By Connor Steel
GOSPORT BOROUGH kickstarted their play-off ambitions and secured an opening victory of the calendar year as they hosted rivals Merthyr Town on Saturday afternoon; eventually winning two-one against the Welsh team after a “superb” second half comeback and brilliant ‘overall’ performance watched by a big crowd of 768 supporters at the AEI Stadium.
The visitors began well under overcast skies and created their first chance after eight minutes as Ricardo Rees saw his shot blocked at source; Tom Handley and Olly Mehew further going close before Merthyr took an early lead. It came as a ball kindly landed into the path of Handley, who fired home a low spinning drive past home goalkeeper Toby Steward.
It should have been two-nil in the seventeenth minute as Frazer Thomas danced through the defence and saw his neat attempt denied by Steward, whilst Noah Smerdon had a header cleared off the line from a corner seconds later. Hanley soon saw a curling free kick tipped over by Steward before Gosport had a first shot in anger; Rafa Ramos lashing wide.
The half opening spurred Gosport forward before the interval as Samuel Hookey set up Dan Wooden and the ‘attacker’ scuffed one into the gloves of William Fuller in the Merthyr goal, which was followed up by Bradley Tarbuck slicing wide under pressure. Down the other end the away side pushed for the second goal with both Rees and Thomas to no avail.
Borough resumed quickly and saw Harry Kavanagh bend a shot wide off target before forcing an outstanding set-piece save by Fuller on 52 minutes. Ramos further forced the visiting keeper into a second ‘diving’ save moments later as he connected with Tarbuck’s inch-perfect pass at close range before the ball was quickly cleared away by Matthew Harris.
Borough resumed quickly and saw Harry Kavanagh bend a shot wide off target before forcing an outstanding set-piece save by Fuller on 52 minutes. Ramos further forced the visiting keeper into a second ‘diving’ save moments later as he connected with Tarbuck’s inch-perfect cross at close range before the ball was rapidly cleared away by Matthew Harris.
The hosts finally scored a deserved equaliser before the hour mark as Ramos fired across the keeper and into the near corner; sparking huge celebrations behind the goal. In response Merthyr made their substitutions in a key area and this solidified their midfield three, which freed them to push forward with an ‘urgency’ as Alex John’s low ball was fired over.
Wooden then made himself a hero with twelve minutes left as he collected a deflected pass and sent his powerful drive into the net for two-one. And this was how it remained at the final whistle despite waves of pressure from Merthyr, who were arguably unfortunate not to level as Steward denied both Smerdon and Lewys Twamley with incredible late stops.
The victory means that Gosport leapfrog Merthyr into third place in the current table using goal difference, although the away outfit have played more games than Pat Suraci and Joe Lea’s team. They will be hoping to build on their success this week with two tough away matches as they travel to Harrow Borough on Tuesday, before visiting Dorchester Town.
PICTURED BY TOM PHILLIPS: Cheerful scene between players and home fans after ‘final whistle’ at the AEI Stadium.