National League South Fri 7 April SO Legal Community Stadium
Eastbourne Boro


Two goals in two minutes, straight after the interval, from Leone Gravata and Luke Pearce hit the slightly complacent visitors, ignited the Sports, and brought out beaming broad smiles on the faces of the majority of a brimming Good Friday crowd of 2,337 at the SO Legal Stadium.  

The Darts had arrived at Priory Lane with a purely statistical chance of the title, but more importantly with a commanding second-place finish to the season in their sights. Runners-up in National South are assured of a straightforward passage to a home play-off final. Borough, on the other hand, would need to win most of their remaining five games, to extend their season.

Danny Bloor was equally happy – even before kick-off. With a number of players returning from injury, he was virtually spoiled for choice. Mitch Dickenson was back alongside Brad Barry at the heart of defence.

It didn’t start at all well for the home side. Dartford, with half a dozen six-footers in their line-up, would present a huge dead-ball threat, and it was from a right-wing corner, with just 15 minutes played, that they claimed the lead. Tom Bonner knocked it back across goal. Harvey Bradbury headed goalwards and as the ball came down from the underside of the crossbar, Bradbury – son of former Borough manager Lee – bundled it into the net.

The early loss of powerful Alex Wall to an injury did remove one of Dartford’s physical threats, but they remained in control.  The Sports midfield was anonymous, and the terrier trio of Remy, Gravata and Pearce up front were mostly only snapping at Dartford heels.  Charlie Walker flicked a header past the front post from a right-wing free-kick, but that was all Borough could offer in the first half-hour.

As half-time neared, the Sports looked livelier, with Leone playing in Shiloh through the left channel, only for keeper Ben Dudzinski to smother the cutback. Then Leone raced on to a sweetly judged Hammond through ball, forcing Dudzinski to rush outside his area and improvise a headed clearance.

Home faces were a bit gloomy at half-time, and home shoulders were shrugging. Surely Dartford would control the second half, defend their lead and snuff out any Eastbourne creativity?  Yet another home defeat? The writing was on the wall…

But Borough tore up the script. In a sensational five minutes from the restart, they suddenly sliced Dartford apart. Walker cut infield from the left and curled a ball to Gravata, who chested it forward, pounced on a hopeless botched clearance attempt by centre-back Connor Essam, and smashed an angled shot past Dudzinski to equalise.

Two minutes later, the Sports were ahead, with all three of the young terriers involved. Remy collected Ryan Bartley’s high ball up the right, sweetly turned infield and found Gravata just outside the box. Two touches, and he played in Pearce: but with six defenders in the box, and the narrowest of channels through them, on a fifteen-yard diagonal, it would need an inspired strike to find the far bottom corner. Step up, one inspired young striker – and Luke’s low shot scudded into the net.

Dartford defenders stared at each other, briefly played the blame game, and trudged to half-way to begin the task of recovery. But now, with a roaring home crowd raising the Priory Lane roofs, the chemistry of this remarkable afternoon had utterly changed. Borough were confident, energetic, cohesive. Darts were actively chasing the game, but without a Plan B.

Max Statham planted one header too high from a Dartford free-kick, but it was the Sports who were making the running. Dudzinski kept it at 2-1 with a fabulous double save from Remy and bright young substitute Morgan Williams; and there was time for a lively cameo home debut for Jamie Yila.

A full-blooded contest – under Rob Ablitt’s quite light-touch refereeing – saw some casualties and crumpled collisions. But Mr Ablitt could not ignore full-back Jernade Meade’s two successive yellow-card fouls on Eastbourne right-wing attacks, and Dartford were suddenly down to ten men.

Ten became nine when Samir Carruthers came off worst as he and James Vaughan jumped for a high ball, and needed lengthy treatment before hobbling away: we wish him well.

There was time for the improbable sight of Mitch Dickenson and Jamie Yila both felled in the Borough wall defending a Darts free-kick. Happily both recovered after treatment. And time too for Pearce to race 70 yards with opponents in vain pursuit to put the result beyond doubt by firing past Dudzinski – except that the young Southampton loanee pulled his shot just wide of the left-hand post. Hey ho. The Priory Lane crowd were far too happy to complain.

What three words? Next. Stop. Welling.

Borough: Worgan; Bartley, Barry, Dickenson, Innocent; Hammond (Williams 65), Vaughan; Remy. Walker (Yila 70), Gravata; Pearce.  Unused subs: Beckford, Burchell, Wabo.

Referee: Robert Ablitt      Att: 2337     

Borough MoM: Leone Gravata – simply unplayable