Charley Kendall is finally on his way – and so are Eastbourne Borough. A pre-season friendly with Lincoln City, agreed as part of the striker’s transfer deal, turned into a 1-1 thriller at Priory Lane on Tuesday, with the man himself scoring City’s goal.
But the home side looked far from second best, creating chances a-plenty and claiming a deserved equaliser in the final ten minutes. The game rounded off a sequence of four wins, two draws and a single defeat – against Crawley Town – as manager Danny Bloor looks to mould a team to take on National South.
The Sports will open their campaign this Saturday (6th August) with a tricky away trip to Oxford City – where last season’s exciting tilt at promotion finally ended. And after two victories in four days, Bloor’s boys certainly have momentum.
Last Saturday, Priory Lane witnessed a feisty contest with Isthmian League East Grinstead Town, who went toe to toe from the start, and edged the first half, with Danny Uchechi converting a 38th minute penalty for 1-0.
Stung by the indignation – and possibly by some blunt words from the coaching staff – the Sports moved up a gear after the break. Jake Elliott equalised with the sort of goal that mere full-backs aren’t supposed to score, exchanging passes with sublime timing and cracking in a perfect finish.
And with Borough now dominating the ball, Mitch Dickenson powered in a great finish from a corner, and then fabulous work by Milly Scarlett created a third goal for Simo Mbonkwe. A satisfactory afternoon was marred only by a dreadful, brainless foul on Jaden Perez which will rule the midfielder out for the Oxford City trip.
On to Tuesday night, and a delayed kick-off as visitors Lincoln City were tangled in traffic chaos at the Dartford Crossing. A gorgeous Sussex sunset bathed Priory Lane in warm reds and yellows – and it was the men in red who set a sizzling pace.
City, a fairly young squad but full of size and power, were actually taken by surprise as the Sports raced forward like an incoming tide. In the first half-hour James Hammond saw a swerving free-kick well saved, Leone Gravata twice came breathlessly close, a Borough triallist was barely a foot wide with his attempt to replicate Ella Toone’s iconic Wembley lob. Oh, and Greg Luer hit the crossbar.
But on 33 minutes, from a wide right free-kick, Lincoln City took the lead – with a sweet finish from, need you ask, Charley Kendall.
Borough bounced back and, if anything, played even better in the second half while Bloor and his coaches were feeding in one new eager substitute after another.
The attendance was announced as 498, but it felt twice as large and was several times as noisy, as the home fans revelled in a high-paced game that now simply pulsed with goalmouth action. And the inevitable equaliser arrived on 83 minutes, from talented Under-18 striker Hayden Beaconsfield.
The new Charley Kendall? Steady now – young Hayden is certainly a prospect, a busy and confident striker with a quick eye and sure touch. But he is merely one of a clutch of promising youth players given a taste of the action against Lincoln.
Where they will fit into the first team picture remains to be seen, for – on this evidence – Danny Bloor is already facing the right sort of headaches ahead of Saturday’s trip to Oxford City. After an intensive pre-season, he has collected a squad full of flair and enterprise – but has the Gaffer given himself almost too many options?
“That’s the name of the game, and it’s a great position to be in. We do have one or two bumps and bruises which will affect selection. I’m pretty sure Jaden Perez won’t be ready for Saturday, and our captain Charlie Walker has been carrying a knock.
“But what we do have is a great spine of experienced players. Lee Worgan will again prove himself one of the best keepers in non-league. Alex Wynter and Mitch Dickenson are a terrific centre-back pairing. Hammo and Whelps (James Hammond and Chris Whelpdale) have hundreds of games at this level, and Greg Luer has enjoyed a superb pre-season. Kai Innocent and James Vaughan are excellent, known quantities.”
To that spine, Bloor can add a clutch of new signings bursting to prove themselves. For example the electric pace of Milly Scarlett and Shiloh Remy, the all-action Simo Mbonkwe. And, of course, those eager Under-18s – one or two of whom will surely have pulled on a first team shirt before August is out.
And Saturday’s starting eleven? The watching Oxford scout on Tuesday may well have driven home none the wiser – but that might just be the way we like it.