Steve Claridge delivered a final dramatic chapter to his football career and admitted: It’s beyond my wildest dreams.
The 46-year-old fired Gosport to the Southern League premier division in the most enthralling manner, with his stoppage-time leveller paving the way for a 3-1 extra-time play-off win over Poole.
Claridge entered the fray with just 14 minutes remaining at Tatnam Farm and helped turn the game on its head in dramatic style.
His two goals, along with a fine finish from Justin Bennett, made it an afternoon to remember for Alex Pike’s men.
The former Pompey favourite revealed he is now set to retire from football after a memorable 29-year career.
Claridge knows he couldn’t have chosen a better way to go out as he hangs up his boots.
The striker admitted unexpected success arriving at the twilight of his playing career makes the latest chapter of his story sweeter than most.
And it was just the kind of occasion he played on for.
Claridge said: ‘These days do get sweeter.
‘They are all important but I came back for days like this.
‘I’ve always said goals are important from the bottom to the top.
‘I’ve never thought it would happen in my wildest dreams.
‘I’m 46 now so I’ll think about what I’m going to do.
‘It is more than likely my last game.
‘If they are struggling next year and they need someone to keep the ball you never know. But it’s a great way to finish. I couldn’t ask for any more than that.
‘I couldn’t have ended it any better.’
Claridge feared the worst for Gosport as they trailed Poole going into stoppage-time. But the hitman was on hand to follow up Brett Poate’s shot and take the game to extra-time.
He knew there was only one winner from there – and so it proved as two strikes sparked wild scenes of celebration for Borough.
Claridge fired Leicester to the Premier League via the play-offs in 1996 and then grabbed the League Cup decider the following year.
The visitors were always hot favourites to go on and win once the momentum swung the way of his side.
Claridge has now called on Gosport to build on their success next season as they move into the seventh tier of English football for the first time since 1991.
He believes there is plenty of potential for the Privett Park side to grow.
Claridge said: ‘When you leave it that long after conceding you fear the worst. So they have got to be disappointed and we have got something out of nothing.
‘I’ve been in these situations before and in a cup final.
‘I knew we’d win it after that goal, and that’s how it was.
‘We’ve had 40-odd games leading to this.
‘It either meant everything or nothing – and it meant everything.
‘These are the most nervous times.
‘Play-offs are great if you win them. If you lose them it’s the worst ever.
‘But we deserved it. We controlled the game and were the better side in the end.
‘It’s a decent club but it needs an infrastructure.
‘This club has 400 people watching them all of a sudden. There’s potential there.
‘Gosport is a decent area with a good catchment.
‘So we’ll go to the next level and see where we go from there.’