Monday 22nd April 2019, 1500 Kick Off
Gosport Borough FC vs Wimborne Town FC
The Build Up
The second half of my Easter Weekend double header saw me again heading south out of London with my fiancé. This time, however, she was coming too, having seen that even non-league football was preferable to twenty mile runs in the heat.
A visit to Gosport Borough was of course just how she had imagined spending Easter Monday, and when I explained how important this fixture was in terms of the Evo Stik Southern Premier Division South relegation battle, she could scarcely contain her excitement. With the hosting ‘Boro sitting in 19th at the start of the day, three points were essential to help them pull clear of the relegation zone, where Walton Casuals were currently occupying the last unconfirmed spot.
Under the management of Craig McAllister, Gosport have undeniably improved this season, in what (in my opinion) is a tougher league. This time last year they were dead last, and were only spared relegation by an implosion at Dunstable Town, coupled with an improbably good late season run. It also helped that due to restructuring there was only one relegation spot… Formed in 1944, it took until 1982 for Gosport to make the step up from local footall to the Southern League, and for the next thirty one years they bounced between there and the Wessex League. In 2013, however, Gosport reached their highest level, with a promotion to the Conference South – that lasted three seasons, before financial problems precipitated a player exodus, and relegation back to more familiar territory.
Coming into the match, they had won two, drawn one and lost three in their last six – exactly the same record as visitors Wimborne Town. The Magpies were making the trip over from nearby(ish) Wimborne Minster – a pleasant hour’s drive through the New Forest – though I imagine the Bank Holiday traffic made it a lot less enjoyable than it could have been. Boasting one of the best goalscorers in the division – Toby Holmes has added to his 50-plus haul last season with another 30 in the league so far – Wimborne have propelled themselves to comfortable safety in their first ever season at Step Three. A Play Off Final disappointment against Swindon Supermarine after finishing 3rd in the Southern League Division One West last May was tempered by the news that Shaw Lane’s resignation from the league had freed up an additional Step Three slot. A slot which Matty Holmes’ Wimborne gleefully accepted. A historic club, who were formed in 1878, Wimborne were one of the founder members of the Dorset County FA, and also fielded Luther Blissett towards the end of his career. 14th in the league coming into the match, this was already guaranteed to be their highest ever league finish.
The drive down was broken up with an enjoyable, if unexpectedly expensive, stop at Gunwharf Quays, before heading up around Portsmouth Harbour and back down into Gosport. Passing my old stomping ground at HMS Collingwood, and the Cocked Hat (scene of more than a few heavy nights), brought back memories, and by the time we arrived at Privett Park, my other half was thoroughly bored of my shit dit spinning.
Privett Park, a full seven years older than its occupants, having opened in 1937, hosts 4,500, with seating for a thousand of those. Although there is parking at the ground, unless you get there early you’re going to struggle, though there is ample parking in the local area. Even on a day where the average gate of 280 was more than doubled to 622, we had no dramas finding a space, despite arriving ten minutes before kick off.
That ten minutes just about gave us time to fork over the £10 each for entry, and pick up some refreshments. At £5.20 with a Diet Coke, the Full Monty was a wondrous creation, featuring almost all the best meat delivery variables – a burger, a sausage and bacon, topped up with an appropriately runny egg. It’s up there with the Met Police’s Whole Hog Burger, meaning that the Evo Stik Southern is a front runner when it comes to scran. Sadly, due to printer malfunction there were no programmes available, but you can’t have everything…
The opening minutes of the match were frantic. For me, at least. Having arrived so late, and struggling with a burger which was now dripping both egg yolk and brown sauce, every time either side got towards the final third I was fumbling for my camera and hoping nothing would happen. Thankfully, it didn’t, and the closest either side came in the first ten minutes was when Ryan Pennery took a pot shot towards goal from twenty five yards, which was easily held by Gerald Benfield in the Wimborne goal.
Three minutes later, and a good passing move by the hosts again gave Pennery the opportunity to shoot. It’s not hyperbole to say that there were at least thirty passes in the move, and I firmly believe that had it been orchestrated by Pep Guardiola, Gary Neville would have spoilt his trousers. Try not to think about that image. Unfortunately Pennery’s shot wasn’t quite as high quality as the move, and it was comfortably pushed wide by the ‘keeper.
The first fifteen minutes showed how both sides intended to play, and for the ‘Boro it involved getting the ball down (on what it must be said was a pristine surface, fair play to the groundsmen) and zipping two touch passes across the width of the midfield and back again. It was easy on the eye, and they were using it effectively to move up the pitch quickly. However, Wimborne were still a threat on the break, and were more than happy to pump it long – particularly into the right hand channel, allowing Toby Holmes to use his pace and put Joe Lea and Matt Casey under pressure pressure.
Around the twentieth minute the visitors put together a little spell of pressure, and were making good use of Luke Burbidge on the right. The stocky number 10, who was previously at Poole and Weymouth (only Dorchester to go, then) has played second fiddle to Holmes for much of the season, but has still managed to rack up a creditable nine league goals.
