Eastbourne empty-handed at St Albans' 'theatre of cruelty'

Eight days, three daunting fixtures. Three in-form opponents, all chasing the National South title. And three achingly close defeats for Eastbourne Borough.

Eastbourne Borough in action at St Albans / Picture: Lydia Redman
Eastbourne Borough in action at St Albans / Picture: Lydia Redman

Danny Bloor’s men had already lost 1-0 to Ebbsfleet United, and had then gone down fighting in a 4-3 thriller at Dorking Wanderers, before they took the road to St Albans City last Saturday. And despite holding the lead for well over an hour, the Sports conceded twice in the final minutes to lose 2-1.

Charley Kendall had put Borough ahead on 17 minutes, but after passing up good chances to put the result beyond doubt, Borough found themselves defending deeper and deeper, until the Saints finally broke the wall down with goals on 82 and 87 minutes. It was truly hard to take.

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Ian Allinson’s soaring Saints are now 13 games unbeaten – a terrific record to take into next weekend’s televised FA Cup clash with Forest Green Rovers, when the BBC cameras will doubtless linger fondly on the 1950s timberwork of Clarence Park, painted in bold yellow and blue like one of those lovingly restored rural steam railways. Indeed, their ITV counterparts have already used the ground earlier this year, as the perfect location for an episode of the Endeavour detective series.

The criss-cross wooden struts actually make for some pretty difficult views of the pitch, including from the media seats. Your Herald reporter, with conspiratorial help from an affable steward, sneaked himself a spot closer to the touchline. But, with a cheery crowd, plenty of tree-ringed open terracing and a lush green grass surface (remember grass?), this was a non-league treat.

What would the two teams serve up? Bloor’s line-up reflected his current plight. With skipper Charlie Walker, playmaker James Hammond and centre-back Steve James already ruled out, and Watford starlet Dom Hutchinson fit only for the bench, he was desperately short on experience. And when Chris Whelpdale limped off after just 11 minutes - replaced by a vigorous Josh Oyinsan - Greg Luer was the only outfield player over 24. In a season when Borough have – admirably – launched a new Under-23 side, the irony was not lost.

Can you really win anything with kids? Actually, yes, and the young Sports set about proving it. Their bright start down the Clarence Park slope took St Albans by surprise, and after a couple of early chances, the excellent Jack Currie conjured a lovely cross from the left which Kendall bundled home at the back post for 1-0.

City’s response was vigorous but they produced little to trouble Lee Worgan – an Akinole strike from a good position flying sky high - while his counterpart had to deal with a smart low shot from Joel Rollinson, cutting in from the left, and with James Ferry commanding the midfield, well supported by Charlie Towning, the visitors remained in control as half-time approached.

Indeed, it should really have been 2-0 at the break. Kendall, seizing on a misjudged header by a centre-back, stormed through, swerved left to create an excellent angle on goal, but then fired his shot over the crossbar, when anything on target would have doubled the lead.

Now it was City’s turn. Pouring down the slope from the very start of the second half, they piled the pressure on a Borough back line led by a resolute Mitch Dickenson, and supported impressively by Jake Elliott, James Beresford and Currie.

Behind them, Worgan pulled off three phenomenal stops, while the St Albans forwards wasted three more decent chances, all struck wide. Meanwhile, in a relatively rare breakaway, Rollinson’s inspired ball out of defence sent Kendall racing clear, only to be denied by Johnson‘s smothering save. The young Borough striker will be cross with himself, but Charley is putting in strong performances and there are plenty more goals to come from him this season.

And while Bloor replaced Oyinsan with Charlie Lambert, and gave Under-23 skipper Ben Bennett his first taste of National South, Allinson was calling up three highly experienced substitutes for the final assault. They may just have tipped the balance.

With just eight minutes left on the clock, McKenna’s canny chip from the edge of the box found the head of an unmarked Johnny Goddard, who directed the ball back across Worgan for 1-1. And five minutes later, Luer was robbed of possession as he tried to run the ball up the near touchline, and Goddard turned provider, drilling a low ball into the goal area for Mitchell Weiss to bundle in the winning goal. Theatre of Dreams? Theatre of Cruelty.

Borough: Worgan; Beresford, Elliott, Dickenson, Currie; Ferry, Towning; Luer, Whelpdale (Oyinsan 11) (Lambert 71), Rollinson (Bennett 78); Kendall. Unused subs: Hutchinson, Ross.

Borough MoM: Lee Worgan