Four games in, and still unbeaten. A first-half strike from Lloyd Dawes was enough to bring home three points for Eastbourne Borough, in a tight contest at East Thurrock United on Tuesday night.
With two wins and two draws, the Sports have opened the new season much more strongly than many observers expected – or feared. Ahead of Saturday’s home fixture with Chippenham, they sit fifth in the embryonic National South table. More important, the belief is back.
Photographer Jamie Evans was at the game, see a slideshow of his pictures above
A Tuesday night in Essex is no occasion for exhibition football, and instead the points were earned with another disciplined team performance, particularly in the second half when the home side frantically bombarded Mark Smith’s penalty area. In truth, if Borough had taken two or three more of their sheaf of first-half of chances, the match would have been done and dusted, but a stampeding Thurrock finale failed to rattle them.
Hosts East Thurrock had endured an awful start to their season, with three straight defeats – all to likely front-runners Woking, Torquay and Dulwich. The Rocks at home are usually harder to beat, but in this new, resolute mood Borough would not fear the Bernabeu, never mind the Rookery.
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Manager Howell was confident enough to ring some changes, with Sergio Torres and Dean Cox joining Yemi Odubade on a strong bench. Kane Wills took the armband and led by uncompromising example in midfield, with an all-action Ryan Hall also in the thick of it, while Marvin Hamilton returned from injury to star at right-back.
And on the Rooks’ homely and rather hotch-potch ground, with its gently undulating green pitch, Eastbourne dominated from the first whistle. Dawes and Charlie Walker, learning week by week to play off each other, were a constant handful, while David Martin was giving excellent width. How long before they made it all count?
Dawes might have opened the scoring on 9 minutes, drilling into the side-netting from a tight angle, before one of Mike West’s wonderful raking passes found Martin free on the left, but the Rooks defence scrambled back at the expense of a corner – from which Marvin glanced his header just wide.
Then from Hall’s flick, Walker found himself free in the box with the goal at his mercy, but the ballwould not quite come down for him and his volley struck the crossbar. The Rocks’ only first-half effort had come from a Paul Konchesky run and shot, waved by Smith at full stretch, but otherwise Borough were in full flood, and their excellent travelling support was getting thirsty for an opening goal.
After Hall had conjured a spectacular overhead strike, only inches wide of the right post, the breakthrough finally came just after the half-hour. An opportunist knock forward from Wills found Walker in space – and Thurrock appealing desperately for offside – and goalkeeper Jack Giddens was helpless as Walker’s short pass found Dawes for a cool finish. Borough were in command, if not yet in cruise control.
The Rocks had so far been about as damaging as balls of polystyrene in a soft-play area, but with just a single-goal deficit they would surely make a better fist of the second half. Fired by boss John Coventry’s speech-and-a-half – they were actually late out of the dressing room – the home side tweaked their midfield shape and drastically changed their tactics.
Suddenly Thurrock were quick, direct and aggressive. Apart from one ridiculously elastic mazy dribble by Hamilton, early in the second half, Borough were finding it tough to break out. Under a glowering dark sky and rather murky floodlights, the mood of the evening had changed. Ryan Scott planted a header wide from a corner, but the Sports were closing ranks.
Harry Ransom and Tom Gardiner’s centre-back partnership is barely a fortnight old, but they are both playing like maestros, confident, decisive and reading eacher other’s play superbly. On the night, Ransom was immaculate, the rock on which the Rocks foundered – but the whole back five including a dominant Smith and the sharp, athletic Kristian Campbell were equal to everything Thurrock threw at them.
Meanwhile there were still breaks and openings at the other end. Fresh off the bench, Yemi saw his brilliant turn and shot beaten away by Giddens, and Cox swung over a teasing cross just beyond the stretching Walker. Then with Sergio joining the fray for the final minutes, Borough saw the game out unflinchingly, and another three points were safely in the bank.
Borough: Smith; Hamilton, Gardiner, Ransom, Campbell; West (Torres 83), Wills, Hall, Martin (Cox 57); Walker, Dawes (Odubade 66). Unused subs: Day, Briggs.
Referee: Jason Richardson ATT: 267
Borough MoM: Harry Ransom – imposing and intelligent