Horndean boss Birmingham reacts to massive FA Vase win by signing new striker from Wessex 1 club
Michael Birmingham has reacted to the biggest win of his Horndean managerial career by signing a new striker.
Fresh from a stunning 9-0 hammering of Wessex Premier rivals Hamble in the first qualifying round of the FA Vase, Deans have recruited Luke Hooper.
Hooper has been one of the most prolific scorers at Wessex 1 level in recent years. After netting 22 times in 30 league and cup appearances in 2019/20, he has struck eight in eight games this season.
If he is registered in time, he will make his debut in Tuesday’s home Wessex League Cup tie against Division 1 high-fliers Newport IoW at Five Heads Park.
Hooper has been recruited to keep Connor Duffin, Zak Willett and Harry Jackson - 19 goals between them already in 2021/22 - on their toes.
‘I’ve been following Luke for some time,’ revealed Birmingham. ‘He will make sure all the strikers stay hungry and keep looking over their shoulders if they want to keep hold of their shirts.
‘It’s good to stop players getting too comfortable and a bit lazy - we want to nip that in the bud before it happens.’
Like Willett and Jackson, Hooper is a pacy player. And Birmingham admits he has specifically targeted injecting more speed into his forward line.
‘We’ve always been known as a team that likes to pass the ball,’ he said. ‘But I felt we needed to bring some whippets in.
‘We’ve had pacy players before like Sam Smart, Benny Read, Fuzz Kanjanda, but they’ve offered pace from deeper. I wanted to inject a bit more pace and energy up front and to help Duffers (central striker Duffin) out.
‘Pace is the one thing that scares defenders.’
Jackson struck a hat-trick as Deans thrashed the wildly-inconsistent Hamble for the second time in a matter of weeks, having previously caned them 7-0 in the league.
Willett took his seasonal tally to eight with a brace, with Ben Anderson, Ash Howes and teenage sub Evan Harris completing the Vase romp.
It was not only the biggest win of Birmingham’s time at the club, but the biggest national cup victory – either FA Cup or Vase – in Horndean’s history, beating the 7-2 hammering of Calne (FA Cup) in 2013.
‘We didn’t play that well in the first half,’ said the boss. ‘We were trying to force the issue too much.
‘I said at half-time, just keep moving the ball, keep switching the play, and be patient.
‘Don’t be fooled by the scoreline, though - Jocko (Cameron Scott, keeper) had to make three or four good saves.’
Birmingham, who has been in charge of Deans since the summer of 2016, is happy with the squad he has put together in his sixth season at Five Heads Park.
‘We’ve had good players here - Sam Smart, Benny Read, the Leigh brothers (Ashton and Tommy), Miles Everett - but I’d say as a whole this is the best squad I’ve had.’
Next up in the Vase is a home tie with current Wessex Premier leaders Brockenhurst on September 25.
‘They’re always well organised,’ said Birmingham. ‘They beat Blackfield at the weekend, they’ve already beaten Portchester as well. They will be a tough nut to crack.’