Christchurch, Bashley, Blackfield & Langley, Brockenhurst and Hythe & Dibden in action as Wessex Football League kicks off
LOCAL non-league clubs returned to competitive action for the first time since the football season was curtailed in February due to the coronavirus.
The first round of Wessex Football League Premier Division fixtures presented a local derby between Christchurch and Bashley, which Bashley won 2-0 thanks to two first-half strikes in front of 315 spectators at the Glen Max Stadium.
The omens looked bad for Bashley with mercurial winger Harry Bunce pulling out during the warm-up and Bashley’s star striker missing due to Covid-19. However, 16-year-old Bue Bennett partnered with Lewis Ross up front, with the former continuing his superb form displayed in pre-season.
Bashley were in control for the vast majority, with Christchurch appearing to lack chemistry as they got to grips with an almost entirely new line-up in new manager Ben Hatch’s first competitive match in charge.
The opener strike came from intelligent positioning from the evergreen fullback Jack Smith. A Ross shot following a run and cross from Ollie Bradley came off the post into the path of the goal-sniffing Smith, who buried the shot from two yards out.
Christchurch threatened sporadically on the break before a dangerous free-kick was intercepted by Lewis Aimson’s diving defensive header back to keeper Sammy Thompson.
With seven minutes of the half remaining, Bennett collected the ball in front of the dugouts and arrowed down the line at Olympic sprint pace. The youngster, closely marked by a defender whom he held off with strength and grim determination, made his way to the corner of the pitch before cutting inward, leaving his marker for dead. He completed his remarkable run by shooting across gloveman Sukhraj Dulai into the far corner of the net to double the advantage.
The story of the second half was mainly the puzzling outpouring of yellow cards that neither side could fully explain.
Both sides made changes, and Christchurch grew into the game, forcing Thompson to make a couple of spectacular saves.
The best chance of the second half fell to Ross, whose shot came back off the inside of the post.
Blackfield & Langley’s campaign kicked off with a heartbreaking 1-1 draw with AFC Stoneham at the Gang Warily Recreation Centre.
Captain Sami Makhloufi looked to have given manager Fawzi Saadi an opening day win with a 70th-minute strike past keeper Parker-Trott. However, an incredibly late 96th-minute injury-time strike from midfielder Alex Welch cost Blackfield two points.
Blackfield’s opening game of the season was played out in front of 102 fans.
Brockenhurst made a bright start against Hamworthy United, scoring first through Silvano Obeng after just 16 minutes, but the visitors rallied to win 2-1 at the Meadens Skoda Arena in front of 172.
Pat McManus’s men held the lead for 11 minutes until number 10 Matty Neale scored the first of his two first-half strikes. The lethal marksman missed the chance to complete a first-half hat-trick when his 37th-minute penalty attempt flew over the crossbar.
Brockenhurst will hope to reverse the result when the two sides repeat the fixture on Saturday, this time in the FA Cup extra preliminary round.
It was a difficult introduction to Premier Division football for Hythe & Dibden with a 4-1 defeat to Bournemouth Poppies at Claypits Lane with 108 in attendance.
Playing their first-ever match at this level after gaining promotion due to the FA’s league restructuring, Hythe & Dibden struggled to get to grips with the Poppies before scoring a 90th-minute consolation strike through Damien Marshall to make it 3-1.
The visitors were not finished yet and immediately went up the other end before winning and converting a 94th-minute penalty through Steve Flynn.