Covid situations could give Gosport Borough boss Shaun Gale a welcome free …

Covid situations could give Gosport Borough boss Shaun Gale a welcome free …

 aria-hidden=Thiago Da Silva (hidden) heads Dorchester’s late leveller at Privett Park. Picture: Keith Woodland

Boro have had 11 midweek league and cup matches in a hectic fixture list in the first four and a half months of 2021/22.

It’s 12 if you include an August Bank Holiday Monday trip to Hartley Wintney for a Southern League Premier South game.

A 13th is due to take place on Tuesday with Boro scheduled for a near 200-mile round trip to Hendon in north London.

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 aria-hidden=Josh Huggins hitches a ride on the back of a Dorchester player. Picture: Keith Woodland

But that fixture is currently hidden in doubt as Hendon were forced to call off yesterday’s Premier South game against Swindon Supermarine due to a handful of positive Covid tests.

Gosport are consequently waiting to see whether their next game in fact turns out to be a trip to rock bottom Wimborne next Saturday.

Gale’s squad could certainly do with a midweek break in what has been a punishing schedule.

Four subsequent weeks with a midweek fixture has come against a backdrop of illness, injury and suspension within the Boro camp.

 aria-hidden=Gosport v Dorchester Picture: Keith Woodland

Hardly ever able to name a settled side, results have understandably suffered – Saturday’s 1-1 home draw with Dorchester taking Gosport’s run to just one win in their last six Southern League games.

Had they not conceded an 88th minute leveller against the Magpies, Gale’s men would be third at the halfway mark of their 42-match league programme. As it was, Thiago Caze da Silva’s late header – after Boro had switched off at a short corner – dropped them to fifth. Currently occupying the fourth and final play-off place, Gosport are a point behind Chesham with a game in hand – but Weston-super-Mare, Yate and Taunton would all move above Boro if they won their games in hand.

It is that tight in the race for promotion to the National League South, where Gosport spent four seasons up to 2016/17 and where they are desperate to return to.

Against Dorchester, Gale recalled Matt Briggs to play alongside Ryan Woodford already though the former Fulham defender had spent most of the past fortnight ill.

 aria-hidden=Gosport’s Josh Huggins slides in to make a challenge against Dorchester. Picture: Keith Woodland

Mason Walsh and Rory Williams were on the bench – and were both introduced in the 67th minute – already though they had hardly trained for two weeks due to illness and a hamstring injury respectively.

On the sidelines were Nick Dembele and Brad Tarbuck, out since November 16 (ankle) and November 27 (hamstring) respectively, while defender Matt Casey was absent with an ankle injury suffered in last Wednesday’s Hampshire Senior Cup loss to AFC Totton.

‘We’ve missed Nick – he gives us something different,’ said Gale of the player

Pat Suraci has not played since September due to a dislocated knee while Joe Lea, another who began the season well, has stepped aside from playing to concentrate on his coaching at Gosport’s centre of excellence.

 aria-hidden=A Gosport Borough backroom staff member has a information with the linesman. Picture: Keith Woodland

Also sat in the stand against Dorchester was the greatly-experienced Mike Carter. before Gosport’s skipper, he has missed most of the season by injury and, when he finally started a league game at Tiverton recently, was sent off. He began a suspension yesterday.

‘Consistency is everything,’ said Gale. ‘You want that continuity but I have not been able to select the same team every week. As a manager, it is frustrating. I can’t name the same XI, and it’s been chopping and changing two or three all the time.

‘It would be lovely to have the whole squad obtainable for once.’

The manager has only once chosen the same starting XI in subsequent league fixtures, and that was back in early August. One big positive for Gale, though, is the return of striker Matt Paterson. The former Southampton, Burton, Stockport and Hawks forward was handed his first league start of the season against Dorchester, having experienced ankle surgery several months ago.

After scoring against Totton in the Hampshire Senior Cup on his first competitive start of the campaign, Paterson was also on target on his second – converting a penalty just before half-time.

Dorchester were furious with referee James Robinson for awarding the identify-kick for a handball in the area, continuing the protests both after Paterson had scored and again at half-time.

It was one of those decisions that some refs would not have given – the player concerned standing just a few yards away when the ball was kicked at him – and no doubt Gosport would have been furious had it been awarded against them. As it was, they gleefully took complete advantage.

Theo Lewis should have doubled the rule as the hosts made a lively start to the second half – but, left unmarked, could only head Harvey Rew’s left-wing cross straight at Weymouth loanee Gerard Benfield from within the six-yard box.

Revitalised at home since ex-Totton boss Glenn Howes took charge last month, Dorchester arrived at Privett Park with just one point and one goal from their past five away Premier South matches.

They didn’t look what their position says they are – a bottom five team – and any neutrals couldn’t really have claimed they didn’t deserve their late leveller.

The hosts were undone by a short corner routine and sub Christos Papakonstantinou crossed for defender Da Silva to head past Albert White from close range.

White had earlier been the busier of the two keepers, with one of his saves coming from former Pompey youngster Alfie Stanley.

The Magpies could already have won it in stoppage time, Papakonstantinou finding space in the box only to drag a shot wide from eight yards out.

Papakonstantinou had been introduced late on, replacing ex-AFC Portchester and Moneyfields striker Kieran Roberts who had only been on the pitch 16 minutes himself, during which his main contribution was to get booked for a foul on Josh Huggins, before limping off injured.

‘It’s clearly disappointing to concede a late goal,’ stated Gale. ‘But credit to the group, it’s another point.

‘Second half we needed to take our chances – Theo’s got to score with a header from five yards out.’

Gale, though, was eager to look at the wider picture. ‘I’ve had players in bed ill – not Covid – who haven’t been able to aim. You know what it’s like – it’s hard enough to get out of bed when you’ve been ill, let alone run around at complete pelt.

‘This is a fantastic group, one of the best I’ve ever had, it’s a young group with some experienced heads. In football things take time.

‘If I dropped (young) players every time they made a mistake they wouldn’t get any better.

‘There’s lots of good things happening at this club on and off the pitch.’

Gale was heartened by a crowd of 510 on a gloomy, rainy pre-Christmas afternoon.

Gosport boast the division’s second highest average league crowd – 522 – which is second only to Weston-super-Mare’s 640. Boro’s 2021/22 attendances are well up on 2019/20 (12th best average in their division with 286) and 2018/19 (ninth best average with 280).

Some of Boro’s most attractive Privett Park games are nevertheless to come in the second half of the campaign – notably fixtures against promotion favourites Farnborough and Hayes & Yeading and matches against fellow play-off hopefuls Weston, Taunton and Salisbury.

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