‘Could do better.’
That’s the verdict delivered by Horndean manager Michael Birmingham when asked to sum up his side’s form in the opening three months of the new Wessex League season.
Last term the Deans finished runners-up in the Premier Division - the club’s highest ever finish in the non league pyramid.
As a result - and even though they finished 31 points adrift of runaway champions Sholing in 2019/20 - Birmingham knows his club have set a high yardstick to measure themselves by.
At present they lie ninth in the table, 11 points adrift of leaders Alresford with a game in hand.
In addition, they suffered a home FA Vase exit to Raynes Park recently which led to Birmingham publicly criticising his players for ‘waving a white flag’.
The smiles were back on Tuesday, though, when a much-changed Deans XI thrashed Hampshire Premier Leaguers Infinity 5-0 in the Russell Cotes Cup to set up a quarter final trip to holders Sholing.
Though Infinity are two divisions lower, they have big ambitions and boss Danny Thompson believes his squad would hold their own in the Wessex top flight.
Birmingham, therefore, was delighted that some players took the chance to improve their manager’s confidence in his squad.
From the starting XI against Raynes Park, out went goalkeeper Kieran Magee, Tee Kanjanda, Dan Sackman, Jack Maloney, Ash Howes, Connor Duffin, Miles Everett and Alfie Lis.
The only three players to keep their place were right back Mark Smith, defender Louie Martin and midfielder Louis Edwards.
In came Lloyd Thomas in goal, left back Fuzz Kanjanda, centre half Zak Sharpe, midfielders Sam Hookey, Tom Doughty and Ben Anderson, 16, and strikers Bobby Scott and Sam Kessack.
Liam Kimber, Ryan Chandler and Lee Tigwell were also introduced as second half subs at Five Heads Park.
‘This was much better,’ said Birmingham after Tuesday’s success. ‘There was more energy, more enthusiasm. Infinity are a good side - they took Baffins to penalties in the Portsmouth Senior Cup.
‘We spoke a lot about attitude before the game and tonight the boys’ attitude was bang on. It was 100 per cent better than the Vase game.
‘We looked rejuvenated. Sometimes in football you need to experience a real low in order to come back stronger.’
Hookey has returned to Deans after a spell at Moneyfields, while Kimber is fit again after injury.
Horndean rarely allowed Infinity a sniff at goal, while at the other end Scott showcased his undoubted ability with a quality treble. ‘Bobby is class at this level and he showed that,’ said Birmingham.
Kessack - a summer recruit from Fareham – and Sharpe also netted on a night when Horndean could easily have won by a bigger margin.
Speaking about the season, the manager added: ‘If I was a schoolteacher I would say ‘could do better’.
‘But we played extremely well tonight. There were a few home truths in training last week and the players responded.
‘I asked them to keep the ball moving and do the simple things right. That’s my style - ‘simplicity’ is the key word.’