Trailing to an early Taunton strike, shaken by the home side’s pounding route-one tactics, and losing defensive mainstay Mitch Dickenson on the half-hour, the Sports survived until the interval – and emerged to equalise within a minute, claim the lead midway through the half, and then defy everything that the home side flung at them.
Luke Pearce’s two goals, finished with a coolness that belied his youth, proved the difference between two teams of equal commitment but utterly different playing styles. But on a compelling night of National South football, every man in a Borough shirt rose to the challenge.
It had not been the best of starts. Danny Bloor has grown used to tweaking his line-ups and covering one injury after another; but this eleven had a novel look and an inventive shape: a back three, a massed midfield and young Pearce at the front, with that old fox Charlie Walker slotted in behind him. To be brutally truthful, it seemed to be misfiring when, after just 12 minutes, Taunton seized on defensive hesitation on the Borough right, and Dave Sims-Burgess whacked in the opening goal past scrambling defenders.
Taunton had already set the tone just before that goal when Nick McCootie galloped through and, frankly, took out Lee Worgan as the Sports keeper beat him to the through ball. Mr Eddie instantly reached for a card, but it was a yellow, surely orange- rather than lemon-tinged. Thankfully, the rest of the game remained full-blooded but not ugly.
By midway through the half, Borough were chiselling their way into the match. Walker released Gravata racing in from the left, but the goalkeeper was out to cut short Leone’s run. And just past the half-hour, an unwelcome enforced change was turned to good effect: Mitch Dickenson suffered a crunching rib injury, and – with young Jay Beckford slotting impressively into midfield off the bench – Jack Burchell and Milly Scarlett reverted to roles closer to their usual positions.
Walker found Pearce with a piercing ball through the right channel, but keeper Lloyd Irish smothered the striker’s run. And the first half lurched to a close with, at least, no more collateral damage and the chance to regroup.
Whatever the manager said in the dressing room, or whatever they put in the tea, the Sports came back out revived and re-invented. Suddenly Alfie was on the ball, Shiloh was in space, the home defence were in panic, and Pearce was in on goal to equalise from close range. Game on.
Taunton were now under real pressure for the first time in the night. Defender Luke Wennell copped a yellow for a clumsy challenge, earning Borough a free kick and then a corner. Remy drew a decent sprawling save from Irish with a darting run and diagonal low shot. Then Beckford pinged an effort too high from Kai’s deep cross. Was there another goal imminent? Could we dare to dream?
Yep. Exactly midway through the half, another nimble move cut Taunton open and Pearce was there once again to hit the net for 2-1. This was the true inventive, attacking Eastbourne Borough. But what they needed now would be strong nerve and disciplined defence, as the Peacocks flocked forward in numbers.
Half an hour of bombardment: corners, crosses, death-or-glory launches on Worgan’s goal. And a raucous, baying home crowd urging them on. Twice the woodwork shuddered, once a post and once the crossbar, but Taunton never really found a Plan B, and the minutes drained away. It had been, quite simply, a transformation.
Four aching added minutes, and the game was over. But the night was not quite done: as Borough players trooped down the chicken run in a corner of the ground closest to the packed Taunton home end, a couple of hundred West Country football fans thundered their applause for the Sports. That meant more than just three points: it set the seal on a memorable night.
Borough: Worgan; Burchell, Dickenson (Beckford 32), Barry; Scarlett, Remy, Bendle, Innocent; Walker (Wabo 90), Pearce, Gravata. Unused subs: Holter, Kastrati, Pollitt.
Referee: Philip Eddie Att: 510
Borough MoM: Charlie Walker – captain, creator and commander