Locks Heath bidding for ‘brilliant’ Hampshire Premier League Cup final victory over Wessex League-bound Bush Hill
Dave Fuge is bidding to bring the curtain down on his first season back at Locks Heath with some silverware.
Locks face Bush Hill at Westleigh Park on Saturday for the right to be crowned L4 Teamwear Challenge Cup champions.
Fuge says lifting the Hampshire Premier League supplementary cup trophy would be a special way to complete the pandemic-blighted campaign.
The Locks Heath boss is no stranger to lifting silverware at the club, having guided them to the HPL Senior Division title during his previous spell in 2012-13.
And Fuge reckons finishing with cup glory this term after arriving with a completely new-look playing and coaching staff last summer would make it a 'brilliant' achievement.
He said: 'It wouldn’t be the biggest cup upset of the season if we did win it because we’ve had a good season - it’s not like bottom versus top - effectively it’s first versus second.
‘It would be brilliant (finishing with some silverware). We’re the underdogs but we’ve played some good football, the surface will be good, and it’ll be a good challenge.
‘We picked them up from being bottom, it was a completely new squad, completely new coaching team, new management team. I would have taken top five, really, as a first season of rebuilding.
‘To finish second - I know people might say we might not have finished second - but when the season finished we were second.'
That is true. Locks were one point behind table-toppers Bush when the season was curtailed, having played two games more. Infinity, Paulsgrove and Fleetlands all would have leapt above Locks had they won matches in hand, but they never got the chance.
Fuge is under no illusions as to the size of task facing his team in the final against Bush Hill.
Eugene McManus’ goal-happy side remarkably thumped Paulsgrove 7-0 in the semi-final and this will be their last game at HPL level for at least a season after being granted promotion to the Wessex League as part of the FA's non-league restructure.
Locks were beaten 3-0 when they travelled to Bush Hill in the league last September - despite the hosts having James Lavender and James Whitlock red carded - but Fuge is hoping his men can complete a 'revenge' mission.
The Locks boss said: 'They spanked Paulsgrove (in the semi-final) who hadn’t lost a game all season (in the league).
‘To turn over an unbeaten side 7-0 is something else and it shows they deserve to be in that league above.
‘Paulsgrove would probably have been top three so for them to spank another team who would have been in and around the top 7-0 is pretty impressive.
‘We played them at their place and they outplayed us, it’ll be nice to try to get a bit of revenge.'
Bush’s hammering of Paulsgrove was even more impressive as it was achieved without the prolific Mark Barker.
Barker has plundered 30 goals in just 17 league and cup games in 2020/21, and Bush go into the final having won 16 of their last 17 competitive games.
That includes nine successive L4 Teamwear Cup wins - during which they have netted 36 times - with their only loss during that time a 5-2 defeat at Paulsgrove in mid-December.
No-one can argue that Bush do not deserve their promotion to step 6 level.
Since the start of the 2016/17 season, they have won a remarkable 96 of their 122 league games - a 78.6 per cent success rate.
Locks have only won one of their 13 league games against Bush since the Southampton-based club first appeared in the HPL top flight in 2014/15 - a 3-2 victory at Bush in April 2015.
Since the start of 2017/18, Locks have managed one 0-0 draw and lost 7-0, 4-0, 4-1, 5-0, 5-2 and 3-0.
Barker scored a hat-trick in both league wins against Locks in 2019/20, but it will be a very different Locks side taking the field at Westleigh Park.
Locks will again look to the goals of top scorer Jordan Whiteley, who has struck 17 times in 18 starts this season. That haul includes four in a remarkable 5-3 quarter-final win at Infinity where Locks trailed 3-1 having had a man sent off in the first half.
Ben Chambers (12) and Connor Johnson (9) are other Locks goal threats.