By Kevin Anderson
A slow start and a couple of awful goals left Eastbourne Borough with too much to do against promotion favourites Woking, and despite a splendid second half performance, they came home pointless.
Borough’s four league defeats have all come against sides tipped for the top – Dartford, Welling, Chelmsford and now Woking – and in each of those games they have paid a high price for shipping early, easy goals. Coming from behind is no game plan, and Garry Wilson knows it.
“I was delighted with the performance in the second half,” said the Eastbourne boss, “but we had given ourselves too much to do. If we can get this aspect right, I am absolutely sure we will be there chasing the pack. We have players coming back all the time, giving us more options.”
Eastbourne began with a double change of strikers from the victory over Havant. Eddie Hutchinson returned after suspension to dominate the aerial battles, and Gary Hart – at last in a Borough shirt after his pre-season injury – had a highly impressive hour, timing his runs and looking eager as a puppy.
Rikki Banks had a forgettable game, with a least one Woking goal chalked against his account. It is a sad but unavoidable truth that – in every sense – goalkeepers are there to be shot at, and heroics and catastrophe are never far apart.
In front of him, every outfield player put in a worthy shift, and several were outstanding.
Matt Crabb tormented Woking with mesmerising play and a stream of crosses. Gary Elphick brushed off knock after aching knock to set a commanding lead. Alongside him Ollie Rowe looked stylish and assured. And the other youngsters once again confirmed the exciting future that awaits as they continue to develop.
But only six minutes in, Borough were undone by an exquisite strike from 30 yards by Woking starlet Paris Cowan-Hall, who dipped his shot over a motionless Banks for 1-0.
The Sports responded strongly, with some excellent wing play especially on the left, where Crabb and Sam Cole looked a lethal combination. Up front, Hutchinson and Hart were causing problems and an open, entertaining game was developing.
But on 22 minutes a second Woking goal set Borough back. If Banks could be excused for Cowan-Hall’s super finish, he had to take at least some blame as a high deflected cross spilled from his grasp under pressure from two Woking forwards, and Ademola bundled the loose ball in.
After some straight talking at half-time, Borough came out with guns blazing. Just three minutes in, Elphick rose powerfully to head Matt Smart’s cross back across goal and Rowe got the final nod for 2-1. The goal was the trigger for the best half-hour that Eastbourne have produced this season.
They tore at a bewildered Woking and four or five times were desperately close to equalising. Only outstanding goalkeeping by Andy Little kept out three successive efforts from sub Ian Pulman, and then the keeper somehow tipped Cole’s long dipping effort on to the bar.
Ironically, the last word was Woking’s. Guiseppe Sole was nudged in the box, and Jack King drilled in the penalty to give a final scoreline that the home side scarcely deserved.
The Borough fans’ reaction – often a useful barometer – was noisily positive despite the result, and they gave the team a warm response at the final whistle. If the gaps can be plugged, supporters may well see their faith rewarded.