Sports Strike Early but Beavers Bite Back
Hampton just edge the Battle of the Boroughs
The Sports slipped to a narrow defeat at the hands of Hampton in the Battle of the Boroughs, undone by a couple of errors despite an explosive start and a good overall display.
Two close defeats in four days, but there is a definite change of mood. Howell's Borough have not turned the corner yet but they are, perhaps, out of a gruelling back straight and into the long curve. After the shock of defeat to Whitehawk and the surrender at Welling, Howell's team are showing fresh passion and appetite.
The Sports have sixteen games left to secure their National South status, and they must probably win five or six or them. That, with a draw here and there, will take them close to or beyond fifty points, and safety. It is a wholly realistic target.
But the season is not played on paper. Out there on the Priory Lane 3G, as well as on the road, the team must keep their nerve, and surely better performances will turn into better results.
It is a measure of the league's even standard that Hampton, who were only marginally better than Borough, are storming towards the play-offs on a remarkable 20-match unbeaten run which stretches back to 26th August. The Beavers do have that buzz and confidence of a winning team, but their margin of victory was tiny.
And had either of Borough's two late golden chances been converted, no-one would have complained at a draw. Gavin McCallum, in behind the Hampton defence, struck his swivel and shot too high, and then with the last move of the match Yemi Odubade planted his header into the arms of grateful keeper Manny Ogboola.
It had all begun so brightly. Beavers boss Alan Dowson was at the Lane to watch Borough take on Crawley, and the affable but canny Geordie must have noted the irresistible current form of Lloyd Dawes. But if it featured in Dowson's pre-match talk, his defenders were not listening....
Hampton had forced two early corners, stoutly defended by the home side, before Kane Wills nicked the ball inside the Eastbourne area and slipped it to Dawes. The striker's pounding run took him through an open midfield, past startled opponents and into striking distance. Pass or shoot? With Shaun Okojie keeping pace – and nicely drawing the one covering defender – Dawes simply kept running, drew the keeper and drilled his shot into the bottom left corner of the net. An exhilarating goal.
Shell-shocked, Hampton gathered themselves and responded with a Josh Casey free-kick from wide right which Mark Smith pushed on to the crossbar and out of play, but referee Paul Harris awarded a goal-kick. Skipper Casey, who on the positive side was a busy, ever-prompting influence in his team, fell short of proper captaincy with a volley of the very foulest language, audible to half of the main stand and directed at the officials - who seemed to suffer temporary deafness.
In the rest of the first half, play lurched back and forth with neither side clearly on top. Beavers certainly shaded the efforts on goal, but their finishing was not the sharpest and the home defence was standing up well. Shandon Baptiste fired a good chance past the right-hand post for Beavers, while at the other end Dawes almost sneaked a second for Borough with a flick just wide from the D after enterprising work by the excellent Will Hendon. The only other moment of note came from Casey, who made his mark with a studs-up challenge on Dawes which looked on the orange side of yellow.
And then, with under a minute to the interval, the Sports presented Hampton with an equaliser. Dawes, on the right side of the home area, needed to welly a loose ball over the North Stand, but instead he tried to play out and lost possession, for Brendan Kiernan to pop the ball into the goalmouth. Elliott Charles, returning to one of his old hunting grounds, conjured a wonderful overhead shot which Smith did brilliantly to parry, but the onrushing Charlie Wassmer smashed the loose ball into the net.
It was a hammer blow to Borough's morale. Within minutes of the restart, the eager Beavers had got their teeth into the Sports, Kamara and Kiernan both smashing wild shots into the car park before, on the hour mark, the home defences were breached.
A Hampton left-flank move was poorly defended and as the cross came in, Max Kretschmar got smartly in front of his marker James Haran to power a header inside the front post. It was a well-taken goal but a cruel moment for Haran, whose performance at centre-back was otherwise most impressive.
And, like others in his team, Kretschmar was to show the distasteful side to Hampton's game as well as the skilful side - dramatically crumpling to the ground, under the mildest challenge from Hendon, and coaxing a hapless Mr Harris into cautioning the Borough full-back. Odd that a club who are civilised and affable off the field can permit unsporting lapses on it....
But the Sports had no time for niggling and carping - their performance deserved a point and their forwards had chances to claim one. With genuine pressure squeezing Hampton backwards, Udo Udoji saw his goalbound missile of a shot brilliantly saved, McCallum's free-kick was deflected narrowly wide, and then came those two late chances, one too high and one saved. No points, but enough positive signs to restore a bit of belief to manager, players and supporters.
Photo credit: Jamie Evans Photography
Video highlights on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rJglgNsrUo&t=228s (Camera: Oscar Peskett)