In sporting contests, status counts for very little: it’s all on the day, it’s all about the players out there on the pitch, and who performs. And it’s often about key moments and turning points.
And so it was at the SO Legal Community Stadium on a sharp December Saturday, when Step 3 Bracknell Town came to town. Two second-half strikes saw the Berkshire visitors overturn the Sports to progress into the fourth round of the FA Trophy.
It was the third higher-status scalp of the season for the Robins, and nobody would be surprised to find them returning to Priory Lane next season as a National South club. Indeed, Danny Bloor had described them as “a National League club in waiting”.
The contest itself turned out to be close, but truthfully less than a classic: it lacked flow and it was fairly short on breathless goalmouth moments, at least for the first hour. But the final stages did explode into action, with drama and some controversy.
Up front, Danny retained Jake Hutchinson – the two-goal hero of wintry Ebbsfleet on Tuesday night – while James Vaughan slotted in at right-back. It meant useful strength on the bench of Charlie Walker, Milly Scarlett and Greg Luer, alongside four of our promising youngsters.
The first half was not quite a write-off, but the teams mainly cancelled each other out: disjointed attacking displays, and just a handful of half-chances. The Robins had picked up 10 fouls within the first thirty minutes, upsetting Eastbourne’s rhythm, and they had reached a dozen by half time and a regrettable nineteen by the final whistle – but referee Rob Ablitt declined to flourish a card until deep into the second half.
Sports made a change early into the second half, bringing on club captain Charlie Walker, who did improve Borough’s tempo going forward. The striker almost assisted Remy, heading the ball to him in the box, but the winger shot high and wide.
And then, and then… After over an hour of deadlock, Robins striker Joe Grant grabbed the breakthrough on 65 minutes, receiving the ball after a swift left-wing move by the Robins, and sliding his shot inside the left post past a wrong-footed Lee Worgan.
The goal was not without controversy, following directly from a throw-in in front of the dug-outs, awarded to Bracknell but which the Sports had angrily disputed – and a brief but fiery exchange had seen Borough assistant manager Ben Austin sent from the technical area and two players cautioned.
George Knight doubled the lead 15 minutes later, meeting a trademark Guy Hollis long throw with a glancing header that barely trickled in – but they all count, and the buoyant Robins fans celebrated wildly. Once again, however, the Sports were indignant, because Worgan had pretty clearly been obstructed, and actually bundled into the net by Abisogun.
At 2-0 it should have been game over – but Borough struck back immediately. Shiloh Remy curled in a fabulous strike from 20 yards, speeding in from the right in a swift move that caught the visitors’ defence off guard. Remy’s goal, though, had been Eastbourne’s only shot on target. And, despite some frenzied home attacks, Bracknell closed out the game effectively for a deserved Trophy triumph.
Joint managers Jamie McClurg and Carl Withers were happy to credit their players. “They stuck to the game plan out there, and got their just reward,” said McClurg. “Eastbourne caused us problems in those final minutes but we saw it through.” Withers agreed: “We got the goals when we needed to, and we’re really chuffed to go through!”
Sports boss Danny Bloor took it on the chin. “It’s a basic truth, but you mustn’t get too high when you win or too low when you lose. Everyone was elated when we won at Ebbsfleet in midweek, but today we weren’t good enough. A bad day at the office. Many congratulations to Bracknell Town who were worthy winners on the day.”
Borough (4-2-3-1): Worgan; Vaughan, Burchell, Dickenson, Innocent; Hammond, Perez (Scarlett 75); Remy, Whelpdale (Walker 50), Gravata (Luer 65); Hutchinson. Subs not used: Holman, Bull, Holter, Adjei-Hersey.
Att: 452 Referee: Rob Ablitt
Sponsors’ MoM: Mitch Dickenson