On the night Gosport handed the Russell Cotes Cup itself back to the Hampshire F.A, their hopes of regaining the trophy they won last May hung perilously in the balance.
Wessex One visitors AFC Stoneham, who play four levels below Gosport, were just seconds from holding Boro' to a highly creditable 2-2 draw and gaining a golden opportunity to pull off a huge cup upset in a penalty shoot out.
Twice the Eastleigh based side had fought back from behind to level, with two goal Ashley Ledger keeping their hopes alive after Ben Wright had nudged Boro' ahead with a double.
With the visitors on the cusp of securing spot kicks, deep in stoppage time, up popped Bird with a long range pile driver to secure a semi-final at AFC Portchester in a repeat of last seasons final.
Gosport fielded a much changed side to the one that had lost at home to Dartford at the weekend. Nick Jordan was sufficiently recovered from a knee injury to start and there were several changes as many players were rested ahead of two league away trips in the next week at Eastbourne and Truro.
Ollie Bailey started as did Ben Wright while Josh Carmichael captained the side as a makeshift defender whilst Scott Walters also returned from injury to appear in a side that also contained player-coach Danny Thompson.
After an energetic start from the visitors, Gosport asserted their authority and took a 14th minute lead. Ben Wright was the executor, showing some careful control and applying a decent finish after an exquisite through ball from Ollie Bailey.
The visitors had a good spell as the first half drew to a close but were unable to create any clear chances. Josh Carmichael almost sliced a cross from Ledger into his own net but fortunately for the home side his wayward ball spun out for a corner.
Bird almost made it two with a right footed effort that was well saved by Whieldon who also denied Wright moments later. Stoneham almost found an equaliser in the last minute of the half as Ledger’s looping header from a Morris free kick forced Jordan into a finger-tip save.
Olly Forbes headed wide early in the second period as Stoneham began the search for an equaliser within 90 seconds of the restart. But they weren’t to be denied as Ledger rolled home an equaliser after a mix up in the Boro' defence. It was nothing less than the visitors deserved.
However, the home side regained the lead straight from the re-start as Wright converted a deep cross at the far post.
A flurry of substitutions for both sides saw Jordan and Walters taken off for Higgins and Thomas. Jordan, it appeared had aggravated his knee injury and he was replaced by Thomas but he had barely reached his goal when he was booked for his part in an altercation.
Stoneham continued to press and Clarke headed just over as they continued to be adventurous. With thirteen minutes remaining, they gained their reward with a header from Ledger sneaking past Thomas and dropping into the net.
They now pushed on looking for a dramatic winner, knowing that they already had the penalty shoot out to fall back on. But it was they who were to be on the wrong end of a dramatic finale.
Tom Bird saved Gosport’s blushes with a dramatic winner deep into stoppage time, rifling a shot past Whieldon from 25 yards out to win it. Stoneham were devastated and had no time to respond. They were out and Boro' snuck through to the last four where they will, as they did last May, visit Graham Rix's Portchester where they will hope to once again reach the final.
Perhaps they haven't seen the last of the Trophy itself just yet.
GOSPORT: Jordan (Thomas 67), Walters (Higgins 66), Bird, Carmichael, Bush, Martin, Thompson, Lanahan, Wright (Morris 73), Bailey & Whittingham.
AFC STONEHAM: Whieldon, Bullock, Wright, Morris, Stupple, Clarke, Forbes (Cressdee 76), Welch (Manning 46), Ledger, Brady & Hogan. SUB NOT USED: Rawlings.
Updated 08:23 - 15 Feb 2017 by Site Manager