Gosport edge home Merthyr thriller

By Connor Steel

GOSPORT BOROUGH sealed another opening day Southern League Premier victory on Saturday afternoon as they beat Merthyr Town FC, beating the Welsh outfit 3-2 in a five goal thriller in humid conditions at Privett Park. In front of over six hundred supporters two stunning finishes from Abdulai Bell-Baggie joining a first half penalty from Harvey Bradbury saw Shaun Gale’s side edging out their determined visitors on an immaculate surface as the ninety minutes saw some minor similarities to their 4-3 win over Poole Town in August 2021.

The hosts started on the front foot with good spells of possession in attacking areas, Harvey Rew regularly linking well alongside Bell-Baggie using pace and power down the left side as Bradbury fired wide after eight minutes following good interplay. Matt Briggs further headed over a deep corner from Rory Williams whilst Ricardo Rees found space for a shot on the counter attack after fifteen minutes, sending his powerful effort from twenty-five yards harmlessly over the crossbar with home keeper Patrick O’Flaherty able to stand still.

Gosport created their best chance on 23 minutes when Bradbury collected a pass to feet and laid it off to the onrushing Williams, whose shot sailed inches wide of the post brushing the side netting for a goal kick. Down the other end Merthyr looked to take the lead as Alex John’s corner was met by Lewis Powell whose headed effort flew wide under pressure, before another chance on the half-hour mark saw the pacey Curtis Jummett-Hutson’s curling shot blocked at source by a defender after cutting inside using clever footwork on the right.

The breakthrough came on 33 minutes when Bell-Baggie was fouled inside the penalty area with the officials blowing for a penalty, which was dispatched with ease by Bradbury low into the left corner. But following an injury to Kyal Williams, Merthyr equalised as Tom Handley won the ball down the left side and sending a low bending effort into the net through a crowd of players to make it one-all; atoning a Powell shot that smashed the bar just moments before as the two teams went into the interval all level after an entertaining 45 minutes.

Merthyr appeared confident upon the restart as they created a series of half-chances including a free-kick in a very threatening area, John smashing the set piece against the defensive wall and fizzling for a corner that ultimately came to nothing. And this was punished as Gosport took the lead after 54 minutes with a stunning effort from Bell-Baggie after a half volley had flew wide; the winger grasping upon a loose ball in midfield and curled his finessed effort into the top corner past the despairing dive of away goalkeeper Will Fuller’s gloves.

Dan Wooden went close to adding a third goal as his effort from a Rew cross went just wide of the near post from an angle, but Gosport weren’t rueing missed opportunities as they did make it three-one on sixty-seven minutes with another fine finish. It was Bell-Baggie who scored his 2nd goal in similar fashion to his 1st as he found himself in open space on the left flank before cutting past a defender, simply guiding the ball inside the post past Fuller before celebrating with his teammates and enjoying applause from now relaxing home fans.

Merthyr made three substitutions in response and got an immediate reward as they reduced the arrears with twenty minutes left; a goal-wards shot unfortunately diverted into his own net by a diving Briggs despite the best efforts of the home goalkeeper. This started a nervous final spell of away attacks with a mixture of set pieces alongside potentially tricky crosses into the crowded penalty area as the visitors sought an equaliser; Gosport holding firm to seal the three points after five minutes of stoppage time with good defensive efforts.

Shaun Gale’s team are sitting fourth in the Southern League Premier after the narrow victory and represents a good start to the campaign after a shaky pre-season. But the side will know this is just the beginning and consistency is needed to maintain any promotion push, starting with an away trip to Weston-super-Mare next Saturday (August 13) before they host Swindon Supermarine at Privett Park as four days later on August 17. League matches against Chesham United, Plymouth Parkway and Winchester then round out the 1st month.

PICTURED BY TOM PHILLIPS: Matt Briggs watches as Gosport players celebrate one of their three goals.