It was he who had a penalty shout (rightly) denied by the referee, Michael Chard, on 26 minutes, when he drove at the Gosport defence. He was shepherded off the ball, and went down fairly softly. He appealed hard, but was the only person to do so, and there can’t be much complaint from the Wimborne fans. Three minutes later, the lively Ibra Sekajja – who may well be the only England U16 capped striker in the division – broke down the right wing, and rather unkindly twisted the blood of left back Billy Maybury. Having decided he’d had his fun, Sekajja centred the ball low to Charlie Davis, but the Gosport skipper’s shot was well held by Benfield low to his left.
The match was hotting up, and the half chances started to come thick and fast. On 33 minutes, another slick spell of pass and move by Gosport saw an opportunity fall to Sekajja, but he drilled his shot wide. I have to say, Sekajja reminded me a lot of Danny Mills at Welling. On the ball, he is almost unplayable at times, and his dribbling style is exciting and dangerous. However, his shooting was really wayward, and I’m not entirely certain he hit the target once. To the best of my knowledge he has one league goal this season, and for a player of his undoubted ability, that is far too low a return.
Next up it was Wimborne with a chance to shoot, and it fell to the right man in Toby Holmes. Always guarded by two men, his hold up play was exceptional, and you knew that if he managed to snake one of his 8ft limbs to the ball, he’d kill it. He did after 36 minutes, and despite close attention from two, he got a shot away, but from a tight angle it flew over. Minutes later, he had the ball in the net, but play had already been stopped for offside.
On 38 minutes Player/Manager Craig McAllister had his first chance, when he worked a one-two with Alex LeFleur up from left back. The return ball gave McAllister space to shoot, but he clipped his shot over. Then, in the last action of the half, Sekajja – again – stuck an opponent on his arse, but fired his shot wide.
So at half time the score was nil-nil, but this was by no means a boring tie. Gosport were playing some lovely stuff, but just hadn’t been able to convert. Ryan Pennery and Ibra Sekajja were lively, and I felt that if the shooting chances could just fall to the number ten, he’d surely add to his 18 for the season.
Wimborne created the first chance of the second half, when Franklyn Clarke clipped a shot wide from twelve yards, but apart from that it’s fair to say Gosport had started the second half as they had the first. With the best will in the world, it looked like a match between a team who had something to play for, and a team who didn’t.
On 52 minutes, Ryan Pennery was put half clear by good work by George Barker, and having pulled away from Matty Oldring – who I assume was weighed down by his topknot (the centre back equivalent of gold boots on a prop forward) – he looked to get past Sam Davidson and Billy Maybury. He got a shot away, but was well crowded out by the defenders. Despite Pennery’s protests, it seemed legitimate to me.
Pennery didn’t last much longer, as McAllister rang the changes in search of the crucial goal. He brought on his managerial mate Matt Tubbs, but the change which really secured the victory for me, was the introduction of Tony Lee. With eleven goals this season, Lee has acted as a good foil for Pennery, and being half a foot taller, offers defenders a different problem. In the 61st minute, a good ball by Sam Roberts found him in midfield, and when given room to advance, sent off a good shot, which left Benfield’s palms stinging as he touched it wide.
Shortly after, Sekajja popped up causing problems again. First, he shot wide from around thirty yards, before driving down the right moments later. He beat his man Billy Maybury, before unleashing a shot/cross, but again it caused Benfield no headaches.
Sekajja wasn’t finished though, and with only three minutes of normal time remaining, he was found in the box by George Barker. As he turned between two men, the combined efforts of Franklyn Clarke and Matty Oldring sent him sprawling, and the man in the middle had no choice but to award a penalty.
Up stepped Charlie Davis, who had been solid in midfield. He’d spent much of the day breaking up play, and now had his chance to secure a crucial three points. Nervous? Was he bollocks. Right footed, hard and low, no dramas. 1-0 to Gosport, and a vital win in the bag.
The Wash Up
With Walton Casuals also winning (James Ewington with the goal of course), and Hendon picking up a point, there’s not much difference at the bottom. Gosport have risen one place, but are still an ominous solitary point from the drop. A trip to Play Off contenders Met Police is their final match, which looks trickier than either of their rivals’ fixtures. Basingstoke, joint on points but a position higher, may also find themselves sucked in, as they host Taunton next week, who are in a straight shoot out with Weymouth for the title.
As for Wimborne, their season will peter out against Chesham, but they won’t mind. A record league finish is on the cards, and whilst they may not mathematically be safe, a three point cushion and substantially better goal difference than those below them means they can rest easy.
Man of the match was tricky today. Gosport certainly played the better football, and whilst Gerard Benfield made a number of saves, and Toby Holmes was a dangerous presence up front, the vote has to go to a player in yellow.
It could have been Sekajja, who was a livewire runner throughout, or it could have been Sam Roberts. I felt his range of passing from the back offered a useful weapon to Gosport when they opted to mix up the short passing game. It could also have been either of Freddie Reed and George Barker, who were both so influential in that quick flowing style. However, on a day when nerves were called for, and leadership, Charlie Davis stepped up as captain. He was vocal throughout, and was a constant thorn in the Wimborne midfield – not to mention scoring the goal that could well keep the ‘Boro at Step Three.