Football: Southport on track to turn the tables: Guy Hodgson sees two non-League clubs in a battle for a place in the top flight

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ONLY supporters of Southport FC probably fully appreciate the piquancy of what is happening in that region of hope and fear encompassing the top of the GM Vauxhall League and the nether regions of football's establishment. For them, there is the potential for a delicious symmetry in that Southport are riding high in non-League football while Wigan Athletic are struggling in the Third Division.

In 1978, Wigan took Southport's place in the Football League in a vote that still rankles on the Lancashire coast. For the rejected, whose 1-1 draw with top-of-the-table Kidderminster Harriers yesterday did not discourage promotion hopes, the justice of righting a perceived wrong of 15 years' standing is almost too delightful to bear anticipation. Southport could go up at Wigan's expense.

'We've nothing against Wigan,' Roy Morris, the Southport secretary, said with heavy significance, 'but it's fair to say there is no club that we would rather replace. I think the people of Southport would appreciate the neatness of it all.'

There was nothing neat about the process in 1978 which saw Southport, who finished third from bottom in the then Fourth Division that season, being replaced by a club down the road with whom they had tied in the orginal vote. 'In the result of a draw before, the League club had stayed where it was,' Charlie Clapham, the Southport chairman, said, 'but on that occasion they had a re-vote and we lost. I don't think our public relations was as good as it might have been.'

The PR was sufficiently spot on yesterday to draw 1,739 supporters into Haig Avenue, a figure beyond the imagination of Southport even a season a ago, when their progress to the Northern Premier League title was witnessed by an average of around 1,000. It is a case of success breeding the like because even their most dedicated supporters are having problems equating their lofty position with the football they have played.

'We're not good enough,' was the perceived wisdom in the club bar before the match. 'We'll score goals but we let in too many. Kidderminster will probably win.'

In fact any forecasts were blown apart by a near-gale that made judgement the prerogative of either the lucky or the supremely gifted. Neither was present here and it was close to a miracle that the quality of the football was as high as it was.

Mistakes were inevitable and Southport, after an uncomfortable first half in which Kidderminster's Delwyn Humphreys played a dominant part, profited when a visitor's back-header was woefully short of the goalkeeper Kevin Rose in the 54th minute.

Steve Haw pounced on the error but before he could fully exploit it, he was brought down by Rose. The striker had rounded the goalkeeper and there seemed little reason why he should not score so why the referee chose to brandish a yellow card instead of a red one was something of a mystery. In either case, Rose was nowhere near stopping David Gamble's spot kick.

Kidderminster, at that point, could have justifiably felt aggrieved but they got the draw they deserved when Paul Davies struck with a low shot from the edge of the area with 17 minutes remaining.

The result left both clubs on 34 points and with the ambition of League football in their sights. 'Only the stalwarts of long ago are really hurt by what happened 15 years ago,' Clapham said. He was convincing nobody.

Southport: Moore; McDonald, Fuller, Goulding, Dove, Lodge, Lyons (Walmsley, 81), Comstive, Haw, Gamble, Withers (Quinlan, 82).

Kidderminster Harriers: Rose; Hodson, Bancroft, Weir, Brindley, Forsyth, Deakin, Grainger, Humphreys, Davies (Palmer, 84), Purdie. Sub not used: Cartwright.

Referee: F Taylor (Preston).

----------------------------------------------------------------- CONFERENCE TOP FOUR ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Kidderminster 20 10 4 6 27 19 34 Southport 20 9 7 4 31 25 34 Kettering 18 8 8 2 19 9 32 Dover 19 9 2 8 26 22 29 -----------------------------------------------------------------