A sensational hat-trick, a heart-stopping penalty shootout, an Eastbourne Borough win

A sensational hat-trick from banner signing Chris Whelpdale – and a committed, high octane team performance – saw Eastbourne Borough tip rivals Dorking Wanderers out of the FA Cup, after a heart-stopping penalty shoot-out.

Monday, 5th October 2020, 10:32 am
Chris Whelpdale

Behind closed doors at the Meadowbank Stadium, the Sports had led three times, only to be pegged back each time by the tenacious home side. 3-3 at 90 minutes, and then two terrific saves by keeper Franco Ravizzoli allowed Borough’s two young loanees from QPR, Charley Kendall and Kai Innocent, to hammer in the last two spot-kicks for victory.

Six goals, two missed penalties – even before the sudden death – two red cards and a red-blooded encounter which the Sports edged with a thrilling team performance. The result was in doubt until literally the last kick, and Dorking had played a full part in a match that was a credit to football’s greatest cup competition.

If the rest of the season is half as good as this, Borough supporters should be climbing the walls at Priory Lane, burrowing under them, or hiring a hang-glider to see it.

I don’t actually mean that. We all respect the rule of law, even when clubs at Borough’s level find themselves confounded by baffling regulations. But if and when the spectators are allowed back, they will revel in displays like Saturday’s. Danny Bloor is weaving together a squad with a passion and commitment not seen since Garry Wilson’s great promotion side of a decade ago.

Danny started with just three of the team decisively beaten at Meadowbank last Boxing Day, and his line-up included on-loan QPR defender Kai Innocent, with a place on the bench for his Rangers colleague, the Eastbourne-based striker Charley Kendall.

Wanderers have been the social climbers of recent seasons. In June they lost the National South play-off final only to a stoppage-time Weymouth goal – bagged by former Sport Yemi Odubade. And for the new campaign, owner-manager Marc White has formidably strengthened his squad. On Saturday, Dorking were impeccable organisers and welcoming hosts off the pitch, and combative opponents on it.

Whelpdale was simply phenomenal, in every sense head and shoulders above every other player on the field. He was quicker, and quicker-thinking. He had pace, physical presence and skill. By Tuesday’s return fixture in the league, Dorking may have come up with a plan, but at Meadowbank they just had no clue how to hold him.

There was drama from the first whistle. A second-minute midfield injury to Nic Arnold saw the full-back stretchered off with ligament damage, to be replaced by Manni Folarin – just the start of Manni’s eventful afternoon. Both sides were pitching in at frantic pace, with the Sports looking vigorously to disrupt Dorking’s usual passing game.

But the first clear sight of goal did not arrive until 20 minutes, when Greg Luer arrowed through the left channel but but pulled his low shot wide of the far post. Just two minutes later, though, Luer went one better, racing on to a Charlie Walker pass, only to be tripped by Barry Fuller.

Walker stepped up for the spot kick, but keeper Slav Huk guessed correctly to save at the foot af the left post. Huk, who should probably be running goalkeeping seminars on penalty-saving, makes such a habit of these heroics that, at the very end of that play-off decider against Weymouth, the Wanderers were preparing to bring him off the bench purely for the shoot-out!

But just on the half-hour, Borough did go ahead with a clinical Whelpdale strike. Great work by James Hammond won possession high up the pitch, and the midfielder’s inch-perfect pass played in Whelpdale, who struck early and lethally into the far corner with Huk stranded.

The Sports were to hold the lead for just six minutes, when Wanderers claimed a fiercely disputed equaliser. Alfie Rutherford – who with Jason Prior forms a strike partnership worthy of the National League – was marginally offside as he raced on to Prior’s flicked header. Ravizzoli rushed to save at his feet, but Alfie’s arm knocked the ball past the keeper and he slid the ball into the net.

Often enough, officials have the crucial power to disallow a goal; only rarely do they have a choice of reasons. But to Borough’s fury, the equaliser stood.

Never mind, lads, let’s just grab the lead back again. And two minutes later, Whelpdale obliged – with a moment of opportunist brilliance. Luer’s blocked shot took a spinning arc skywards and down towards the goalmouth, and as Huk shaped to punch clear, the tall Borough forward out-jumped him and headed into a yawning net for 2-1.

Your turn, Dorking. Two home free-kicks came to naught before James McShane screwed a decent chance from right to left across goal. The new centre-back pairing of Steve James and Mitch Dickenson looked assured, and just in front of them James Ferry was a tower of strength.. A half-time lead would have been valuable, but then – in the third minute of first-half added time – Wanderers did equalise. Niall McManus clipped a lethal cross in from the left and Prior met it with a sublime glancing header that found the top corner.

Time to draw breath for the teams – and the handful of spectators, including four or five enterprising youngsters who either live in the houses backing on to the stadium, or had climbed a fence or two in search of a vantage point. No hang-gliders required…

Within just two minutes of the restart, the action moved dramatically up a notch. Lightning winger Joel Rollinson drilled his way in from the right and smacked a fierce shot against the bar. The rebound fell to Whelpdale, who from just inside the box cracked a goalbound shot which Barry Fuller blocked with his arm. The Dorking skipper, already booked for the first-half penalty, was sent off for the second yellow.

Up stepped Whelpdale – but Huk had a score to settle. The penalty, perhaps slightly telegraphed, was low to the keeper’s right, but he had again guessed correctly and he smothered the shot.

With almost the whole second half to survive, Marc White regrouped his ten men with a triple substitution. Among those sacrificed was former Sports captain Kane Wills, who had looked reliable in midfield.

Borough now had more of the ball and the chances, but Wanderers were up for the battle – overall fairly, although a ruthless tackle by Jake Gallagher which left Kai Innocent writhing was out of character with the game and could well have earned a red card instead of yellow.

Could Borough make the extra man count? They tried mightily. Luer screwed his final shot inches wide after a glorious passing move with Walker and Whelpdale, and then Luer again saw his cracking angled shot blocked by Matt Briggs with Huk beaten.

But as the clock ticked down, frustration turned to elation when Hammond’s corner was met at the near post with a thumping Whelpdale header. And just seven minutes now stood between Borough and a place in the next round.

Dorking needed only two of those minutes to level yet again. Ravizzoli’s brilliant fingertip save from Isaac Philpott conceded a corner – from which Jason Prior went to ground under a challenge from Dickenson. Yet another penalty! And this time, Prior himself made no error.

There was time, just about, for Manni Folarin to be sent trudging to the dressing room, having collected two yellow cards, preceded in fairness by a lengthy warning from Mr Johnson, for a batch of routine but repeated fouls.

And then to the shoot-out. Ravizzoli saved splendidly from Prior, but – you guessed it – Huk did likewise from Whelpdale. But three more Borough penalties found the net, including a confident strike from Charley Kendall, before Ravizzoli produced a stunning save from Wes Fogden.

No pressure then, Kai. The QPR youngster, just 20 last week, had enjoyed a fine afternoon – quick, stylish and the essence of a modern full-back. Now he had the chance to settle the tie. And Innocent, smooth as you like, drilled his kick high beyond a despairing Huk.

This was Borough’s day. But both teams will make a date for Tuesday night at the Lane, and they’ll start all over again.

Borough: Ravizzoli; Arnold (Folarin 2), James, Dickenson, Innocent; Rollinson (Cox 60), Hammond, Ferry, Whelpdale; Walker, Luer (Kendall 80).

Unused subs: Glover, Blackmore, Lambert, Gravata.

Referee: Paul Johnson

Official attendance: 0 Unofficial attendance: 5

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