Eastbourne Borough manager Tommy Widdrington insists there is still room for improvement after their thrilling home victory against Oxford City last Saturday.
Borough blew away Oxford City with a freestyle display of attacking and goal-scoring at Priory Lane thanks to goals from a double from Mark Hughes and a goal each for Gavin McCallum and Josh Hare.
“We did a lot of things right, and as a manager I’m allowed to be a little bit nit-picky, and look to pass the ball even better and create even more chances.
“With all respect to Oxford, they were not the same quality of opposition as Ebbsfleet the previous week, when we had to settle for a draw.
“But goals change people’s perception of a game, and it was good to see them shared around.
“The supporters will quite rightly have gone away extremely happy!”
Although the final scoreline read 4-0, the result had been settled with three goals in the opening half-hour. After that, Borough were in cruise control against a hapless City. Greedier spectators among the 541 Non-League Day crowd might have hoped for even more, but with a crucial home game against leaders Maidenhead this (Tuesday) evening, there was a need to stay grounded. Tommy Widdrington was pleased, although not carried away.
Ebbsfleet had certainly been a different and sterner test, but the Sports on Saturday were a joy to watch. They flowed forward, often almost at will, and every player looked confident and positive. This was football with the handbrake off.
Last season’s top scorer Nat Pinney, not on the scoresheet himself, was instrumental in all three first-half goals. Blending subtle touch with physical strength, he was the perfect foil for the ceaseless foraging of strike partner Elliott Romain. Wide players Gavin McCallum and Miguel Baptista, turning their lavish ball skills into an art form, were close to unplayable.
Add a commanding back line and, in Lewis Carey, a goalkeeper back to his confident best, and Tommy has a team shaped for success. But the real secret was less noticeable. The midfield pairing of Mark Hughes and Shaun Cooper, newly arrived from Sutton United, was in masterful control, creating, prompting, winning the ball and never wasting it.
The match began brightly with Romain’s point-blank shot from a McCallum free-kick cleared off the goal-line. Then a gorgeous one-two with Pinney put Gavin in, but again an Oxford body blocked the shot. It was to be the story of City’s half, chasing down home attacks but often chasing shadows. On 13 minutes Baptiste swung a wonderful pass out from right to left and this time McCallum glided past full-back Eddie Odihiambo and scorched his shot low past keeper Jack Stevens and into the bottom corner.
Three minutes later the lead was doubled. Quick passing played in Romain, who was fouled right on the D, and from the free-kick Josh Hare drilled his strike through the wall and into the net via Stevens’ despairing hand.
Borough were rampant. Baptiste capped a five-man move with a delicious chip to set Romain free, but the striker fouled his opponent as he pounded in on goal. Then Pinney from 35 yards tried an outrageous volley that soared too high, but the home crowd were in no mood to complain.
In response, City had offered two or three forward moves which flickered but failed to ignite, and there was a feeling of inevitability when they conceded a third goal on the half hour. Baptiste’s corner was half-cleared back to him, and his sweet second delivery found Hughes at the back stick, knocking the ball over the line despite frantic defensive scrambles.
City did at least survive until half-time, with two home free-kicks coming to naught and then McCallum caught offside at the end of yet another inventive move. And straight after the break the visitors had their best - or only - clear chance of the afternoon, Carey saving bravely from Sean McAuley as Borough were briefly caught on the break.
Tommy gave Brian Dutton a breather, allowing Kiran Khinda-John a very assured appearance at centre-back, and after further sustained pressure Borough extended the lead on 56 minutes. Romain was fouled on the very edge of the box, and McCallum’s measured free-kick fell to Hughes, who crashed it into the net for 4-0.
In the final half-hour, experienced Sutton loanee Craig McAllister, and then Jamie Taylor, came off the bench to add new fire-power. For the beleaguered visitors, it was like snatching away the last water bottle from a parched marathon runner. The two substitute strikers showed their class with a perfect Taylor cutback for McAllister, who struck a cannon of a shot that rebounded off a hapless defender. And Romain - still leaving defenders for dead even after a draining 80 minutes - played in Jamie for a lovely little hook shot which just missed the near post.
No matter. By then the points were secure, and the Sports were happy to see the game safely out - before turning their thoughts and plans to Maidenhead United. On this form, they can take on any team in the league.
Borough: Carey; Hare, Dutton (Khinda-John 51), Simpemba, Stone; Baptista (Taylor 76), Cooper, Hughes, McCallum; Pinney (McAllister 59), Romain. Unused subs: Worrall, Smith.
Referee: Andrew Laver
MoM: Mark Hughes - two goals, and complete midfield control