Fresh from their FA Trophy triumph, Eastbourne Borough return to National South action with a tricky trip to Wealdstone on Saturday.
The Stones have high ambitions, and the Vale is not the easiest ground to visit, with home support usually passionate and occasionally quite robust towards visiting teams. It is non-League football at its noisiest. But if history has any weight, Borough should have no fears as they head to North London.
In eight previous encounters, Wealdstone have the dubious distinction of never having beaten the Sports. The head to head record shows five Borough victories and just three draws, including the infamous Richard Pacquette equaliser at the Lane some seasons back, which may or may not have entered through a hole in the side netting.
And on an April night at the back end of last season Borough secured a massive three points at Wealdstone, with Jamie Taylor scoring after just 14 seconds and Howell’s men going on to win 3-2 with a 90th minute goal by Lloyd Dawes, racing the length of the field. It was probably the win which swung the pendulum and secured Borough’s rather precarious place in National South for another year.
Dawes, a crucial cog in the Sports machine with his devastating pace and and unpredictable forward play, has been sorely missed for almost three months now. He has struggled to recover from the hamstring injury at Dartford in early September, but is finally back in full training and should take some part in Saturday’s game.
“Lloyd gives us a complete extra dimension,” said Jamie. “He takes opponents by surprise – and now and again his own team-mates too! Hamstrings are always the trickiest to come back from, because until you fully test them in a competitive game, you still have doubts in your mind. It will be like signing a new player, to have him back.”
Speaking of signings, Howell has had a busy few days behind the scenes. By Saturday he hopes to have a loan deal in place to bring in an experienced defender from higher level, and one or two other irons are in the fire.
“I think everyone can see where we are as a team. We have a lot more positives than negatives, we are full of good football, but we would still like to strengthen in a couple of key positions. That may come through permanent signings or loan players, as long as they are the right loan players.
“When Alfie (Rutherford) came in from Havant, we knew it might be relatively short-term, but he fired the whole team, scored some important goals and showed what we are capable of as a team. The two boys from Reading are now also giving me options and giving us a burst of energy.”
Those two players, winger Joel Rollinson and striker Adam Liddle, both played important roles on Tuesday as the Sports stormed the usually impregnable citadel of Dartford’s Princes Park. Rollinson had a hand in both of Dean Cox’s goals, while Liddle’s explosive pace gave the Darts nightmares. They are currently on an initial month’s loan but there is every prospect of an extension.
David Martin should also be available at Wealdstone. The experienced winger has had an injection in his troublesome knee and has been given the all-clear from his specialist. “David might not yet give us ninety minutes but he can still make an impact,” said Jamie.
There may well be some outs as well as ins, however. “One or two players in the squad are not getting enough time on the pitch and we are looking to address that by allowing them out on loan.” Deals were still ongoing in midweek, but the Herald website and the Borough club website will have further details.