Tommy Widdrington has built his Borough side on passing, possession and mobility, but it was a canny change of shape and style that brought home the points on Tuesday with a 2-1 derby win.
Who needs Mourinho? Just 24 hours after the Chelsea supremo soaked up national acclaim for a masterful victory at Manchester City, Borough’s own mastermind was plotting revenge for the 2-0 Boxing Day reverse against Whitehawk. And it worked to perfection.
The footballing setting was a world away from the Etihad: a storm-battered East Brighton Park and a treacherous Whitehawk pitch, in front of a couple of hundred hardy but passionate fans. But the essence was the same: choose the right team for the conditions and set them up to win the game.
This was never the night for pass-and-move on a surface that persistently betrayed the players, with a freak bobble here and a slippy mudslide there. Instead Tommy set up with a strong, ball-winning four-man midfield and with Gary Hart playing off Elvis Hammond up front.
Not that everything went right. With just two minutes played, defensive hesitation let in Danny Mills, whose shot was bravely blocked by Craig Ross but rebounded for Alex Addai to drive the Hawks into a shock lead.
Borough kept their heads and stuck with the plan, and within 10 minutes they were level, Jack Deaman nudging in Charlie Gorman’s inswinging corner at the front post.
The rest of the first half was a toe-to-toe encounter in steadily worsening weather, with only half-chances at either end. Tommy Fraser’s prompting and the pace of Mills were Whitehawk’s key players, but they really threatened only in fits and starts.
The Sports looked much more of a unit, and Hammond and Hart – the two oldest players in the team – were a perpetual motion pairing up front.
After the break Borough took firmer control. Frankie Raymond, the game’s outstanding player, set Hammond free on the left, but Matt Aldred’s bursting run into the box just failed to connect with the striker’s low cross. Then Manni Akokhia, on for Deaman, scooped Hart’s brilliant pass over the bar, and Whitehawk were on borrowed time. Borough were inexorably closing in for the kill.
Raymond – switched to left back as Widdrington sensibly withdrew the yellow-carded Sam Cole – was in irresistible mood and on 71 minutes he weaved forward into the box, to lay on a cross that Akokhia smashed triumphantly home.
The Hawks, desperate to salvage something in their efforts to scrabble out of the relegation places, fought back with great spirit, but Widdrington’s foot-soldiers stuck to the plan and they pulled the shield-wall shut.
The Borough boss summed up the night with one of his telling one-liners: “A good team draws a game like that. A successful team wins it.”
Whitehawk: Winterton; Cadmore, Lawrence, Gayle, Hills; Addai, Maher, Fraser, Robinson; Mills, Da Silva. Subs: El-Abd, Gargan, Obersteller.
Borough: Ross; Tallack, Simpemba, Watts, Cole (sub Johnson 61min); Deaman (sub Akokhia 65min), Aldred, Gorman, Raymond; Hart (sub Lok 80min), Hammond.
Subs not used: Rowe, Derry.
Referee: Rob Hyde