Generous Borough Give It Away
By Kevin Anderson
Sports on the wrong end of a six-goal thriller with Slough Town
Controversy, drama, six goals, a sending-off and a penalty: Priory Lane saw plenty of action on Saturday as Eastbourne Borough’s frustrating afternoon finished in a 4-2 defeat to Slough Town.
Borough learned some harsh lessons, especially about defending, as a remarkable smash and grab performance saw the Rebels claim all three points. Despite losing centre-half and captain Mark Nisbett to a 10th-minute red card, they raced to a three-goal lead which the Sports could never quite claw back.
Jamie Howell’s side has recently had a settled look, but he was forced into two changes. Lloyd Dawes was not risked with his muscle strain, while Harry Ransom, a towering presence in defence this season, was ruled out on medical grounds because the facial stitches from his combative encounter with Charlie Sheringham at Dartford had not yet been removed.
Charlie Walker and Yemi Odubade formed the twin spearhead, and Harry Pollard came into the back line for only his second start of the season.
Early exchanges were equal, but on 10 minutes, Nisbett brought down Walker as the striker burst through on the edge of the box. It looked worthy of yellow, certainly, but referee Dean Skipper judged that, with no covering defender, the Slough captain had to go.
For Borough, it seemed like driving into the multi-storey and finding the barriers stuck on open. The visitors instantly reshaped, replacing a striker with an extra defender, and everyone settled in for an eighty-minute siege. Or so we thought….
Even before the red card, Slough had given early notice of their hit-the-front-early approach, with two long raking balls forward to left-winger James Dobson – and within a further ten minutes, Dobson and striker Matty Stephens had torn up the game-plan. On 16 minutes, Dobson raced on to an excellent ball from Slough’s own half, pulling centre-backs Pollard and Tom Gardiner out of position and drilling a low ball across for Stephens – onside by a toecap – to score from six yards. 1-0, and the Sports were indignant.
Four minutes later the same pair mugged Borough again. Hot-shot Stephens, on loan from Peterborough United, timed his run perfectly and lost his marker to finish off Dobson’s cross with a header across Mark Smith. 2-0, and the Sports were reeling.
Still, plenty of time to respond: a foul on Walker gave the Sports a useful free-kick, and from Dean Cox’s delivery Marvin Hamilton rose well but headed wide. With the Rebels warming to the task, and already running the clock down, Guy Hollis earned a yellow card for time-wasting, and temperatures were starting to rise.
Then, on the half-hour, Eastbourne’s penalty miseries resurfaced. Three conceded already this season, none of them clear-cut, and once again a decision went against them. David Martin’s chasing tackle on Josh Jackman, down the very left-hand side of the Borough penalty area, was judged marginally inside the box by referee Dean Skipper, and video evidence later seemed to confirm that decision. Had there actually been contact?
At any rate, James Dobson converted for 3-0 – with incensed Sports manager Jamie Howell sent to the stands. Not a man to rant and rave, and not seeking to excuse himself, Jamie lamented his fate afterwards.
“The referee did have a massive influence on the game today. He’s sent their lad off, which didn’t look a red card offence to me. Then for the penalty, the linesman is only seven or eight yards from the incident and he’s not given anything, in fact he’s shaking his head to say, not a foul. The referee then comes over and between them they have awarded the penalty. So I just couldn’t work that one out!”
It was feeling a little bit surreal. The Rebels were clearly not a bad side, but they were not needing to do a lot to prove it. Instead they hunkered down once again to draw the sting from Borough’s efforts – keeper Jack Turner in particular taking up to a minute just to take a goal-kick.
Then just before half-time, the Sports found a way back. Martin’s lethal cross from the left was met by Walker, planting his header beyond Turner for 3-1. Within half a minute, it might have been 3-2, as Walker seared through a panicking defence but could not quite get the ball out of his feet before he was blocked just five yards out.
But at least the cause was not yet lost. Into the second half, Odubade burst through on a Cox pass and appeared to be pulled down by a desperate Hollis – who was already on a yellow card and would have been dismissed – but Mr Skipper saw no foul. Eager to stay on the front foot, assistant Danny Bloor pulled off defender Pollard and replaced him with Mike West, whose creative passing gave an extra dimension and gave the Priory Lane loyalists some hope.
But they were disastrously undone by yet another Stephens breakaway on 62 minutes, catching the home defence square from Turner’s kick out, and zipping through to beat the advancing Smith. 4-1, and Borough were collectively groaning in despair.
Dean Cox – who week by week is now producing master classes in midfield – instantly pulled it back to 4-2 with a quick-thinking strike into the bottom corner from Marvin’s incisive ball from the right, and for a while the improbable seemed possible.
And now, to their credit, the home side gave it a real go. Kristian Campbell, who put in another performance of real style and quality, powered in to meet a cross but headed inches over. Then Walker’s brilliant overhead kick hit the crossbar with defenders rooted, and Jack Turner beat out a thunderous Cox volley. Ryan Hall, on for Martin, curled a lovely left-footer a fraction wide of the top corner.
They had tried everything. From the press benches came the imaginative proposal to exploit the final substitution: pop reserve keeper Gregor Shaw into goal and push the fearsome figure of Mark Smith up front as an extra striker. Which, in a nutshell, explains why this reporter is not a manager….
But the Rebels, with stout defending and a dash of the Dark Arts – two yellows for time-wasting and one for simulation – ran that big red clock down for a triumphant victory, and the Sports had to reflect painfully on the match that got away.
“Come, gentle bombs, and fall on Slough...” wrote John Betjeman in possibly his most uncharitable line ever, but Borough thankfully wouldn’t go that far.
This was a tainted victory, which in one respect did the Rebels – and the sport – no credit (writes Kevin Anderson in a personal view). Thoroughly nice people off the pitch, but on it they undermined the name of fair play, by stretching their time-wasting and gamesmanship to the limit and beyond. Video analysis showed that, in 45 minutes of the second half, the ball was in play for just 23 minutes. Slough were good enough, in their own qualities, to win this game. Yes, all teams including Borough will look to protect a lead: keep the ball, defend in depth, put bodies on the barricades. Challenge your opponent to break you down.
But again, if Borough hadn’t let in those streaky goals…. If Walker/Cox/Odubade/Hall (delete as required) had buried that chance…. There are some football matches where, usually about twenty minutes in, you’d like to say whoa, stop, could we start again, please? Well yes, but not until three o’clock next Saturday!
Borough: Smith; Hamilton, Pollard (West 58), Gardiner, Campbell; Cox, Torres, Wills, Martin; Odubade, Walker (Hall 73). Unused subs: Day, Briggs, Shaw.
Referee: Dean Skipper Att: 645
Borough MoM: nudging just ahead of Wills and Cox, Kristian Campbell’s bright, athletic display clinches it