GOSPORT Borough’s dream of a sensational FA Trophy final victory against red hot favourites Cambridge United was dashed this afternoon at Wembley.
Ryan Donaldson scored twice in the second half as Cambridge, second in the Conference Premier, won 4-0 against a Gosport side who are struggling to stay in the lower division Conference South.
Underdogs Borough held out until just before half-time, and then conceded three more in the second half.
Gosport’s fans, decked out in yellow and blue, were in great voice in the build-up to kick-off, determined to squeeze every ounce of enjoyment out of the biggest day in the club’s history.
With the majority congregated behind the goal where the unmistakable figure of goalkeeping coach Wayne Shaw put Nathan Ashmore and ex-AFC Totton man Gareth Barfoot through their paces, a huge cheer went up for each and every player as their names and photos flashed up on the big screens at either end of stadium.
Combative ex-Eastleigh midfielder Jamie Brown was back to captain the side after sitting out both legs of the semi-final against neighbours Havant & Waterlooville suspended. Up front there was a sentimental return for the Boro’s favourite son, striker Justin Bennett, who came back from loan at Poole Town last week and hit two braces in two games to establish himself as Gosport’s all-time leading scorer with 193 goals.
Mike Gosney, making his second appearance under the Wembley arch, took up his familiar role on the left wing, just as he did for AFC Totton in the 2007 FA Vase final against Truro City.
Gosport’s line-up also included former Eastleigh duo Danny Smith and Andy Forbes who had famously lifted the Vase for Winchester City at Birmingham City St Andrews Ground while the new Wembley was being built.
Gosport, proudly led out by grey-suited assistant manager Mick Catlin, looked just as determined as their fans to enjoy their big day and played their full part in a breasthless end-to-end first half played at a frantic pace.
Bennett had the first effort on goal, his looping header comfortably collected by Will Norris in the United goal.
But in the fifth minute, a mistake almost cost the Skrill Conference South underdogs as Us’ on-loan Portsmouth striker Ryan Bird burst through on goal.
But, as so often this season, Borough goalkeeper Nathan Ashmore came to the rescue, blocking with his legs from point-blank range.
Gosport were knocking the ball around with some confidence on the vast, carpet-like Wembley surface and, if anything, United looked the more awe-struck of the two sides, frequently getting pick-pocketed by the tireless running of the Privett Park upstarts.
As a rousing rendition of “Gosport Borough FC you’re the finest football team the world has ever seen” filled the stadium, Borough raised their game further with Brown digging out a shot that flew straight at Norris, then Gosney bursting past one defender and squeezing between another two but not quite conjuring up the finish his determined run deserved.
Tim Sills, making his third appearance at Wembley, then fired low at Norris after a bout of Borough pressure and it wasn’t until the 24th minute that Cambridge threatened again, but some tidy defending by Forbes saved the day.
Cambridge were sloppy in the extreme at times and were almost made to pay – twice – with the half-hour mark approaching.
First the hungry-looking Bennett conjured up a shot from the left of the area which stung the fingers of Norris before rolling free. But luckily for Cambridge, there were no Gosport players waiting to pounce on the loose ball and Richard Tait was able to get it away.
But Cambridge lost possession immediately and ball came to skipper Brown who charged forward and powered a shot over from distance.
The underdogs lost some of their momentum giving away a couple of set pieces around their area – and it ultimately proved their undoing.
There were huge cheers when Ryan Donaldson slammed on from the edge of the D straight into the Gosport wall.
But those jeers turned to groans seconds later when Richard Money’s Football League hopefuls seized a 37th-minute lead.
Luke Berry played Bird through the middle and the Portsmouth man did the rest, neatly lobbing the advancing Ashmore to give Cambridge the upper hand at half-time.
Borough’s hopes of mounting swift revenge attack went pear-shaped within five minutes of the second half as the Conference Premier thoroughbreds clinically doubled their advantage.
Liam Hughes undid the Gosport defence with a raking pass from the right and Donaldson pulled left of Ashmore before arrowing a shot into the far bottom corner.
Gosport boss Alex Pike responded by taking off skipper Brown and experienced striker Sills and throwing on the young legs of Dan Woodward and former Folland Sports winger Rory Williams.
But the Hampshire side had barely had a chance to reorganise when Cambridge struck again with an hour gone.
There was an almighty scramble in the area with Borough bodies diving here, there and everywhere to try and keep the danger out.
But, following a succession of frantic blocks and goal-line clearances, with Berry and Hughes both denied, the ball eventually came out to Donaldson who rifled home a crisp shot from inside the area.
Borough’s legs must have been aching, but they stubbornly refused to let the pace of the game drop and still created moments of excitement – and agony - for the fans packed behind Norris’s goal.
First a loose ball fell to Gosney, but he hit it straight at the Cambridge stopper. Then there was an almighty shout for a penalty when Gosney cut in menacingly from the left and the ball appeared to hit a defender’s arm. That was to be Gosney’s final contribution as he made way for Dan Wooden on 71 minutes.
Gosport still refused to let their heads drop and Bennett, looking well at home on Wembley’s hallowed turf, produced some terrific footwork before unleashing a hard, low shot which bobbled agonisingly wide of Norris’s right-hand post.
Great defending by Forbes inside the six-yard box briefly prevented further damage at the other end, but Cambridge were not to be denied.
With all hell once again breaking loose inside the Borough area, Danny Smith slid in with a desperate tackle as sub Andy Pugh was about to fire and the referee pointed to the spot.
Berry stepped up to smash home the penalty to make it 4-0 – a scoreline totally out of keeping with Gosport’s gallant contribution to an enthralling game.
The very least Pike’s men deserved on their big day out was a goal.
They so nearly go it on 78 minutes, but sub Woodward’s sublime shot from 30 yards out on the right clipped the crossbar on its way over.
It was cruel luck on the men from Privett Park who had more than given an appreciative 18,120 crowd their money’s worth on a sunny afternoon in north London.
But there were still big smiles at the final whistle as Borough’s history-makers soaked up a warm ovation from their fans after an afternoon which will live long in the memory of Gosport and Hampshire football in general.