Second Half Swoop Brings Gulls the Victory
By Kevin Anderson
Non-League Day brings mixed rewards for Borough: good crowd, cracking game, no points....
The best of days, the worst – or most frustrating – of days. Eastbourne Borough and Torquay United served up a thriller at Priory Lane last Saturday – Non-League Day – when everything was perfect except the result.
Actually, the positive far outweighed the negative, as a good-humoured bumper crowd enjoyed six goals and lashings of attacking football in the sun. But it was Torquay who grabbed the points in a 4-2 victory. The Sports have lost only three of their 14 matches so far this season – but curiously all have been suffered at Priory Lane. On the road, they are one of only a handful of professional clubs unbeaten this season.
If it had been last season, supporters would have greeted this result with a weary sigh. The Class of 17-18 tried hard and occasionally produced a flash, but more often they failed to deliver at the Lane. The Class of 18-19 is full of football, and the home crowd is fully on board. Think of those three home defeats. Woking were overrun for most of the game but sneaked a dubious late winner. Slough Town pulled off the ultimate smash and grab. Torquay were not really better, only more ruthless.
At 2-2 with 80 minutes played, a home win was within clutching distance, but a key penalty decision and a stoppage-time fourth goal left Borough’s buoyant performance unrewarded. Poised like a gymnast on the beam, the Sports had lost their footing, and slipped from a real chance of victory, to a maddening defeat.
Jamie Howell, though, was notably upbeat afterwards. “I’m pleased. That might sound strange, but for most of the game we matched Torquay, who are an excellent side. In the first half we were the better team and might have had more than the 1-0 lead. Clearly we have to learn to manage the game over 90 minutes. We made one or two naive decisions in defence, and Ryan Hall – who has been excellent all season – knows it was a poor penalty to give away.
“An opponent as strong as Torquay will punish errors like those, and we paid the price. But we are playing good football, and in spells exceptional football, and those who were here today will have seen that. The mood in the team is really positive and those players can’t wait for next Saturday to prove it.”
The league table doesn’t lie, they say, but this one tells a little fib or two. The Sports have slipped below the halfway mark, but they remain just three points off the play-off places. And in several games – including against Torquay – they have seen dashing forward play undermined by concentration lapses. The style is open and exciting, and neutrals in the Non-League Day crowd will have gone away impressed.
But back to the action. Mists and mellow fruitfulness, sayeth the poet about autumn, but this was more like a bright, pleasantly warm summer's day - with scarcely a breeze to disrupt the play. Some Torquay officials looked sceptically at the 3G surface: do you get funny bounces? do players even tackle? Show me a grass pitch, sir, which doesn't give you three times as many funny bounces. And anyway, almost all young players nowadays have grown up on 3G. Maybe the Gulls' nervousness was showing through, although their recent form under newly-arrived Gary Johnson has been impressive. The Sports opened with a flourish, Mike West volleying just wide after a slicing left-wing move, with one of Kristian Campbell’s enterprising runs forward. Then livewire Alfie Rutherford came desperately close to an opener, denied only by Shaun MacDonald’s brave block and then by some desperate defending.
Kane Wills – anchoring the side while Torres took a breather on the bench – joined the action with an athletic effort just too high, and the Gulls were flapping. They clung on until just past the half-hour mark, but Borough would not be denied. Hall’s raking ball sent Rutherford racing clear, cutting in from the left and leaving keeper and defenders flailing in his wake as he finished in style from six yards out.
United’s one real chance of the first half came just before the break – Saikhu Janneh heading wide from a free-kick – but an equaliser at that stage would have been unjust. If anything, Borough were to regret that they led by only a single goal.
The balance swung Torquay’s way after half-time. Physically strong, and man for man taller than the Sports, they were now winning more possession and using it well. And two goals in a couple of minutes turned the match on its head.
The Sports defence was not quite quick enough to close down Jake Andrews, who advanced and struck a missile of a shot which found the top corner from 20 yards to equalise. Then Asa Hall, skilfully set up by quick-footed winger Opi Edwards, fizzed in a low shot which Mark Smith did well to parry, with an offside Janneh in front of him and in his sight line. But Jamie Reid was quickest to react and give Gulls the lead.
That was by no means the end of it. If anything, the pace of the game went up a gear, and Borough stormed back. Sergio Torres – rested at the start but now on for West – wrested possession just outside the Torquay box and slid a perfect ball across to Dean Cox, who dipped a superb strike over the keeper and into the top right corner. Two masters of their trade, and a little footballing master-class.
We might all have settled for 2-2 and shaken hands, but nobody was in that sort of mood. Just eight minutes remained when substitute Brett Williams crumpled under Hall’s challenge, and the home crowd groaned: the sixth penalty conceded by Borough this season. Reid despatched the spot-kick, and like the last grains of sand through the egg-timer, Eastbourne saw the game slip away.
Hall, Torres and Rutherford were all denied with late attempts to equalise, but it was young Jamie Reid who struck the final blow, completing his hat-trick in stoppage time with a breakaway goal. Wrong result, but a cracking game – at a Priory Lane that has fallen back in love with football.
Borough: Smith; Odebayo-Rowling, Gardiner, Ransom, Campbell (Pollard 63); Cox, West (Torres 61), Wills, Hall; Walker (Odubade 72), Rutherford. Unused subs: Briggs, Simpemba.
Referee: a very competent Gary Parsons - all the more creditable since Gary was a late replacement, and at 11.30am he was only just leaving home - in Bournemouth!
Borough MoM: Alfie Rutherford – terrorising defences week by week (Mentioned in despatches: Dean "every-pass-perfection" Cox, Kane "they-shall-not-pass" Wills)
Picture credit: Jamie Evans Photography