Eastbourne Borough played with courage and enterprise at higher-ranked Maidenhead United on Saturday – and only a lack of finishing power divided the teams as the Sports dominated long spells of play, but without reward except Jake Hutchinson’s stoppage-time consolation.

The Magpies, in comfortable mid-table in the National League, and in a good vein of form, struck midway through the first half to lead 1-0 at the break, and then crucially put distance between the two sides just five minutes into the second half. Borough dominated much of the play but were thwarted by home goalkeeper Dan Gyollai. The six-footer pulled off two outstanding saves and at least two other very good ones, to keep the Sports at bay.

Danny Bloor recalled Milly Scarlett at right-back, with James Vaughan moving to midfield alongside James Hammond, while Greg Luer led the line with Jaden Perez in the 10 role behind him.

After Sam Barratt had blazed over from an early Magpies corner, the Sports responded impressively, with their typical neat pass-and-move football pinning back the home defence. on 8 minutes a remarkable 23-pass move ended with a ball into the box to Luer, who took a tumble for what would have been the softest penalty of the season…

But a big, athletic United side were denying Borough space – often with a nine-player barrier between Gyollai and the Sussex upstarts. A compliment of a sort! And exactly midway through the half, the Magpies were ahead.

A corner was cleared, but only for a throw-in on the Eastbourne left, which gave Charlee Adams the chance to swing in an awkward cross – headed downwards by Will De Havilland across a possibly unsighted Lee Worgan and into the corner of the net.

The rest of the first half was underwhelming for the Sports, with ample possession but not much penetration, and with a single Hammond effort pinged just wide of the left post from Kai Innocent’s delivery.

The single Magpies goal, though, was far from a decisive lead – but oh, what if they doubled it? Up the York Road slope now, Borough pressed from the restart – only to be undone by Maidenhead first breakaway move.
Ashley Nathaniel-George raced down the right touchline with a threadbare Borough defence caught high up the field, and his low cross somehow found the net inside the near post, as Worgan and Brad Barry converged on Emile Acqua. A freakish goal, and a pity that it would prove the decisive strike.

The rest of the was dominated by Eastbourne. Only twice did Maidenhead threaten Worgan’s goal again – one opportunist punt by Nathaniel George, breaking out from a Borough corner and drawing a frantic rearguard save by the back-pedalling Sports keeper – and one sweet thirty yarder from wide left by Barratt which curled just over the crossbar.

Apart from that, Borough dominated possession with lots of good movement and plenty of Hufflepuff – but no Golden Snatch of the crucial goal which would put them back in contention. Maidenhead were unimpressed and possibly a bit complacent, because steadily Borough were turning possession into glimpses of goal.

Hammond struck a clean shot, straight into Gyollai’s arms, at the end of a neat move, and Shiloh Remy – always a threat on the ball – carved himself space but saw his ball to sub Jake Hutchinson deflected. Then Luer played in Leone Gravata, whose shot on the turn was blocked.

And with just a quarter of an hour left to rescue the tie. Borough had their best spell yet. Shiloh’s terrific effort was destined for the bottom corner until the keeper’s full-stretch save tipped it for a corner. And from the flag-kick Vaughan piled in a screamer of a shot which Gyollai arched to push over the bar.

Five minutes later Barry one-two’d his way right through a static home defence but the man-of-match keeper pushed his shot away for a corner.

So much energy. So much invention. Only the final product was missing. Deep into added time, Innocent’s corner curled into the goalmouth and Hutchinson forced it home. If only that goal had come twenty minutes earlier. If only….

Borough: Worgan; Scarlett (Hutchinson 55), Barry, Dickenson, Innocent; Vaughan, Hammond; Remy, Perez (Walker 73), Gravata; Luer. Unused subs: Verrall, Wynter, Mbonkwi, Seymour, Pinto.
Referee: a trouble-free afternoon for Richie Watkins
Att: 759 including over a hundred passionate Borough loyalists
Borough MoM: Brad Barry