Fa Cup True Grit

Gary Elphick Eastbourne Borough F.C. August 1st 2011
Gary Elphick Eastbourne Borough F.C. August 1st 2011

There are ways and ways to win a football match. Superior skill, physical power, inspired tactics, lucky goals off someone’s knee.

And sometimes, quite simply, the will and gritty commitment to overcome difficult conditions. Those latter qualities saw Borough through a tricky FA Cup tie at Waltham on Sunday.

Just like watching Brazil? Hardly. The beautiful game was far from Eastbourne minds as they had to combat tough opponents and tougher playing conditions, in the sort of game the club has sometimes failed to win in recent seasons.

But then Eastbourne Borough are no prima donnas. This, as manager Garry Wilson knew well, was about discipline and teamwork, and he was satisfied with the response of his team.

Thoroughly nice people, Waltham Forest - and the club had billed the game as the biggest in its history. But there was just a hint of the unreal about this Sunday afternoon in East London.

The stadium itself, accessed off the High Road, past the cemetery and through the building site, also houses an athletics track and a tumble of terracing and random structures. And, to add a wonderful splash of the multi-cultural, the clubhouse was hosting a Hindu prayer meeting.

But Borough’s major concern was the pitch itself, and rightly so. Forest had won every one of their home matches this season, and their direct, athletic style was clearly designed to overcome the handicap of a rock-hard, pitted surface with uneven grass length. From the very start, this would be a huge test of character.

On just six minutes home striker Richard Shittu had a goal disallowed, correctly, for a foul, and then Rikki Banks flung himself to pull off a fabulous save from Ben Gracey’s overhead kick – in retrospect a crucial moment in the game, for Borough might well have struggled to come back from behind. Still Forest poured forward, and in his technical area their manager was a study in anguished animation as his side persistently failed to manage the final touch.

In heat that was almost humming, Eastbourne’s nerve held, and by the middle of the half they were creating their own chances. Gary Elphick had two efforts saved from set-pieces and Eddie Hutchinson put a header just wide.

Borough’s attempts at fluent play, however, were persistently betrayed by the bounce of an impossible surface.

Gary Hart – impressive throughout with his trademark mix of experience and quick thinking – looked likeliest to get the breakthrough but was having to live off only scraps of service.

After an early knock, Matt Smart was replaced on 32 minutes by Carl Rook, with Hutchinson dropping into midfield where his strength was a real asset, and by half-time the job was half done at 0-0.

Borough started the second half on the front foot. Sam Cole – full back by name but plundering attacker by instinct – was working well with Crabb on the left and his crosses repeatedly had the home defence in disarray.

Rook flashed two headers just wide, and the sizeable travelling support turned their thoughts to victory rather than replay.

Finally, on 70 minutes, came the breakthrough. Crabb’s wicked corner was met perfectly by the head of Elphick for 1-0.

Ben Watson, on for Brinkhurst, produced a dazzling cameo of pace and intelligent running, and he doubled the lead on 84 minutes with a cool finish.

And in stoppage time Rook buried a header from Cole’s cross to give Borough an emphatic 3-0 final scoreline, and the job was done.

Wilson’s men will face Ryman League north one AFC Sudbury at Priory Lane on Saturday, October 15 in the third qualifying round.