The Stags turn their attention briefly away from promotion to the defence of their SDFA Cup title.
VENUE: The Imperial Homes Stadium (Sholing FC), Gunners Keep, Portsmouth Road, Southampton, Hampshire SO19 9PW
WHILE AFC TOTTON are still very much in the thick of a potentially successful title race at the top of Southern League Div.1 South, Manager Jimmy Ball and his squad are also looking forward to defending the Southampton Senior Cup trophy they lifted last season. Having beaten Alresford Town in this campaign’s Quarter-Final, The Stags will now face another Wessex League Premier Division team in the Semi-Final, in the shape of Hamble Club.
As was the case with last season’s semi-final against local rivals Winchester City, this cup tie will take place at Sholing’s The Imperial Homes Stadium on Portsmouth Road, on the evening of Thursday 16 March. Please note: Kick-Off is at 7:30pm, to allow for the possibility of a penalty shoot-out, should 90 minutes prove not enough to separate the two sides. There will not be any extra-time.
After receiving a bye directly into the Second Round of the competition, The Monks beat Southampton Senior Premier Division side Knightwood United 4-1, following that up with a 3-2 victory at New Milton Town in the Third Round and a 4-1 defeat of Brockenhurst in the Quarter-Finals.
Hamble currently sit seventh in the Wessex Premier table, with 46 points from 28 matches. They rounded out February with a big 5-0 away win at the Hythe Garage Stadium against their fellow SDFA Senior Cup semi-finalists Hythe & Dibden, while a single goal against Alresford Town was enough to secure their progress in the Russell-Cotes Cup. They are now set to visit Romsey Town in the Quarter-Finals of a competition they will be hoping to win for the first time. However, that short burst of good form was followed by three consecutive league defeats at the hands of Moneyfields, the runaway leaders AFC Portchester and midtable dwellers Laverstock & Ford, putting a serious dent in their chances of making the end of season Promotion Play-offs.
AFC Totton and Hamble Club met in the Quarter-Finals of last season’s Southampton Senior Cup, when goals from Lewis Waterfield, Shaq Gwengwe, Jack Hoey and Brett Williams saw The Stags safely through with a handsome 4-0 victory at The Abbey in Hamble-le-Rice. Jimmy Ball’s men then went on to defeat Winchester City in the Semi-Final at Sholing – despite losing goalkeeper Lewis Noice with a broken collarbone near the end – before a 3-0 victory over Wessex League side Folland Sports at St. Mary’s Stadium in the Final in early-May marked the first AFC Totton success in the competition for 40 years, and heralded the beginning of what Stags fans hope will be a long and successful era under the former Forest Green Rovers boss.
READ MY HIPS: AFC Totton midfielder Freddie Read goes through during last season's Southampton Senior Cup Final at St. Mary's Stadium, while the (now former) Folland Sports striker Nathan Gray looks on.
“In all honesty, I don’t think it’s been any secret that this competition has not been my number one priority this season. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t take it seriously or that I don’t still want to win it,” explained Ball, after guiding his team to a sixth successive win last Saturday.
“We enjoyed the experience last year and with the squad more than 50% changed since then, all the lads are really keen to get to St. Mary’s again and try to make it back-to-back trophies for the club and, who knows, maybe a league and cup double. So, we’re in it to win it, you might say.”
However, The Stags boss is far too long in the tooth to take anything for granted in football, going on to issue a warning to his players about maintaining a professional approach:
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. We have a tough Semi-Final to get through against a Hamble Club side that has several good young players who will all be desperate to do well against us. We had a bad experience at Portchester in the Hampshire Cup earlier this season, when I might have made one or two changes too many so early in the campaign.
“Alresford Town ran us close in the last round of this cup, after we seemed to have the tie in the bag. So, we can take nothing for granted. If we want to win another trophy, we will have to prepare in the right way as we would for any opposition, irrespective of what division they’re in.”
Hamble Club were formed in 1969, originally as a youth team, later becoming members of the Southampton Saturday League. They lifted the first of their three trophies to date when they took the Hampshire League Division Three title in 1996/97; the Hampshire Premier League Senior Division crown was secured in 2014/15; and, they were the Wessex League Division One Champions in 2016/17. Last season, The Monks finished 11th in the Wessex Premier League table and they are currently on course to improve upon that in the current 2022/23 campaign, despite their recent run of poor form.
In the other Southampton Senior Cup Semi-Final, the current Southern League Div.1 South leaders Sholing take on midtable Wessex League Premier Division side Hythe & Dibden at Romsey Town’s AEC Protection Ground on Wednesday 22 March.
By Ben Rochey-Adams
Image courtesy of Craig Hobbs Photography