New boss springs a few surprises

Cheers guys: Tommy Widdrington thanks the vocal Boro' support after the 1-1 draw at Boreham Wood on Saturday.
Cheers guys: Tommy Widdrington thanks the vocal Boro' support after the 1-1 draw at Boreham Wood on Saturday.

Well, he had to start somewhere. A chilly, damp afternoon in the modest surroundings of Boreham Wood is not exactly the Theatre of Dreams.

But Tommy Widdrington’s new era began with a performance to suit the occasion: gritty, composed, and easily worth the point that his team brought home.

The new boss, finally on the touchline after a frozen fortnight, raised eyebrows with his first team selection. A first start of the season for Ba Camara up front, a reshaped midfield, and the captain’s armband for 20-year-old Ollie Rowe.

And it all worked out: Camara tried hard with modest success, Simon Johnson in a wider and less defensive role had a stormer, and the partnership of Rowe with the outstanding young Luton loanee Alex Lacey was virtually faultless.

The game had an explosive start. With just six minutes played, Matt Smart picked up a defensive header, controlled it sweetly and hit a perfect dipping shot from outside the box, which smacked in off the underside of the crossbar.

It was reward for a vigorous opening spell by Borough and just the lift that Widdrington’s new regime needed.

And just past the half-hour, with a possible assist from the elements, it was 1-1. From a cheaply awarded free-kick out on the left, Wood skipper Mario Noto’s skidding effort was probably meant as a cross, but it took a deflection that squeezed it just inside the back post.

After the break the rain eased, the glowering dark sky lightened just a little, and both teams responded with a high-tempo, enterprising second half which could genuinely have gone either way. Home full-back Dan Braithwaite cut into the box but lobbed his effort on to the roof of the net, and midway through the half Luke Garrard should have won it for Wood at the near post but he somehow directed his header wide.

But otherwise it was Borough who made more of the running, and who had the stronger claim to all three points. Off the bench, Widdrington introduced the wise head of Gary Hart in midfield and Eddie Hutchinson’s physical presence up front, and the fresh impetus made a huge difference.

In a succession of fluent moves, several decent openings were created, and the lively Ben Watson twice came breathtakingly close to the winner. On the hour, he turned the centre backs inside out and cracked a shot left-footed against the crossbar with goalkeeper Elvijs Putnims groping at air, and Matt Crabb’s follow-up was deflected for a corner. Ten minutes later in an almost identical move Watson created his own space in the area, but this time the young keeper pulled off a fabulous save to deny him.

Still Eastbourne were not settling for the draw. On 83 minutes Braithwaite’s handball cut out a Hutchinson through pass that would have put Hart clear on goal, and then in stoppage time, big Hutch twisted a header inches wide from a corner.

It was not the perfect performance, and the manager will no doubt fine-tune it before Saturday’s crucial visit of strugglers Staines Town.

The left side of the team didn’t always quite function, and Tommy may still want to weigh up how best to use the exuberant talents of Sam Cole and the canny experience of Crabb, who can still fulfil that tag of Eastbourne’s Ryan Giggs.

The table may not make comfortable reading, but talk of relegation should not distract from more positive aims – that would be like driving the bus with the handbrake on. On this showing and on what we know of the league, there are at least half a dozen clubs weaker than Borough.

Supporters yet to meet Widdrington will like him. The new boss is engaging, committed and knowledgeable. He talks with genuine enthusiasm about the task ahead and he has the measure of it. He understands the balance between continuity and change. On the strength of this start, the future of Eastbourne Borough is in good hands.

Boreham Wood: Putins. Sankofa, Braithwaite, Garrard, Beckles, O’Loughlin, Hutton (Vilhete 70m), Cox, Bryant, Noto, Lobjoit (Lechmere 70m). Subs not used: Hunter, Akinola, Jordan.

Eastbourne Borough: Banks 6; Baker 7, Lacey 8, Rowe 8*, Cole 6; Johnson 8, Smart 7, Strevett 6 (Hart 65m, 7), Crabb 6 (Brinkhurst 81m); Watson 8, Camara 6 (Hutchinson 60m, 6). Subs not used: Gough, Bull. Booked: Smart, Rowe.

MoM: Ollie Rowe – the young skipper played like a maestro

Referee: Mr M Blackledge 8

Attendance: 292 – including a vocal coachload from Borough