Sports Stun the Stones
From Taylor in the first minute to Dawes in the last, Borough run the show at Wealdstone...
Didn't you just guess it? Forty-eight hours after another dispiriting home defeat, and right after a nightmare battle through motorway traffic chaos, Eastbourne Borough produced a terrific team performance to claim three valuable points with a 3-2 win at Wealdstone on Monday night.
The Sports have not lost on the road since January, and only two clubs in the division have notched more away wins. Supporters and management have endlessly discussed the reasons, but put at its simplest, there are two factors. First, Borough have an attacking style which revels in speed and open spaces, rather than prising apart, or physically battering, a packed opposition defence. And second, they have mental freedom from that pressure to succeed which – for all teams – can often affect a home performance. Playing away gives players an extra 20% of steel, determination and team spirit.
Jamie Howell has made visible progress since Christmas, and his now-settled team selection and shape was evident at Grosvenor Vale. Ian Simpemba returned in place of Jimmy Haran, who turned an ankle on Saturday, and Shaun Okojie earned a starting shirt ahead of Lloyd Dawes – who would make his mark, however, before the North London evening was over.
As a club, Wealdstone are full of contradictions: ambitious, but falling short of their ambitions despite a mid-season change of manager and a generous playing budget.
Borough have always had the Indian sign over the Stones, with five wins and three draws in the eight meetings between the clubs. They rarely looked like losing this one: Wealdstone had some spells of pressure, but nothing that the Sports defence did not handle. Eastbourne had better shape and better energy than the home side, who were probably still groggy after Saturday's FA Trophy semi-final. And the Sports finished ruthlessly.
The scoring was very symmetrical – minutes 1, 45 and 88 – and the start was a dream. From the kick-off, Yemi Odubade accelerated down the left and the ball was swung over to Jamie Taylor, whose low drive scudded back across keeper Jonathan North and into the bottom corner. One-nil, and barely half a minute on the clock.
Within five minutes it might have been two, as from a right-wing corner Shaun's header was half-cleared and Harry Ransom slammed a reflex-action shot just over the bar. The Sports were looking confident, but as the Stones fought back, an open and high-paced game was developing. Centre-forward Dave Pratt, who usually scores against Borough, made a lethal-looking run from the left, but ruined it with a misjudged pass inside, and the chance was gone.
On 23 minutes, though, Wealdstone were level. A huge swinging corner from the left was headed back into the mix and Danny Green was credited with the final touch over the line as Sports defenders tried to clear - although it might just have been a Borough head.....
But the equaliser did nothing to change the balance of power. With Wills and Torres dominating the midfield, Taylor and McCallum full of great footwork, and Yemi on fire up front - keenly supported by Shaun Okojie - Borough were running the game. In a ten-minute spell around the half-hour they created five scoring chances, the closest of them a Yemi run that took him past both centre-backs before shooting across the face of goal.
At the other end, Smith was largely untroubled, although Danny Green hit one spectacular rocket of a volley from 20 yards which cleared the bar and disappeared into the murky night sky.
But all the pressure was from Eastbourne, and on the stroke of half-time they reclaimed the lead. Blocked by defenders in the D, Torres found McCallum with an inspired pass out to the right, and Gavin jinked inside to set up Taylor, whose first-time half-volley beat North easily from just inside the box.
A chastened Wealdstone came out for the second half with renewed purpose – playing now down their favoured slope and towards their favoured home end. Packed, noisy and unforgiving, the Vale regulars seldom show much charity to visiting keepers. But Mark Smith, no shrinking violet himself, was unshaken, and he was to produce an excellent 45 minutes.
The opening phase of the half, though, was Wealdstone's best spell of the evening. Dan Fitchett should have done better when a long throw landed at his feet, and Pratt knocked a header wide from a left-wing move. Then on 57 minutes the Stones were level again. Ransom was blatantly held as he tried to clear – perhaps the only lapse in referee Rob Whitton's assured refereeing – and the ball was spun out wide for a lethal cross that Matt Whichelow met with an explosive drive into the net from a tight angle.
But that was as good as it got for the Stones, and Borough controlled the final half-hour. Home pressure was blunt and error-strewn, and the young back line of Pickering, Edwards and Ransom – with an ever-youthful Simpemba – were growing in confidence and stature.
With Dawes on for Odubade, and plenty of space to play in, several incisive attacking moves threatened to produce a Borough winner. Ransom's fine strike from a McCallum corner was well saved, and Dawes saw his screamer deflected wide by a defender.
And then, with a couple of minutes remaining, the match ended as it had begun. From a bungled Stones free-kick, Borough streamed forward four on two and Dawes had options left and right – but simply kept running, to hit a magnificent goal past a helpless North and into the right-hand corner.
Dave Pratt had one final chance for the home side, cutting in and firing a shot which Smith held comfortably. The Stones were deflated, the Sports elated – and with an eleven-point buffer above the drop zone, they can surely count themselves safe.
Borough: Smith; Pickering, Simpemba, Ransom, Edwards; Taylor (Hendon 76), Wills, Torres, McCallum; Okojie, Odubade (Dawes 59, Khinda-John 90). Unused subs: Harris, Platt.
Referee: sound and unfussy Rob Whitton Att: 751
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