ALRESFORD Town maintained their four-point cushion over Sholing at the Sydenhams Premier summit with a 3-2 home win over Downton on Saturday.
And, not for the first time this season, the Magpies had to dig deep for victory against a Robins side who are fighting for their lives.
Twice Jeff Softley’s men held the lead, but heartbreakingly for the lowly Wiltshire visitors, they succumbed to a stoppage-time winner. “How we dug that one out is beyond me,” smiled Alresford co-boss Danny Robinson.
“The players get all the credit for that – it certainly wasn’t anything Tim (co-boss Tim Cole) and I did!
“Credit to Downton too. They defended really well, made life difficult for us and caught us quite a bit on the break.
“We were the better side, but we shouldn’t have left it that long. It’s no good for my heart!”
Downton opened the scoring when Alresford failed to clear a free kick, leaving Dan Telfer with a three-yard finish.
After spurning several chances to equalise, the Mapgies finally did on 79 minutes when Luke Dempsey’s shot looked to be going wide but defender Dan Newman could only help it into the net. It was right-back Dempsey’s first goal of the season.
But the home side’s sense of relief quickly evaporated when, just two minutes later, a long clearance found Downton’s Craig Lewis who turned two defenders before shooting past Jason Collins.
With time running out, Alresford threw caution to the wind and, after forcing some fine saves from Charlie Aldridge in the Downton goal, they levelled again with a scrambled 89th-minute finish from Dom Cope.
Typically of the free-scoring Magpies, they were not content to settle for a point and, having hit the bar twice in the space of 15 frantic seconds, they earned themselves another corner in the fifth minute of added time.
The ball was cleared only as far as Zach Glasspool and his cross found Cope who calmly netted a far-post winner. With three league away games to come – Moneyfields (tonight), AFC Portchester (Saturday) and Whitchurch (Easter Monday) – and an Aldershot Senior Cup semi-final at Reading Town on Thursday (April 17), Alresford have little time to rest.
They need just one point to confirm second spot in the league and are ready to pounce on any slip-ups by title favourites and FA Vase finalists Sholing during their hectic run-in.
Asked whether Alresford could yet pip the Boatmen to the crown, Robinson said: “All we can do is look after ourselves. Whatever happens, finishing second to Sholing and runners-up for the second season running would be no mean feat.”
Alresford are tonight without Mike McEnery (ankle), Suhael Odeh (unavailable) and Steve Hall (work), but Simon Everett returned to the bench on Saturday following a hernia operation.