Eastbourne Borough returned from Dorset with a useful National South point on Saturday, subduing the lively challenge of newly promoted Poole Town in a 1-1 draw.
The Sports have now lost only one of their last seven games - a harsh defeat to leaders Maidenhead - and there is a resilience about Widdrington’s current side which will serve them well as the season unfolds.
Poole had made the early running and they grabbed the lead on the half-hour, but an Elliott Romain goal - his eighth of the season - levelled the score just before half-time, and the second half belonged almost wholly to Borough, with entrenched home defending keeping them at bay.
With Taylor sidelined and Pinney barely recovered from a muscle tweak, Borough had slightly limited options up front. Elliott Romain was partnered with Craig McAllister, steadily returning to fitness and certainly making his presence felt in a classic contest with the giant figure of Poole centre-half and skipper Jamie Whisken.
The weather might have been kinder. Several hours of rainfall had left the pitch pretty drenched, as well as preventing the home groundsman from a final mow. It meant a thick, lush, cloying surface which hindered Eastbourne’s preferred quickfire style of passing.
Poole started eagerly, but Carey dealt comfortably with a couple of crosses and saw a swinging free-kick safely over the bar. The Sports responded with a Baptista free-kick from which Romain’s header was saved, and then a sweet Cooper-Baptista move got in behind the full-back and created another Romain chance, knocked narrowly wide.
The cut and thrust continued, with Poole pressing forward but not actually seeing the light of goal until they took a 32nd-minute lead. Right winger Luke Burbidge, a zippy threat all afternoon, should have been closed down but was allowed to sling over a cross which Sam Surridge flicked on beyond the back post, and Luke Roberts hooked it back across Carey and into the corner of the net.
But a noisily joyous home crowd enjoyed only a few minutes of celebration before Borough drew level on 40 minutes. The goal was Elliott Romain’s from start to finish, determinedly winning the ball on half-way and shrugging off two challenges to splay the ball wide to Gavin McCallum on the left.
Gavin’s cross at first looked too deep, but McAllister brilliantly pulled away to reach it and head it back across goal, where Romain’s header buried the ball despite keeper Hutchings’ desperately clawing hand.
The second half saw the Sports pouring forward again and again, while the home defenders covered, blocked and tackled with impressive resilience - incurring no fewer than four yellow cards in the process, although this was never an ill-tempered game. McCallum in particular was working magic on the ball, often beating two defenders rather than one, and showering in his crosses from the left wing.
There were chances, but none was finished off. Romain missed one McCallum low centre by inches, and McCallum himself curled a shot just beyond the top corner with Hutchings beaten. Then Nat Pinney, on for McAllister, conjured a sublime chip which a scrambling Hutchings just managed to touch over the crossbar. But 1-1 it remained.
Indeed, it was the Dolphins who nearly caused the final splash. Deep in stoppage time, a Poole corner was swung wickedly in under the bar but Carey - with home players piling in on him - hooked the ball out and then brilliantly saved Mike Walker’s follow-up shot. The point he had saved was the least that his team deserved.
Borough: Carey; Hare, Dutton, Simpemba, Stone; Baptista (Worrall 64), Cooper, Hughes, McCallum; McAllister (Pinney 76), Romain. Unused subs: Aziaya, O’Reilly.
Referee: Marc Whaley
Borough MoM: Gavin McCallum - a persistent attacking threat