ALEX PIKE praised Gosport Borough’s battling qualities as they extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to eight games with a hard-fought 1-1 Vanarama Conference South draw against Eastbourne Borough on Saturday.
It could have been so much better for the hosts on an afternoon of late drama at Privett Park, though.
Birthday-boy Matt Paterson’s early strike was cancelled out by Matt Aldred’s long-range last-gasp leveller.
Gosport survived a penalty miss from visiting substitute James Walker and ended the game with only 10 men, with midfielder Mike Carter sent off.
But try as they might, the hosts could not close out the game as Eastbourne made use of their man advantage to snatch a deserved share of the spoils in the cruellest of circumstances.
Pike, however, felt the point showed his side are making progress.
He said: ‘It was a scrappy game but, having said that, I think this time last year we would have lost.
‘That’s how far we’ve come.
‘There are things we have to address and things we can do better.
‘I don’t think we kept the ball very well in the second half – we invited them back on to us.
‘But the way we stood up to a man and defended was pleasing.
‘It was a worldie that had to beat Nathan (Ashmore) for them.
‘Even though I’m disappointed, I can take the positives.’
One such positive from the game was the resilient manner in which Borough defended their early lead for long periods from front to back.
The home side boast the meanest defence in the league, having conceded just five goals from their 10 games, and appeared well set for a seventh shut-out until Aldred struck at the death.
Pike said: ‘It starts with the front two – they defend from the front and then the midfield and the last line of defence in my back four.
‘I thought they all did really well.
‘But I just felt in the first half, having scored so early and had two or three chances soon after, that we never really tested their keeper or got ourselves on top.
‘If we had got the second goal it might have killed the game off but we didn’t.
‘And all the time we’re only one goal up – the opposition think they are in the game.’
Pike pointed to the late sending off of Carter as the game’s turning point.
He added: ‘I think the sending off is crucial because it is one of my central midfielders and, had he not been sent off, he would have been there to close down the ball.
‘The lad (Aldred) made the most of the gap and the shot.’
Borough’s boss also insisted that former Southampton striker Paterson, who scored on his 25th birthday, was benefiting from the belief shown in him, before explaining his decision to omit ex-Pompey attacker Ashley Harris from his match-day 16.
Pike said: ‘That’s his (Paterson’s) ninth goal this season – he needed someone to believe in him and get a run of games and he has got that here.
‘Ashley hasn’t played but he has an opportunity to play tomorrow night against Petersfield in a game we are taking very seriously in the Russell Cotes Cup (Privett Park, 7.45pm).
‘On Saturday, it was a pure case of mathematics and 22 do not go into 16.’