IN a week when Eastbourne Borough boss Tommy Widdrington pledged his faith in youth, Ryan Worrall,
the youngest player on the field, displayed nerves of steel to fire his side to victory against fifth-placed Gosport.
When Darren Lok was sent flying in the area on the stroke of half-time, 17-year-old Worrall repeated his FA Cup feat against Enfield with as perfect a penalty conversion as one could wish to see.
“If he gets man of the match he wont be old enough to drink the champagne,” quipped Neil Hillier, one of Widdrington’s management team.
Borough have now beaten three of the top five teams in Conference South and as welcome as this victory was, a superb all-round performance only served to add to the frustration that Widdrington’s men could and should be in a much healthier position in the table.
But mid-table position or not, the players are determined to prove the season is not yet over. “I told them they are playing for their futures and they responded magnificently” said a delighted Widdrington afterwards..
Worrall’s magic moment aside, this was a tremendous all-round display which delighted the Priory Lane faithful. Nathaniel Pinney and Lok were menacing up front, Simon Johnson was excellent in midfield while Kiran Khinda-John and Ian Simpemba were forces at the heart of a defence that was willing to die for the cause.
Borough thought they had taken the lead in the 16th minute when Johnson’s shot at goal was deflected by Kiran Khinda-John. Diving keeper Nathan Ashmore got a hand to the ball which seemed to roll over the goal-line only for the referee’s assistant to wave for offside against Lok.
In the 36th minute, it was Ashmore to the rescue for Gosport as the keeper did superbly to get a hand to a glancing header from Simpemba.
Gosport skipper Sam Pearce looked fortunate to escape a red card when Lok’s headed flick-on put Pinney clear on goal, but what looked a blatant foul on Pinney was ignored by the ref.
Worrall’s penalty, on the stroke of half-time, was a just reward for a hard-working first-half display from the hosts who might well have been a couple of goals to the good.
The second half was a story of brave Eastbourne defending in the face of incessant Gosport pressure but it was visiting keeper Ashmore, rather than Lewis Carey, who had to be at his best to prevent Pinney and Gavin McCallum from doubling the Eastbourne advantage.
McCallum looked particularly dangerous when he came on as sub, forcing a great tip-over from Ashmore who was Gosport’s outstanding player.
There were some hair-raising moments in the Eastbourne goalmouth with a Pearce effort rolling agonisingly across the face of the goal, but generally, dogged home defending, with Simpemba the unflappable general, kept Carey well protected.
With penalty shouts at both ends and both sides battling for every ball as if their lives depended on it, referee Mr Ashvin Degnarin twice stopped play to calm down both managers while allowing them to remain in their dug-outs. With Tommy Widdrington verbally playing every ball, it’s a wonder he has any voice left at all at the end of the 90 minutes.
The final whistle, however, signalled a hugely deserved three points with Neil Hillier particularly pleased with the form displayed by Pinney and Lok up front. “Pinney was outstanding with his hold-up play; his touches are unbelievable while Loky’s workrate was great, he enthused. They are really getting to know each other’s play.
“I am never fearful when we come up against the top teams; we are always a match for them. We have now got to go on and try to win every game.”
If that is to happen Borough must maintain the same momentum against the weak as well as the strong.
And the players must continue to remember they are still playing for their own futures.
Eastbourne: Carey, Sessegnon, Beale, Aldred, Simpemba, Khinda-John, Worrall (Evans 80), Haysman (McCallum 71), Pinney (Pacquette 85), Johnson, Lok. Unused sub: Rogers.
Gosport: Ashmore, Forbes, Williams (Wort 72), Carter, Poate, Pearce, Dunford (Wilde 62), Robinson, Paterson Bennett, Wooden (Saez-Ferre 85). Unused subs: Ramsey, Benham.
Referee: Mr A. Degnarin.
MoM: Darren Lok worked non-stop and regularly outjumped taller defenders.