The Longmead is rarely a happy venue for the Sports, and on the Angels’ freshly laid 3G they made little impact. The home side, reshaped and rejuvenated since experienced manager Jay Saunders took over in the summer, played with an expansive energy and athletic style which three times pierced a stitched-together Borough back line. James Vaughan slotted in as emergency centre-back alongside Jack Burchell, and there was a full debut for AFC Wimbledon loanee Dylan Adjeye-Hersey,
No excuses, but at least some mitigation. Ask Danny Bloor a month ago to name his first-choice defence, and he would have named Worgan in goal with a back four of Brad Barry, Alex Wynter, Mitch Dickenson and Kai Innocent. Of those five players, only left-back Innocent took the field at Tonbridge. Lee Worgan called in sick on Tuesday afternoon, Barry and Wynter have been side-lined with injury, and skipper Mitch Dickenson was crocked against Chippenham on Saturday.
Their replacements at Tonbridge are capable players who gave everything. Taylor Seymour has previously proved his mettle as a deputy to Worgan. But a defensive unit needs to gel – and it doesn’t happen straight from the kick-off.
What did happen, within 55 seconds of referee Abigail Byrne’s first whistle, was a Tonbridge goal: a galloping attack, a tricky bounce in front of Vaughan and a snap shot by Jordan Greenidge, through Seymour and into the net.
The worst of starts, then, and for the next twenty minutes Borough were really stretched. The home forwards were swift and expansive, and only their wild finishing let them down. But the Sports kept their nerve, and they steadily worked their way upfield.
Leone Gravata looked mobile on one flank and AFC Wimbledon loanee Dylan Adeji-Hersey produced some decent crosses from the right, and Tonbridge actually looked a bit rattled. Chris Whelpdale stung the palms of keeper Jon Henley with a power drive, and then Scarlett’s narrow-angle strike drew another good save from the Angels keeper.
But half-time came and went without an equaliser – and then three minutes after the break, the deficit doubled. A swift Tonbridge move from right to left finished with a lightning strike by Devonte Aransibia just inside the left post.
The setback prompted Borough’s best spell of the night. A persistent Jake Hutchinson was showing willingness to chase anything that moved, and he squeezed in behind the Angels defence to beat keeper Jon Henly, but a defender scrambled back to knock the ball off the goal-line.
Two more half-chances came and went, and for almost the only time in the night the Angels were flapping. But on 63 minutes the home side raced through an open midfield and Seymour could only get a hand to Jack Wood’s explosive shot: 3-0 and game over.
It wasn’t quite over. With Charlie Walker and Greg Luer joining the fray off the bench, the Sports dominated territory and possession for good spells in the final half-hour, forcing three successive corners. The tireless Gravata forced his way through, but his effort was hacked clear, and Scarlett was now effectively right winger rather than full-back.
Tonbridge, though, had done more than enough, and as added time approached, disconsolate Borough supporters trooped away into the icy dark night. When did they last enjoy a trip to the Longmead?
Danny Bloor, always a man to man up, faced the cameras with a realistic assessment. “Bad day at the office. It was an odd day, to be fair, including Lee Worgan dropping out at lunchtime and other players missing. But that’s not an excuse – we had players good enough to get a result here, but we conceded goals at poor times, early in the first half and early in the second. The boys have been magnificent in recent weeks, but tonight it wasn’t to be. We had to lose a game sometime but we’ll put it right and be right back at it against Oxford City this Saturday.”
Borough: Seymour; Scarlett. Burchell, Vaughan, Innocent; Hammond, Perez; Adeji-Hersey (Luer 59), Whelpdale, Gravata; Hutchinson (Walker 67). Unused subs: Holman, Bull, Holter.
Referee: Abigail Byrne Att: 553
Borough MoM: Milly Scarlett – the versatile right-back doubled as a tenacious right-winger