Eastbourne Borough show how to follow old adage of concentrating on league

Concentrate on the league? Eastbourne Borough bounced back impressively from their FA Cup exit with a 2-0 win on Saturday away to previously unbeaten Maidstone United.

The Borough bench joins in the goal celebrations / Pictures: Nick and Lydia Redman
The Borough bench joins in the goal celebrations / Pictures: Nick and Lydia Redman

After surviving a first-half onslaught – when Maidstone hit the woodwork three times – the Sports held their nerve, scored two excellent goals after the break, and finished the match in comfortable control. James Hammond’s direct free-kick on 55 minutes and Dom Hutchinson’s close finish six minutes later from a Charlie Walker assist sealed the points.

A match report in one well-read publication – the Non League Paper – described Borough as “a half-decent team”. Bloor’s players must be weary of being damned with faint praise. Their record of just a single league defeat since the opening day of the season speaks for itself.

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This was no fluke result. Once again, the Sports were organised and gritty without the ball, keeping a fast and powerful Stones front line at bay. And when they did turn defence into attack, they were swift and incisive.

The Sports' passing game was effective / Pictures: Nick and Lydia Redman

Danny Bloor tweaked his team shape slightly, with Hammond starting a little deeper while James Ferry and Chris Whelpdale drove forward from central midfield. Greg Luer carved the first Borough chance on 10 minutes, but his shot from 20 yards flew too high.

Otherwise, the flow of play matched the rippling flow of the River Medway, sweeping south to north alongside the splendid Gallagher Stadium – and Lee Worgan’s North Stand goal needed some flood defences.

The Stones really only play one way: Route One to their strong front runners. Christie Pattison was a real handful, mobile and tricky, and fellow striker Alfie Pavey has a fearsome pedigree – although this was not his finest hour. But Mitch Dickenson was magnificent at centre-back, and alongside him Jake Elliott enjoyed his best game yet in a Borough shirt.

Worgan comfortably saved a header from Jerome Binnom-Williams and a shot on the turn from Pattison – but the tide of attacks was still rising. On 27 minutes Roarie Deacon’s strike hammered the crossbar before spinning down and away off the goal-line, and within a minute Pavey’s pile-driver had struck the top of the bar.

James Hammond strikes / Pictures: Nick and Lydia Redman

The woodwork may have been shaking, but the Sports were unshaken. Going forward in response, a sublime one-two between Ferry and Whelpdale set Dom Hutchinson free on the left, but the young Watford loanee did not quite get his cross right.

But after that glimpse of an Eastbourne attack, it was straight back to breathless defending, as Pattison powered through the right channel and smacked a shot off the outside of the right-hand post.

Through all of this mayhem, with the massive home crowd baying for a goal, the men in red shirts actually kept their nerve expertly. A fizzing Charlie Walker cross-shot gave notice that Borough were not simply here to make up the numbers, and we reached half-time still level. You can Hufflepuff all you like, but until the Sorting Hat has landed…

The Sports emerged for a second half that would turn frantic defence into clinical attack. Worgan took his place to huge acclaim in front of the South Stand, piled with home fans like a swaying and rocking non-league Kop. Lee enjoyed five great seasons with the Stones and the cascade of noise was well merited. But heck, you can take the boy out of Eastbourne…

The second 45 minutes would prove drastically different from the earlier Maidstone siege. The home side were running out of ideas, and never seemed to find a Plan B against a Sports defence which now had their measure.

Early in the half, one sweeping Stones break did threaten to break the deadlock, but they were thwarted by an outstanding piece of defending by Jack Currie – briefly one against two, but first delaying and then intercepting the danger.

And as the visitors began to exert control, they went ahead on 55 minutes. Hammond‘s wicked free-kick took a slight deflection, which may have wrong-footed former Borough keeper Tom Hadler, and spun into the far corner.

Six minutes later, with Eastbourne increasingly dominant, Currie’s cross was knocked back across goal by Walker, and Hutchinson pounced to squeeze his shot just inside the left-hand post for 2-0. Sorted.

A Whelpdale break almost brought a third goal, but the result was not really now in doubt. Maidstone substitutions only brought like-for-like predictable attacking, and the Sports managed the last quarter of the game without any serious scares.

Bloor brought on the fresh legs and pace of Charley Kendall and Joel Rollinson – you can almost hear the groans from opposition dugouts when Borough make these late attacking substitutions – and the only final worry was a facial injury to Worgan, caused in an accidental collision.

Referee Michael Ryan – an assured, unfussy man in the middle – indicated a surreal ten minutes of added time, but actually had to play sixteen. In a fleeting but priceless moment in that stoppage time, Elliott heroically put his body on the goal-line to prevent a point-blank Stones consolation goal – and then smashed forearms with Dickenson in gritty warrior-like triumph.

Sometimes, such a single frozen moment can sum up a contest. The Stones had run out of puff, and the Sports had pulled off an assured and clinical victory.

Borough (4-1-2-3): Worgan; Beresford, Elliott, Dickenson, Currie; Hammond; Ferry (Towning 78), Whelpdale; Luer, Walker (Kendall 83), Hutchinson (Rollinson 86). Unused subs: Oyinsan, Shaw.

Attendance: a brimful and noisy 2,382

Borough MoM: James Hammond – from several contenders