Dembele’s last minute stunner gives Gosport Borough dramatic FA Cup victory over Plymouth Parkway
Nick Dembele fired a stunning last-minute winner to spare Gosport Borough a tortuous midweek trek to the edge of Cornwall.
The pacy striker struck from 20 yards as Borough survived numerous anxious scares to defeat lower division Plymouth Parkway 2-1 in the first qualifying round of the FA Cup at Privett Park.
It looked as if the visitors - who were playing at the same level as the Wessex League Premier Division last season - would claim a replay they would feel they thoroughly deserved on the balance of play and chances created.
Parkway had even played most of the second half with 10 men after nippy wide midfielder Callum Hall was sent off two minutes into the second half.
Initially spoken to by ref Tim Godfray for a foul on the left-hand touchline, Hall was dismissed for dissent.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, Parkway still levelled in the 54th minute - a long ball into Gosport’s box was not cleared and Will Palfrey smashed an equaliser, the first goal on-loan keeper Bert White had conceded in four games.
Gosport had led at the interval despite Parkway having been the better side for long periods of the opening half.
Dan Wooden - who did immense running from first whistle to last as Borough’s central striker - was brought down in the area and debutant Theo Widdrington confidently converted the resultant spot-kick.
The midfielder, brought in on loan from Hawks and playing his first competitive game since mid-February, fired his spot-kick into Kyle Moore’s top left-hand corner - no goalkeeper would have been able to stop the effort.
Widdrington was one of three changes to the Hawks XI from the side that had started the bank holiday Monday win at Hartley Wintney in the Southern League Premier South.
Centre half Ryan Woodford came in for his first start of 2021/22 and Joe Lea was back after injury. Missing out with Matt Casey, Theo Lewis and Devane Boungou.
Boss Shaun Gale had to make another change after just five minutes, though, with Pat Suraci introduced on the left-hand side of midfield in place of the injured Brad Tarbuck.
Parkway forced five corners inside the opening 20 minutes, reward for looking more eager, determined and quicker than their higher division hosts.
Borough were also guilty of giving away cheap free-kicks in their own half as it quickly became very obvious this was going to be a tough afternoon for the hosts.
The only decent chance Gosport manufactured was gifted to them - a Parkway defender’s poor pass across his own goalmouth finding Dembele, who steadied himself on the edge of the area before firing well over.
It was against the run of play, therefore, that Borough went ahead from the penalty spot.
After ex-Boro loanee River Allen had sent a low free-kick narrowly wide, Widdrington warmed Moore’s hands with a low shot with Suraci collecting the loose ball, working himself an opening, and curling a shot just past the far post.
Into the second half and extra space soon opened up following Hall’s early exit, Suraci - a main beneficiary of more room to run at the defence - setting up Lea for a shot that was deflected wide and Wooden cutting in from the right and seeing Moore push away his shot for another corner.
Parkway stunned the hosts with a leveller that few neutrals would say they didn’t deserve.
Plymouth could easily have taken the lead a few minutes later, White losing possession to Jack Crago who set up Tom Bath for a shot that was cleared off the line by Matt Briggs. It would prove a very crucial interception indeed.
As an increasingly pulsating cup tie continued, so Gosport were finding more and more space on both flanks.
There was no shortage of goal attempts - Widdrington’s free-kick pushed away by Moore, the same player shooting wide from 20 yards, Harvey Rew firing wide, Briggs heading over and Lea also off target with a shot.
Gale hauled off Widdrington on 82 minutes and introduced the extra height of defender Matt Casey into the attack.
And it was from Suraci’s left-wing cross that Borough were so close to retaking the lead - Wooden’s near post header rebounding off the woodwork and Moore making a point-blank stop from the rebound.
That seemed Borough’s last chance to avoid a trek to Plymouth in midweek. But Dembele had other ideas, cutting in from the right side and sending a rasping 20-yarder that scorched past Moore’s despairing dive into the bottom corner.
Gosport coach Graham Rix is no stranger to last-minute FA Cup winners - 42 years ago, he provided the cross from which Arsenal colleague Alan Sunderland poked in the decider against Manchester United in the final.
That was at Wembley in front of 100,000. Dembele’s strike - a far sweeter one - was at Privett Park in front of a lot less. But for a few seconds, as the player sprinted across the pitch towards the Gosport dugout,, the teams, the venue and the crowd size was irrelevant.
It was a last-minute FA Cup winner in the greatest club competition in world football, and Gosport Borough can carry on dreaming.
Gale had said pre-match that any non-league club enjoying a great FA Cup run needs a little bit of luck. Parkway will feel the luck here went against them – though there was nothing fortuitous about Dembele’s cracking strike - and they might be right.
Gosport: White, Wheeler, Rew, Woodford, Briggs, Hallet (Bosma, 70), Widdrington (Casey, 82), Tarbuck (Suraci, 5), Lea, Dembele, Wooden.
Parkway: Moore, Davis, Lane, Palfrey, Rose, A Bentley, Hall, Allen, Bath (Landricombe, 86), Andrew, Crago.