By Kevin Anderson
Goals – or lack of them – are the issue for Eastbourne Borough, and boss Mark McGhee has gone international to address the drought.
Arriving at Priory Lane in time for the National League game tomorrow (Saturday), against Chelmsford City, is 24-year-old Australian Josh Bingham. The 6’3” striker has played some three dozen games in the Aussie A-League for Central Coast Mariners, who are based in New South Wales.
In Borough’s flat and downbeat season, two of the few brighter spells have come with the all-too-brief loan signings of Alfie Rutherford and Joe Quigley – six-foot target men that every manager wishes for. Interim boss Mark McGhee will hope that the extra fire-power and physical presence of Josh Bingham can solve a pressing problem.
The Sports managed to hit the net only twice in the whole of February, and with strikers Charlie Walker and Lloyd Dawes both injured, Albion loanee Stefan Ljubicic has been the lone option up front.
A goalless draw at Hampton and Richmond last Saturday gave Borough some heart, as well as a vital point against the struggling Beavers, and McGhee liked what he saw.
“I’m not actually a manager who majors on clean sheets – I think the instinct of all players and managers is to go out and get on the front foot – but in the situation we are in, we will take that result as something to build on. What I did see was a real team effort, with every player giving to the cause. I could not fault a single one of them, and if we keep up those levels the results will follow.
“I’ve come in with an open mind and it is for each player to convince me that he’s earning the shirt. And they are doing that. Take David Martin, for example, who was out on loan before I brought him back, and he’s done really well for us. With a new manager coming in, that’s the sort of thing that can happen.”
Borough remain nine points clear of the relegation places, but there are no easy opponents, and Chelmsford City arrive at the Lane – after a rather patchy season of their own – eager for points to boost their play-off bid. Rod Stringer’s side were surprisingly beaten at Dulwich Hamlet last Saturday but they a tough, experienced side.
Some things did stir in the lower reaches of the league table last weekend. Proving that old cliché of “anyone can beat anyone”, back markers Weston super Mare went to leaders Torquay and came away with a 2-1 victory, while second-placed Woking were held 1-1 at second-bottom Hungerford Town. And, of the other five clubs below Borough, East Thurrock and Dulwich grabbed surprising victories while Truro and Gloucester each picked up a point.
Is this a turning of the tide? Hardly. In midweek the natural order was restored, Weston caving in 5-0 at home, and Gloucester also slipping to defeat. The relegated trio will be three of the eight clubs who comprise Borough’s mini-league – but National League safety may require another nine or ten points from the club’s remaining nine games.
With goalkeeper Sam Howes still suspended, the popular figure of Mark Smith continues between the sticks. “Smudge” - on loan from Billericay – was in terrific form at Hampton, picking up the man-of-the-match award with a string of great saves. “I’m loving being back at Borough,” said Mark. “I get on well with the other lads and with all the fans. Since I moved to Billericay before Christmas, I’ve had to be number two to Alan Julian, and that’s always frustrating for a keeper.”
McGhee had warm words this week for Borough’s loyal – and long-suffering – supporters. “I thought the fans were tremendous at Hampton. I’m not sure how many of them were there, but they completely out-shouted the home fans and every time we needed a little lift, they lifted us. If they can give us that at home on Saturday, the players will give our very best in return!”