Eastbourne Borough's win at Hemel Hempstead bodes well for season

A blistering first minute, followed by a confident further 89 minutes, earned Eastbourne Borough an overwhelming 4-1 National South victory at Hemel Hempstead.

Monday, 12th October 2020, 1:57 pm
Updated Monday, 12th October 2020, 2:04 pm
Chris Whelpdale has had a superb start to his Eastbourne career / Picture: Andy Pelling

Danny Bloor’s side put behind them the 3-0 defeat on Tuesday night, when they had been second-best to Dorking Wanderers, and rarely looked in danger after Charlie Walker’s 45-second opener.

Three games in – plus a whole bunch of friendlies – Bloor’s side has taken shape nicely. Franco Ravizzoli in goal is a revelation: he arrived, last winter, as a hesitant newcomer in a strange country, but he is a stranger no longer. He is a cheerful and confident personality and on Saturday, once again, he commanded his area.

The back line, some observers thought, would be problematic. Not a bit of it. Steve James and Mitch Dickenson have stature, strength and an excellent left-right balance. Nic Arnold’s early injury has left Bloor a little short of cover for the moment, but James Vaughan is the thinking man’s full-back and Kai Innocent approaches everything like the young professional that he is: quick, intelligent and a potent support to attack when needed. Liverpool have AA; the Sports have Kai.

In the middle, James Hammond is more influential with every game, and James Ferry is a formidable defensive screen. Dan Blackmore’s versatility has provided a couple of useful substitute shifts.

Going forward, there are options and, above all, there is fluidity and creative attacking. Opposing defences should be asking for time-outs every few minutes while they try to work out who to mark, and where. Joel Rollinson like Billy Whizz with rocket-fuelled boots, or Dean Cox who could probably play in carpet slippers and still leave defenders for dead. Greg Luer ghosting elusively but lethally, or Charlie Walker in your face and brimming with combative energy.

Charlie’s game suddenly has a new dimension. He spent so much of last season chasing lost causes – but now there is an end product, as he and Chris Whelpdale link up, place-change, create openings for each other. It goes without saying, for those who have watched the opening games, that Whelps has transformed the team. Five goals in three games only tells a part of the story, for he is also energising players around him – and taking defences apart.

From the rest of the squad, Bloor has options and talents which are so far barely glimpsed, but who will surely be called on as this season races on: National South fixtures thick and fast, plus cup competitions – with the Sussex Senior Cup draw due this weekend, by the way. Charley Kendall’s pace and purposeful running is a terrific weapon in a final half-hour, Charlie Lambert will disrupt any defence, as will the excitingly talented Leone Gravata. And Luke Glover continues to push Ravizzoli all the way. Add in a clutch of other keen youngsters, and yes, there is a squad to do the club proud…

At Vauxhall Road, the Tudors were unveiling their brand new 4G pitch – so new, in fact, that there were no dug-outs in place, only a little row of rather plush but hopelessly unsuitable dining chairs! On a damp afternoon, the Borough staff took partial cover under a roofed terrace – but at least, with no crowd, there was no problem getting their voices across!

A slightly tight hamstring meant a precautionary afternoon off for Greg Luer, and a first start of the season for Dean Cox. And goodness, what a start….

Borough pressed from the first whistle, and within just 45 seconds, the ball had worked out left to Cox, who swung in a perfect cross for Walker’s fantastic header, arrowed beyond keeper Danny Bonness and just into the top left corner. 1-0.

Hemel looked stunned, and though skipper Jake Howells steadied them briefly from midfield, they were caught out again on seven minutes by an almost identical cross from Cox – a fraction longer this time and met by Whelpdale’s dipping header inside the back post. 2-0.

The Tudors, cumbersome at the back, did look more alert going forward, with young Reggie Young a lively threat on the left, and it was Young’s assist that set up a chance for Ade Cole, billowed over the crossbar.

Seventeen minutes, and the Sports were overdue for another goal. Walker looped in a ball from the right and Whelpdale met it at the far post to slide it past Boness. 3-0.

A recovery from three goals down is never impossible, and Hemel’s response was brave but not clinical enough. They had a sniff of goal on 24 minutes when Ravizzoli slipped on the glistening surface, but Danny Webb’s effort skidded across goal and out.

Then Ravizzoli expertly changed direction to stop a deflected strike by Webb, and Cole’s lovely run in from the left set up a wayward finish by Jake Evans. Half-chances, then, for the home side – but Borough were coping assuredly overall, and Rollinson came close to extending the lead with a fizzing run through the middle, until a last-ditch tackle stopped him in the D.

Two half-time substitutions – including yet another six-foot-plus defender – did not really give Tudors a new game plan, and the Sports still looked threatening. Some Walker-Whelpdale wizardry created a lovely break but Chris put the final effort wide, and Danny brought on Lambert to plunder the left flank against a tiring home defence.

Kai Innocent, now more wing-back than full-back, foraged forward two or three times on the left, and one wriggling run set up Rollinson, whose scorching shot was brilliantly saved at full stretch by Bonness – but the Tudors’ respite was brief. James Hammond pulled away to meet Kai’s arrowed corner-kick on the edge of the penalty area and swept home a first-time shot. 4-0, and a nice bit of symmetry with a visit to Vauxhall Road under Tommy Widdrington. On that day, the Sports also took a 3-0 first-half lead, capped off with a late party piece by Craig Stone!

But this time, it was Hemel who struck the final goal, a decent strike on 80 minutes from Sadiq Balarabe. Before and after that goal, Borough were happy to ease through without incident or injury, and with useful impact off the bench by a combative Kendall and an assured Dan Blackmore.

There will be twists and turns, of course, on the long National South road this season. But Borough will hold their own.

Borough: Ravizzoli; Vaughan (Blackmore 77), James, Dickenson, Innocent; Hammond, Ferry; Rollinson (Kendall 70), Whelpdale, Cox (Lambert 58); Walker. Unused subs: Glover, Gravata.

Referee: Richie Watkins

Borough MoM: Chris Whelpdale – but this was no one-man show