When Eastbourne Borough were paired with Dover Athletic in the draw for this weekend’s FA Trophy ties, you could almost hear the supporters’ groans.
Three times in succession during the Tommy Widdrington years, the Sports faced the Lilywhites in cup competitions - each time coming off second best in some very close contests. Now, the powerful National League pace-setters stand in Jamie Howell’s way as he plots his side’s route to Wembley - or at least to a decent run in the prestigious Trophy.
“I personally don’t have a lot of history with Dover,” commented Howell this week, “but I think many of our supporters know the route across to Kent rather well! Clearly the draw could have been kinder to us, but I’m a great believer that you get what you’re given in cup competitions - and you just rise to the challenge.”
In his former life as Bognor Regis Town manager, Jamie took the Rocks all the way to the semi-finals and achingly close to a Wembley date, before being narrowly edged out by Grimsby Town.
Dover begin tomorrow’s (Saturday) tie as strong favourites. They have led the National League table more than once this season and currently lie fourth, just three points off the top. Last Saturday they demolished Hartlepool United 4-0 in a league game.
And while Borough’s progress since the summer has been patchy, Howell and his players will look to take up where they left up in the previous round - when a dramatic penalty shoot-out saw them squeeze through an epic replay at Royston Town.
“That was proper cup football,” added Howell. “League form or status right out of the window, and everything comes down to how much you want the win. Well, trust me, our lads want this Dover game and we have no problem with an underdog label. Borough came home from Essex last weekend after a worthy performance but a narrow 3-2 defeat, beaten by a Braintree side who went joint top of National South with that result. The Sports are clearly still not the finished article, but Howell is actively working on restructuring his team.
In midweek Borough parted company, with centre-back Matt Drage. Into his place comes highly-rated defender James Haran. The Australian-born 21-year-old was a Queens Park Rangers player until 2015. As the Herald went to press, the club were finalising paperwork. “James has been on our radar for a little while,” commented assistant manager Danny Bloor. “He has very good pedigree and had an impressive year with Kettering Town last season.
Goalkeeper Mark Smith has extended his loan from Aldershot Town. Jamie Taylor may return after missing out at Braintree with a swollen knee. Ian Simpemba returns to one of the many former clubs.