Eastbourne Borough returned pointless, and quite frustrated, on Saturday from St Albans City - beaten by a single goal in a match of relatively few chances.
Borough were ambushed by the home side at the very end of a first half which Borough had dominated.
St Albans had struggled to contain Borough’s assertive and disciplined play. They may be the league’s top scorers but they had not managed a proper shot of their own before the 44th minute, when from an inswinging corner, full-back Tom Bender pulled away from keeper Charlie Horlock into enough space for a header just under the bar.
City responded with a mix of surprise and delight, but Bender was arguably fortunate to have been still on the field. He was the chief culprit in what seemed a systematic targeting of Elliott Romain, fouled five times in the first half hour - four of them by Tom Bender.
Tommy Widdrington, hindered by injuries to Alex Smith and Kiran Khinda-John, reshaped his back line by switching Josh Hare to the left and playing Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain at right back. Both made decent inroads going forward, Christian with plenty of finesse and Josh with plenty of pace.
And excellent performances by all three centre-backs - Simpemba, Stone and O’Reilly - meant that Borough were rarely troubled by the Saints’ usually lethal strike pair of Morias and Theophanous.
Wider on the left, Maidstone loanee Tom Murphy had a useful first half in particular, and showed that he will have much to offer in the busy December ahead.
Up front, Tommy picks any two from three, and with Jamie Taylor just recovering from his ricked neck it was Romain and Pinney who started. Elliott, as recorded above, is becoming a marked man, but he kept his discipline admirably and was running from start to finish. Pinney’s best moment was a piercing run and diagonal shot, the sort that often nestles in the bottom corner but this time only curled into the keeper’s arms.
That Pinney shot on the break and Hare’s curling free-kick were Borough’s best first-half chances, but after the interval the chemistry of the game changed. The Saints, who improved on their error-strewn early play, looked more relaxed now, and Borough had to seize back the initiative.
As the game grew stretched in the closing stages, both defences had breathless moments. Twice Junior Morias might have doubled the lead, thwarted once by a brave Horlock save and once by his own wayward finish.
Changing the shape, Tommy brought on Taylor and Dutton off the bench, and the game stayed alive until the very last kick.
JT created his side’s best chance, carving himself space for a smart shot which home keeper Russell did well to hold.
A maddening day, and only the second league game in which Borough have failed to score. They will play less well than this and win.
Borough: Horlock; Simpemba, Stone, O’Reilly; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Dutton 84), Hughes, Worrall, Murphy (Taylor 64), Hare; Pinney, Romain. Unused subs: Fellrath, Street, Tate.
Borough MoM: Daniel O’Reilly - steady and reliable at the back