SUBSTITUTE Steve Claridge was Gosport Borough’s hero with a late winner to sink Thatcham 1-0 at Privett Park.
Former Pompey striker Claridge bulged the net on 85 minutes to keep Borough in the hunt for a play-off spot in Southern League division one south & west.
Gosport boss Alex Pike had to make changes and was delighted with the way his reshuffled side responded.
Injured duo Aaron Cook and Nathan Kirby missed out, along with the suspended Lee Molyneaux, while Pike drafted in Jamie Ford and former Pompey academy player Ellis Martin, with Gavin Jones returning to the side after injury.
‘Losing Lee Molyneaux and Aaron Cook for the match was always going to make things difficult for us,’ said Pike.
‘But the lads who came in did a thoroughbred job and, importantly gave us the edge to go on and win it,’ said Pike.
‘What is good about it is the fact that we now have strength in depth and the changes I was forced to make, plus the quality of our subs bench, shows the strength of this football club.
‘We have a tough time ahead of us with a couple of trips to Devon, beginning tomorrow night at Bideford and Saturday we go to Tiverton.
‘Confidence is high and deservedly so.
‘There are no easy games so we need to apply ourselves totally to get favourable results.’
With acting skipper Brett Poate leading the way at the heart of Borough’s defence, Thatcham’s strike force of Jemel Johnson and Carl Self were stifled.
Borough’s man-of-the-match Dean Arnold – playing what could be his final match for the club before setting off for Australia – also excelled along with Jones, who marked Thatcham’s pacy wing-forward Tom Etheridge out of the game.
And when called upon, Borough keeper Nathan Ashmore produced the goods with a couple of quality saves.
Gradually, Borough sensed the match was theirs for the taking.
And, with 10 minutes remaining, Pike called upon the experienced Claridge.
The veteran striker responded immediately, forcing keeper Paul Strudley into a smart save.
And the crowd of 249 were soon celebrating as George Way and Dan Woodward combined to tee up Claridge for a smart near-post finish on 85 minutes.