Seven goals at a rain-swept Priory Lane on Saturday - but only three were for Eastbourne Borough as Weston-Super-Mare exploited errors to grab a 4-3 victory.
Scoring goals has rarely been a problem for this season’s Borough. Only one National South fixture has finished goalless - the stalemate against Ebbsfleet - and three goals should usually be enough to secure the points. But conceding cheaply at the other end is like filling the bath and forgetting to put the plug in.
“Ten of our last twelve conceded goals have been from set pieces,” lamented an angry Tommy Widdrington afterwards. “We do work on them, we prepare, we know each player’s set role. But individuals have to take responsibility. We have had some straight talking in there in the dressing room, and we will get straight back to putting it right in training and in the next games.”
The case for the defence was certainly weak, but there were possibly two mitigating factors. Weston bagged two of their goal from corners, where keeper Charlie Horlock was very deliberately blocked off from doing his job. It’s a topic of intense current debate in the game, and some referees would have called foul, but this time the Seagulls got away with it.
And that weather. From lunchtime sunshine, to dark glowering clouds almost low enough to touch the floodlights, the afternoon had turned minute by minute from fair to foul. The final half-hour of the game, when Borough needed to be at their best chasing victory, was played with sheets of rain hammering in their faces and with the glistening 3G pitch playing one or two tricks.
But those are only partial explanations. Facing a Weston side playing better than their second-bottom status, the Sports did score three goals and came desperately close to three or four more - but the failings at the back were grim. Two from corners, one breakaway permitted by an individual error, and a scarcely credible Weston winner which actually came from a Borough goal-kick.
Widdrington surprised some observers by starting with a new partnership of Taylor and McCallum up front, but the pair began brightly enough in a cat-and-mouse opening phase. The Sports won five early corners, and from the fifth they claimed a 12th-minute lead, Brian Dutton looping his header back across goal and just under the bar from Alex Smith’s delivery.
The Somerset Seagulls responded with some eye-catching wing play, and on 23 minutes they were level. Horlock, under pressure, managed only a weak punch out from a left-wing corner, and Weston centre-back Aden Baldwin was quickest to retrieve it, scoring with a shot on the turn as the home defence failed to close down.
Borough, stung perhaps, moved up a gear. Smith’s crosses were now raining in from the left, Mark Hughes heading one narrowly wide with visiting goalkeeper Luke Purnell pushing another away before, on 36 minutes, the lanky keeper collided with McCallum in palming away yet another cross. Both players fell awkwardly, but Gavin came off worse, immediately substituted with a suspected broken elbow.
His replacement, top scorer Elliott Romain, entered the fray like a coiled cobra, and within a minute his first touch had restored Borough’s lead, stunning Weston with a perfectly timed near post header from Craig Stone’s free-kick for 2-1.
Then came an absolutely pivotal moment. Josh Hare intercepted a crossfield pass, superbly skipped a challenge and fired low and hard past Purnell’s right hand. But the ball pinged off the left post and away, and within seconds Weston had raced down field on the break - poorly dealt with by the Sports back line - for Dayle Grubb to touch on, arrow a shot through Horlock’s despairing dive and into the bottom right corner. The cushion of 3-1 was missed by three inches, and then 2-2 notched by two touches.
Even then, Eastbourne reclaimed their single-goal lead almost instantly. Yet another Smith centre was spilled by Purnell, and Hughes blazed in a spectacular volley from ten yards. A breathless first half of five goals had brought great entertainment. What next?
Romain sparked the second half into life with a 25-yarder just past the right post, from Khinda-John’s feed, but on 50 minutes the visitors levelled for the third time in the match. With Horlock once again blocked from reaching a right-wing corner, and his defence playing After-You-Cecil, Jon Moran seized his chance and poked the ball inside the post from close range.
Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain, by no means ineffective in the first half, was now replaced by the greater guile of Miguel Baptista as the Sports looked to unlock the Seagulls’ defence. But with the weather now closing in by the minute, and with a two-minute stoppage for treatment for referee Andy Laver’s calf, they found it hard to build momentum.
And with just sixteen minutes left, the West Countrymen snatched the lead for the first time. Horlock took a short goal-kick but the home defence failed to find a way out, conceding a throw-in from which Grubb pounced, danced into the box and struck a lovely dipping volley into the far corner.
Borough did press, but conditions were against them and Weston were not letting go this time. Widdrington played Nat Pinney as his last ace, and the final page of the script should have had the Sports marksman conjuring up a late equaliser or even a winner. But with that page blown away on the driving southerly gale, Pinney’s two scoring efforts were both cleared off the line.
For the neutral, it had been an absorbing and often thrilling contest. For the huddled Priory Lane loyalists, it was simply frustration times four.
Borough: Horlock; Simpemba, Khinda-John, Stone (Pinney 70); Hare, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Baptista 55), Hughes, Dutton, Smith; Taylor, McCallum (Romain 36). Unused subs: Worrall, O’Reilly.
Referee: Andrew Laver
Borough MoM: Elliott Romain - ninety minutes’ worth packed into sixty.