National League South Sat 11 March Clarence Park
St Albans City
Eastbourne Boro

Away from home this season, the Sports have seldom been outplayed, and they have actually notched more victories – nine on the road and eight at Priory Lane.  Manager Danny Bloor was rightly delighted: “I thought our performance, especially in the second half, was absolutely outstanding. Clarence Park is a really difficult place to come to, and St Albans are riding high – but that’s now the double after already beating them at the SO Legal.

“All fourteen players made their contribution, including the subs: Jay Beckford for Kai Innocent, who has picked up an injury, the afternoon’s only downside. Great to have James Hammond back in action, and of course supersub Norman Wabo, who took that late winner superbly.”

Over the ninety minutes, few would argue. In an exciting and open game, there were chances a-plenty for both sides, and the Saints led 2-1 at half-time. But Borough grew ever stronger, and their front three of Luke Pearce, Shiloh Remy and Leone Gravata had a ponderous home defence scrambling time after time. The tireless and tenacious Pearce levelled the scores at 2-2 before Wabo’s dramatic winner six minutes from time.

The Sports had started the match brightly, with Charlie Walker winning a smart turnover and playing in Gravata, who turned centre-back Joy Mukena inside out but saw his angled shot clawed away by keeper Dylan Berry.  But as the game settled to a pattern, Eastbourne found themselves on the back foot, as a big and athletic City side turned on the pace.

In front of goal, though, the home forwards were a bit wild and wasteful, Mitchell Weiss spurning three half-decent chances. But on 20 minutes they conjured a sweet passing move setting up talisman Shaun Jeffers for a sweet turn on the penalty spot and a blitzing finish into the top right corner.

The Sports responded strongly. An alert Jaden Perez grabbed a turnover 30 yards out and fed Walker, who played in Remy, but the quickfire winger fired much too high. Within a minute, however, Shiloh had made amends. As Mukeno sold his keeper short with a stubbed back-pass, Pearce was in like a sprinter off the blocks, zipping past Berry – who brought the striker down for the clearest penalty of the season. The keeper might easily have found himself trudging to the dressing room, but top referee Kirsty Dowle produced only a yellow card. Either way, the spot-kick was hammered in by Remy for 1-1.

Back swayed the action to the other end, where Lee Worgan kept the scores level with a breathtaking right-handed low save from Chay Cooper’s dipping cross-shot. This contest was getting better by the minute. City had power and lots of bodies up front, but Jack Burchell and Brad Barry were unshaken at the heart of the Borough defence.

Next, the Sports came close. Remy zipped through midfield and found Pearce, moving the ball wide to Gravata, whose low cross was bashed away from the six-yard line by a desperate defender. And a powerful Ryan Bartley run was curtailed by a clumsy defensive challenge millimeters inside the edge of the penalty area – but Ms Dowle did not see enough to award a second penalty.

Alfie Bendle, a young man with the passing skills of a seasoned playmaker, found Pearce racing beyond the centre-backs, but the excitement was curtailed by a marginal offside decision. All the same, Borough were moving smoothly and looking good for the next goal.

Or were they? As half-time loomed, any home fans heading for the tea-bar might just have turned their backs on one of the goals of the season: a quick City free-kick in midfield, a sweet pass-and-move by Dale Banton, who then looped a ball to Chay Cooper for a spectacular right-foot volley across Worgan and inside the left-hand post. Wow! Did you mean that, Chay? It’s certainly one for your playreel…  

A full forty-five minutes for Borough to rescue the match – and for Saints to defend their lead with some robust challenges. Luke Pearce and Kai Innocent were both crunched within seconds of each other, the latter challenge bringing a yellow card for Devante Stanley.

But it takes more than concrete challenges to stop these young Borough forwards.  Remy perfectly played in Pearce, who rode one lunging tackle, instantly regained his balance and drilled a shot past the flailing keeper into the bottom left corner. Outstanding.

One point good, three points better. With three subs on, Eastbourne were really going for it. Another impeccable Remy pass found Jay Beckford, but Shiloh was blatantly barged as he sprinted for the young substitute’s return pass. Looking back – with a reporter’s privilege of slow-motion video – Borough’s one spot-kick might easily have been three.

But as City legs grew heavy, the young Sports were as swift as figure skaters. And approaching the final five minutes, the quick brain of Remy conjured an inch-perfect first-time pass to send Norman Wabo sprinting through the right channel and with two sweet touches, planting his shot past a sprawling keeper. Shirt off and whirling, and the widest smile in National South: 3-2, and Borough were home and hosed.  

Borough: Worgan; Bartley, Burchell, Barry, Innocent (Beckford 65); Bendle, Perez (Hammond 74); Remy, Walker (Wabo 74), Gravata; Pearce.  Unused subs: Holter, Kastrati.

Referee:  Kirsty Dowle      Att: 1264    Borough MoM: Leone Gravata