“[Gosport] produced a stubborn, gritty and determined display and could be rightly proud of the point that keeps them two points clear of the drop zone”
If, at the end of April, Gosport Borough have sealed National South safety and have avoided relegation, they will rightly look back on Tuesday's 2-2 draw as the first step in the right direction.
After a wretched run of six straight league defeats, the smart money was on the eighth placed Beavers to take a home win and bolster their play-off hopes. But they had reckoned without a resurgent Gosport side who, fielding three new signings, produced a stubborn, gritty and determined display and could be rightly proud of the point that keeps them two points clear of the drop zone.
The statistical story of the game will tell you that Tony Lee (pictured) scored twice as Gosport firstly took the lead then fell behind to goals from Culley and Pavey - only to find a way back. But all over the park, there were superb performances from the green-shirted away side.
Adam Brice led the way with a wonderful defensive show alongside Joe Oastler who evoked memories of Terry Butcher for England in Sweden in 1989. Oastler finished the game with a nasty head wound which left the Gosport skipper covered in blood and needing hospital treatment afterwards.
The debut making goalkeeper Mark Childes was also on the money. It was the rarest of creatures spotted in this murky season at Gosport Borough - a solid team performance which deserved reward.
Alex Pike was forced into changes for the hour long run up the M3 to Hampton's Beveree home. Aaron Dawson was suspended whilst Nick Jordan was injured and Rowan Vine also sat the game out despite having proved his fitness.
But in came three new faces - two from Eastleigh in Childes and midfielder Jack Masterton and the massive defensive presence of Ed Sanders from Bognor Regis Town who partnered Oastler in the centre of defence.
Also back in were long term absentees Josh Carmichael and Ben Harding.
The game got underway on a fairly damp pitch on a chilly evening in south west London. Ten days previously, Alex Pike had described his team's performance against league leaders Maidenhead as "green shoots of recovery" and from the start those shoots began to blossom under the Beveree floodlights.
Boro' held their own against a lively, pacy home side who got forward quickly in a hectic opening ten minutes, generating a few chances through the tricky Brendan Kiernan and the unpredictable Josh Casey.
Having weathered that storm, Boro' stunned the home crowd into silence as they broke the deadlock after 21 minutes. Ben Wright saw his shot on the turn come back off the crossbar but the rebound fell nicely to Tony Lee who created enough room for himself, managing to angle a shot past Sam Howes and in.
Hampton reacted by asking all the right questions of their visitors with Kiernan and in particular, Casey, being the main protagonists. But Gosport held firm until the break at which point they looked good value for their lead.
The home fans called for Duncan Culley during the interval. Culley had rescued Hampton at Eastbourne as a substitute last weekend, netting a late equaliser to salvage a 2-2 draw. His services were required once more.
He duly arrived on the pitch for the second half as Hampton played with three up front for the final 45 minutes. They exerted huge pressure on the Gosport defence which, despite some very competent and brave defending, was finally breached on the hour.
A corner from Casey was met by Culley who towered above Oastler who head home the equaliser. In a dizzying three minute spell, Gosport then fell behind as the game did an about-face.
Pavey converted a penalty won by Kiernan - sending Childes the wrong way and leaving Gosport, somewhat harshly, behind and with it all to do. But this rare species, a Gosport fightback was about to be spotted in public for the first time in two months.
And how. Childes kept Gosport in contention with a decent save from Odametey minutes before Ben Wright slipped the perfect pass through to Tony Lee who clinically finished to bring Boro' level. The 20-30 travelling fans were in raptures but then they saw there was still 20 minutes left and the hardest part for their players was about to begin.
Hampton laid siege to the visitors goal and the bookings and injuries mounted up for Alex Pike. Carmichael was booked for a challenge which also left him injured and he was withdrawn as a precaution. Ramone Rose also came on as a sub but only five minutes later was withdrawn having tweaked a hamstring.
Ben Harding and notably Joe Oastler were injured in the finale with Harding having to finish the game despite having aggravated his knee after Pike had used all his subs. Oastler in making a brave, decisive headed clearance was caught by a flailing boot, leaving him with a nasty facial wound.
Gosport saw off their hosts best efforts and clung on for a point - a deserved point - and one which keeps them two points clear of Whitehawk who occupy the first relegation berth. The performance and result will boost morale ahead of an equally tough weekend assignment at home to third placed Dartford with whom Gosport shared a 0-0 draw in August.
The fight for survival has begun.
HAMPTON: Howes, Solomon, Casey, Murphy, Collier, Odametey, Federico (Culley 46), Fonguck, Pavey, Jolley & Kiernan. SUBS NOT USED: Jelley, Bishop, Hicks, Kamara.
GOSPORT: Childes, Brice, Bird, Lea, Sanders, Oastler, Carmichael (Whittingham 54), Harding, Lee, Wright (Rose 80) (Bailey 86) & Masterton. SUBS NOT USED: Lanahan & Martin.
REFEREE: Josh Smith
Updated 13:03 - 8 Feb 2017 by Site Manager