Subdued Gosport crash out of FA Trophy
Josh Webb's brace and another from Paul Hodges ensured Boro's Trophy adventure ended as Hartley Wintney cruises to a 3-0 victory.
Was it only three and a half years ago that Gosport Borough played in the F.A Trophy Final at Wembley Stadium?
For many at the Privett Park club who made the journey to north west London in March 2014, their experience of watching Boro' under the arch must seem an eternity ago after their team's latest attempt to emulate that feat disappeared into the North Hampshire nightfall yesterday.
In the three campaigns since that unforgettable Sunday afternoon, Gosport have had an abysmal record in the FA Trophy. That unenviable run continued as they crashed out of this season's edition to lower league opposition for the third consecutive year.
Perhaps, it could be argued, it was a little too much like Groundhog Day. Once again away from home, against a team from a league below in tricky conditions, Gosport foundered just as they did at Cirencester in 2015 and at AFC Sudbury in 2016. On all of those occcasions, the team selected failed to come to terms with the condition and most importantly, their opponents.
In fact, Gosport have made a habit of being humbled by junior opposition in various cup competitions in recent season. So the travelling players, officials and supporters had every right to feel extremely wary of the test Hartley Wintney presented in the build up to yesterday's game.
They had been tagged as favourites in the build up to the game but for many at Gosport Borough, losing to lower league opponents has become an all too depressing and familiar reality. The last to do this, Swindon Supermarine in the FA Cup, marked the end of Alex Pike's 12 years in charge.
The home side, lying third in the Southern League East Division, had no less than five ex-Gosport players in their ranks. As we all know, those pesky ex-Boro players have recently made an annoying habit of popping up and throwing a big spanner into their former employers works.
Sam Pearce for Moneyfields, Chris Flood for Slough, Ben Wright for Basingstoke, David Jerrard for Dorchester to name but a few this season. On this occasion it was the turn of another, Rowan Vine, to cause maximum chaos.
Okay, the 40-year-old former Gosport, Portsmouth and Luton striker didn't score here. Josh Webb did, twice, and skipper Hodges also netted in the fairly straightforward 3-0 win.
But Vine, looking far fitter and sharper than he did in his last spell at Privett Park last term, had a storming game and was involved in every aspect of the Southern League East side's performance.
Clearly enjoying his football and indulging in playful banter with the travelling Gosport fans, the Basingstoke-based player effectively ran the show. The visitors for long periods, produced a fairly subdued, uninterested display, particularly after Hodges' third goal which effectively killed off the game.
The Memorial Ground pitch was heavy after overnight rain but very playable, as Gosport wearing their Green change strip got things underway. And it was the visitors who should have been ahead in the first minute. A good cross from Liam Mears found Dale Mason in the box.
The winger did well to create himself a good chance but screwed his shot across the face of the goal. Hartley soon had control of the midfield and there was a constant flow towards the Boro' goal.
On seven minutes, The Row had a strong appeal for a penalty when Paul Hodges went down. This was turned down but almost immediately the ball arrived back with Hodges whose low cross was driven by Liam Eagle who was unlucky to see the ball deflected wide.
From the resulting corner Eagle rose highest and his header was just over the crossbar.
On ten minutes, good work by Paul Hodges set up Jake Baxter who brought out a save from Tom Price in the Gosport goal.
Hartley remained on top but had a scare on 20 minutes when Dale Mason had an effort saved at the near post by Paul Strudley.
Within two minutes Hartley were ahead with a good goal - a surging run from midfield by Hodges created a chance for Webb and from around 25 yards the midfielder took aim and fired an unstoppable shot into the net.
On 26 minutes The Row added a second goal. Rowan Vine had a long run from midfield before setting up Webb who curled in a delightful shot past Tom Price from the edge of the box.
Two minutes later, Dale Mason went on a long run for the Boro' and his parting shot went past the post.
Hartley thought they had added a third goal on 38 minutes. Good passing between Louie Paget and Paul Hodges allowed Jake Baxter to run on and put the ball into the net. However, the celebrations were cut short by the flag of the Assistant Referee for offside.
A minute later, the visitors were unlucky not to reduce the deficit. An accurate ball into the penalty area from Dale Mason found Dave Onwuachu who was unlucky to see his fierce shot crash off the crossbar.
Gosport had more possession at the start of the second half but Strudley was not tested and it was The Row who had the first shot when good work by Webb in midfield set up Paul Hodges who saw his effort saved by Price.
However on 53 minutes, Hartley added a third with another good goal. Vine and Webb combined well and created a chance for Hodges who shot home from 12 yards.
The Row noticeably were content to defend the lead but almost undone on 58 minutes.
A good surging run from midfield by Liam Mears took him through the Hartley defence and Strudley did well to come out and bravely smother the parting shot. Some slack play by The Row on 84 minutes gave Kurt Watts a clear chance but the substitute seen his shot bring a smart save from Strudley.
Three minutes later after good play from Steven Duff down the left wing crossed and found Dean Stow whose effort brought a good save out of Price in the Boro' goal.
The final whistle spelt the end of another FA Trophy campaign and effectively the end of Boro's interest in cup competitions - leaving them to, as the cliche goes, concentrate on the league.....and fight for their Southern Premier Division survival.
With their scheduled midweek game at Farnborough postponed, Mick Catlin can begin to prepare his team for the critical basement battle at home to Dunstable next weekend which could yet prove to be a defining game in their season.