US Portsmouth’s bid to create Wessex League Cup history ends with final defeat to Hamworthy United

US Portsmouth failed in their bid to become the first club from the second tier to lift the Wessex League Cup this afternoon.

Saturday, 22nd May 2021, 6:12 pm
Hamworthy United's Steve Devlin about to collect his man of the match award following the Hammers' 3-1 win over US Portsmouth in the Wessex League Cup final at AFC Portchester this afternoon.

They were beaten 3-1 in their first-ever final by a Hamworthy United side who were top of the Premier Division when the 2020/21 season was curtailed in February.

The Hammers made a storming start and led 2-0 after just 14 minutes of what was manager Glenn Turnbull’s final game in charge of USP prior to taking over as Moneyfields boss.

His side struggled to create chances in the opening 45 minutes but were much improved after the break.

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Top scorer James Franklyn - one of the players expected to follow Turnbull to Moneys - gave his side a lifeline 20 minutes from time.

But Tim Sills’ Hamworthy sealed victory in the 85th minute when sub Oliver Davis’ shot took a big deflection off USP skipper Tom Jeffes, wrong-footing keeper Tom Price in the process.

USP were down to 10 men at the time, with ref Tom Berry having sent defender Sonny Harnett-Balkwill to the sin bin two minutes earlier.

Harnett-Balkwill protested too vehemently to Berry after needing treatment following a challenge with a Hammers opponent, and was ordered off for dissent.

Turnbull had made just one change to the starting XI that had progressed to the club’s first final for nine years, recalling defender Tom Cain in place of the suspended Harry Birmingham.

John Cass returned to the bench as Tyler Moret - the two-goal semi-final hero against Bemerton - was out injured.

Moret had suffered a freak knee injury the previous Sunday, slipping on a grass bank while taking his place in a celebratory team photo after Milton Rovers had clinched the City of Portsmouth League title at Farlington.

Steve Devlin - a former Poole Town regular in the National League South and Southern League - had made a goalscoring debut for Hamworthy in last December’s 4-0 Wessex Premier win at Portchester, one of the Hammers’ 12 wins in 14 league matches in a pandemic-wrecked season.

Subsequently, he had netted six more times in four league and cup appearances, including two hat-tricks. And he required only four minutes of his sixth outing before opening the scoring.

Harnett-Balkwill was penalised for a foul on teenage striker Cameron Munn and Devlin took a long run-up before belting a left-footed free-kick along the ground and into the corner of Price’s net.

US went close to levelling on 10 minutes when left wing-back Elliott Turnbull whipped in an inviting cross from near the touchline which Dec Seiden, getting in ahead of his marker at the near post, glanced across keeper Shane Murphy and just wide of the far post.

USP, the fifth Wessex Division 1 club to reach the league’s blue riband cup final, fell further behind four minutes later. They were punished for giving the ball away when Matt Neale - a constant threat on the left side - powered into the penalty area before setting up Ed Hodge for a low finish.

USP chances were few and far between in the remainder of the half - Seiden half-volleying over from 20 yards and Jordan Pile’s 25-yard free-kick giving Murphy a comfortable catch.

Hamworthy could have had a third five minutes before the interval but Price stood up well and blocked Neale’s close range effort with his legs for a corner.

USP had to up their game after the restart, and did just that - Murphy called on to make his first ‘proper’ save on 53 minutes when he tipped a Harnett-Balkwill header from a Turnbull free-kick over his bar.

On 70 minutes, Franklyn brought USP back in contention - scoring from close range to maintain the club’s record of having netted in all 23 competitive league and cup games in the most memorable season in their history.

Three minutes later, it could have been - perhaps should have been - all square as Tom Cain arrived at the back post to meet an inswinging free-kick only to head wide.

It was to be his side’s last big opportunity.

Price made another good save with his legs on 79 minutes after Neale had skilfully worked an opening by lifting the ball over a defender’s head.

After no bookings in the first half, Berry was card happy in the second - showing a flurry of yellows with USP contingent Cain, Jeffes, Jack Chandler, Pile and Callum Glen all being booked.

Harnett-Balkwill escaped a yellow, but was instead ordered to sit in the dug out for the remainder of the game for his dissent on 83 minutes. Shortly after, Price saved well from Hodge but USP failed to clear the danger and Davis’ shot went in off Jeffes.

With it went USP’s hopes of capping a sensational campaign - which catapulted the club into the national spotlight and took them to within 10 minutes of the FA Vase final at Wembley - with silverware.

Devlin, such an experienced figure in the centre of the Hammers midfield, was voted man of the match as his club deservedly lifted the Wessex League Cup for the second time in their history (the first had been in 2004/05).

USP: Price, Chandler (Sibley, 67), Turnbull (Hazell, 70), Harnett-Balkwill, Cain, Jeffes, Pile (Sargeant, 88), Glen, Todd, Seiden, Franklyn.

Hamworthy: Murphy, Randall, Clarke, Devlin, Rolls, Costello, Hodge, Francis (Buckler, 66), Munn (Davis, 60), Cann, Neale (Ecott-Young, 88).