Following on from Tuesday’s humiliation at the hands of Barrow, Southport showed great character and put in their best performance of the season against Aldershot Town on Saturday. In the end they were forced to settle for a draw, but there is no doubt that Steve Burr’s side were well worth all three points on the day.
The side featured several changes from midweek, including three debuts. Goalkeeper Magnus Norman, on a month long loan from Fulham, right back Ryan Higgins and midfielder Jordan Lussey were all signed on Friday and thrown straight into action from the start. Notably missing were the injured Gary Jones and attacking midfielder Louis Almond.
As it transpired, neither were hugely missed. Jamie Allen came into the side to form an attacking partnership with James Gray and the pair caused the Aldershot back line trouble from the beginning, applying pressure without the ball as well as looking dangerous when in possession.
In the midfield, Liam Nolan was dominant alongside Lussey, whose performance belied the fact he was making just the second professional appearance of his career. Whereas the Sandgrounders were unable to maintain possession for more than a couple of passes against Barrow, here they stroked the ball around with the confidence and swagger expected from the visitors placed sixth in the league, rather than the lowly home side. With more performances of this standard Southport will be sure to move up the table soon.
Although Southport were marginally the better side in the first half, there were few major chances to speak of, two of which fell to Aldershot forward Matt McClure. 20 minutes into the game McClure raced through with only Norman to beat but volleyed the ball wide from fifteen yards, and this was followed by an even more inexplicable miss after 40 minutes. A slip from stand-in skipper Callum Howe again left McClure one on one with Norman, but again he shot wide.
Southport were unable to make the most of McClure’s generosity by scoring themselves, but did at least create chances of their own. Shots goalkeeper Jake Cole was first called into serious action with ten minutes remaining in the first half. Josh Thompson cushioned a cross from Allen into the path of Nolan who drove the ball hard towards the bottom corner, but Cole was able to push away for a corner. Just before half time, with Southport in the ascendency, Andrai Jones beat Cole from the edge of the box, but visiting left back Anthony Straker cleared off the line.
The second half followed a similar pattern, with Southport dominating the play without managing to create a golden opportunity against a side that has only conceded nine goals so far this season – a record bettered only by Tranmere and Boreham Wood.
It looked like Southport needed a moment of luck or magic, and Gray provided the latter with twenty minutes left. Receiving the ball on the right hand side, he carried it into the box and unleashed a swerving shot from the corner of the area into Cole’s far post. The Northern Ireland youth international has now scored two goals in his last three games, securing two points for his team in the process.
Aldershot were stirred into action and set about looking for an equaliser. Substitute Iffy Allen freed Straker down the left hand side. The defender looked certain to score, sending a shot flying towards the top corner but it was met by an exceptional save by the flying Norman, drawing applause from all four corners of the Merseyrail Community Stadium.
Norman was powerless to prevent the Shots’ 80th minute equaliser though, when the pacy Shamir Fenelon broke past the Southport defence and squared for Will Evans, the big centre back finding himself in the six yard box with an open goal. Man of the match Jamie Allen nearly secured three points for Southport with a dipping volley from twenty yards following a corner, but Cole produced a fine save of his own to clinch a draw that Aldershot scarcely deserved.
As the full time whistle went the Southport players departed the pitch to a standing ovation, a team transformed from the misery and pessimism of Tuesday. If the team can play like that every week then there will be real cause for optimism. While the start to the season has been poor, it is only September, miracles are not yet required, and Steve Burr is making strides in the right direction.
Report by Christy Byrne