In ferocious gale-force winds at Priory Lane, Eastbourne Borough and Dartford had to settle for a point apiece.
It was all but unplayable but play the teams did, and their efforts were admirable.
A meagre 350 crowd had witnessed the previous week’s 3-3 thriller against Weston, but a much healthier 565 braved the elements for this one, including 70 or more from Dartford, and they were rewarded with plenty of drama, two excellent goals, and a merited red card for Dartford’s Tom Bradbrook for a second-half moment of insanity.
Losing the toss, Borough were handed the doubtful privilege of first use of the gale, and they took some time to get their range-finding right. Intended little chips into space behind defenders turned into hurtling missiles into touch behind the goal.
Dartford, playing a riskily high defensive line, were living a bit dangerously but they just about survived a goalless first twenty minutes. Romain peeled away on the right and saw his lethal cross deflected for a corner, from which Taylor’s header was too slight.
Then Romain was cut down by yellow-carded full-back Mark Onyemah as he broke clear down the right, and within a minute the all-action striker popped up on the left with a whirling cross which centre-back Ronnie Vint desperately cleared for another corner. Romain is turning into a definite success story for the Sports this season.
The pressure was visibly building - but that wind-assisted first half was slipping away. The Darts, hanging on like climbers on a cliff-face, were starting to believe they could reach the safe haven of a goalless half-time. But they reckoned without Jamie Taylor.
Twenty-five minutes were on the big red clock when Taylor improbably stretched for a knocked-on header, carved himself space out of nothing on the right side of the area, and whipped in a cross. Keeper Darren Ibrahim pushed it out but only as far as Nat Pinney, who is in no mood to miss at present, and the centre-forward powered in an unstoppable low shot for 1-0.
Dartford had been in the Borough half so rarely that home supporters were reportedly offering to bring out mugs of hot Bovril for Lewis Carey, but the visitors did have a fleeting sight of goal on the half-hour mark. Andy Pugh delivered a lethal cross but Tom Bradbrook, between the centre-backs, somehow mistimed his header.
Otherwise Borough pressed and pressed, but without increasing the lead. Romain was once again illegally stopped, this time by Tom Gardiner, who surprisingly escaped a yellow, and then a crude foul on Taylor earned Borough a 25-yard free-kick, neatly slipped by Worrall to Pinney, who thundered a shot only just wide of the right post.
Then Taylor tried one of his favourite “spec shots” from way out, but it floated wide of the target and Borough, at just 1-0 up, were possibly a goal or so short of their own target for the half.
From the restart Dartford laid the expected siege to the Sports goal, but their actual scoring chances were restricted by the excellent central defensive trio of Stone, Khinda-John and young Callum Buckley, who once again impressed on his loan from AFC Bournemouth.
Man in black Dan Cook – the Bradbrook red card apart – had a less controversial game and he did try to make fair allowance for the elements.
The minutes were ticking away, and if anything Eastbourne might have increased the lead. Stone set substitute Darren Lok clear, but his goalbound effort was brilliantly tipped away by Ibrahim. And just a minute later the striker again sprinted his way through but his near-post shot was blocked for a corner. Then on 72 minutes came an absolutely stunning equaliser. Pugh, exchanging passes on the left of the area, suddenly turned and in a single movement struck a rocket of a shot past a blameless Carey and into the far corner.
Darts fans were ecstatic – but within two minutes they were in shock when Tom Bradbrook, leading with his arm, launched himself at Khinda-John and earned an instant red card.
It looked a needless moment of madness by the Darts striker, but Mr Cook’s decision was correct. After lengthy treatment, a fragile Khinda-John continued for a few more minutes before being substituted. Absurdly, the massed chants of “cheat, cheat” from Dartford fans were still ringing in his ears but perhaps Kiran was too groggy to register them. There was still time for somebody to claim the game, and Lok squeezed through to rifle a shot across goal and against the inside of the far post, where a Dartford boot somehow bashed it away to safety.
Borough: Carey, Sheppard, Beale, Stone, Buckley, Khinda-John, Worrall (Simpemba 68), Collier, Pinney (Lok 58), Taylor, Romain (McCallum 84). Unused subs: Bosma, Haysman. Referee: Dan Cook
Att: 565 Borough MoM: Craig Stone – faultless defending and great leadership