National League South Sat 11 February Crabble Athletic Ground
Eastbourne Boro

A brilliant start, with a second-minute lead, was pegged back by the home side with an equaliser on the half-hour, and Dover then grabbed a rather freakish winner after half-time. With half a dozen absentees through injury, Danny Bloor had to dig deep into the playing resources – but no player in a Borough shirt gave less than his best on the day.

In the second minute, playing up the Crabble slope, the Sports won a throw-in high on the right. Ryan Bartley took it smartly and found Alfie Bendle, whose inspired run and pass inside caught the home defence totally off-guard, and Leone Gravata whipped the ball into the net from close range. Superb.

Borough continued with good shape, confidence and a bit of panache, and a smart passing move was prompted and then finished by Luke Pearce, whose low on-target shot was stopped by keeper Stuart Nelson. The Southampton youngster then showed alertness and speed to intercept a defensive pass, but he just ran out of road as he chased the loose ball.

But it was Dover who next threatened. Josh Ajayi scorched a shot from just outside the box which Lee Worgan brilliantly kept out with a full-stretch save past the right-hand post. From the corner, warrior centre-back Mitch Dickenson took a blow to the head, but carried on after treatment to play his usual resolute role.

Just on the half-hour, though, Dover were level. A right-wing corner was belted clear but skillfully picked up from right-back by Luke Wanadio, whose sweeping diagonal cross was met with a huge header by Tyrone Sterling arching over Worgan and curling down into the bottom right corner.

The last action of the half belonged to Borough. Excellent approach work by Perez and Gravata allowed Pearce to play in Shiloh Remy with the sweetest of passes through the Dover back line. Shiloh took one touch and chose to shoot early, but the excellent Nelson had closed the angle to make a superb save.

First half to Eastbourne on points then, but not on goals – and that was pretty much as good as it got. The Whites came out forcefully at the start of the second half, and Borough were truthfully finding it hard to get out of their own defensive third. George Nikaj prised his way behind the centre-backs, but an awkward bounce and a fluffed shot past the left post kept the scores level.

Then the same striker, helped by a freakish ricochet, burst clear of a high Eastbourne line, but his run took him quite wide to the left and Worgan comfortably saved the shot.

And right on the hour mark, Dover were ahead with an odd goal – two parts good fortune and one part inspired quick thinking. Twenty-five yards out, Alfie Paxman was at most lightly brushed by Remy’s challenge, but his crumple was sufficient to earn the free-kick from referee Andrew Humphries. And Paxman instantly popped the dead ball to Ajayi, who snap shot took a deflection that curled it cruelly over Worgan and steeply down into the net. From offence to back of the net: eight seconds, and Borough had been mugged.

To their credit, the Sports summoned new energy and not only stayed in the game, but very nearly rescued it. Sixty-eight minutes, and thirty yards from goal, a free-kick to Borough. Up stepped Charlie Walker. Into the wall? Sky-high over the stand? Oh ye of little faith: Charlie struck the dead ball with absolute, inch-perfect accuracy, a brilliant strike that fully deserved a goal. But Nelson capped his fine afternoon with an astonishing save, stretching up and across to palm it against the angle of post and crossbar. The moment of the match.

Worgan, never knowingly upstaged, responded with an excellent save of his own, diving low to deny Ajayi, and the Sports survived a couple more scrambles in their own box. But – with a composed and promising substitute shift from Florian Kastrati – the visitors finished on the front foot. Leone almost converted Shiloh’s explosive run and cross – and the resulting corner fizzed right across the goalmouth without a killer touch.  

 Worth a point? In a match of many chances, you could argue for it. But a strong and physical Dover side – who conceded twenty fouls – were just a bit too powerful. Not a classic, but a decent and two-sided game, with Borough getting a little less than they deserved.

Borough: Worgan, Bartley, Burchell, Dickenson, Innocent; Bendle, Perez (Wabo 78); Remy, Walker, Gravata; Pearce (Kastrati 70). Unused subs: Holter, Bull, Scarlett.

Referee: Andrew Humphries    Attendance: 669

Borough Player of The Match: Ryan Bartley