Blue Square Premier: Southport 1 Forest Green Rovers 2
9:55am Wednesday 13th March 2013 in Sport
TEENAGE debutant Wes Burns crashed in a stoppage time winner to cap an incredible second half comeback and to secure an immense three points for Forest Green at Southport, writes Richard Joyce.
The 18-year-old, who joined the club just hours before kick off on loan from Bristol City, kept his cool to slam in right at the death as two goals in the final five minutes sealed a spectacular second half revival.
Rovers had lurched to a dismal opening 45 minutes, arguably their worst first half performance of the season, but stunned the hosts who were cruising up until the interval with a sensational half of football that saw them deservedly cash in.
A raft of changes made by manager David Hockaday saw skipper Jared Hodgkiss and Lee Fowler drop to the bench with Paul Green and Ed Asafu-Adjaye earning recalls into the starting lineup, while new signing Burns found himself among the substitutes.
Major questions were certainly being asked just minutes in as a lacklustre Forest Green struggled to gain any momentum.
Russell Benjamin's early tester drifted wide while the Merseysiders tried their luck again in a dominant opening five minutes when Karl Ledsham volleyed over from the dangerous Shaun Whalley's free kick.
The hosts continued to batter the Forest Green end with free kicks into the box, and it wasn't until past the midway point of the half that Rovers registered their first attempt on goal.
Matty Taylor did well to bring the ball down and the central striker set-up James Norwood, whose first noticeable involvement saw his shot saved by Southport keeper Tony McMillan.
The climax of a pitiful first half for Rovers reached its peak as Kieron Forbes bundled over Chris Almond in the penalty area after a defensive mix-up and referee Anthony Backhouse correctly pointed to the spot.
Former Accrington Stanley man Whalley stepped up confidently to smash his 12-yard effort past Sam Russell and the hosts had the lead they deserved heading into the break.
Rovers’ first half performance gave little to feel positive about although with Burns’ introduction from the bench, and eventually also Yemi Odubade, Rovers began to express themselves and they took control.
Burns made a superb early impact, unleashing a terrific lofted ball which beat the Southport back line and set up Norwood for a surge forward at goal but he could only hammer a shot into the path of McMillan.
Norwood, now in the central striking position in place of the substituted Taylor, then almost squeezed in minutes later as he got on the end of a Yan Klukowski set piece.
Burns then linked up superbly with Norwood, who set the soon-to-be hero off on a direct run which saw him round McMillan, before firing into the side netting from a tight angle.
Forbes then almost slotted in after an excellent through ball from Chris Stokes while Eddie Oshodi's glancing header from a Norwood free kick saw Forest Green edge closer to a vital equaliser.
They had to wait until just three minutes from time as Odubade secured his first goal since joining on loan from Gateshead in January.
Another Norwood free kick bounced out to the Nigerian speedster, who slammed in to seal what looked like would be a hard earned point.
But the evening turned out to be one to remember just minutes later in stoppage time as the memories of a torrid first half were replaced with joy on the terraces from the loyal Rovers travelling faithful.
Odubade calmly found Burns, who guided in from just a few yards out to confirm the most dramatic of comebacks and maximum points for Rovers with the play-off dream back on the agenda.