Bush Hill bring curtain down on Hampshire Premier League life with cup final victory over Locks Heath
Bush Hill brought the curtain down on their Hampshire Premier League career with L4 Teamwear Challenge Cup victory over Locks Heath at sun-drenched Westleigh Park.
The Southampton-based side hit back after conceding an early goal to run out deserved 2-1 winners over Dave Fuge’s men in their last game before starting a new era in the Wessex League.
Locks took an early lead when defender Shane Kent headed in a Jim Cuthbert corner, but Bush levelled through a Jack Chambers own goal and took the lead in first-half injury time through Sean Haines.
Though Locks were always in the contest, Bush were good value for their victory and went closest to scoring again in the second half.
The success ensured Bush signed off their HPL career having won 10 L4 cup ties in a row - with Haines’ winner the club’s 100th competitive goal in just 26 league and cup matches in a pandemic-hit 2020/21 campaign.
The last three of those wins was achieved without the prolific Mark Barker, who has plundered a remarkable 136 goals in 79 appearances since the start of 2017/18.
Barker was handed a three-match suspension for a red card in the last 16, and subsequently missed victories over Moneyfields Reserves, Paulsgrove and Locks.
Bush could have taken a sixth minute lead when Nathan Gray - a hat-trick hero in the previous week’s astonishing 7-0 semi-final hammering of Grove - scampered onto a lofted through ball. Keeper Matt Fredericks, though, was out quickly to block with his legs and Gray couldn’t force the rebound home from an acute angle.
Two minutes later Locks were ahead with centre half Kent – one of a number of Locks players who had helped Fleetlands finish runners-up to Bush in the 2016/17 HPL title race – rising highest to head home his first goal of the season from Cuthbert’s left-footed corner.
In Barker’s absence, Bush deployed Haines - usually a centre half - up front with Gray, and he became the first name in ref Nick Mason’s book for a crude foul which saw Tyler Burns receive lengthy treatment.
Bush levelled on 23 minutes when Locks midfielder Jack Chambers, stretching to try and clear a free-kick delivered into his side’s penalty area, hooked the book over his own keeper.
They went ahead with the last action of the first half and – ironically - in time added on for Haines’ foul on Burns.
A Bush corner brushed off the head of a Locks defender on the near post and Haines did well to steer his header past Fredericks and a defender stood on the line.
The second half began in breathless fashion with Locks furious a penalty appeal for a foul on Connor Johnson was waved away.
Bush went straight up the other end and left wing-back Ben Rankin fired a shot across the six-yard box and just wide.
Seconds later, Jack Chambers - making a good run from midfield - arrived unmarked in the Bush penalty area but, again stretching, volleyed a first-time effort over the bar. Had it gone in, it would have been a goal to grace any final.
Bush playmaker Callum Drake - one of the best players in the HPL for several years - began running at the Locks defence more often in the second half and Fredericks pushed away a curling 20-yarder for a corner.
Locks boss Fuge threw on strikers Chris Sales, Joe Boggildd and Jake Bull – 17-goal top scorer Jordan Whitely having been well policed by the Bush defence and rendered a peripheral figure - but it was Bush who created the clearer openings.
Sub Perry Harding could have sealed victory on 76 minutes but - unmarked at the back post six yards out - he volleyed Drake’s pinpoint cross over the bar.
Drake skipped past two challenges only to shoot over before Harding went even closer to putting the tie to bed seven minutes from time.
With gaps appearing in the Locks defence, the Bush stalwart – top scorer in the club’s debut HPL Premier campaign of 2014/15 - latched onto a Kenny Gatera through ball but saw his 30-yard lob sail over Fredericks and rebound off a post.
A minute later Locks were close to a leveller when Ben Chambers stuck a foot out at sub Jayden William’s cross - only to see the ball fly just wide of a post.
Bull set up Boggild, who could only shoot straight at keeper Niall Devereux, and Locks’ final effort came when Brad Stone fired his shot over the bar and into the Westleigh Park car park.
Though closely contested throughout, no-one could deny Bush were deserved winners.
They have been the stand-out performers in the HPL Senior Division for some years, and leave the top flight having won 96 of their 122 league games since the start of 2016/17 - a superb 78.6 per cent success rate.
With players of the calibre of Getera, Drake, Noel McCarthy-Gardiner and Barker, they will surely be an asset to the Wessex League.
As for Locks, a cup final loss should in no way detract from a stunning season.
Fuge signed a virtually new squad on returning to the club last year, and Locks were second when the season was curtailed in February. The previous March, when 2019/20 was null and voided, they were rock bottom and staring relegation in the face.
In 27 league and cup ties, they only lost five times - and the only team to beat them by more than one goal was Bush, a 3-0 league loss in Southampton last September.
With Bush and Infinity progressing to step 5 football, Locks will start 2021/22 as one of the title favourites alongside Paulsgrove and Fleetlands. Bearing in mind where they were 14 months ago, that is a remarkable transformation indeed.
Locks: Fredericks, Burns (William, 79), S Stone, Kent, Hall, B Stone, Johnson, J Chambers (Boggild, 69), Whiteley (Bull, 77), Cuthbert (Sales, 58), B Chambers.
Bush Hill: Devereux, Whitlock, Baddams (Harding, 64), Haines, Long, McCarthy-Gardiner (Randall, 89), Frampton, Gatera, Gray, Drake, Rankin.