Hawks 1 Gosport 1

Hawks and Gosport had to battle difficult conditions in last night's semi-final first leg at Westleigh Park           Picture: Malcolm Wells (14461-9131)
Hawks and Gosport had to battle difficult conditions in last night's semi-final first leg at Westleigh Park Picture: Malcolm Wells (14461-9131)
Ryan Woodford has making 200 appearances for the Hawks. Picture: Keith Woodland

Woodford challenged to make 400 Hawks appearances

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Hawks and Gosport Borough will both fancy their chances of booking a place in the FA Trophy final after the first leg of the semi-final ended in battling 1-1 draw between the sides.

Although the result might leave Borough as the happier of the two sides, they may rue the fact that they led through Tim Sills early strike in the second half, before Nic Ciardini hammered home the equaliser just before the hour mark.

It was a game that would be labelled absorbing and tense, rather than anything like a semi-final classic.

The Westleigh Park pitch became a quagmire as the game wore on and made things increasingly difficult as the rain pelted down for most of the game.

But it leaves the tie finely-poised and with no away-goals rule counting in the tie, it will be as you were when the two sides kick off at Privett Park for a winner-takes-all showdown on Saturday.

The pitch, passed fit at a lunchtime inspection, was having an early influence with both sides struggling to keep their footing and errors taking place in tricky conditions.

Gosport goalkeeper Nathan Ashmore had a lucky escape after an unsure touch almost allowed Scott Jones to take advantage as the home side pressed in the opening phases of play.

But Borough then had the first real effort at goal as Danny Smith’s shot from 25 yards sailed over the bar after Adam Wilde’s free-kick was headed out by Nigel Atangana before Sam Pearce’s free-kick from miles out disappeared off into the night sky soon afterwards.

With the visitors having the wind behind them in the first half, it was Alex Pike’s side who were enjoying the territorial advantage without seriously troubling Scott Bevan.

The Hawks goalkeeper and captain was something of a surprise selection after suffering a back injury last week that was expected to rule him out of Saturday’s original date for the first leg.

But while Lee Bradbury drafted in Benji Buchel from Bournemouth, the Liechtenstein international had to make do with a place on the bench as Bevan was passed fit.

Lee Molyneaux’s fine tackle on Perry Ryan drew half-hearted penalty appeals from some Hawks fans, although it was obvious to most that it was a sturdy challenge that took the ball cleanly.

Hawks were enjoying their best spell as the midway point in the half approached and should have tested Ashmore had Jones been able to keep his effort down having cut inside Andy Forbes in the penalty area.

Smith’s 25-yard bobbler was easy for Bevan, even if he had to test his sore back by bending down to collect it.

But it was a cagey opening quarter between two sides who clearly had no intention of turning it into an open game at that stage.

With the match crying out for a goal from the neutral’s perspective, Dennis Oli should have at least hit the target as he capitalised on Pearce’s error and outpaced the Borough defence, only to fire wastefully over the crossbar with defenders breathing down his neck.

Atangana was the first name in the referee’s noteboook as he lunged into a tackle on Pearce having overstretched after losing control, although referee Darren Sheldrake did well to handle the ensuing flared tempers and was spot on to only issue a yellow card.

Considering the huge prize on offer over the two legs, it was something of a surprise that it was the only real flashpoint, although a running battle between Ryan and Adam Wilde simmered for much of the half.

Jones failed to make the most of another half-chance in first-half stoppage time.

But there was little for a healthy crowd to get excited about in a half of football that will not live long in the memory for those who saw it.

Bradbury attempted to pep up his Hawks side with the half-time introduction of Sahr Kabba, replacing the ineffective Christian Nanetti.

But just two minutes into the second half, the game sprung to life as Sills netted the opener.

As Pedro Monteiro failed to deal with what appeared to be a straightforward ball over the top of the defence, Sills made no mistake with his first real sight of goal.

While the former Football League striker has been far from prolific since signing for Borough late last year, he showed his finishing instincts to find Bevan’s bottom corner with an angled effort.

As expected, it stirred Hawks into life and Jones went close to finding an equaliser soon afterwards, just failing to hit the target with a sliding attempt that flashed past the near post after good work from Ciardini down the left flank.

But it was the Hawks winger who dragged his side back into the contest with a cracking finish from the angle of the penalty area, after a short corner found him in space.

With no Borough defender out quickly enough to close him down, Ciardini took his chance to unleash a sweet left-foot strike that arrowed through a forest of players and into Ashmore’s bottom corner to restore parity.

Kabba was the next man in the book after a late challenge on Wilde, before Borough made their first change as the on-loan Josh Carmichael replaced Dan Woodward.

Ashmore picked up a ridiculous booking for time-wasting as he needlessly punted the ball into the crowd following the award of a corner as Borough appeared to be trying to run the clock down, seemingly happy with a draw to take back to Privett Park on Saturday.

Rory Williams then replaced the tiring Wilde to give Borough more energy going forward.

But it was Hawks doing most of the pressing as the final 10 minutes approached.

Atangana tried his luck with a 30-yarder that whistled over Ashmore’s crossbar, before Ryan Scott was booked for Borough as the tension cranked up a notch.

Ashmore then had to be at his acrobatic best to keep out another piledriver from Ciardini as Hawks looked the more likely to snatch the win and earn the advantage for the second leg, before Ryan was booked.

With the home fans baying for a spot-kick late in the game, referee Sheldrake held his nerve again as Ashmore got a clear hand to the ball to push away as Jones bore down on goal.

Hawks finished the stronger with Borough content to hang on to their hard-fought draw.

But it ended honours even with both sides still well capable of reaching Wembley.

Considering the state of the Westleigh Park pitch, it was never going to be a classic.

But it’s all up for grabs still.