Westleigh Park, Havant
Last time I reported from Westleigh Park, it was to sketch out a poor first half performance being leapfrogged by a spirited second half fight back. Ten days later, we are back here at the Theatre of Dreams and, well, I have much the same report, only this time with additional WIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN!
As against Salisbury, we started off looking lively for all of five minutes before reverting back to the joys of not being able to put anything like some threatening business together. Bath sat on us like a fat sixth former trying to extract lunch money from a scrawny, spectacled first-year. We pretty much handed over the cash without much of a struggle as it went, as Alex Grant’s rare error allowed Bath to calmly pick our pocket in the ninth minute.
After this, both sides drifted across the remainder of the first half like a drowsy Douglas Bader going solo in a pedalo. After the relative successes of 2-2 draws at home to Salisbury, and then away to Eastleigh, plus a clinical 3-0 win over Sutton here on the Saturday just past, this was not the puffed-chest strut of a confident side. Passes were not coming off, and attempts on goal were hit a little too heavy and lacking in guile.
Come the second half though and the transformation could not have been more pronounced, with the combined bustle of so many of our headline turns, and even some less celebrated ones, building a sufficient head of steam to have us shrieking like an unwatched hob kettle.
So many of our young squad were stepping up to the plate in the second half that the plate was in danger of snapping under them. With Chris Arthur hurtling down the left like a ball-seeking missile; Christian Nanetti skipping through legs like a gamboling gnu; Perry Ryan putting himself about like a prostitute’s calling card; and Sahr Kabba biting ankles like a terrier with an elastic band freshly clasped around his gonads, there was a freshness there, a spirit, which means we are not nearly as afraid of relegation as we were last season, despite the mathematics showing that there is still work to do.
Now plenty of stuff was happening and we fashioned an equaliser in the 56th minute, Sahr Kabba dribbling like a cracked sink before offloading to Ollie Palmer, who turned and curved the ball expertly into the bottom corner. Further chances fell to Sahr, Ollie and Dan Strugnell before the 71st minute when the comeback was completed. Skipper Ed Harris doesn’t score many goals but was in the right place to turn home an Eddie Hutchinson lay off from close range.
We didn’t stop there either, five minutes later Christian Nanetti hit a shot that was palmed skywards by keeper Jason Mellor, the back spin taking it seemingly inevitably goalwards, only for Dan Ball to get back first to boink the ball away for a corner. Then with two minutes to go sub Steve Ramsay gave us a reminder of what he can offer from midfield, rasping a shot from thirty yards that Mellor had to palmed wide. Only trouble with Stevie is that these reminders come round as infrequently as Father flippin' Christmas.
The final whistle was welcome, we’re not yet so confident in our chaps that we don’t like a bit of final whistle to calm the assault on our fingernails. However, the more wins we can pick up before our murder run-in in April the better. We are eight points clear of the relegation places and amongst a big group of fellow battlers. Plenty more stories to tell, but I’m much preferring this position to the 18th we were languishing in this time last year. Is that Brian Wilson playing a theremin I can hear? Whether tis or not, I’m definitely picking up good vibrations of some sort.