A new year and, for Southport, new hope.
There have been times during the Sandgrounders’ 121-day wait for a win when fans have learnt that patience really is a virtue.
When Southport left the pitch after victory over Darlington on September 2, the late summer sun was still shining and the team was riding high, sitting third in the Vanarama National League North after a good start to the season.
Four months on, with a bleak winter having set in and points thrown away by the Sandgrounders in almost every way imaginable, supporters were finally given something to cheer again.
It had been a miserable afternoon at the Merseyrail Community Stadium as the wind howled and the rain swirled around, yet the sense of relief at full-time was palpable. There remains plenty of work to do before Southport fully turn the corner, but after such a rotten run, this was the moment everyone had been waiting for.
The Sandgrounders built on the foundations they put down during the goalless draw at Chorley on Boxing Day, recording another determined, hard-working performance to claim a win after 18 failed attempts.
Since Southport’s last victory, there has been a managerial change, a raft of players have come and gone and the team’s league position has plummeted. The Sandgrounders ended the old year in the relegation zone but this result lifts them to 17th and, at last, they can start looking up again.
The scoreline may suggest a comprehensive win but things could so easily have been different. Southport somehow managed to survive the opening stages without conceding, Josh O’Keefe and Jason Walker both going close amid a barrage of corners brought about by Chorley’s early pressure.
Nine minutes from the end, O’Keefe came within inches of an equaliser when his header from Steve Jordan’s left-wing free-kick grazed the crossbar before two late goals embellished Southport’s victory. On such moments, matches and, possibly, seasons can turn.
The opening goal, too, had arrived at an important time. Having received a pass from Jason Gilchrist on 20 minutes, Jordan Hallam cut the ball back from the right side of the penalty area and into the path of the oncoming David Morgan, whose deflected low shot crept past the reach of goalkeeper Matt Urwin.
If anything, the goal came against the run of play but it gave the home team something to cling to and the confidence to push on.
There were still times when last-ditch defending was needed. Nick Haughton was released by Jake Cottrell on the counter-attack before rounding goalkeeper Jon Worsnop but his shot was scraped off the line by Billy Priestley.
Though the match was open, both teams struggled for quality in difficult conditions and the scrappy nature of the contest was illustrated when Gilchrist, usually the epitome of composure in front of goal, fluffed his lines at the far post after a surging run down the Southport right by Josh Hine.
On another day, it could have been a costly miss, but a combination of Southport stoicism and Chorley profligacy saw the home team survive before adding the sheen in the closing stages.
With five minutes to play, the Sandgrounders turned defence into attack in an instant as they broke from a Chorley corner. Nathan Sheron beat Matt Challoner and ran the length of the visitors’ half to steer the ball home, before Jack Sampson added a third with a tap in.
It had been a long wait for Southport and their fans, but after months of frustration came elation and the win they dearly needed.
Southport (4-1-4-1): Worsnop, Sheron, Smith, Priestley, Richards, Lynch, Hine, Hallam, Morgan, Sampson, Gilchrist (Smith 81).
Subs not used: Howson, Jackson, Kpohomouh, Lowe.
Chorley (3-5-2): Urwin, Leather (Anson 7), Teague, Jordan, Challinor, O’Keefe, Haughton, Cottrell, Blakeman (Hughes 12), Carver, Walker (Mooney 75).
Subs not used: Roscoe, Whitham.
Referee: Martin Woods
Report by Alan Jones