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  • Writer's pictureHead Scout

Go (South) West

Weston Super Mare 1-1 Eastbourne Borough (National League South)

I’m back home from Gateshead well gone midnight as I drive past a Kebab House on Nuthall Road still open, I’m tempted, but more tempting is to get straight back home to bed.

Today I’ve got an equally as long journey than my commute and back to the North East on Monday, this time to the South West as I head down to Weston Super Mare and my first ever visit to their Woodspring Stadium.

Weston won the Southern League (South) last season and this year have consolidated at the level above in mid table, safe from relegation and without chance of promotion, they are playing for pride, which is a dangerous beast, as their opponents Eastbourne Borough have all to play for.

Eastbourne are in their thirteenth season at the level, having gone fully pro in the summer they had a terrible start to the campaign but recent form has seen them rejuvenated under Manager Adam Murray who has local connections to me, he previously managed Mansfield Town and played for Rainworth Miners Welfare, he has a few locally known lads based in his makeup, one of which Pierce Bird, who’s family I know quite well, it’s a fair old place to play his football on the south coast, currently on loan from AFC Fylde.

The Seagull’s, as Weston are nicknamed, play in Swansea City all white, formed in 1887, they have had one or two re-incarnations, previous players include current England international Ollie Watkins who once went on loan here from Exeter, their Southern League success last season perhaps their most notable achievement.

Eastbourne are much younger in comparison, changing their name from Langley Sports in 2001, they had three years in the National League 2008-2011 and have ever since pluckily survived at tier six of the English Football Pyramid.

Their Chairman Simon Leslie has ambitious plans for the club and is a bit of a character, in the job since the summer I’m told he tried too much too soon which is no real great sin, but the initial results put Eastbourne in a predicament and it’s only recent form that has seen them fight for survival, a win tonight should guarantee safety but anything else, with a game left to play, it will go down to the wire and this weekend's match at Braintree.

The Venue

I travelled down the M42 and M5 with surprising minimal fuss, I’m in the town of Weston Super Mare in 3 hours, the geography is flat in a wide valley, with plenty of roundabouts, the sun is out as I pull up on a chalk coloured housing estate across the way and on the edge of town.

The ground glistens in sunlight as I walk towards the turnstiles on Winterstroke Road, there’s a Lidl next door for emergency supplies, opposite is an industrial estate, as I approach the steward to ask ‘how to get in’, I notice a huge white board which says ‘Next Match’ in front of a low brick built clubhouse which is quiet for 6:30pm on this beautiful bright spring evening.

I’m told to go to a side gate where I ask a lady if my name is on the list… “Not tonight” they can’t see anything, “Usually we don’t have your lot down here” I’m told. But thankfully I’m submitted a pass, let in through the door by a very kind chap and I walk into a flat, wide, beautiful, spacious non-league football home, pitch looking grassy, a bit left on, the stand to my right behind the goal is metal, big, a few red seats, crash barriers, it dwarfs everything else, far side is open ended with the dugouts and a bit of scaffold for TV cameras, near side has a couple of tin roofed seated areas which have seen better days, behind the goal to my left a low roofed stand, but it feels like a proper football place, a real quaint and charming bedded in ground of age, backed by trees and hills, looking even better in gorgeous dusking sunlight.

The Game

I meet an old chap who works for the away side, he’s lovely and fills me in with their situation, they need a win but they’re in fine form of late with one defeat in nine, they have a really good team, and they have a really good chairman, and they have a really good vibe as even the travelling players not in the matchday squad seem to have good banter with their staff. It feels like a good place to be at, surreal for a team that is not yet out of the relegation fight, to have such feel-good factor, as I’m told of a player, Yahya Bamba, recently picked up from Cray Wanderers, a striker who fell out of love with the game after being released by Brentford, but who’s helping turn Borough’s fortunes around, he’ll be one to watch tonight.

The opening itself is a contrast of styles, Eastbourne 3-5-2 look to go back to front quickly and hit their attacking threat with direct play, whilst Weston are very neat on the ball, triangles from defence into midfield, Lloyd Humphries is a lovely footballer, stroking it about in the centre of the park, every time he gets the ball the crowd shout ‘shoooooot’ maybe alluding to the capabilities he has?

