National League South Sat 12 November SO Legal Community Stadium
Eastbourne Boro
St Albans City

The Sports single goal came relatively early – a brilliant team goal in the 21st minute, finished by Jake Hutchinson – and after a first half dominated by the home side, the Saints battled back strongly after the break, winning much praise but no reward for their attacking spirit. A fine contest all round, in fact, and a good advert for football at this level.

Borough’s defensive resilience extended their clean sheets to three in a row, and their first half had been arguably as fine a 45-minute display as we have seen this season. There were MoM candidates all over the pitch, but Shiloh Remy’s blistering runs were irresistible, in every sense.

Danny Bloor recalled the fit-again Lee Worgan in goal, but otherwise he stuck with the outfield ten who had battled for a point at Farnborough in midweek. The Saints had scored twelve goals in their previous three matches, and despite not piercing the Eastbourne armour, they contributed massively to an entertaining afternoon.

A poignant and immaculately observed Last Post and Silence gave everyone that fleeting but inescapable pause for thought, and for personal and collective memories. There are moments when the world needs to stand still; and in those moments we are all one family, both in non-league and beyond. But then, and rightly, our sporting lives resumed; and the Sports opened with purpose.

They could well have been a couple of goals up, even before Shiloh’s strike. First, Hutchinson pounced on a defensive slip but his smart instant strike was equally smartly saved by Dylan Berry. Then intelligent play by Remy and the outstanding Brad Barry created a chance for Leone Gravata which the striker headed just wide of the left post.

But the breakthrough was not long delayed, and it came from a sublime move worthy of the Premier League. Remy – Perez – Innocent – Remy again – Hutchinson. Catch it on YouTube if you possibly can; and then play it and replay, and allow yourselves a little gasp at the quality of football. Half-way line: Shiloh in from the right with a little feint – to Jaden, over half-way and pushed wide to Kai – laid inside to the racing Leone – through the City back line to find Shiloh’s diagonal run – fizzing ball across the goal area – triumphant finish by Jake. Five players (one twice), eight touches, one-nil. Magnificent.

Follow that, Borough! Answer that, Saints! Well, both sides gave it their best. The shimmying Shiloh almost doubled the lead with a feinting run inside and a curling left-foot finish that beat the despairing Berry but smacked away off the left post. City responded with a piercing left-flank move, stopped at cost of a yellow card for Alex Wynter – who in fairness is not known for his savagery and went on to enjoy an excellent game at centre-back!

Just past the half-hour, and an exuberant Charlie Walker – putting those maddening injuries behind him – drew a collective gasp from the 886 spectators with a wickedly dipping 25-yarder that Berry just kept out with an athletic arching save.

Masses of first-half action, then, but just a single goal. Would St Albans haul the game back? They would give it a really good second-half try, although not before Borough had picked up where they left off. Leone’s spreading pass found Innocent advancing from the left but the goal attempt was cleared, and then Remy’s wonderful sweeping cross for Walker was just thwarted by Berry. And Remy himself drew a super save from the City keeper with his fizzing right-footer.

The lightning right-winger was enjoying one of those games – like most of his Borough games as it happens – when he could not disappear, could not rest, could not be tied down by defenders; and he raced through once again from the right, to find Hutch eight yards out. But the big striker – with no blame attached in the least – was denied by the keeper’s desperately outstretched foot. Sometimes goalkeepers deserve a bit of luck…

But by the middle of the second half, St Albans discovered their true attacking selves. They dominated the ball and pressed forward territorially; the pressure was relentless but their actual scoring chances were fewer. Devante Stanley was a persistent menace on the City right flank, and Innocent copped a yellow for stopping him one time too many. Two ambitious shots only found the River End car park, however, and such was the discipline and organization of the Sports defence, that Worgs was not called on for any truly spectacular saves. Oh, and along with fellow substitutes Hammond and Luer, there was time for a brief – but very welcome – ten minute appearance by Chris Whelpdale: his first competitive ball kicked since the Uxbridge FA Cup game!

And so the Saints ran out of options and the match ran out of time. A cracking contest, decided by a fabulous goal – and a credit to both these teams.

Borough: Worgan; Barry, Wynter, Dickenson, Innocent; Vaughan, Perez (Hammond 65); Remy. Walker, Gravata (Luer 71); Hutchinson (Whelpdale 80). Unused subs: Holter, Scarlett.
Referee: a very competent Shelby Elson Att: 886
Borough MoM: Shiloh Remy – on this form, you could tie his ankles together and he would still beat defenders…..