Eastbourne Borough left with nothing after a gripping, draining night at Dorking
Gripping, draining and finally disappointing: Eastbourne Borough finally admitted defeat in a remarkable game of National South football at Dorking Wanderers on Tuesday night.
Despite leading 2-0 and then 3-1, the Sports could not withstand the home side’s massive pressure, shipping three second-half goals. The final score, while just about right, felt like a punch in the face to Danny Bloor’s battling team, who must have felt more like the battered crew of a trawler in a storm.
Debutant Taylor Seymour replaced the unavailable Lee Worgan in goal. With injured club skipper Charlie Walker watching from the stands, James Ferry took the armband and set a great example from midfield. The other changes from Saturday’s narrow defeat to Ebbsfleet saw Dom Hutchinson replacing Joel Rollinson in the wide attacking role, and midfield architect James Hammond returning despite a nagging ankle problem.
The latter gamble was to fail, for after a creative opening half-hour Hammond had to give way to substitute Charlie Towning – who continues to develop promisingly but is not quite so influential in the middle of the park. But by then the Sports were already ahead.
Eastbourne’s energetic high pressing game had Wanderers struggling to break out and sometimes chasing shadows. Hammond had already fired a rangefinder just wide, and then Whelpdale – who was unforgivingly man-marked throughout by Dan Gallagher – sped through to set up a chance for Hutchinson, saved by keeper Stuart Nelson.
And on 15 minutes Charley Kendall seized on Callum Healy’s misplaced pass to lay the perfect ball across the 18-yard line for Whelpdale, who drilled his shot past a helpless Nelson.
Kendall, foraging constantly, then had his own reward on the half-hour, winning possession high on the left and twisting infield to strike lethally past Nelson’s right hand for 2-0. This had probably been the Sports’ best half-hour of the season, matching their superb second half at Maidstone a fortnight ago.
Could it last? National South teams are not Liverpool, and there is only so much Gegenpressing that even a fit and committed team of part-timers can sustain. It can work, but only if you also have periods to catch your breath, and control the play without conceding.
And as half-time approached, the Borough game plan seemed to be still on track. Dorking were themselves pushing higher now, and Eastbourne really needed to see out this closing phase before the interval. Maddeningly, they came within a minute of that half-time dressing-room respite – when a huge cross from the left touchine was met at Seymour’s back post by the towering figure of Ben Harris and headed emphatically home for Dorking’s opening goal.
A slender 2-1 lead, then, and a whole second half stretched ominously ahead. But within three minutes of the restart Borough had doubled the gap through a piece of pure genius from Greg Luer. From the left edge of the penalty area, Greg finessed his way past two opponents – with the remaining nine Wanderers wondering what happened – before drilling a diagonal shot into the far corner.
On current stats, Borough - already the highest scorers in National South – might reach a 100-goal tally by the end of this season. Set the bar high: they will not score a better one than Luer at Dorking.
Eastbourne now had their two-goal lead back, and the small matter of 42 more minutes to defend it. But it took just three for Wanderers to halve the deficit once more. A sweeping move found Borough struggling, without success, to stop the cross from the right, and a triumphant Alfie Rutherford lashed it home from beyond the far post for 2-3.
With fresh legs off the bench and fresh belief, Dorking now forced the pace. Exactly midway through the half, James Beresford stopped a sweeping move at the expense of a free-kick and a yellow card. The kick was launched diagonally into the Borough goalmouth where, ironically, Barry Fuller got his header wrong and knocked the ball back across goal – only for James McShane to praise his good fortune and head home the equaliser.
Joel Rollinson and Josh Oyinsan replaced Hutchinson and Kendall, but the men in red might now have been walking uphill in a sand dune, and a noisy Meadowbank home crowd was roaring for the winning goal. And they led on 75 minutes – for the first time in this hectic, wildly swaying night – in the form of a cruel own goal, as a low right-wing corner spun into the net off a defender.
It felt really harsh on Borough’s dogged, battling back line, all of whom – Beresford, Jake Elliott, Mitch Dickenson and Jack Currie – had given everything for the cause.
A cruel blow, then – not that Dorking cared, for the home team had done just enough to claim all three points. And the Sports, who had left nothing out on the shining green Meadowbank 3G, would head home with nothing.
Borough: Seymour; Beresford, Elliott, Dickenson, Currie; Hammond (Towning 29), Ferry; Luer, Whelpdale, Hutchinson (Rollinson 59); Kendall (Oyinsan 73). Unused subs: Holter, Aidoo.
Referee: Alex Blake
Borough MoM: the relentless driving force of Chris Whelpdale