Dave Hazelgrove aiming for top three Hampshire Premier League finish in first managerial role at Locks Heath
Dave Hazlegrove is hoping his friendship with Ben Buckland can help take Locks Heath into the Hampshire Premier League’s top three next season.
The former Fareham Town colleagues were quickly appointed Locks joint-managers after Dave Fuge stepped down in the wake of last month’s surprise HPL Cup final loss to Sway.
For Hazelgrove, it is a first ever managerial role having always been a coach in both his post-playing and work lives.
‘To be honest, I’m not overly excited about being a manager, I’m not one for the limelight,’ he told The News.
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‘But I’m excited to give it a go with Bucko (Buckland).
‘I’m from a coaching background, Bucko’s from a fitness background. We’ve known each other for years since Hampshire Schoolboys.
‘We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we can bounce off each other.’
Hazelgrove had been coaching at Locks ever since Fuge returned to the club for a second managerial spell after the 2019/20 HPL season had been ended prematurely due to the first national lockdown.
Locks benefitted as a result; bottom of the Senior Division, they were looking certainties for a first ever HPL relegation. But with the season declared null and void, they were handed a reprieve. With two cup finals since, they have made the most of it.
Hazelgrove believes the stability of promoting from within - Buckland was also doing some coaching at Locks under Fuge - will reap its benefits.
‘The teams who do well in the Hampshire League have the most togetherness,’ he remarked. ‘Look at Denmead last season, they have been playing together for ages.
‘That was part of the reason we accepted the offer to take over (as Locks bosses) - we’ve got that stability and cohesion in the group.
‘When Dave stepped down, there were conversations around ‘what do you want to do?’ and I wasn’t ready to walk away. The club is moving in the right direction and it was the right time to give it (management) a go.’
Asked about his targets for 2022/23, Hazelgrove said: ‘I don’t see why we can’t finish top three.
‘On our day, we’re a good side - we showed that in cup ties against (Wessex Premier clubs) Alresford, Moneyfields and Fareham last season.
‘We beat Fareham on penalties and we beat (Wessex 1) Andover New Street 1-0 in a cup tie with only 10 men. If we were in Wessex 1, we’d be a decent outfit in there.
‘I think the league will be tougher next season, the clubs coming up will only add to it. Harvest could be a bit of a surprise package.’
Locks ended up fifth in the HPL Senior Division last season, only eight points adrift of champions Colden Common.
A poor start cost them dearly. Having to play their first eight league games away - due to cricket taking preference at their own ground - they lost three times and drew another.
‘That’s 11 points we dropped in those eight games,’ recalled Hazelgrove. ‘Those points would have won us the league. We have to improve on that.
Locks’ improvement as an HPL force under Fuge was based around a core group of players who had been turning out for Fleetlands reserves in 2019/20 - the likes of Jamie Hall, Shane Kent, Brad Stone and Connor Johnson.
‘I couldn’t believe how good these players were,’ said Hazelgrove. ‘From coaching young players, all of a sudden we had this quality pool of players.’
Locks are expected to keep the bulk of last season’s squad together, though a couple of players could be stepping up to the Wessex League.
Hazelgrove and Buckland will also add a handful of new faces, with ex-Fawley player Jake Smith potentially one of them.