Borough 4, Whitehawk 2: Classy performance delivers festive cheer at the Lane
Super goals, substitute keepers and a sending off: an exhilarating afternoon of high drama at Priory Lane saw Eastbourne Borough sweep aside rivals Whitehawk with a 4-2 victory on Boxing Day.
Short of a dog on the pitch, this was the match that had everything. It was played with pace, panache and passion which - Hawks keeper Lucas Covolan’s flash of madness apart - never boiled over, and the momentum swayed repeatedly from end to end, with never more than one goal between the teams until the 90th minute.
Early exchanges saw two close Danny Mills efforts for the visitors, one missed and one superbly blocked on the line by Craig Stone. Then Covolan raced out to head clear as Nat Pinney powered through, and just a minute later the same pair were in contest again, the Hawks keeper saving athletically from Pinney’s cracking shot on the run.
But that was only the warm-up act. After Mills had curled another effort wide of the right post, Whitehawk backs were to the wall as Miguel Baptista and Alex Smith carved and created some great attacking moves, on respectively the right and left flanks. 0-0 was looking just a temporary scoreline.
Then on 20 minutes Charlie Horlock nastily twisted his ankle as he tried to prevent a corner, and after lengthy treatment the young keeper gave way to Brian Dutton.
The big defender has done most things in his career but pulling on the emergency jersey in a Boxing Day derby was surely a whole new experience. Dutton survived his first few minutes but just past the half-hour he was left helpless by Marvin Hamilton’s perfect 25-yarder into the top corner. Marvellous Marvin, three times a Borough player and still held in affection at Priory Lane, had done the unthinkable.
The lead lasted less than five minutes. Smith’s corner was twice partially cleared, and the second time it fell to Ryan Worrall, just outside the box, and the young midfielder scorched his shot brilliantly into the top left corner for 1-1.
What next? Well, if Borough’s loss of a keeper had been unfortunate, Whitehawk’s was idiotic. Covolan - who had just pulled off another stunning save from Jamie Taylor’s exquisite lob - caught a high ball and was fouled, but not viciously, by Mark Hughes. But his wild lash out at the Sports midfielder drew the only response possible from referee Paul Howard, and off he went.
Striker Reece Connolly took over, and uniquely in most people’s memory we now had seen both keepers replaced by outfield players. Connolly, not the biggest player on the park, was to distinguish himself with several fines saves between the sticks, including a breathtaking stop from Taylor just before the interval.
Borough were now delighting the crowd with some of their sweetest pass-and-move football of the season, but the Hawks held firm until half-time, surviving a huge penalty appeal for a pretty glaring handball. But Mr Howard - who ran the game smartly and decisively all afternoon - saw that one differently.
It had been Borough’s half, and they now just had to claim the game. But four minutes after the break, the visitors shocked the stadium, and woke up their own travelling Ultras, by snatching the lead. Sergio Torres doggedly won possession up on the left and Dan Harding, picking up his lay-off, powered into the area to strike a low diagonal shot past Dutton.
In some games this season, it would have knocked Borough right off track. But not this time. The home side were fluent, coherent and bold, and within three minutes they were level again. Baptista was the creator with a sweeping long cross from wide right, and Hughes was the finisher with a perfectly judged header back across the goalkeeper.
Whitehawk had nearly forty minutes to hold out, but they managed only twelve. With blindingly quick feet on the edge of the area, Pinney prised himself room for a perfect curling strike inside the right post, and for the first time in this afternoon of high drama, the Sports were finally ahead.
Mills missed one isolated chance to equalise, but otherwise the Hawks failed to rise to the task. Borough looked in confident control now, and right on the 90 minutes it was 4-2. Connolly bravely saved Pinney’s one-on-one effort, only for Taylor to pop in the loose ball.
A sensational game, a smashing home performance, and three points. On Sunday on the sloping pastures of the Enclosed Ground, the two sides will start all over again.
)A different setting, different conditions, and who knows, maybe a different script. But if the Sports recapture the spirit of Boxing Day, they will not come home pointless.
Borough: Horlock (Dutton 25); Hare, Simpemba, Stone, Khinda-John, Hughes, Worrall, Baptista (Romain 85) Smith, Pinney, Taylor.
Subs not used: Oxlade-Chamberlain, Street, Tate.
Whitehawk: Covolan; Hamilton, Harding, Oldavert, M’Boungou, Favarel, Southam, Torres, Osborn (West 45); Connolly, Mills.
Subs not used: Rodrigues, Tagbo, Reid, Lengka
Referee: Paul Howard
Borough MoM: Miguel Baptista - from a teamful of candidates