Dartford Defeat At A Foggy Priory Lane
Another night of fogbound football at Priory Lane, and a narrow National South defeat for Eastbourne Borough as title-chasing Dartford claimed the points with a 3-2 victory.
By Kevin Anderson
It was Borough's first defeat in five, and although below their best, they did find themselves up against a strong, experienced Dartford side who claimed the points with three ruthless strikes. But perhaps the real winner was the weather.
Two months ago against Leiston, the Sports played out a farcical FA Trophy replay, losing on penalties in fog so thick that the players might as well have worn blindfolds and used one of those disability footballs with a little bell in them. And that, by the way, is not the faintest slight upon disabled sportsmen or women - who conquer astonishing obstacles - but young able-bodied footballers simply cannot perform to their ability when they don't know where the next pass is coming from.
After Leiston, Borough fans and players approached the Lane uneasily on Tuesday, after a day of trying to decode the weather maps. But while much of up-country Sussex was suffering, it seemed that the coastal strip might escape, and the game certainly started in pretty good visibility. But by the second half, the weather had closed in and both teams were struggling under a duvet of fog.
The only man with a vote in these circumstances is the referee, who must - according to the guidelines - be able to see both his assistants, and should be able to see both goals. That theory is all very well, but the reality is that abandoning a match, say, mid-way through a second half, with one team and dozens of supporters having travelled many miles, is a tough call indeed.
In this case, the visitors would no doubt have been furious, for Dartford had led for more than half of the game and were in no mood to give up three important league points. Borough might have been less complaining, of course. But as a spectacle, this was a match which began intriguingly, developed excitingly, but finished farcically.
Back to the start. Tommy Widdrington recalled Kiran Khinda-John after illness to partner Simpemba at centre-back, and Ryan Case kept his place at left-back. There were also starts for all three main strikers, with Pinney and Taylor paired up front and Elliott Romain playing wide.
Dartford, who are already laying strong claim to a play-off place, have a well-balanced side without obvious weakness, and they opened confidently, with lively wingers Wanadio and Hayes playing well off target-man Harris.
On eight minutes the Sports fashioned the first dangerous opening - Khinda-John and Pinney combining well to set up Ryan Worrall, but the young midfielder's rasping shot from distance deflected off a defender's head to safety.
And two minutes later Dartford caught Eastbourne cold with a fine opener. Luke Wanadio, a right-footed left winger, cut in along the 18-yard line and took at least three touches without a defender's challenge before rifling in a low shot with his right foot past Jordan Holmes.
It was a cracking goal - but harder to take for an indignant Borough, since the move had begun with what looked a clear foul to dispossess Jamie Taylor inside the Dartford half. Quite apart from the challenges of the weather, this was not a memorable night for referee Lee Venamore, whose relationship with Eastbourne Borough has rarely been a happy one.
The lead lasted only three minutes. After a foul on Worrall in midfield, Elliott Romain converted the free-kick with a fine powerful header across the keeper for 1-1. It sparked a sequence of home attacks. Taylor, looking offside, raced clear but was denied by a desperate saving tackle, and some inventive midfield play by Baptista had the Darts on the back foot.
At the other end from a quick free-kick, Holmes did well to push an Andy Pugh shot round his right-hand post, and a couple of cheaply-bought free-kicks gave Dartford chances to apply further pressure. But Holmes and his defence were looking equal to it all, and indeed from one Dartford free-kick Romain streaked away the length of the field, but shot wide.
We had passed the half-hour mark of a quite absorbing contest - but anxious eyes were looking upwards. At pitch level there was still only wispy mist - but above the North Stand a huge bank of fog was hovering almost eerily, like some ghastly science-fiction movie where the alien spaceship is about to descend.
And descend it did, rolling menacing and remorseless over the roof of the stand and down to pitch level - a witches' brew of dense silent grey. From the main stand there was just enough visibility on 35 minutes to see Dartford take a 2-1 lead. The right wing cross from Hayes looked too long, but Wanadio briskly fetched it back from beyond the back post and Lee Noble smashed it in from close range with a merciless volley.
Borough were far from out of it. Mark Hughes put a header too high from Baptiste's cross and then Pinney and Taylor combined beautifully but were rewarded with only a fruitless corner as Dartford's defence scrambled back.
Half-time talk was glum, not so much about the football but the fog, and as the second half started, spectators were manoeuvring for any sensible viewing position. From nowhere in the stadium was there more than about 20-yard visibility - making a nonsense, frankly, of that maxim about the officials having sight of each other.
Never mind the fans and the officials, how do teams adapt tactically, when there is no chance to judge a pass and no guarantee of a team-mate being on the end of the pass? Credit to both teams for making a decent fist of it, but - as Napoleon once declared - c'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre....
Borough were actually playing a longer game now, getting the ball forward early and chasing it down. Elliott Romain was terrorising Dartford, who brought him down illegally two or three times, but the final ball was not always there. One awful challenge on the speedy striker did earn a yellow card from Mr Venamore - but not for the Dartford defender, only for Borough's Mark Hughes for his angry protest.
Romain's - and Borough's - best chance to level the game came right on the hour mark. A superb ball from the impressive Ryan Case sent the striker racing clear on the left, brilliantly turning his defender, and cutting in with the goal at his mercy - only to slam his shot wild, high and out of the ground.
Indeed, if the Sports had been looking to an abandonment, one supporter wryly observed that they simply needed to whack all the available match balls out of the ground and into the thick ghostly darkness beyond....
But , despite plenty of pressure and genuine energy from the home side, it was the Darts who claimed the points. On 84 minutes a half-cleared ball fell between the Borough centre-backs, and substitute Becka-Kah Dembele pounced with an instant, stunning strike from outside the penalty area, which hit the net before Holmes could even move. Such ruthless finishing was, in the end, the difference between the teams.
The Sports, to their great credit, still battled. Darts keeper Ibrahim had already produced a brilliant low save to turn Pinney's shot round the post, but he was helpless to prevent an unmarked Pinney turning in a header in the first minute of stoppage time. At least, that is what supporters behind the Mick Green Stand goal told me afterwards. This reporter was marooned behind the dug-outs, following the track of the game more by muffled sounds from the pitch than by anything visible on it. But I think it finished 3-2.....
Borough: Holmes; Hare, Simpemba, Khinda-John, Case; Baptista, Hughes, Worrall, Romain; Pinney, Taylor (Smith 66). Unused subs: Bosma, Street, Dutton, Hobson.
Referee: Lee Venamore Att: 472
Borough MoM: Ryan Case - quick, keen and enterprising from full-back