AS Southern League surprises go, they don’t come much bigger than the one witnessed at the Testwood Stadium on Saturday.
AFC Totton’s inexperienced young guns – third to bottom of the Calor Premier – looked to be on the ropes when Cambridge City raced 2-0 up in the opening 12 minutes.
But, miraculously, it was the play-off chasing visitors who left Salisbury Road with a bloody nose after being hit with knockout blows from Rob Flooks and Harrison Gilkes (2) as the Stags pulled off the unlikeliest of 3-2 victories.
“It’s not a bad little win!” grinned manager Steve Riley, as his quickly maturing side made it three league triumphs in a row. “We went two down in 12 minutes and I didn’t think the lads had listened to the pre-match team talk. “I only mentioned one of their players, the No10 Adam Marriott, and said that if we gave him time and space he’d score – and it was him who got both goals!
“But our response was fantastic.
“Some great play on the left by Luke Roberts earned us a corner, Liam Gilbert put in a great delivery and Rob Flooks scored with a header for 2-1. I was particularly pleased with that because I’d told the lads we needed to capitalise more on set-pieces.”
That was in the 24th minute and, three minutes later, Totton equalised with a strike of the highest quality.
Drew Bridge found Gilkes in midfield and the exciting, young AFC Bournemouth loanee powered forward before smashing the ball over the ’keeper from 30 yards.
“It was a hell of a strike and our fans went mad,” said Riley. “It was 2-2 at half-time and I said it was a balancing act and did we want to try and keep hold of a point or go for all three. They all said ‘yeah’ big-time for going for the win and I told them to go out, be bold and keep up the phenomenal work-rate.”
Two top-drawer saves by ex-Saints academy ’keeper Steve Mowthorpe kept Totton’s plan on course and it took until the 89th-minute to make it mission accomplished.
Liam Hibberd was brought down in the box and Gilkes gloriously fired in the penalty winner.
“I felt the penalty award was a bit soft, but what a win!” smiled Riley.
“Their manager Gary Roberts praised us for being a hard-working, honest side.
“I’ve never won against one of Gary’s teams before and I still think Cambridge will get into the play-offs.
“But that’s ten points out of 12 for us now which is brilliant going into Tuesday’s match at Poole Town.”
Poole’s play-off push came a cropper 2-0 at Burnham – their second defeat in the space of four days.