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1st XI - Match centre

Welling United
Eastbourne Borough
Sat 6 Jan 15:00 - The Vanarama National League - National League South Full time Attendance 404

Romain Goals Sink Borough

Immutable Law of the Ex strikes twice as Sports go down at Welling

Two late goals from former Eastbourne Borough striker Elliott Romain condemned his former club to a fourth National South defeat in five games at Welling United on Saturday.

Meltdown? Not quite, but these are challenging times for Howell and his players as they scrabble for safety in a league table where all the footholds seem to be giving way. The Sports did not lack effort or spirit, but against direct and physical opponents they looked second best, and they were fatally undermined by defensive flaws.

On recent form, it's easy to assume that Borough have been overwhelmed or even outplayed – but that is not always so. It seems that if opponents are given three chances, they will net two of them, and if they are given five, they will score four. On Saturday – at a bleak and muddy Park View Road – the team were a single goal down and making a reasonable fight of it in the second half. And then Elliott pounced.....

With eleven minutes to play at 0-1 down, Harry Ransom's pass back to Mark Smith should have reached him to fly-kick clear. But perhaps misjudging its slow pace – and underestimating Romain's lightning pace – Smith hesitated as the flying striker stormed through and charged down his clearance. The ball bounced painfully over the goalline, and Borough's deficit was suddenly doubled.

It was probably the pivotal moment of the game. Smith went some way to redeeming himself with a terrific near-post save from Wings substitute Jack Jebb, but Romain had the very last word, four minutes into stoppage time, when he was sliced down by Ian Simpemba and picked himself up to head the resulting free-kick between defenders and into the Borough net for 3-0.

Two goals, and a double irony. Not only were Eastbourne supporters left to rue the loss – to Dagenham and Redbridge late last season – of a striker whose finishing, maturity and all-round game had been honed under Tommy Widdrington. But also and more maddeningly, this was the final match of Elliott's loan spell at Welling, and on this form he will soon be gracing Division Two stadiums rather than non-League grounds.

Back to the start. Howell set up with a starting eleven which looked impressively – almost alarmingly – full of offensive options. All three fit strikers (Jamie Taylor being still ruled out with his knee injury) started the match, with Gavin McCallum in a wide midfield role. It looked a bit experimental, and the front did not always read each other's runs, but credit to the manager for his positive thinking.

Indeed while Yemi had a patchy game, and Shaun Okojie worked hard against two giant centre-backs, Lloyd Dawes caught the eye with several of those bursting, persistent runs which can upset defenders. Lloyd could still sometimes release the ball more quickly, but from the autumn swirl of squad changes, he certainly emerges with some credit.

From Dawes as well as his teammates, the approach work was often more promising than the end product, and Borough had only a handful of clear sights of goal, three charged down, three wide and two quite comfortably saved by Welling's on-loan keeper, Jonathan Miles from Ebbsfleet. By contrast, the Wings often piled on the pressure and – while their actual clear chances were few – they stretched Simpemba and Co to the limit.

After a couple of early flurries, prompted by Archie Johnson's rampant forays from left-back, Welling took a ninth-minute lead. Joe Healy kept a move alive on the edge of the box and found Olu Durojaiye, who took one touch and lashed a rising shot into the top right corner, with Smith's hands not quite able to deflect it wide.

Ugo Udoji copped a first yellow card on 15 minutes, bringing down Johnson, and then Romain followed him into Jacob Miles' notebook for a lunging faul on Will Hendon. Between those two ugly moments, Shaun Okojie had broken clear in a promising Borough move, but with better options on, he tried a hopeful shot from distance which wafted wide.

A brief spell of Eastbourne pressure, with McCallum prominent, saw two good crosses defended by Welling before the ball broke to Odubade, who controlled it smartly but struck it feebly to give Miles a routine save.

Meanwhile Udoji was playing Russian roulette with a second yellow card, and on the half-hour Howell prudently called time on his tackling and replaced him with Harry Ransom. In his hour on the pitch, the eighteen-year-old was to play three positions – all of them very competently. In a gloomy spell of results, there are at least some shafts of light....

Borough were often having to defend in numbers, but they did manage two useful breaks in the minutes before half-time. Okojie's flick played Yemi in behind the centre-backs, but Miles was out to kick clear. And then the three strikers combined to create another half-chance for Yemi, but a defender blocked his shot.

Hendon heroically kept the score at 0-1 with a phenomenal clearance off the line from Tom Bradbrook, although a second Wings goal would have been unjust since the home striker had controlled the ball with his hand. And with half-time imminent, and everyone in need of that steaming cup of tea, a twenty-yard drive from Dawes was deflected to Odubade, whose death-or-glory shot flew a mile high.

It had been a battling back-foot effort from the Sports, with only brief flurries in attack, but at least the match was still alive. And they opened the second half with better energy and a more direct approach, taking the game to Welling with earlier service to the front players. Dawes embarked on another veering run, taking three defenders with him but not quite releasing in time.

Welling were unflustered. They won two quick corners in succession and Borough again found themselves digging deep to defend. Kane Wills, covering miles of ground and showing the true grit which Eastbourne will need in the weeks ahead, launched a couple of free-kicks which came to naught, and then just after the hour, Howell played his next card. Yemi off, young winger Jack Richards on, and Harry switched to central midfield.

But then a nasty clash of heads between Shaun Okojie and full-back Callum Driver saw a lengthy anxious stoppage, and after several minutes both players – groggy but walking – were substituted. Ransom now found himself up front, and with a vigorous Simon Johnson introduced into midfield Borough still had hope. Two free-kicks in dangerous positions were wasted – too common a theme, that, in Borough's season so far – and then came the calamitous second goal.

One run from Richards, darting in dangerously from the right, ended with a low cross into the keeper's arms, and after seven long stoppage minutes – marked only by Romain's final goal – Eastbourne's fruitless afternoon was over.

The season is long, and the September team – all pass-and-move, inventive running and exhilarating finishing – has somehow not made the transition to a January team, where other qualities come into play. Mid-table is still within reach, but Howell must find ways to re-invent his side.

Borough: Smith; Udojie (Ransom 31), Haran, Simpemba, Hendon; Wills, Torres, McCallum; Odubade (Richards 63), Okojie (Johnson 74), Dawes. Unused subs: Pearson, Briggs.
Referee: Jacob Miles Att: 404

Borough MoM: Kane Wills – showed some of the grit to turn the team's fortunes round

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