National League South Sat 20 August Bulpit Lane
Hungerford Town
Eastbourne Boro

Eastbourne Borough’s disappointing start to the season took a further plunge on Saturday, when the long trip to Hungerford Town ended in a 0-2 defeat that was as entertaining as a long wait in a bus queue.

Every sporting contest, and certainly every Borough game, has the capacity to surprise. Ahead of Hungerford, the Sports had enjoyed an accomplished win at Oxford, and then two maddening but entertaining defeats. What next? If anything, we were due a dreary goalless draw – which turned out to be, well, half correct – but only Eastbourne were goalless.

Never recovering from an early goal, Borough fumbled and stumbled through the rest of the afternoon, conceding again just after half-time and rarely threatening the home defence. Manager Danny Bloor – who in fairness never shrinks from an interview and always speaks his mind – was scathing. “I’ve just told the players that they all need to look at themselves in the mirror. That was abysmal. Credit to Hungerford, who executed their game plan very well, but we were nowhere near good enough, and the players must take responsibility.”

The very welcome loan-signing of former favourite Elliott Romain raised a selection issue. Danny kept Jake Hutchinson on the bench and asked Elliott – who often plays in wider positions – to lead the line. It proved a lonely mission against two giant centre-backs, and Eastbourne’s two wide attackers, Leone Gravata and Shiloh Remy, also had limited impact.
Chris Whelpdale foraged and probed in the number 10 role, while midfield pair of James Hammond and James Vaughan worked hard but created relatively little. And if the engine room splutters, the propellers don’t turn smoothly. With Hutchinson introduced from half-time and Romain roaming wider, Borough looked more of an attacking force – but by then Hungerford had packaged up the points.

Back to the start: but ahead of kick-off, a sobering glimpse of history. It was 35 years to the day, 20th August 1987, that a deranged gunman rampaged through this lovely, placid English town and took sixteen innocent lives before being felled just outside the gates of the Bulpit Lane ground. As Borough players and supporters arrived, a quiet ceremony at the memorial gates was just finishing. “The reluctant remembrance”, a BBC colleague called it. Some things are more important than football.

But football, at least, is normality, and this modest and friendly club opened its arms as always to the visitors. In umpteen previous meetings the Crusaders had never beaten the Sports – but they were about to write their own little bit of history. Hungerford had not yet even scored a goal this season, but that unwelcome statistic was blown away, just six minutes in, with an exuberant opening goal.

Playing down the Bulpit Lane slope, Hungerford won possession on half-way and raced forward, finding Joel Rollinson in ample space just inside the penalty area. One touch, one pace, and with a rifled right-foot shot the former Eastbourne winger had struck a beauty past Lee Worgan’s right hand for 1-0.

84 minutes to put the scoreline right, then. But from that point, the Sports were always chasing the game and not controlling it. They had enough of the possession but they found themselves playing in front of the home defence and finding few ways through. On 20 minutes Whelpdale struck a smart shot on the turn from the D which home keeper Jed Ward saved. And for the rest of the half, apart from a double corner just past the half-hour, the Hungerford defence was untroubled.

Not to worry, we thought: a whole second half playing down the Bulpit slope, and a bench full of attacking players still in reserve. But whatever the Borough game plan, it surely did not include a second Hungerford goal – within five minutes of the restart. This one was, if anything, shoddier to concede. From a left flank move, Kamaron English drilled a low cross into the Borough goal area, where the advancing Rhys Tyler got across the front of Worgan and smashed in from five yards.

Now, the Crusaders were in command. A stop-start second half saw hardly any goal attempts, and the Sports back line at least avoided calamities. Watch out for Brad Barry who – together with Kai Innocent on the opposite flank – will surely make an impact in the weeks ahead.

Hutchinson, on at the break for Remy, brought added physical presence, and somehow Borough had to force the pace, but Hungerford simply proved serial disrupters, slowing the play as the minutes ticked away. Charlie Walker replaced Gravata and, with quite a spring in his step, geed up the troops, and Simo Mbonwki – in his first competitive appearance, certainly offered ninety minutes worth of energy in his half-hour on the field.

A raucously cheerful home crowd roared their heroes through the final phases. Pretty it wasn’t, but they didn’t care. For the Sports, where had it gone wrong: perhaps playing 3G football on a bumpy grass pitch? Or maybe finding the energy suddenly drained, after those two intoxicating battles with Bath City and Ebbsfleet?

Four games in, then, and fourth from bottom of the National South table. A mere forty-two matches still to play, and everything to play for, in a long-haul season. Bloor’s men can put this one behind them.

Borough: Worgan; Barry. Wynter, Dickenson, Innocent; Hammond (Mbonkwi 63), Vaughan; Remy (Hutchinson 46), Whelpdale, Gravata (Walker 54); Romain. Unused subs: Seymour, Scarlett
Borough MoM: Chris Whelpdale
Referee: Craig Scriven Att: 457