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1st XI - Match centre

Gloucester City
Eastbourne Borough
Sat 2 Dec 15:00 - The Vanarama National League - National League South Full time Attendance 231

Sports Head Home With 3 Points From Evesham

The long trip westwards proved fruitful for Eastbourne Borough on Saturday .....

By Kevin Anderson

..... when two excellent early goals and some stout defending earned them a 2-1 victory over Gloucester City.

After a few weeks with a rather skeletal squad, boss Jamie Howell had two new recruits to call on, and they made a difference.

Johnno was back, and it felt as if he’d never been away. The popular midfielder left Priory Lane more than two years ago for Maidstone and then Hastings, but he slotted straight into his usual cover-all-bases game. Simon Johnson has played little football in recent weeks, and after a vigorous hour he was unsurprisingly substituted. But a midfield of Kane Wills, Sergio Torres and Johnson looked strong and confident, and this trio should be a match for anyone in the National South. With McCallum absent for family reasons, Harry Ransom partnered Jamie Taylor up front.

The other new face, Ugo Udojie, played soundly in place of the suspended Will Hendon, and he looks a useful capture by Jamie Howell. With Leon Redwood on the opposite side of the back line, Borough were not short of adventure on the flanks. Matt Drage once again dropped into a third centre-back role alongside the dependable Kiran Khinda-John and the formidable Ian Simpemba. Originally scheduled for a role that combines fewer appearances with a little more coaching, Sim has actually become the bastion around which Borough’s whole team is built. Some things never change….

Borough’s hosts, Gloucester City, are a club in crisis. Without a home ground for over a decade, they lost manager Tim Harris at the end of last week, frustrated by issues with the club’s wealthy but absentee owner, and by yet more planning and building delays. And after Saturday’s match, stalwart chairman Mike Dunstan OBE also stood down. Long-serving defender Will Morford stepped up to take temporary charge, but he inherits a raw and youthful squad who will be looking anxiously over their shoulders at the relegation places.

The Tigers’ latest home is 25 miles north of the city, at Evesham United. For Radio Four Archers listeners, this pleasant market-garden town lies a few miles south of Borchester and just across the Vale of Evesham from Ambridge itself. On the day, (no, this bit is real) out beyond the neat and functional football ground, the Malvern Hills stood like mountains in miniature, with wispy grey fog across the hilltops where Edward Elgar once strode, humming the grand themes for his Enigma Variations.

Never mind the grandeur, there was a workaday football match to be played, and hard-earned points at stake. The Sports, encouraged by their Trophy heroics at Royston in midweek, were up for this one, and they began well enough. Johnson found Ransom in the penalty area, but the young man’s turn and shot was charged down. Then Redwood – with the first of many bright contributions on the left – got forward well but saw his cross cleared.

City responded strongly. Top scorer Joe Parker raced clear on the left, played onside by a rather diagonal back line, but Smith closed the angle and denied him with an excellent save. Two minutes later a startling run by Karnell Chambers, quick as a whippet, caught Borough out, but the young midfielder’s shot cannoned off Smith’s broad chest and was belted away.

But on 20 minutes Borough seized the lead. A fluent Torres-Ransom-Redwood move earned the game’s first corner, and Matt Drage’s perfectly flighted flag-kick was met by an excellent Simpemba (pictured) header, looping just under the crossbar past a despairing defender on the line.

Four minutes later it got even better – with an even better goal. Udojie drilled a ball forward from right back, and sweet touches by Torres and Johnson set Taylor free. Do strikers learn that uncanny sense of movement, or is it simply inborn? Either way, JT made astonishing ground across the box to beat keeper Tom Hadler to the ball, and squeezed his shot inside the far post from a ridiculous angle. 2-0, and the elated Sports were in full control.

The second quarter of the game was less eventful. Udojie’s long cross from the right almost reached the foraging figure of Ransom, and then at the other end a midfield give-away let in Parker, who ran out of angle and saw his shot comfortably saved by Smith. The Tigers, caught sleeping earlier, were now stirring and they ended the first half ferociously. A free kick from wide right was met with a Sam Avery header into the hoardings, and in added time Joe Hanks curled his header just too high from a right-wing corner.

If Borough were glad of the half-time breather, they were rocked by Gloucester’s explosive start to the second half. Besieging the visitors’ goal, they saw a couple of efforts blocked before, on 50 minutes, Borough conceded a free-kick just to the right of the penalty area. Taken instantly by City, it found Robbie Cundy, whose shot was beaten out by Smith but only to the feet of Parker, who fired into the net from ten yards.

What a difference a goal makes. The Tigers had been stalking, prowling, and now pouncing, and they scented blood. For the next fifteen minutes the Sports hardly got out of their own half as Gloucester pressed urgently for an equaliser. But defending a lead is an ever improving aspect of Borough’s game, and their defensive barrier kept the home forwards at bay.

The wintry gloom was descending but temperatures were rising, and promising young referee Tom Reeves was looking a little trigger-happy, with some decisions which managed to upset both sides. Mark Smith, who always sails close to the wind with his ploys to slow the game down, earned an extremely late booking – preceded into the referee’s notebook by Torres and Khinda-John for relatively trivial offences. Meanwhile Sam Avery concrete challenge on Taylor left the Borough marksman in a heap on the turf – and replaced by Charlie Harris – but the City centre-back escaped any sanction.

Harris, possibly taking inspiration from Wayne Rooney’s midweek strike, tried his luck from the centre circle with a superb strike which caught everyone’s breath, caught the keeper well off his line – and caught the breeze, to drift just wide of the left post. But by that stage, the Sports had their eyes on the three-point prize.

In fact, Gloucester’s clearest view of the Borough goal did not come until the final minute of the game, when a free-kick launched from halfway squirmed its way to Parker in space just inside the area, but he snatched at his shot and it was easily saved by Smith.

Eastbourne Borough: Smith; Udojie, Simpemba, Drage, Khinda-John (Charman 88), Redwood; Wills, Torres, Johnson (Odubade 57); Ransom, Taylor (Harris 66). Unused subs: Pearson, Plummer.

Referee: Tom Reeves Att: 231

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