On Tuesday night Danny Bloor watched his team follow up two super league wins with a 6-2 defeat to Bognor Regis Town in the Sussex Senior Cup.
Danny had fielded a mix of first-teamers and youngsters – but more of the latter – and they came unstuck against the visiting Rocks, whose six of the best goals had home supporters watching on ruefully.
We all hate losing, but we mustn’t be too grudging. For three-quarters of the game, Bognor looked a smooth, fluent football machine, and they rightly took the credit – recovering well after Milly Scarlett’s nine-second opening goal, which startled everyone in the ground.
Borough had much the better of the opening twenty minutes. Newly signed from Southampton Football Club, Luke Pearce looked really promising as he tore up the Rocks’ defence like old sheets of Christmas wrapping paper – and on another night Pearce and his new team-mates would have had the result wrapped up.
But from Sam De St Croix’s equaliser on 23 minutes, the home side began to look more stretched. And by just after half-time, injuries had robbed them of the only three established first-teamers in the Borough line-up.
And while a Senior Cup run – with the possibility of an Amex final – is always exciting, the National South is the true proving ground. Three months from now, if the Sports are closing in on a play-off place, that frosty night in January will be history.
Perhaps that last line should read when, and not if. Three high-quality loan signings have suddenly given the squad an extra dimension, and a little bit of strength in depth. Alfie Bendle, recruited a fortnight ago from AFC Wimbledon, looks strong, skilful and also very aware. Just eighteen last week, he has already imposed himself like a seasoned pro. Alfie took a well deserved night off on Tuesday.
Joining Bendle are two players of equal quality. Defender Ryan Bartley had a half-hour taste of National South, coming off the bench in Borough’s astonishing victory at Dulwich Hamlet, when three goals in a dramatic final ten minutes sealed the points in front of a huge 3,400 Champion Hill crowd.
And Luke Pearce represents a remarkable coup by the Borough manager. The eighteen-year-old Southampton striker has already notched 11 appearances in the Saints’ Premier League 2 side – the competition set up by the top-flight clubs specifically to groom young players for the bigger stage. Luke has phenomenal pace and plenty of physique, and in the first half-hour against Bognor his inch-perfect runs through the opposition back line deserved a couple of goals.
But back to that Senior Cup drama. Balanced at 1-1 at half-time, it was clear that both sides had the potential for more goals. In the event, it was the Rocks who turned up the throttle. Robbie Blake’s line-up was effectively his full-strength front side, and they were now combining exactly like players who knew each other. The cascade of five goals may have flattered the visitors – a couple of real crackers, a couple of deflections, and a penalty.
Losing Perez, Scarlett and Walker before the hour mark, the Sports would always be up against it. But this was a night for taking the positives rather than dwelling on the negatives. Fin Holter was not to blame for any of the goals, and made some brave saves. Pearce and Palace loanee Ryan Bartley got their bearings, and they will be making a huge contribution in the weeks to come.
And the youngsters? With their coaches watching on from the stands, all of them worked really hard, never gave up the cause, and indeed scored the last goal of the game – great midfield combination and then a cool finish by the impressive Fletcher Holman. Jacob Thompson and Sam Bull played intelligently against experienced opponents, and Callum Pollitt caught the eye with some decisive defensive work.
Alfie Lambden filled in manfully in the final half hour, while Hayden Beaconsfield confirmed his potential with quick thinking and smart link-up play. If these lads continue their progress, then we’ll look back on the Bognor game, not as a negative result but as a pathway to great things.