Pressure growing on Eastbourne Borough boss – but is Taunton clash a must-win affair?

Mark Beard directs Borough operations against Torquay in midweek | Picture: Lydia RedmanMark Beard directs Borough operations against Torquay in midweek | Picture: Lydia Redman
Mark Beard directs Borough operations against Torquay in midweek | Picture: Lydia Redman
Eastbourne Borough enter the weekend hovering just above the National South relegation places – and, as at every football club, the manager is the man under pressure.

Owner Simon Leslie’s massive project has – despite the early scepticism – restructured the football club, infused Priory Lane with new initiatives and attracted a tranche of new supporters. But on the pitch, results have not matched up. The last dozen games have produced eight defeats, three draws and just one victory.

Mark Beard was as frustrated as anyone after Tuesday night’s comprehensive 4-1 defeat to powerful Torquay United. Due to injuries, he has spent recent weeks collecting rather than selecting a line-up – and the next batch of fixtures will probably define the Sports’ season.

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And the events of recent months have produced plenty to talk about. Leslie is funding a full-time squad, and new input from experienced recruitment agent Mark Anderson should help. But football never stands still, and like an airport travelator the ground may be moving under Beard’s feet. Not, surely, towards the terminal…?

But Beard still believes in his mission. The former Albion and Dorking Wanderers coach – and a man with a formidable playing career of his own – has suffered wretched luck with his injury-ravaged squad, and plenty of ill-fortune on the pitch, with winnable games slipping from Borough’s grasp.

Torquay United arrived – ironically after a gruelling road journey – with their eyes on National South’s top prize, and on the night they looked powerful contenders. Two up in twenty minutes – with fine strikes quite limply defended by the Sports – the Gulls were effectively handed a free pass for the three points when Lucas Defise was dismissed with his second yellow card.

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Defise was a bit unfortunate, having collected his first caution for an instinctive handball when he appeared to have been fouled. In truth, referee Harry Wager’s performance was about as disappointing as Borough’s. He awarded ten first-half fouls against the Sports, and none at all against Torquay, as the visitors dominated every aspect of the evening.

Credit to Beard’s Borough in the second half, as the ten men opened the second half with spirit and pace. They won a penalty, converted by Callum Kealy, when Freddie Carter was felled in the box – and for a ten-minute spell, they actually looked capable of rescuing the game. But two superb strikes for the visitors put the result beyond doubt.

“We are on a horrendous run at the moment. The sending off killed the game, because we had a game plan to get Fletcher Holman and our new signing (from Dartford) Louis Collins getting down the sides of their centre backs. But we never implemented it. I was pleased with our effort and work rate, at one man down, but Torquay knew how to exploit us.

“In football you are always just one result away from turning it around, and we can do that. Understandably everyone will look at me – I brought the players in, and I set the game plan – but the players need to implement that, and be brave. We can get out of this by sticking to what they know, sticking to what we are telling them, rolling their sleeves up and being men!”

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Strong words from a man not given to ranting – but a manager with honesty and conviction, and a genuine belief that he can reset the compass. It is sometimes said that in rural Ireland, a lost traveller asking for directions may get the response: “Well, I wouldn’t start from here!”

Borough have to start from here – one place above the National South drop zone. Fit-again players are returning, and Beard has fresh resources in Collins, Defise and the impressive David Sesay. December fixtures are daunting, with the visit of leaders Yeovil Town and a double-header against Worthing, but the month opens tomorrow (Saturday) with a winnable home fixture against Taunton Town. Did we say winnable? For Mark Beard, it looks rather like a must-win fixture.