“TOP of the league, you’re having a laugh,” chanted Sholing’s merry band of Ultras fans as their side raced 2-0 up inside 14 minutes at the Silverlake Arena on Saturday.
But, alas for the Boatmen, the joke was ultimately on them as Southern One South & West leaders Yate Town cemented their lofty position with a clinical 4-2 comeback win.
For the best part of 45 minutes Sholing looked like a side determined to right the wrongs of their shock 3-0 midweek defeat at Wimborne Town.
But with injuries again taking their toll and new faces still settling in, they completely lost their way in the second half as Yate’s Lewis Haldane bagged a hat-trick and substitute Nuno Felix rubbed salt in home wounds with a sublime finish from outside the box.
“It’s very disappointing,” admitted co-boss Dave Fear who, along with Mick Marsh, has the daunting task of replacing Dave Diaper at the Sholing helm after last season’s FA Vase/Sydenhams Premier heroics.
“We were 2-0 up at half-time against the league leaders and playing really well and we had the chance to go three up. But within minutes it’s 3-2, it’s backs to the wall and the other side’s buzzing a bit.
“I was very pleased with our first 50-55 minutes and we should have put it out of reach.
“But football’s a very unforgiving game and the last 35 minutes killed us.”
With skipper Byron Mason joining Jack Smith, Alex Baldacchino and Sam Oloafe on the injury list, Sholing were again under-strength.
And though they welcomed back the influential Lewis Fennemore, the towering midfielder lasted only half an hour after suffering the recurrence of a back problem.
It was Fennemore’s determination that had paved the way for the Boatmen’s ninth-minute opener. With Yate dicing with death at the back, he seized possession and played in Braiden Hamilton, who was fouled just outside the area. Alex Sawyer slammed the free kick into the defensive wall but the ball was played back into the box and Stuart Mott headed on for ex-Brockenhurst striker Hamilton to bury his first ever Southern League goal.
Five minutes later the pace and trickery of right-winger Nick Watts forced an own goal from visiting defender Mitch Tappins to make it 2-0 and, at that stage, Yate’s top-of-the-table billing appeared to contravene the trade descriptions act.
But the Gloucestershire visitors were a different animal after the break with Jake Jackson looping an effort onto the bar before forcing a superb tip-over from keeper Matt Brown inside the opening ten minutes.
Sholing’s Wembley goalscoring hero Marvin McLean then blew the chance to put clear daylight between the teams, outfoxed by goalkeeper Martin Horsell one-on-one, and Haldane made trebly sure the Boatmen paid the price.
First he punished poor marking from a corner, pressurising goalkeeper Brown and bundling the ball home with 62 minutes gone.
Six minutes later Tippins, a growing threat on the right, crashed a curler off the inside of the far post and Haldane somehow missed the follow up.
But the strapping former Bristol Rovers and Port Vale frontman soon made amends, squeezing a low shot into the bottom corner to equalise on 70 minutes before cheekily back-heeling his side into a 3-2 lead with eight minutes remaining. Sholing had late chances – dangerman Watts squandering a one-on-one and Horsell repelling Mott’s point-blank header from sub Kev Brewster’s free-kick.
But Yate saved their best for last as Felix capped an incredible fightback with a 25-yard cracker.
Sholing have no time to dwell on the disappointment as they face Steve Riley’s third-placed AFC Totton side at the Testwood Stadium (3pm). Fennemore and Sawyer, who went off feeling ill on Saturday, will be doubts, but there’s a chance Smith, Baldacchino and Byron Mason could be back to face the resurgent Stags.
“Totton’s one of my old clubs and I do like going back there,” said Fear. “We’ll be a different side on Monday. The lads have a point to prove and we’ll give Totton a run for their money.”