Yemi Swoops to Shoot Down the Bluebirds
Red Arrows in town? This was more like the Big Red Machine....
The early-season adventure continues. Eastbourne Borough extended their unbeaten start to five games, and climbed to a dizzy fourth in the National South table, with a hard-won victory over visitors Chippenham Town on Saturday.
Yemi Odubade was the hero, with a dramatic late intervention off the bench to score his first goal of the season. On 73 minutes, with the score locked at 1-1, manager Jamie Howell played his trump card and most experienced striker – and within a minute Yemi had sped clear past a stretched Chippenham defence, and played in Kane Wills, whose drilled cross caused panic – and in raced Yemi to finish the move. It was more fox in the chicken-run than fox in the box, but it was to prove the killer strike.
Borough’s third victory, and their fifth game unbeaten, simply picked up where the team had left off at East Thurrock. Howell’s team won in Essex in midweek with tight teamwork and self-belief, and the stout defending at the back had been as important as the goal-snatching panache up front. Back at the Lane, they were once again organised and committed.
Significantly, it wasn’t the same line-up, but it was the same squad. Howell has options these days, and he can conjure any eleven from about seventeen without weakening his side. “Take Ryan Hall and Mike West,” beamed Jamie after Saturday’s win. “They both played superbly at Thurrock, and they get rewarded with a place on the bench! The players understand and they’re on board, and it’s a fortunate position for a manager.”
The game had opened rather tamely, with only Marvin Hamilton’s high swirling effort from wide on the right touchline threatening to break the duck – until Bluebirds keeper Will Henry stretched and twisted to push it over at the last second. As a club and a team, Chippenham are unfussy, robust, and well equipped to survive in the division, and the Sports had a real contest on their hands.
But on 19 minutes the home side went ahead with a move of such speed and precision that the Red Arrows, thundering above, would have happily hallmarked. Sergio Torres found Charlie Walker with a pinpoint clearance to the halfway line, and then an inspired, instant exchange of passes with Dean Cox sent Walker on a scorching run for goal. One touch, and into the area. A second touch, and the quicksilver striker had found the bottom left corner of the net, across a helplessly grasping Henry. A sublime goal.
The West Country side were wounded, briefly winded, but then waspish in response. Within twelve minutes they were level. A devilish cross from the left was half-cleared and Matt Smith’s thunderous shot found the inside of the left post, with a heroic but vain touch from his namesake Mark Smith. Following up, Curtis McDonald whacked the ball low into the far right corner for 1-1.
Indeed, the Bluebirds then spurned two great chances to snatch the lead, first Karnell Chambers and then Josh Smile each firing wide from free-kicks. It was as close as the visitors would come in the remaining hour – but Borough still had work to do.
They might have regained the lead in a breathtaking few seconds just before the break. Collecting a Bluebirds corner, Mark Smith’s quick-thinking feed sent Lloyd Dawes surging through an open midfield and past the Chippenham back line, who were caught ridiculously high and, well, not exactly nimble on their feet. In one of those devastating runs recalling Lloyd’s goal-of-last-season against Hampton, the speedy striker danced through and into the box, only for Henry to bravely block his shot. And as the looping ball spun upwards, Walker headed it goalwards, but Henry conjured the save-of-this-season to tip it over the bar. This was action worth twice the admission money.
Into the second half, and Chippenham – with a quite direct style and a stiff Priory Lane breeze at their backs – must have fancied their chance. But their attacks were blunt,and it was time for the Sports back line to click into “Welling mode”. Tom Gardiner, who might just prove the signing-of-the-season with his stylish play and uncanny positioning, formed a terrific centre-back pair alongside the resolute Harry Ransom, while Kristian Campbell again looked quick and intelligent at full-back.
And in the team’s engine room, two remarkable performances. Usain Bolt may be currently touting for a team, but the tireless Kane Wills already has his heart and lungs. Alongside him the equally tireless, and ageless, Torres has the Bolt speed and spirit – as well as a ribcage of steel as he twice charged down goal-bound Bluebirds efforts. “Those two blocks were both worth a goal,” observed his manager afterwards.
Then Yemi pounced, and a triumphant Borough saw the game out. The coaching staff seem more vocal this season, and Jamie himself more assertive from the technical area. And with that man Simpemba on their case, the defenders simply dared not lose their man, or miss a tackle or a header. The enormous throws of Andy Sandell, launched like missiles into the home penalty area, did always threaten to create a second Chippenham equaliser, but it would have been slightly more than the visitors deserved.
This win earned perhaps three stars for quality. There were spells of fine play, moments of individual brilliance, and a lot of intelligent thinking. Very well – three and a half. In truth, there were also phases when the two teams cancelled each other out in a real toe-to-toe contest.
But the entertainment was five-star: this team plays football with a smile and not a scowl, with a lack of fear and with a bit of a flourish. The engagement with the fans is back: they like what they are seeing, and they can see that these boys are playing for the shirt.
One BBC reporter – not this one – used to call Garry Wilson’s Borough of the early 2000s the Big Red Machine. With some heavy-artillery opponents still to be tackled, including over the Bank Holiday weekend, Howell’s emerging team have some way to go before they fully earn a label like that. But with the Red Arrows above and the Men in Red battling below, Priory Lane was a happy place on Saturday.
Borough: Smith; Hamilton, Gardiner, Ransom, Campbell; Cox, Torres, Wills, Martin (Hall 77); Dawes (West 85), Walker (Odubade 73). Unused subs: Day, Pollard.
Referee: James Durkin – son of Premier League official Paul Durkin, and keeping up the family tradition
Borough MoM: Sergio Torres – a couple of bruised ribs ahead of Kane Wills….
Photo credit: Jamie Evans