By Kevin Anderson
Eastbourne Borough’s mettle and recent form will be tested this weekend, as they take to the road for two huge fixtures.
The Sports visit pace-setters St Albans City tomorrow (Saturday), and then on Tuesday night they head to Dartford - title favourites in many observers’ eyes.
A feeble opening to the season - two defeats and a rash of red cards - seems pretty distant now, as a seven-match unbeaten run has taken Borough to eighth in the National South table, just three points off the top four. Too high, too early? Boss Jamie Howell is not getting carried away.
“These will be two tough games, and a good indication of the progress we have made so far. We’re not getting too carried away. Likewise I wasn’t despondent with our start to the season – I felt we were going in the right direction. Now with a few more points on the board, we can feel a little more relaxed, and the team are doing the things I want them to.”
Howell has good reason to be glad of his squad strength. With Will Hendon side-lined by a hamstring, Yemi Odubade only just making his way back from a groin injury, and two or three other players nursing strains, the manager gave new Maidstone loanee Harley Willard a full debut on Tuesday, and the young winger responded with a vigorous display.
“With the addition of Gary Charman and Kane Wills too, I’m really grateful for the board’s support in building out the squad. The fixtures are still coming thick and fast, but you can see we’ve had a very strong bench in recent games.” Notable, too, is the flexibility of Howell’s squad. Both full-backs were missing on Tuesday night, but Gavin McCallum and Kiran Khinda-John slotted in seamlessly, while midfielder Matt Drage was outstanding at centre-back.
Howell has developed a recognisable shape and style and – injuries permitting – he probably has an ideal starting line-up in his head. But the capacity to bring on quality substitutes - Simpemba, Odubade and Worrall – in three different areas of the field against Concord, means that the Sports can finish a match as strongly as they start.
Meanwhile the club has cancelled Miguel Baptista’s contract by mutual agreement. The talented Portuguese midfielder, who won many friends at Priory Lane for his exciting creative play, has returned to his homeland for family reasons. Borough have released Baptista and received a four-figure fee from a Portuguese club for the transfer of his registration.
And Charlie Horlock is headed for the Pilot Field. The 22-year-old keeper has been second choice behind Bailey Vose this season, and goes on loan to Hastings United. “It’s always tricky with goalkeepers,” commented Howell. “They need to be on the field and not on the bench, but with Bailey’s excellent form this season Charlie has not seen enough action. So a loan move is good for all parties.” Horlock will not be cup-tied, since United exited the FA Cup last week at Dulwich Hamlet, and he will continue his coaching work at Borough’s Development Centre.
The Sports were handed a home tie as they enter the Emirates FA Cup at the next, second qualifying round, stage. They will welcome Carshalton Athletic, of the Bostick South, to Priory Lane on Saturday 16th September. “The Cup brings out the best in players and it always excites supporters,” said Jamie. “I think spectators have enjoyed what they’ve seen of us so far, and we’re looking forward to a terrific FA Cup afternoon in front of, hopefully, a big crowd!”