By Kevin Anderson
On a frustrating afternoon for Eastbourne Borough, a single first-half strike by Charlie Sheringham allowed Bishops Stortford to sneak away from Priory Lane with all three points.
Football doesn’t always go to plan. At a quarter to five on Saturday, the Borough faithful were fuming at a stop-start performance by their team, and three perfectly winnable points given away.
With time for a bit of reflection, it had not been quite so dreadful.
The scoreline reflected a really tight game, from which Borough – despite some failings – deserved some reward. They had more possession and more efforts on goal than the visitors, and they were laying siege to the Stortford goal as time ran out.
But the damage had been done earlier. A misfiring first half saw the Sports slip behind to one of Stortford’s very few chances, expertly converted by Charlie Sheringham on 23 minutes.
The striker with goals in his genes caught the Borough back line a bit too high up the field, took a fortunate deflection off Kiran Khinda-John and raced through to beat Lewis Carey with a precision-engineered finish. Dad Teddy would have approved.
Even before that goal the Bishops had looked, if not better, certainly smarter and more direct.
Khinda-John, who actually had an impressive game, and skipper Ian Simpemba were kept busy by Stortford’s incisive running, and Carey did well to keep out Matt Johnson’s 25-yarder at full stretch.
Tommy Widdrington had tweaked the team shape very slightly, selecting Ryan Worrall in the holding role and giving licence to the other two midfielders, Jack Evans and Nathan Collier to support spearhead Nat Pinney, with Gavin McCallum and Elliott Romain as wide men.
But it never quite clicked. Where Eastbourne went for width, Stortford kept it tight and narrow, smothering Borough in midfield. Tommy and his players were also frustrated by some puzzling decisions from referee Ian Fissenden, who exchanged words with the Borough bench and dished out rather cheap yellow cards to Simpemba and Romain.
There were flashes of something better, notably a couple of brilliant Pinney moments that almost brought an equaliser, but on balance Widdrington was probably glad to see the back of the first half and get his players into the dressing room to sort things out.
And Borough came out with fresh resolve. Within two minutes, Worrall’s cross-shot had bounced off the top of the crossbar and then Romain fizzed a low shot narrowly wide. Suddenly they, and not Stortford, were dominating the ball in midfield and dictating the play.
Evans, still not quite the complete player but imposing himself strongly throughout the afternoon, hit a cracking free-kick which left the crossbar shuddering, and an equaliser seemed only a matter of time.
The Bishops, meanwhile, had their moments but only really in breakaways, dealt with by a mixture of last-ditch defending and assured goalkeeping – with Lewis Carey back to fitness after his FA Cup battering last week.
And the last quarter of the game almost turned into a personal battle between Blues keeper Tom Lovelock and Borough substitute Miguel Baptista.
In little over half an hour on the field, the gifted midfielder had no fewer than five goal attempts – two off-target, one deflected over, and two shots brilliantly saved by the goalkeeper.
The very first of those, a startling volley from fully forty yards, would have been a Goal of the Season. Yep – would have been….
The assaults on the Stortford goalmouth continued till the very end, substitute Darren Lok heading too high from a Craig Stone cross and then thwarted right in front of goal by a split-second Lovelock save.
At the final whistle, one supporter wondered ruefully “why Tommy finished with his best team instead of starting with it.” Hindsight is all too easy, but Widdrington, who is a thinking man’s manager, will take positives rather than negatives from a game which began with a splutter, but finished with guns blazing. Dover Athletic might just feel the force.
Borough: Carey; Stone, Simpemba,
Khinda-John, Beale; Evans, Collier, Worrall (Haysman 66); Romain (Baptista 57), Pinney, McCallum (Lok 72).
Unused subs: Wilson, Rodgers.
Stortford: Lovelock, Vanderhyde, Herd, Abdullahi (Smith 86), Lee, M’Boungou; Bywater (Merrifield 90), Church, Buchanan (Ferrier 53), Sheringham, Johnson.
Referee: Ian Fissenden
Borough MoM: Kiran Khinda-John – assured and effective