Bonfire Night, but no fall guys at Priory Lane. Under new boss Danny Bloor’s encouraging eye, Eastbourne Borough avoided any Sussex Senior Cup upset with a comfortable 4-0 victory over Roffey FC.
Roffey play their football a full four steps below the Sports in the Pyramid, although – founded in 1901 – they are twice as old, and rooted in the grass roots. Last season, they admirably made the step up from village-green football to Division One of the Southern Combination – the same division as Hailsham Town.
The Senior Cup unites our local clubs, and it keeps football live. Chelsea on the television? 4-4 and two red cards, apparently. Well, Priory Lane had the four but not the other four – and not even a yellow. But the 212 spectators, on a sharp and slightly damp night that was thankfully free of last weekend’s dramatic storms, enjoyed a proper cup tie which remained a genuine contest until past the interval.
The three wise men – Danny, Scott and Sergio – had pooled their wisdom and selected a strong Borough line-up, missing only the rested Tom Hadler and Kane Wills and the injured Ian Gayle. There were starts for Dan Blackmore and Ayman Gharbaoui, and both slotted in confidently.
An early Sports breakthrough, and it might have been over in half an hour, but the visitors were prepared to dig in. At times, the Roffey line-up looked like a rather novel two-banks-of-five, but it was creating plenty of smother, and Borough’s passing needed to be creative. Through? Over? Around the flanks? A busy and inventive Michael West was making things happen, and indeed the whole home side had energy and eagerness.
The approach play was fabulous. But they couldn’t shoot straight. After Kristian Campbell’s early header bounced away off the crossbar, a stream of great moves finished with the ball in the River End car park. Walker, Wheeler, Cox, Campbell all struck shots off target, and when West did hit a low goal-bound fizzer, Roffey keeper Andy Barr stretched full length for a splendid save.
On 22 minutes we almost had a real shock. From a Borough corner, Roffey broke quickly through a sparse midfield and striker Kieron Purkiss powered through the inside-right channel to test Chalmers-Stevens with a sharp low shot.
Otherwise, Borough’s keeper and new first-team coach might as well have brought out a Sudoku book and a thermos flask. The men in front of him resumed their waves of attacks, but still they failed to convert their chances. And, groggy but goalless, Roffey had made it to half-time.
It was not to last much longer. Just three minutes after the break, Adebayo-Rowling’s searching free-kick from the right was met by the perfect header from Walker, skimming just above Barr, and under the bar, for 1-0.
And with the blue touch-paper finally lit, the Sports were fizzing. Nicky Wheeler, on fire down the left flank, checked in and left defenders in his wake before drilling a low shot just inside the left post to double the score. Ten minutes later - from a magnificent Dean Cox pass - he repeated the trick, this time smashing his shot in off the underside of the bar. And soon after, man-of-the-match Wheeler was denied his hat-trick by Barr’s brave save, only for Walker to follow up from close range for Borough’s fourth goal.
Tiring Roffey legs could not quite handle it, but they had played bravely and with great credit. If we overlook one or two clumsy, but not malicious, fouls, the Southern Combination side did well. Matt Rendell, Lewis Reeves and Lee Wragg provided a solid platform at the back, Andy Barr behind them was brave as you like, and Nick Tilley was an effective midfield organiser. Well managed and with a most genial bunch of officials off the pitch, Roffey were very welcome visitors to the Lane, and we wish them every success as they consolidate in their league.
The Sports coasted through the last half-hour with useful game-time for young substitutes Matt Astle and Tyler Pearson. In weeks to come, they may just be given their chance, and they will surely seize it. Background issues may remain, but there is not much wrong with the football.
Borough: Chalmers-Stevens; Adebayo-Rowling (Astle 69), Adebowale, Blackmore, Campbell (Luer 46); West, Ferry, Cox; Gharbaoui, Walker (Pearson 79), Wheeler.
Referee: Greig Walker Linesmen: celebrated local journalist Peter Lindsey (who could have penned this match report) and David Joseph. Attendance: 212
Borough MoM: Nick Wheeler – his goals lit up the dark November night