Horndean players celebrate Fratton Park cup final success - after only returning from Benidorn holiday at 4.30am the same day!
Ollie Bennett - in charge of the Deans for the game alongside fellow coach Darren Robson - admitted his side’s character saw them lift the silverware for the first time since 2011.
‘I did apologise to (Fareham boss) Graham Rix after the game,’ he told The News. ‘We absolutely stole it.
‘Fareham were by far the better side on the night, they will be absolutely gutted.
‘Graham said you don’t always get what you deserve in football, and that’s true - we’ve all been there.’
Having spent a few days partying in Benidorm, the majority of the Horndean squad didn’t land back in England until the early hours of yesterday.
Their flight was delayed and the party didn’t reach Gatwick until 4.30am. Then, due to road closures on the A3 and M3, the coach driver returning them to Hampshire got lost.
‘It wasn’t the best preparation in the world, but what can you do?’ asked Bennett. ‘We got there in the end.
‘We knew Fareham had prepared properly and we knew our preparations weren’t as good as they should have been.
‘We expected to be under the cosh.
‘The lads were running on empty in the second half. It was sheer character and togetherness that got us through.
‘Michael Birmingham hasn’t only built a great squad, he’s built a backroom staff where everyone contributes. The togetherness that he’s built won us that game.
‘The players we retained last summer stayed because of Michael Birmingham, but we needed to get out of the (Wessex) league. Promotion was the only way we were going to keep this squad together.’
Regarding the cup final, Bennett added: ‘I couldn’t see us scoring if we’d stayed there for another week. We didn’t look like scoring, we didn’t look like creating.
‘We brought Rudi Blankson on and for five minutes it looked as if he was wearing ice skates, he was slipping over.
‘But he’s capable of drifting past what seems like 15 players and in the end the ball dropped to Tom Jeffes who was in the right place at the right time.’
Jeffes had started the game at centre half but was pushed up front in the second half after Connor Duffin had been withdrawn.
Deans keeper Ellis Grant - ‘who must be an intimidating figure’ according to Bennett - saved Jones’ opening penalty in the shoot-out in front of the Fratton End.
The following eight penalties were converted, with Ethan Robb completing Horndean’s victory with his side’s fifth effort.
Tommy Scutt, Ben Anderson, James Crane and Blankson also scored from 12 yards past Creeksiders keeper Luke Deacon.
Bennett continued: ‘I’m pleased for the likes of Luke Dempsey, Tom Jeffes and Ethan Gee.
‘They’ve probably sat on the bench this season more often than they would have liked, but they never complained - there was no toxic atmosphere.
‘That was the difference this year - the squad positivity around the club and in the dressing room. I’ve never known a dressing room like it.
‘Every player has bought into what we’ve been trying to do.’
While Horndean have now won two trophies inside a few weeks, Fareham’s 30-year wait for silverware goes on.
This was the club’s second cup final loss in successive seasons, after losing to Shaftesbury in the 2021/22 Wessex League Cup final.