Late equaliser seals Winchester stalemate

By Connor Steel

GOSPORT BOROUGH maintained their unbeaten home record under Mark Molesley’s management as they hosted Winchester City on Bank Holiday Monday, drawing two-apiece against their fierce Hampshire rivals in a first league encounter at Privett Park in almost fifteen years. But this was actually the fairest of results after ninety minutes with both teams playing out an even affair for large periods, much of the drama coming in five minute periods at the start and conclusion of this highly anticipated derby watched by almost 900 supporters.

Despite a quick start from Winchester on a heavier pitch surface it was the hosts who took an early lead after four minutes through Kyal Williams; the winger intercepted a pass off defender Callum Chugg before sending a low curler past goalkeeper Jordi Valvero Miret into the net. But this lead didn’t last as Winchester equalised just three minutes later as Warren Bentley floated a perfect delivery into the crowded penalty area and found striker Simba Mlambo; who made no mistake in rising highest and nodding into the top left corner for one-all.

These two quickfire goals made way for a calmer passage of play that was broken after fifteen minutes with Winchester looking threatening in possession; Oliver Griggs advancing towards the area and playing a good cross that was glanced over by Lerone Plummer from a tight angle. Down the other end Kyal Williams broke through but was denied by the legs of Valvero Miret sixty seconds later; the visiting keeper further stopping a curling effort by Brad Tarbuck and a drive from pacey winger Abdulai Bell-Baggie before the 30 minute mark.

Winchester continued to push for a lead with Max Smith forcing a comfortable save by the home goalkeeper Patrick O’Flaherty on thirty-three minutes; both outfits awarded free kicks for a number of niggly tackles. But it was Gosport who looked the better with Harvey Rew and Danny Hollands linking up on the left side before the latter’s angled effort was blocked at source; multiple promising attacks fizzling out against the organised away backline as both teams remained equal at the half time interval, much to the annoyance of the visitors.

It was a cagey start to the second period with bookings across the sides; Hollands, Chugg and Archie Wilcox all seeing yellows for frustrated tackles. And it was from a free kick that Gosport nearly scored a second after fifty-seven minutes with Valero Miret brilliantly denying a curling shot from Tarbuck that looked destined to hit the top corner; the resulting goalmouth scramble seeing two efforts blocked before changes from both teams signalled a lull as they cancelled each other out in midfield with poor passes regularly breaking great attacks.

But it was the visitors who suddenly switched through their gears with twenty minutes remaining on the clock with Claudio Herbert providing the spark; his low set-piece bouncing into fellow substitute Henry Brooks who dragged wide with his second attempt on 75 minutes. Smith was then denied by Issiaga Kaba down the right side before Mlambe was played into a pocket but saw his skidding effort denied by an outrushing O’Flaherty; the away shot-stopper further brilliantly tipping over a powerful 25-yard free kick curler from Warren Bentley.

Away pressure finally told on eighty-one minutes as Winchester were given a set-piece in shooting range as Herbert stepped up, sending his curling shot beyond O’Flaherty into the right corner to spark jubilant scenes amongst their supporters. But they were silenced within two minutes as Dan Wooden’s glancing header was cleared off the line and fell kindly to find substitute Billie Busari, who simply made no mistake in acrobatically finishing into the bottom corner for two-apiece and the points were ultimately shared after further stoppages.

Combined with other score-lines from across the Southern Premier Division throughout Monday, this two-all draw means Gosport remain seventh from bottom in the table after twenty-three matches so far; higher goal difference separating them from Winchester at this point.  The home side have only lost once in the previous four matches and this is a streak that the Director of Football will hope to continue going into two big games; first travelling to Plymouth Parkway later this week (January 7) before also entertaining strugglers Yate Town.

PICTURED BY TOM PHILLIPS: Home attackers tries to hold off challenges during the first half of Hampshire derby on Monday afternoon; the points being shared between evenly matched teams at packed Privett Park.