Gosport exit Trophy with Salisbury defeat

By Connor Steel

GOSPORT BOROUGH FC exited the FA Trophy at the first hurdle on Saturday afternoon, losing 2-1 to league rivals Salisbury City in their second straight defeat at Privett Park despite a good start.

But the 2014 finalists were unable to take full advantage of big chances where it mattered, with all three goals coming in the first 10 minutes of this knockout tie.

Red cards

However despite a watchable match between two well-drilled sides fighting in the top half of the Southern League Premier, it was sadly marred by violent clashes that forced a 10-minute delay and three red cards – including one for manager Shaun Gale.

Both sides now face disciplinary action by the league authorities

Gosport opened the scoring with their first attack as Nicky Dembele broke free down the right and attempted to find Theo Widdrington to his left on three minutes but the winger’s attempted pass was blocked at the six yard box. Dan Wooden seized upon the loose ball and ran past his marker, toe-poking his angled effort around former Borough goalkeeper Patrick O’ Flaherty inside the bottom corner from close range to spark celebrations for most at Privett Park. But any hopes of an easy afternoon against an out-of-form Salisbury outfit were dampened when the visitors scored two quickfire finishes to take the lead after just 10 minutes, Steve Claridge’s men equalising in the sixth minute.

Fantastic volley

City winger Charlie Davis found space down the left and had his attempted cross deflected for a corner via Ryan Woodford. The set-piece delivery was only partially cleared to find Thomas Blair lurking 18 yards out, with his fantastic volley crashing into the top corner past a diving Albert White between the sticks. It was 2-1 in the 10th minute as a clearance from the goalkeeper reached Luke Hallett who made a hash of passing the ball, Sam Ashton nipping in and firing a low effort into the bottom corner from 25 yards with keeper White out of position tracking back.

Salisbury should have made it 3-1 on 17 minutes when Antonio Diaz’s corner found an unmarked Charlie Kennedy who headed over from six yards, while Emmanuel Odubade’s low cross into the penalty area narrowly evaded the sliding feet of Ashton at the back post. In response, Borough saw Dembele’s cross nearly converted into his own net by a desperate Darren Mullings clearance, before Luke Hallett’s low driven effort was saved by the away keeper down low before the half-hour mark. There were also a number of Gosport corners and offsides for the hosts as they looked to level the scoreline during this spell of pressure.

Fired over

Both sides had good chances in the final 10 minutes before the break,  good build up play releasing Diaz who advanced towards goal but saw his shot drift harmlessly wide on 37 minutes. Sixty seconds later, Borough nearly equalised as Wooden’s header from a cross looped the keeper. But Oliver Knowles was there to clear off the line for Salisbury as Theo Widdrington fired over the crossbar shortly afterwards. The referee blew his whistle for the break with Gosport rueing slow and sloppy possession against clinical play, trailing the Whites 2-1 as the sides went down the tunnel.

Gosport came out firing after the break when Rory Williams’ free kick was well saved by O’Flaherty, the rebound sent goal-wards by Dembele at the back post. With home fans expecting the net to ripple, the ball appeared to hit the arm of Sommerton for a ‘stonewall penalty’, sparking loud appeals that the referee somehow turned down. Undeterred Gosport continued to push forward and saw Widdrington’s shot parried and fall to Wooden as O’Flaherty made a great double save, only for the offside flag to end the attack.

Dramatic flashpoint

Then came a dramatic flashpoint as Woodford slid into Ashton near the away dugout on 56 minutes, which sparked altercations involving players, coaches and fans who made it onto the pitch. Once all had been calmed down, red cards were shown to the Gosport defender and Mullings for Salisbury, while Gale was sent to the stands for his part in the melee. There were also warnings for many other players before the game restarted after a near 10-minute delay – upsetting scenes never welcome at Privett Park.

This incident and resulting stoppage halted all momentum in attacking play, the game resembling a pre-season friendly rather than a cup tie at times. In truth Gosport were dominating possession but were playing too narrow as extra space opened up on the wings in good positions, the final pass often letting them down as they struggled to break down a stubborn away defence determined to protect their lead. Substitutions for both sides only boosted Salisbury’s game management tactics as the game reached the final five minutes of normal time, which is when Gosport had their best chance to equalise.

Away to safety

Theo Lewis was fouled around 25 yards out just outside the box, with the set piece taken by Rory Williams. His left foot strike curled over the wall and smashed into the crossbar before bouncing away to safety with nobody able to control the rebound on 86 minutes. Moments later Borough were given further hope when Salisbury’s Sommerton picked up a knock, reducing the visitors to nine players due to a lack of available substitutions. But Gosport were unable to exploit this advantage in 11 minutes of stoppage time despite efforts from Widdrington and Lewis, the visitors comfortably holding on for progress into the First Round Pproper stage of the competition.

After another cup exit Gosport’s attentions will now turn to league action at Privett Park, hoping to rectify a run of four defeats in five games when they host Beaconsfield next Saturday. Further home clashes with Merthyr Town, Kings Langley and Swindon Supermarine are scheduled for November, alongside an away trip to Taunton Town in three weeks’ time. Their Under-18s will also travel to Reading City for their FA Youth Cup tie on Wednesday evening, with fans able to join the team coach to travel for the match. For Salisbury they will await the Trophy draw on Monday afternoon, before their next league game against Yate Town on Tuesday night.

ROUGH AND TUMBLE: Players clash on the 57th minute after bubbling tensions finally boil over. Photograph by Tom Phillips