Tuesday 4 March 2014

Havant & Waterlooville 4 AFC Portchester 0

Hampshire Senior Cup Semi-Final
Westleigh Park, Havant
att. 223

I’ve missed the Hampshire Senior Cup. It’s been almost exactly eleven years since I saw my last Hampshire Cup tie; the ill-fated two-legged semi-final against Bashley. That following summer I moved north and when travelling from Leeds, Liverpool or London for games (as has been the case since then), one tends to favour the bigger fish of the league, FA Cup or Trophy over the county-based competition.

Some memories of watching us in the competition when I lived in Havant remain fresh though. There was the time we went to Lymington Town, played a father and son as our striking duo (David and Craig Leworthy), and drank plentymuch tea in their clubhouse in an attempt to beat away the bitter December cold. Usually you expect plastic or styrofoam cuppage at football grounds but Lymington Town was clearly where all the unsold charity shop ceramic mugs went to die. We won 4-1 and narrowly avoided frost-bite. Win-win.

Then there was the year before when we took on Portsmouth-based amateurs Moneyfields and stuck nine past them. After the seventh, we started to lose the pleasure in it – like a cat exhausting its interest in a lifeless mouse. Looking back at the records, one of those nine goals was from a youth team player named Karl Miller. Of the Hampshire Cup memories I have, he is not one of them. Usually you remember names, but not faces, with these less-than-five-appearances guys. I’m afraid to tell you Karl, you’ve not made it into my internal archive in either sense.

However, if I'm honest, my most abiding memory of the competition is not a particularly great one. It was, in fact, the first Hampshire Cup tie I ever watched. It was October 1999, it was absolutely freezing (seemingly a pre-requisite for a county cup tie; it was pretty nippy last night n’all), and we lost 3-0 at home to Cowes Sports, a side from the Wessex League, then two divisions below our own. Bleak stuff. What I remember most about that evening though is that I took my then girlfriend. This was October 19th, otherwise known as HER BIRTHDAY. That’s right ladies, I was quite the catch.

So what’s so good about it, given these easy wins and humiliating banana skin defeats that I’ve detailed. I guess it’s that the general vibe is much less intense and much as one likes a bit of tension in a game to make it truly memorable, there’s something to be said for gathering a few chums behind the goal for a mother’s meeting whilst about us a fixture plays out.

This general vibe was probably assisted here by us taking an early lead after only twelve minutes which pretty much killed the pratfall fears stone dead. Christian Nanetti, continuing his sprightly form from Saturday’s win at Hayes & Yeading, buzzed into the box like an incontinent hornet eagerly seeking some privacy, and was swiftly tripped. Christian hopped up from the floor and slotted his spot-kick into the bottom corner.

Not that one could under-estimate Portchester, even with a goal advantage. A small club, relatively new to senior football (having joined the Wessex League in 2004 after a previous life in the Hampshire League as Wicor Mill) they might be, but there’s clearly ambition there. Consider for a second that they are a club three divisions below us, but are managed by a man, Graham Rix, who was once at the helm at Portsmouth in their solid Championship days and also Heart of Midlothian for a while. That is not an appointment that screams “well, lets tread water in the Wessex for a while and if we get through a couple of rounds in the FA Vase then that’ll be nice won’t it?”

However as much as decent passing football is tough to get going on our sticky dog of a pitch right now (that said it was kind of a miracle we got a game going at all after the previous days rain), there was precious little peril to be found until Scott Bevan made a wonder save in the final moments to preserve his clean sheet bunse. That boy loves the coin.

By this point though, all our down payments on the victory had been made. Pretty much the last Hawk touch before half-time came from Dennis Oli providing some of finest heel work since Brad Pitt essayed the role of Achilles in Troy. Inside the six yard box and with his back to goal, Big Den attempted a cheeky flick with the back o’ the boot and it successfully bolted beneath the dive of sturdy keeper Jon Webb.

In the second half, again, the pace of the game was pretty tepid but we kept up the forward momentum and Alex Przespolewski helped himself to a brace. Prez laid off a beautiful ball for Nic Ciardini who barrelled into the box and appeared to be tripped. As Portchester reacted like it was a game of musical statues and someone’s Mum had pressed pause on her Rick Astley tape, Prez took advantage of their inability to play to the whistle and planted the loose ball into the net. Just as well, as the ref looked in no mood to give a second penalty having also turned down a further trip on Christian in the first half.

Our lesser-spotted-these-days midfield dogger Eddie Hutchinson was brought on for Dennis Oli to play an unfamiliar role as the big-lump target man. He nearly surprised us all too with a smart dip of the shoulder to beat his marker, following up with a run into the box and a crisp strike that thudded into the post. Not long after this unexpected event came an increasingly familiar one. Prez received a smart pass from Ciardini and finished with his usual composure to complete the scoring, although a hat-trick might well have been his, had he kept one late shot just a little lower.

Still, after a pleasing return to winning form on Saturday in the league, it improves our mood even further to have reached a final. As my friend Ade would tell you THIS IS THE BIG CUP!! He loves a mug that fella, and Havant & Waterlooville have yet to win the Hampshire Senior Cup since unification, so we’re keen to right that wrong. We appeared in the final both in 2001 and 2002 without success. Third time lucky? We certainly hope so. Basingstoke Town await us at Fratton Park in May.

Road to Fratton
F: Havant & Waterlooville 2 Basingstoke Town 3 [aet]
SF: Havant & Waterlooville 4 AFC Portchester 0
QF: Havant & Waterlooville 3 Farnborough 0
QF: AFC Portchester 3 Petersfield Town 1
3R: Sholing 0 Havant & Waterlooville 3
3R: AFC Portchester 2 Alresford Town 1
2R: Hartley Wintney 0 Havant & Waterlooville 3
2R: AFC Portchester 3 AFC Totton 1

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