THE AAA may well be more generally applied to the sport of athletics, but for the supporters of Eastbourne Borough, the three A’s more appropriately sum up the performances of their team during 2015 – Amazing, Average, Awful.
It has all added up to a year of frustration as Tommy Widdrington’s men more than held their own against the top teams, but failed so often when facing the mediocre.
The likes of Oxford, Maidstone, Ebbsfleet and Whitehawk have been more than matched, but as 2016 comes into sight, those coveted play-off places still seem a long way off. The present squad is undoubtedly the strongest of Widdrington’s reign, but highs are too often followed by lows, lacking the consistency required for a possible promotion challenge.
From being early-season pace-setters, Tommy Widdrington’s team started 2015 with an entertaining 1-1 draw against county rivals Whitehawk, a result that was repeated just a few days ago on Boxing Day. But that New Year’s Day stalemate left Borough winless after four games.
There was never any doubt about the spirit Widdrington had instilled into his side. A long midweek trip to Weston-Super-Mare in February was rewarded with the comeback of the season.
Trailing 2-0 with just a minute of the 90 left, an own goal and then a dramatic equaliser from Gavin McCallum earned Borough a point when all had seemed lost as late as the 88th minute.
Typical of Borough’s inconsistency was a 1-0 win at Hayes & Yeading to keep play-off hopes alive followed by a shock defeat at next-to-bottom Farnborough. McCallum’s 11th goal of the season was not enough to earn even a point.
Despite the frustration, however, one young man was catching the eye. Teenager Ryan Worrall was the Vanarama South player of the month in a marvellous March which produced a 100 per cent record without a goal conceded.
Worrall proved he had nerves of steel as he scored a match-winning penalty against play-off chasing Gosport Borough, repeating the act as Sutton went home from Priory Lane pointless.
Kane Haysman hit his first Eastbourne goal as Borough ran out 3-0 winners against Bishop’s Stortford before Nat Pinney’s strike proved enough to defeat relegated Staines Town. Borough fans welcomed the news of Pinney’s commitment to Priory Lane for another season as the big, bustling former Kinstonian forward was proving a constant menace to opposing defences.
Yet the final April run-in was to prove a big disappointment. A 3-0 defeat at St Alban’s on Easter Monday and a brave but pointless performance as champions Bromley hung on to complete the double over Borough.
Two goalless draws, at home to relegated Farnborough and away to Hemel Hempstead, saw Borough finish the season in 11th position with 55 points from 40 games. For the optimists, it was a point outside the top 10; for the realists it was 15 shy of the final play-off place which went to Havant & Waterlooville.
The summer saw boss Widdrington a busy man with some excellent signings such as Elliott Romain, Jack Evans, Craig Stone and Migua Baptista. Yet Widdrington’s budget compared unfavourably with many clubs in the division, a fact borne out by Simon Johnson’s departure to Maidstone, a move that was to prove a disaster for the former England youth international.
Johnson made only rare appearances for the Kent club, his first in a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Borough at Priory Lane. Eventually he joined Hastings United where legendary Eastbourne manager Garry Wilson is now at the helm. The opening months of the current season have proved typical Borough, amazing, average and awful. Amazing to win 5-1 at Basingstoke in September; awful to crash 4-1 at home to Margate, then bottom of the table, three days later. A month of home games in October yielded just one league point out of a possible nine, but at least there was progress in the FA Cup, 3-2 against little known Hartley Wintney.
But there was certainly no disgrace in leaving the competition with a 2-1 defeat against National League side Dover when just the tiniest piece of good fortune would have seen Borough gain revenge for their exit against the same side 12 months earlier. Frustration is a word which continually crops up when you watch Borough. Top-of-the-table Ebbsfleet left Priory Lane in November with three points only because two of the softest goals imaginable were gifted to the Kent team on a plate.
The 3-0 triumph at Chelmsford was quite magnificent as was the never-say-die spirit shown in the Boxing Day draw against Whitehawk, a penalty in stoppage time from Pinney salvaging a point with only 10 men. The dismissal of Jack Evans means three Borough players are now facing bans following the marching orders handed out to goal-keeper Lewis Carey and Craig Stone at Truro. In looking back on the past year, one also has to take a glance into the future. That amazing 7-4 win against Hemel Hempstead means that Borough remain in the FA Trophy with a very winnable home tie in the next round. A run in this competition which culminates with the final at Wembley would do so much to revive interest and bring back the missing hundreds to Priory Lane.
At this moment in time, Borough are closer to the relegation places than those of the play-offs. But they have games in hand of most of the teams above them.
Just about anything could happen in the second half of the season. But if those top five places are to become any more than a dream, Borough will need to put a run together and that is not going to be easy with a small staff and Trophy success meaning a backlog of fixtures. While inconsistency has been the team’s main failing, certain players have been hard to fault.
Apart from a rare error against Hemel Hempstead, goal-keeper Lewis Carey has been regularly outstanding with skipper Ian Simpemba and Kieran Khinda-John excellent at the heart of the defence, although Simpemba has recently been used in midfield. Up front Pinney has given us some goals to remember, while the pace of Elliott Romain and the control of Gavin McCallum have combined to give the best defences in the league a torrid time.
But if real success is to be achieved and that means reaching those play-off places, the too often under-achievers will need to be at their best on a more regular basis.