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Robinson hails impressive Crusaders as Town beat Sholing to keep themselves in play-off mix following ‘boom or bust’ weekend

Hungerford Town boss Danny Robinson felt his side were worthy winners as the Crusaders beat Sholing 2-1 despite playing the final 20 minutes with 10 men.

The Crusaders had been cruising towards a first win in five matches following first half goals from Adulai Sambu and Conor McDonagh but allowed the visitors back into the game when Ramarni Medford-Smith was sent off with 22 minutes of normal time remaining.

Sholing halved the deficit with five minutes still to play when experienced striker Daniel Mason volleyed home his 287th career goal but the Boatmen were unable to fashion an equaliser as Hungerford held on to keep their slim Southern Premier League South play-off hopes alive.

The prolific Conor McDonagh saw his spot-kick saved in the lead up to the opener but added to his tally with another goal
The prolific Conor McDonagh saw his spot-kick saved in the lead up to the opener but added to his tally with another goal

Sholing manager Paul Doswell hailed Hungerford as the best attacking side his team had encountered since his appointment in October last year and Robinson was likewise delighted with his side’s showing as Town won for just the second time in nine games.

“It was a massive win for us,” he said.

“We felt it was a little bit boom or bust but we were brilliant, especially in the first half when I thought we were absolutely outstanding.

“It was the best we’ve played for some time and we had that cutting edge again; if it wasn’t for Ryan Gosney, their goalkeeper, we’d have been out of sight.

“I was so pleased for the players because it was such an important result and it keeps us in there.

“We’ll give it everything for the next nine games and see what happens.”

Hungerford will have to do without left-back Ramarni Medford-Smith as he is now set for a suspension after seeing red following a challenge on Sholing’s George Milner-Smith.

And Robinson was keen not to criticise the flying full-back, who has been outstanding since signing for the Crusaders, but admitted he had no complaints with the referee’s decision.

He said: “It was a stonewall red card.

“As soon as it happened I turned and said to Stu (Davis, assistant) ‘this could be a red card’. Watching it back, it was a sending off.

“I’m not going to take anything away from Marns, he’s been absolutely brilliant for us.

“We held out really well – we were big, strong and resolute. They’ve got three centre-forwards that would get in any side in this league and Dan Mason scored an absolute worldie of a goal.

“Apart from that, I felt we kept them quiet and we showed great character and determination.”

Robinson made four changes to the side that lost 2-0 to Gosport Borough in midweek as Joe Shepherd, Louie Paget, Adulai Sambu and Babs Jarra all returned.

And it was two players who have largely gone under the radar who received most of the plaudits, with Louie Paget impressing on a rare start for the former Farnborough man and Jacob Gardiner-Smith winning the man-of-the-match award.

Paget has struggled to nail down a spot in the side since missing a fair slice of pre-season while former Zenit St Petersburg midfielder Gardiner-Smith has taken a while to get going after arriving from Beaconsfield last month.

However the pair made the most of their opportunities and Robinson was delighted with how the duo stepped up.

“Lou has been brilliant to have in the squad all season long,” he said.

“He missed quite a bit of pre-season and has had Rhys Tyler and Jack Stanley for competition, so it was always going to be tough.

“He’s stuck at it and never moaned. He’s always had a smile on his face and he’s got a burning desire to do well for this club and he was outstanding on Saturday.

“Jacob played in front of the back four and he was excellent. He broke things up and made us tick. He gave us a bit of nastiness and I think that’s something we lack a bit.

“It was a good all-round performance but I think those two – along with Elis Watts, who was unplayable in the first half – stood out.”

Hungerford had a busy week in the transfer market following the departure of Great Evans and Jack Alexander.

Versatile defender Alexander signed for Didcot, who are rooted to the bottom of the Southern Premier League South table, in search of more regular football while popular and powerful frontman Evans was unable to commit to the club as he looks to upscale his coaching business.

While Robinson said he was disappointed to lose the duo he confirmed the pair were leaving the club with his best wishes.

He said: “I’ve known Jack for a long time and he’s a very good player.

“He’s just got to a point in his career where he wants to be waking up on a Saturday knowing that he’s going to be starting. I fully respect that.

“Great’s life has just changed with his work. He’s busy and he’s looking to branch out abroad.

“He’s a brilliant, infectious character and both of them will be sorely missed in the changing room.”

Robinson moved to bring in replacements, with the club announcing the acquisitions of versatile defender Lewis Thorne, who arrives from North Leigh, and striker Elliot Dugan, who has played in Sweden, Greece and Wales despite still being just 23.

And the Crusaders boss is backing the two new men to make an impression as Town bid for an unlikely late assault on the play-offs.

“Lewis Thorne’s come really highly recommended,” he said.

“He’s energetic and he can play right-back, left-back or in midfield.

“He’s a tall, powerful and strong lad with good technical ability.

“Elliot Dugan is a goalscorer. He’s been in training with us since before Christmas and so it was a no-brainer to get him in to provide competition for or to play alongside Conor (McDonagh).”

Hungerford, who are seventh and two points outside the play-offs but have played four games more than fifth-placed AFC Totton, travel to mid-table Poole, who have lost their last seven games in succession, this weekend.

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