It does not get much easier for Jamie Howell’s Eastbourne Borough. Still reeling from their FA Cup exit to Bognor, his side travel to Chelmsford City on Saturday to face one of the National League favourites.
Howell was reflective – and dignified – on Saturday after a defeat which must have hurt the fans’ pride, the club’s finances, and the manager’s personal morale. After his summer move from Nyewood Lane to Priory Lane, correctly handled but still resented by some Bognor folk, he could have done without the high-profile Cup clash.
“I always thought that fate would play a part. Credit to our opponents for some fantastic defending. Some days you could play all night and not score, and this was one of them. We didn’t start well, and an early goal changes the pattern of a game. We had masses of pressure, but our final shot or cross were sometimes poor. We were a bit rash from good positions.
“It wasn’t the result we wanted, but it is still only one result. We are moving in the right direction, as a club and as a team, and we will be judged over the season. Chelmsford is a tough place to go, but we have performed well in this division so far, and the league table shows that there are no stand-out teams.”
Jamie could be forgiven for dwelling on the frustrating Cup game, which, looking back with a clear head, turned on four moments: two all-too-easy goals for the Rocks, and two phenomenal clearances off the Bognor line which seemed to defy the laws of physics. The Sports were disappointing, but not dreadful, and they should be heading over the Dartford Crossing with no fear.
The Essex club, marked out by most observers as likely title contenders, actually sit just three points above the Sports in a congested top half of the National South table, and did not win a league game in September – four successive draws and an unlikely defeat at Weston-super-Mare. Last week they edged past Southern League Weymouth 2-1, Chris Dickson scoring a penalty and a gorgeous curling strike from outside the box. But the City side has been built by manager, and ex-boxer, Rod Stringer on size, power and experience, and Borough may be braced for a physical contest.
Melbourne Arena, the metallic fortress which is City’s home ground – affectionately dubbed the Gulag by even the home supporters – has its own special welcome for visiting teams, including the long metal-grilled walk out from dressing rooms to pitch. Last season, the Clarets twice tore Borough apart, with Tommy Widdrington banished to the Arena stands in the away defeat.
But Howell’s newly-forged team plays in the present and not the past, and he will be unshaken in his positive outlook as he boards the coach with almost a fully fit squad. Only striker Yemi Odubade misses out, sidelined for up to a month with his groin injury. But newly signed Lloyd Dawes made an impressive impact in the final half-hour against Bognor, and as an unknown quantity in Chelmsford’s eyes, he may well be worth a starting shirt this week.
Poor teams lose, and let it affect them. Strong teams lose, curse inwardly, bite the gumshield hard, and bounce back stronger. Jamie’s side can start by biting the gumshield on Saturday.
Updated 16:14 - 6 Oct 2017 by Kevin Anderson