“A decent start, but a start is all it is.” Eastbourne Borough manager Jamie Howell leads his unbeaten side into a challenging weekend with a sobering warning.
After garnering an impressive eleven points from their five-match start, Borough take the road tomorrow (Saturday) to St Albans City, before welcoming Woking to Priory Lane for an appetising Bank Holiday showdown. “Yes, we would love another two good results,” admitted Howell this week, “but six points or no points, we will still be building for the longer term.”
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High altitude, and thin air, can be a rather dizzying mix, but from the heights of fourth place in the National South table, Jamie is far from intoxicated. When the fixture list was published, shrewd observers were already forming a view that the Sports would need a decent clutch of points from their opening games – if only because tougher opponents lay waiting as the autumn approached.
“These games will be a good test. St Albans have not had the start they expected or wanted, but they still have the core of last season’s extremely strong side, and they will be all the more keen to kick-start this season. So, yep, that one is a challenging away trip. And I definitely expect Woking to be up there in the last stages of the season.
“We are more than confident of testing ourselves against the fancied sides. This will show us where we really are. These are games we really want to be playing, rather than looking at fixtures that have the feel of a relegation dogfight. But nobody is getting carried away. Early form and early league tables can be a false marker, and we don’t intend to be misled.
“It goes without saying, I am happier to be fourth than fourteenth. But a start is all it is.”
Ian Allinson’s St Albans – the former employers of new Borough stopper Tom Allinson and of on-fire striker Charlie Walker – have lost their last two games and will surely have a hot reception in store for the Sports. And Woking, already setting the pace in National South with four wins out of five, look ominously strong under new manager Alan Dowson.
The Cards were surprised, and just a little indignant, to be relegated on the final day of last season, but Dowson and his assistant Martin Tyler – the Sky Sports commentator - have imported several new players, including two or three from their former club Hampton and Richmond. Rather like Jamie’s new Sports, Woking are not yet the finished product, but they will be dangerous opponents. Howell has a fully-fit squad and will need all his resources.
“Two games in 48 hours is a challenge, although that is the same for all the semi-pro clubs. We had the full first team squad in this week for two hard sessions, a bit harder than some of the players were expecting, I think! But actually they were not grousing – they are lapping it up. It’s in their body language. You can see my players in training, or around the club, or stepping out on the field of play, and you never ever see a long face or slumped shoulders. You’ll see great big smiles.
“We have the strength in numbers that means we can keep people fresh, and in these coming weeks – not just the weekend – we will need everyone in the squad. There are one or two players who still need more game time, and they will get it.”
And is the squad now complete, Jamie? Do you have all you need? “No is the honest answer to that one! We are always looking to improve. I’m not unhappy with where we are at the moment, but as any club, if you want to push on, then your recruitment doesn’t stand still. We can both get better within the current team, and we can also build stronger.”
At home to Woking, on a Bank Holiday: a really attractive prospect? “I’m really sensing that the supporters are onside with us. Probably the Welling game was a watershed. That was a terrific night, and all of a sudden there was noise, and there was this wave of warmth from the crowd. People are telling me that’s how it used to be at the Lane. Well, that’s how it’s going to be.
“We will really need the support, both home and away. There will be a setback or two – don’t forget the season is only three weeks down, and thirty to go! – but we as a team will always give the crowd something to get behind.”