Gosport Borough: Match Preview
Gosport Borough are in their third season in non-league’s second tier. In their first Conference South season in 2013-14, the club finished a very respectable 12th and also made it to Wembley in the FA Trophy final where they lost to Cambridge United. 2014-15 saw further improvement when a sixth place finish left Gosport just three points outside the play-off places.
When Truro and Gosport first met this year on August 29that Privett Park, the Hampshire team was enjoying another strong start to a season and were undefeated in the first five games. Twelve places then separated the two clubs, with Gosport in fourth and Truro in 16th.
Gosport’s better form showed as they took all three points in that encounter. Although Truro went ahead after 25 minutes through a Matt Wright header, Brett Poate equalised just nine minutes later and the teams went in level at half time. Gosport came out re-energised for the second half and two quick goals in the 64th and 66th minutes from Ben Harding and Dan Wooden knocked the wind out of Truro, leaving the final score 3-1 to the home side.
Since then Gosport have stumbled, losing three of their last six games and taking only five points from a possible 18. Truro, in contrast, are unbeaten in the last six and have notched up 12 points.
All of which means that, ahead of the return fixture at Treyew Road, the gap between the two clubs has narrowed from twelve to four league places, with Gosport down to ninth and Truro up to 13th. Both team faced high-flying opposition last Saturday and Truro came off better, holding third placed Whitehawk to a goal-less draw while Gosport went down 2-1 to league leaders Ebbsfleet
Taking a closer look at the Gosport team, two factors emerge as key to recent successes.
First is that the club has benefitted from its geographic proximity to two strong Premiership and Football League academies, Southampton and Portsmouth. Last summer, Gosport signed players from both and while midfielder Perry Ryan, with 150 appearances for Pompey stands out, four of the closed season’s other arrivals had experience with one of those two clubs.
Second is the presence of a core of older, more experienced players who have been at the club for several years each. This, combined with the fact that manager Alex Pike is in his tenth year with Gosport gives stability that is rare at any level of football.
In terms of players to watch, any analysis has to start with Justin Bennett, the 31 year old striker who has been at Gosport on and off since 2007. The club's record goal scorer, who picked up the Conference South Golden Boot in 2014-15, has started off the current season in similar form and is the National League South’s top scorer so far. Bennett has notched up 12 of Gosport’s 18 League goals and also got five of the 10 scored in the FA Cup before the club’s exit from the competition at the hands of Whitehawk. Bennett – along with another established goal scorer Dan Wooden - was sent off in the replay with Whitehawk but the timing of the suspensions means that both are eligible to play against Truro.
In an effort to throw a spanner into the Gosport works, near neighbours and fierce National League South rivals Havant & Waterlooville have just made a £12,500 bid for Bennett. Unsurprisingly this has been rejected out of hand and Gosport manager Alex Pike has accused his Havant counterpart, Lee Bradbury of ‘mind games’.
This outbreak of ‘Hampshire handbags’ looks suspiciously like retaliation for Gosport’s £7,500 bid two weeks ago for Havant’s leading goal scorer Matt Paterson. And just in case that’s not confusing enough, Paterson only moved to Havant in the summer from, yes you guessed it, Gosport. This particular south coast soap opera looks like it will run and run.
While there is always a tendency to focus on goal scorers, Gosport’s formidable defensive record also catches the eye. Having conceded the fewest goals in the Conference South last season - an average of just one per match - the club’s strength in that department has carried over to 2015-16. Only Ebbsfleet and Maidstone have let in fewer goals so far this season.
At the heart of that defence is ‘keeper Nathan Ashmore who certainly impressed in the first match against Truro. A highly influential presence at the back, the 25 year old, 6 ft 2 in Ashmore is in his fourth year at Gosport and is a firm favourite with the fans.
32-year-old central defender Brett Poate, who scored the equaliser against Truro in August, is another Southampton Academy graduate. Now in his fourth year at Gosport, Poate has been a major factor in Borough’s watertight defence in the Conference and National League South.
And Alex Pike bolstered the back line further in the summer by bringing in 25-year-old TJ Cuthbertson who spent two years with Portsmouth as a teenager.
Amongst the other 12 players who arrived at Privett Park in a closed-season signing binge are some with experience in the upper reaches of the Football League. Midfielder Ben Harding has Wimbledon, MK Dons and Aldershot on his CV. In the case of ex-Stoke City right back Elliott Wheeler, that experience extends to the Premiership.