Seagulls stun league-leaders
The promotion and relegation battles in the National League South were well and truly shaken up on Friday. Weston-super-Mare conquered table-topping Ebbsfleet United, holding on for a remarkable 2-1 victory at The Woodspring Stadium.
A pair of disappointing defeats over Maidstone United heaped the pressure on the Seagulls ahead of a blockbuster bank holiday weekend.
But Ryan Northmore’s side responded in style, with two second-half strikes from talisman Dayle Grubb enough to outdo the title-chasers – Matt Godden headed home a reply with 13 minutes to play, but the Seagulls dug deep for three points.
The first half was relatively benign. Ebbsfleet had control of possession and territory, but there was little to show for it. Sam Deering bent an effort wide of the far post after cutting in from left flank, while a perfectly timed sliding challenge from an imperious Clayton Fortune denied Stuart Lewis a clear sight at goal.
At the other end, Grubb was setting his sights, testing Nathan Ashmore with a firm strike from 10 yards – the ‘keeper tipped over for an ultimately inconsequential corner, drawing the first period to a close.
The game was there for the taking. Either side could have stolen a march on their respective rivals, most of whom were kicking-off 24 hours later.
It was the Seagulls, astonishingly, who capitalised – captain Grubb leading the way.
The classy midfielder thumped his side into a 55th minute lead, jinking onto his right foot from the left side of the penalty area, beating Ashmore at his near post from 18 yards. It couldn’t have been better placed – Ashmore was caught on his heels.
If the opener was product of intricacy and accuracy, Grubb’s second was a much simpler creation. Purnell’s long free-kick on 66 minutes was knocked down on the edge of the area for the Seagulls’ skipper to control on his chest before hammering a brutish volley through the ‘keeper.
Second-half substitute Matt Godden narrowed the deficit, heading home Fish’s bending cross with 13 minutes to play.
The Fleet, with control of the title race drifting away, bombarded the penalty area desperately in search for an equaliser. Their attacks, however, were somewhat predictable.
The tension was palpable among both bands of supporters, the mutual sense that this could be a season-defining result evident from all those involved.
The Seagulls, and the home support, rallied in the closing moments. Fearless defending and composed goalkeeping was met with passion on the terrace.
And after a particularly generous sum of seven minutes additional time had finally elapsed, the Seagulls had secured a win that is certain to alter the landscape at both ends of the table. The key, now, is to capitalise on Monday.
Final score: Weston-super-Mare 2-1 Ebbsfleet United (Grubb 55, 66; Godden 77)
Weston starting XI: Purnell, Simpson, Barnes, Cane, Keary, Fortune, Pope, Ingram, Wilson (Edge), Grubb (c) (McClennan), Withey.
Substitutes not used: Varouxakis, Wring, Gkotzai.
Man of the match: Dayle Grubb – An inspiring display from the Captain powered Weston to a vital, and equally surprising victory. His brilliant brace was the difference between the two sides on the day.
Match report written by Sam Frost
Images courtesy of Wayne Whitworth Photography