“written by Kevin Anderson”
After two successful match days on the road, Eastbourne Borough return to Priory Lane tomorrow (Saturday) looking to keep their place among the National South front-runners.
The Sports have four wins and four draws from their nine games, but visitors Slough Town lie just two points behind them in a crowded league table. Jamie Howell expects no easy ride.
“Slough Town are an interesting side. They came up through the play-offs, with a bit of momentum, and they have kept most of their squad together. We have done a little bit of homework, of course, and we know that they will come to us in quite a positive frame of mind. They have enough about them to hold their own in this division.
“To be honest, we’ve not had an easy game yet, whether the opposition are top of the table or near the bottom. What pleases me is that we look much tighter this season and less likely to concede. If the opposition score against us, it has to be by a bit of great play or brilliance on their part, and not because we’ve bowed graciously and held the door open for them.
“In fact it’s only twice, in the nine games, that we have ever been behind – against Truro, when we fought back for a point and were probably worth all three, and against Woking, who got their winner too late in the game for us to respond.”
The other difference, perhaps, is experience. One or two eyebrows were raised when Howell recruited the likes of Dean Cox, Ryan Hall and David Martin. “What they bring is not just playing ability, but the experience and the nous to manage a game. Maybe last season we had too many followers out there and not so many leaders, but now it’s the other way round.
“And to have Sim (Ian Simpemba) in the technical area, directing a lot of the defensive shape and tactics, well, it’s like having an extra defender on the pitch.”
Is the current fourth place in National South a fair reflection? “We are still not getting carried away. We are not promising to win the league, but we know we can hold our own. Both I and my staff and players have been thrilled, really thrilled, with the response we are getting from the supporters. I say to them – keep coming, bring your mates, and we will give you our very best in return. We need each other.”
The Rebels - visiting Priory Lane for the first time ever - have enjoyed some impressive results, notably beating Chelmsford City 1-0 away - as well as some disappointments, which might just include the 1-0 defeat at East Thurrock. Their Southern Premier promotion season - coming through from a remarkably strong group of front runners including Weymouth, Hereford, Kettering and Kings Lynn - shows that they have the habit of winning. Last time out, Slough defeated ten-man Oxford City with an early penalty (and red card) and a second-half own goal.
Manager Neil Baker has built his squad on solid non-league experience, and Sports supporters will quickly recognise names such as Jack Turner - one of the top keepers on the circuit - legendary defender Alan Inns and, further forward, seasoned players like Chris Flood, Louis Soares and Manny Williams. He has recently lost top scorer Perry Coles - who turned out for Farnborough at the Dripping Pan the other night - but the Rebels have kept much of their momentum from last season. Matt Stevens, in on loan from Peterborough, scored 34 goals for Kettering last season, and he netted last week's penalty.
For the Sports, Howell will wait on the fitness of one or two players, but he is unlikely to try any unforced changes to the starting line-up which has looked settled in recent weeks. Harry Ransom suffered facial injuries, but only superficial ones, in a combative affair at Dartford. But striker Lloyd Dawes might need further recovery time after pulling up suddenly at Princes Park. Word from within the camp was that Lloyd suffered not the dreaded pulled hamstring, but a strained gluteal muscle – and a pain in the backside is much easier to overcome...
Updated 12:40 - 14 Sep 2018 by David Hamlet