Weston force Eastbourne goalkeeper Harrison Foulkes into a wonderful diving save early on but it’s Eastbourne who draw first blood, a long ball is misjudged and the pacey Bamba is through, he benefits from a mix up and sticks a leg out as the ball crosses the line to give the away fans (of which there’s not many) along with their staff and cheering chairman sat in front of me, a cushion of relief.

The Score

At half time the chap beside me has his tablet out, trying to work out the permutations from Taunton Town losing against Torquay, I say “in 45 minutes they’ll probably be a few more changes to that table” as he nervously tries to work out if Eastbourne can avoid going to Braintree in their final game needing ‘something’ to stay up.

But Weston Super Mare are not worried about that, they come out from the interval with the shackles ‘off’ as they intend to attack, whilst Borough sit back, and decide to protect their lead.

It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t as I mention it’s a tricky stick or twist philosophy to entail, defensively Eastbourne look assured, by now they aren’t too adventurous going forward, they look to have pace on the break which does suit, but a moment of magic, or a mistake, and the hosts are back in the game.

There’s a couple of nervy moments, the game has a bit of edge in the later stages, a couple of bookings as tensions rise, both sides have made all subs, but the Seagulls are still following the trawler as they aim to get level, they’ve had a couple of long range pot shots, most notably through Humphries, as the board goes up for six minutes extra, Borough fend off four into that, before Humphries tries his luck again, this time it’s on target, his previous couple of attempts hitting the roof of the stand (which isn't as high as it sounds), but this one forces Foulkes into a fingertip save, “he’s earned his money tonight” I say, but the following corner has an almighty scramble, and substitute Jamie Soule smashes home, a sickener for Eastbourne who’s two points dropped means their survival fight will now go to the last day.

The Stars

Some excellent performances from Eastbourne on a night where they dug in, defended well, and almost grabbed the perfect away, I had visions of Adam Murray being satisfied with that, more than any other game this season, for the very way each individual did their job, for 95 of the 96 minutes played, but that gut wrenching leveller would have changed the mood, from one of joy, to one of ‘what might, and should have been.

Credit the home side who in the bald headed Luke Humphries orchestrated at times some lovely passing play, calm, short, neat stuff, one and two touch, a good side to watch and Manager Scott Bartlett deserves acknowledging for what he’s assembled.

I liked big centre half Sam Avery who could play and mix it, left winger Bailey Kempster who got chalk on his boots, and James Dodd in midfield who combined with Humphries well, delicate and tidy in possession.

For Eastbourne their star asset did look like Bamba who is tall, leggy, quick, quite strong and awkward as a centre forward, whilst the experienced Matty Green beside him didn’t have his best night, he battled, their defenders, in particularly Moussa Diarra, a solid warrior of a competitor, and right wing back David Sesay, who’s decision making and natural attributes was very good, all played well, goalkeeper Harrison Foulkes unlucky to concede, as he was probably man of the match.

The Verdict

As I said to the Eastbourne guys “good luck for Saturday” I couldn’t help feel like I wanted them to have had a better result, they equally wished me to come and see them at there place, where I hope, they’ll be playing National League South football next season.

The club seems to be in a good place and relegation could banish that, so I feel for all involved, keeping them in the division is key, and I hope they can survive with a plan to build in the summer.

For Weston Super Mare, I think they just tick along fine, good football, good fans, a good ground, it’s a lovely place to watch and play, and I’ll be back at the Woodspring Stadium again one day soon.

The Teams

Weston Super Mare: Max Harris, Keiran Thomas, Jordan Bastin (Jacob Crane 15), Lloyd Humphries, Jason Pope, Sam Avery, Robbie Willmott, James Dodd, Marlon Jackson (Jamie Soule 74), Dayle Grubb, Bailey Kempster (Rex Mannings 74).

Eastbourne Borough: Harrison Foulkes, Brad Barry, Dan Quick, Alfie Bendle, Finn Ballard-McBride (Decarrey Sheriff 77), Sam Beard, Moussa Diarra, Matt Green (Jake Hutchinson 76), David Sesay, Yahya Bamba (Imran Uche 77), Pierce Bird.

7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 16th April 2024, Woodspring Stadium, Weston Super Mare (att 1,078).

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