Three points good, six points better. Eastbourne Borough welcome Whitehawk to Priory Lane on New Year’s Day, looking for a derby double to launch the second half of the season.
The Sports finish 2017 rather like the Roman god Janus – looking both ways. Eight points short of the play-off places, and eight points above the drop zone, they still have plenty to play for after a patchy but generally disappointing autumn.
After Saturday’s pretty feeble display against Havant, Howell tweaked both shape and personnel for Boxing Day, giving young Academy skipper Harry Ransom a full game in central midfield and employing right-back Will Hendon on the left side of defence, to allow Gavin McCallum more attacking freedom. On a tricky Enclosed Ground surface, with battering weather they dug in and defended with a resolution which has sometimes been missing.
Assistant manager Danny Bloor was a happy man. “The boys really put a shift in and worked hard in atrocious conditions. Whitehawk had plenty of the ball in the second half, but we dug in and showed a real resilience and team spirit. Local derbies aren’t always pretty, but it’s about the three points.
“The first half of the season has probably been a 6 out of 10 on the school report – some fantastic results away from home, but we’ve sometimes fallen short at Priory Lane. The big objective for the New Year is to put that right, get the home form right and put the smile back on the faces of our fans. And what better opportunity than New Year’s Day and another three points!”
In the last fortnight, centre-back Matt Drage has departed, and two players have gone out on loan – Charlie Harris to Horsham and Leon Redwood to Lewes – while Ryan Worrall’s future at the Lane has been uncertain.
On the credit side, new defender James Haran and dashing striker Shaun Okojie have both impressed, and keeper Mark Smith looks ever more confident. Jamie Taylor remains a doubt with his knee injury.
The Hawks will arrive at the Lane with plenty of spirit and a dash of indignation. “We’ve dominated the game, we’ve bombarded them, and apart from their soft penalty they only had Gavin McCallum’s single shot on target,” commented Whitehawk manager Steve King after the Boxing Day clash. “Yes, my players are down because we knew we could get a result at home and we didn’t. But we can turn this around on Monday.” King is likely to pair former Sports favourite Nat Pinney with newly-signed striker Elliott Benyon up front.
After Boxing Day’s dismal 259 attendance at East Brighton Park, there should be a healthier crowd at the Lane for Monday’s 3pm kick-off.