Trophy Triumph for Sports at Dartford
By Kevin Anderson
Stoppage-time drama in the Princes Park replay, as Borough "win the game twice"...
A breathless match, and a last-gasp winner: Eastbourne Borough claimed a triumphant 3-2 FA Trophy win on an extraordinary night at Dartford on Tuesday.
Borough had set off for North Kent, on a stormy and drenching wet night, with some supporters wondering if they had blown their chance of Trophy progress in the 1-1 draw with the Darts at Priory Lane last Saturday. But the replay victory, earning a £5,000 cheque and a home tie with Dorchester next month, was earned the hard way.
For 89 minutes, all went to plan. The Sports had tamed the home side, claimed a 2-0 lead through two Dean Cox goals, and were merely looking to the final whistle. But in the last minute of normal time the home side pulled a goal back, and into added minutes they seized a dramatic equaliser. Defeat from the jaws of victory? Wait – it’s the 92nd minute, and a corner to Borough. Here’s boss Jamie Howell.
“I couldn’t believe it. I confess my brain was turning towards extra time, maybe penalties, and where on earth we would find a whole new reserve tank of stamina. Then in comes the perfect corner, beats the first defender, and storming in to meet it is my centre-back with an unstoppable header!”
That centre-back, Tom Gardiner, buried the header to clinch the win – but Howell was full of praise for his whole team. “It was up there with the best performances of the season – we had to dig really deep, there were strains and injuries and tired limbs, but we had the character to see it through.
“In a way, the match summed up our whole season in a single night. We played some superb football, really superb – fast and slick. Every player gave – as they always do – a mountain of effort and commitment. We scored two but we could literally have scored five or six, and been out of sight. And then we let the opposition make a game of it. But this time they came through and got what the performance deserved. I was proud of every player.”
Dartford, in finish-the-job mood, had recalled talisman Charlie Sheringham and club captain Elliot Bradbrook to the starting line up, while Jamie rested Sergio Torres and gave a start to Mike West, who had an impressive hour in midfield. But it was Cox, veteran of 400 Football League games, who hallmarked the evening with an irrepressible display.
Cox had been at the hub of three or four openings in the first half-hour, West and Adam Liddle both coming close, and only defiant work by former Sports keeper Bailey Vose had kept it at 0-0. But finally, just before half-time, Cox struck with a fizzing low shot across the keeper to put Borough ahead.
Straight after the break, Darts briefly thought they had equalised, but an offside flag curtailed the celebration – and Borough were quickly back on the front foot. And on 67 minutes that man Cox doubled the lead, collecting a lovely ball in by Joel Rollinson and firing into the roof of the net – an “acrobatic blunderbuss”, in the graphic words of the Dartford Twitter.
Borough should then have seen it out, but those two late strikes, by Andre Coker and Taylor Fisher, gave the Darts hope. False hope: this was Borough’s night.
Borough: Smith; Adebayo-Rowling, Gardiner, Ransom, Campbell; Cox (Briggs 69), West (Torres 59), Wills, Hall; Rollinson, Liddle (Walker 75). Unused subs: Blackmore, Dawes.
Borough MoM: the one and only Dean Cox