Sports See Off the Seagulls
A long motorway grind to Weston - but the ride back is like floating on air....
First day of the month? First win of the month! Eastbourne Borough climbed to third in the National South table with a terrific whole-team performance at Weston super Mare. A single goal late in the game was enough to secure the points.
David Martin smashed in the 77th-minute winner, after great work by Lloyd Dawes and Kane Wills, but Borough might have been ahead before half-time – Dawes seeing his brilliant solo effort stopped by a blinding save from Weston keeper Luke Purnell. The lively home side often threatened but their strikers were blunted by the Sports’ disciplined defending. From a whole clutch of contenders, Tom Gardiner earned the Man of the Match award for another commanding display at centre-back.
Eight days before the season opened, Borough fans had trooped away from the Dripping Pan in mournful mood, after their team had lost the final friendly to Lewes. Eight games into the season, their team now looks down on the National South table from an impressive third place. Four wins, three draws, and only leaders Woking have lowered their colours.
Saturday’s match-day had begun from Priory Lane before 8am, and the coach did not arrive on the North Somerset coast until a full six hours later – barely an hour before kick-off – following some achingly slow delays on the M4. Thankfully, the players were able to shake off the travel fatigue in time for 3pm. The Woodspring Stadium, meanwhile, looked nicely spruced up to welcome them, and the bright green turf was in immaculate state. The home club had announced a Community Day, with minimum admission set at a nominal £1, and local folk turned out in higher than usual numbers – although it looked nowhere near the officially announced gate of 842. Perhaps somebody misread a 3 for an 8? But well done to Weston on an excellent initiative - and let's hope it won a few more potential non-league addicts....
Weston had suffered a nightmare start to the new season, with just two draws from seven games. Boss Marc McGregor was insistent in his pre-match comments that his Seagulls are really about to take wing, and that their previous three home games had deserved nine points rather than just two. So, a mere half-mile from the seafront, were the hungry birds about to swoop on Borough’s tasty glistening tray of chips?
Nope. On recent evidence, Howell’s men are no sauntering day-trippers, about to be ambushed for precious league points. Much too miserly to share with you even their last chip, they already have a springy, confident step and a battle-hardened look.
Jamie saw the result as an efficient job done. “It’s notable that our last two games, against the top club and the bottom club in the division, have both been quite tight. This league is proving to be a little bit more even than some people expected. You just have to knuckle down and beat what’s in front of you. It would always be nice to find yourself 3-0 up after half an hour, but that isn’t tending to happen.
“I thought every player stuck to his task, and we worked for each other. We had to be patient but we got the breakthrough in the end. No panics, no dramas, back on the coach with the three points.”
In truth, Weston were no championship contenders. They attacked with gusto, width and quite a bit of pace, but they were often uncontrolled and wasteful. Borough’s defensive organisation was once again built on the flawless centre-back pairing of Tom Gardiner and Harry Ransom, with full-backs Marvin Hamilton and Kristian Campbell reliable and also quick to get forward. Praising Kane Wills and Sergio Torres week after week sounds like a broken record, so let us simply say Sergio Magico, Kane Not Half Bad Son....
With Charlie still not quite back from his injured knee - he was named on the bench but not risked - Jamie needed a full match each from Odubade and Dawes, and he got exactly that: relentless running and quick thinking from minute one to ninety-three.
The match opened with a moment of alarm for the Sports when Campbell was judged to have fouled striker Jamie Lucas, right on the edge of the penalty area. But the low, driven free-kick was decisively cleared, and we settled into a quite open, flowing contest.
Dean Cox, who enjoyed a terrific afternoon of prompting moves and carving openings, set Campbell on a great run forward, but home keeper Luke Purnell was out swiftly to deny him. Purnell, the home side’s best player by a country mile, was to prove the single reason why Weston’s goal stayed intact until very late in the game.
After three successive Weston corners around the ten-minute mark, the home strike force looked energetic but aimless, like a dog chasing two sticks at once. Gardiner broke up one such eager attack with a sublime, assured touch and control and sent Lloyd Dawes racing away on goal but Purnell cleared for a corner. Meanwhile the Wills-Torres tandem was wresting control of midfield, Sergio displaying his full range of passes from little chips to long lofted sweeps.
On 24 minutes Yemi cleverly played a ball in behind the centre-backs and Dawes fought off the challenge of Jason Pope to strike a fierce left-footed shot which an arching Purnell brilliantly pushed away: the save of the day. Ten minutes later Dawes turned provider, setting up Torres for an angled shot that flew too high.
And shortly before the break, Borough had their best chance of the half. A storming Wills run won a corner, from which Cox conjured an inch-perfect cross – or possibly an inch short of perfect, as Marvin rose majestically to it but missed contacting with the header by some 2.54 centimetres….
A goalless first half, then, and all to play for. This time last season, Borough had turned round all square, and then imploded in the second half to be torn apart 5-1 by the Seagulls. Surely not again, boys?
Simply, this Eastbourne side has more steel, and also more self-belief. Weston had chased purposefully earlier, but now they were off the pace. Ryan Hall – what an asset he is proving to Howell’s new team – set the tone with a 25-yarder, well saved, and a clever planned free-kick from Cox found Wills beyond the back post, but his square pass into the box found Dawes offside, at least according to the linesman’s flag.
Oddly, a match which never looked nasty or ill-tempered was to produce six second-half yellow cards, four of them for the Sports. Campbell’s was merited, for a rash sliding tackle, but Gardiner and Hall copped cautions for tug-backs. And referee Mark Howes created genuine controversy on 68 minutes, cautioning Dawes for simulation when Purnell seemed to catch the striker’s ankle for what would have been a clear spot-kick. One of these weeks, Borough’s persistent penalty misfortune might just turn around….
Weston’s threat was petering out, and the game was there for the taking – but could the Sports finish it off? With just thirteen minutes left David Martin, fresh off the bench for Dean Cox, produced the killer blow. Dawes, chasing back admirably, won the ball in his own half and then combined swiftly with Wills up the Borough right. The low drilled cross evaded back-pedalling home defenders and Martin hit the target with a stinging shot which Purnell’s arm and Pope’s boot could not keep out.
There was time for a couple of Weston free-kicks, confidently dealt with by Smith, and for a smart midfield interception by Hall, but the midfielder’s shot flew wide of the right post. But no time for an equaliser. Referee Howes allowed just over three minutes stoppage time, when five were expected, and so we were even denied a final cameo from Ian Simpemba, stripped and ready for action on the touchline but denied by the final whistle.
During the game, the team’s driver had nipped off to top up the diesel. He need not have bothered. The ride home, in the happiest bus on the M4, was propelled by pure, elated footballing rocket fuel. This is turning into a rather enjoyable season.
Borough: Smith; Hamilton, Gardiner, Ransom, Campbell; Cox (Martin 66), Wills, Torres, Hall; Odubade (West 83). Unused subs: Simpemba, Day, Pollard.
Referee: Mark Howes Att: announced as 824 on Weston’s open-door day.
Borough MoM: Tom Gardiner – the strong and silent link in Borough’s defence