. Mr Scholes gave neither, spoke only briefly to the offender Young, and restarted the game with a dropped ball.

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Ironically, a tweak of the shape now gave Eastbourne fresh momentum. Luke Nippard, who had been busily efficient in the number 4 shirt, took over Elliott’s full-back role, while substitute James Vaughan slotted confidently and intelligently into midfield. And with Chris Whelpdale about to come on for Walker, the Big Red Machine had fresh fuel in the tank.

Mr Scholes correctly resisted a handball appeal against Harrison Minturn – it was shoulder – and a marginal penalty shout when Walker went down. But Spencer Hamilton looked fortunate to escape sanction when he bundled into Hutchinson. The young Watford loanee continues to impress with intelligent forward play and mesmerising close control. Chippenham were stopping him by any which way, and Jordan Young finally earned the yellow card he had escaped earlier, sabotaging a Sports attack with a haul-back on Dominic.

But it was Chippenham who broke the deadlock. Following a disallowed goal – a Joe Hanks free-kick retaken because Mr Scholes had not blown his whistle – the Sports needlessly gave away a corner, initially cleared but returned from wide right into a chaotic Borough goalmouth by Young. Hanks steamed in to meet the ball – and Lee Worgan – full on. And as his header came back off the bar, with the Sports keeper on the ground, Dan Griffiths gleefully popped it into the unguarded net.

Worgan needed almost six minutes of treatment before the game finally restarted, and Borough powered back into the match. Kendall had put in a good battling shift, without quite shaking off the multiple defenders around him – but no opponent keeps Charley quiet for ever. Top strikers simply wear their opponents down – and Charley is well on his way to the top. With Whelpdale and Vaughan now orchestrating midfield, and Greg Luer – after a quiet first half – weaving improbable runs in impossibly tight areas, there would surely be time for an equaliser.

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Ah – but how much time? Injuries and treatment to Borough players had alone consumed more than ten minutes, and with substitutions and other delays, the added-time board ought to have shown 12 or 13. Instead, Mr Scholes called a mere six. No sooner had he done so than Borough were level. James Hammond played in Luer with a flat ball through inside-right, and the cultured Luer right foot whacked a shot against the bar which beat keeper Will Henry and fell for Hutchinson, who controlled it, danced a pace sideways and planted the equaliser into the net from the edge of the box.

The curtailed stoppage time saw the visitors totally on top, but the clock ran out. 1-1, a defender with a bandaged head and a keeper wincing with bruised ribs – but still 1-1, and the least that battling Borough deserved.

Borough: Worgan; Elliott (Vaughan 57), Mahorn, Dickenson, Rollinson; Nippard, Hammond; Luer, Walker (Whelpdale 67), Hutchinson; Kendall. Unused subs: Shaw, James, Gravata.

Referee: Matthew Scholes Att: 483

Borough MoM: an impressive return for centre-back Mitch Dickenson