The game is about glory, said one of football’s greats, Danny Blanchflower. Hmm – the game is about winning at Concord Rangers on a windy afternoon, on a gently undulating pitch in front of a sparse couple of hundred spectators.
Which is exactly what Eastbourne Borough did on Saturday, coming home with a 4-2 victory that was slightly more comfortable than that score suggests. Once the Sports were ahead – a 26th minute Jake Hutchinson strike from Kai Innocent’s corner – they controlled play efficiently, and whenever Concord looked like fighting back, Bloor’s men simply scored another goal.
The Aspect Arena has seen some forgettable performances in recent seasons, but this time there were no slip-ups. The home side came into the game on a dismal run of four successive defeats, and club officials – who are always welcoming and pragmatic – are already pondering whether life in the more local Isthmian Premier would be a more realistic option than National South, if the Beach Boys did finish in the bottom four.
But Concord manager Chris Search will always field a competitive side, and they opened the game on the front foot, Ben Williamson looping a shot too high over Lee Worgan’s goal on eight minutes. Borough responded with a crisp left-sided move, the impressive James Vaughan firing just wide from Innocent’s cross.
Vaughan and James Hammond – described by Bloor after the game as unsung heroes – have been lynchpins of Borough’s season so far. Midfielders are sometimes overlooked as mere water-carriers, but these two are very much more: Vaughan probably has a PhD in the Dynamics of Transitional Midfield Play, while fellow hero Hammo is the One Player Opponents Most Hate Playing Against. Howard Wilkinson, one-time England manager, may have had the POMO (Position Of Maximum Opportunity) but Bloor has the OPOMHPA.
The manager, in truth, needed a bit of creative thinking to field an eleven which lacked centre-back Alex Wynter and playmaker Chris Whelpdale, both of whom are likely to be back in the frame to face Worthing next Saturday. Their replacements at Concord, the play-anywhere Brad Barry and powerhouse Jaden Perez, both looked assertive – and Bloor’s other huge bonus was the second-half return of Greg Luer: more of the Rolls Royce striker later…
Hutchinson had come close to putting the Sports ahead on 20 minutes, latching on to Perez’s round the corner pass but firing across the face of goal. The big striker was once again putting in a huge shift against a pair of physical centre-backs, and six minutes later he was rewarded. Innocent’s corner was spun in towards the front post and Hutch crashed it into the net for 1-0.
And just six minutes later, Jake was instrumental in doubling the lead when his on-target shot was blocked but picked up instantly by Shiloh Remy, and with a smart change of feet the quicksilver winger fired it into the corner of the net. Did someone say Little and Large? Two strikes, two-nil, and so it remained until the break – although it might well have been three, when the same players drove through once again but, with Shiloh possibly better placed, Jake tried a shot which was crowded out.
The Beach Boys began the second half brightly, and they halved the lead with a car-crash of a goal on 48 minutes. An outswinging corner from the right looped on to a jostling crowd of players, and the ball deflected – possibly off an Eastbourne head – on to the crossbar, rebounded out, and Danny Green’s tight-angle shot bounced down into the ground before spinning wickedly past Worgan. Beach Boys or beach ball: either way the home side were back in the contest.
But not for long. The Borough goal survived one nervy moment with a an effort scooped squeakily off the post and scarily off the goal-line by Mitch Dickenson, a man who would still look unflustered on the deck of a North Sea trawler. Who needs VAR ?
And then on the hour mark, the Sports restored their two-goal margin. Barry’s clearance was collected by Hutchinson, who stormed down the right flank and crossed perfectly for Perez to score with a cool 20-yard finish.
Just afterwards the unstoppable Remy was stopped, but by a ruthless Jack Davies foul, entirely out of keeping with a robust but fairly contested game. Davies and Milly Scarlett – for a wee bit of time-wasting late in the day – were the only names to enter Mr Laflin’s book. Scarlett had looked skilled and intelligent in the right-back role.
Into the final quarter of the game, then, and a huge welcome from the travelling Borough faithful for their returning hero Greg Luer – sidelined since the second game of the season with a hamstring. Greg’s touch, his pace and perhaps above all his incisive football brain, make him one of the best natural strikers in non-League – and so it proved, to Concord’s cost.
Greg had already combined sweetly with the ever-lively Leone Gravata, and we sensed a goal. In the event, we had to wait for a few minutes while the Beach Boys closed the gap yet again, Green smashing in the rebound from his own penalty kick after Worgan had superbly saved the first strike.
But Gregory’s Goal was not long coming. Pouncing on a poor defensive head through the left channel, he took one touch and coolly slotted past keeper Minter for 4-2. In fact his brief cameo might have brought a further hat-trick – once angry with himself for a slight miscontrol in the box, then selflessly laying a pass square for a team colleague, and finally curling a perfect 20-yard strike that was squeezing just under the crossbar until Minter stretched to tip it over. A master-class in twenty minutes.
There had been time, too, for a burst of typical Simo Mbonkwi energy off the bench, and a brief debut up front for the loyal De Niro Pinto. But Borough had already done more than enough to claim all three points. A demanding week sees them head for Woodside Road in the FA Cup on Saturday – after Tuesday night’s testing fixture at Dartford. Hold on tight, Borough fans, this is quite a ride.
Borough: Worgan; Scarlett, Barry, Dickenson, Innocent; Vaughan, Hammond; Remy (Pinto 89), Perez (Mbonkwi 75), Ravata; Hutchinson (Luer 71m). Unused subs: Holter, Bull.
Referee: George Laflin Att: an estimated 280
Borough MoM: James Vaughan – one of Bloor’s unsung heroes