Andover Town 3 Bemerton Heath Harlequins 2.
Salisbury Hospital Cup Final.
A Claudio Herbert goal ten minutes from time brought Andover Town their first ever cup success against all the odds at Salisbury City FC tonight, as they overcame a bruising Bemerton Heath Harlequins side in the Salisbury Hospital Cup final.
If ever justice prevailed then this was the time as Town battled on despite being on the receiving end of a battering on the pitch and a horribly lopsided free-kick count which threatened to become an embarrassment.
The Premier Division side were a goal up inside 30 seconds as from the kick-off ‘Quins won possession and the defence was still asleep as Tom Moseley drilled a shot past Jake Wellesley-Davies.
Herbert replied with a 30 yarder which went just wide and a Lloyd Foot cross which was somehow missed by all but Bemerton were dangerous on the counter and Jack Eves brought a tip over from Wellesley-Davies. With Lewis Benson, Cameron Hough and Alex Dockree all battling to get a toe hold the game became riddled with fouls and with Town on the receiving end from the opposition and from referee Welsh frustration was never far away.
Happily for the Town right on half-time Benson was once again fouled 20 yards out and Lloyd Foot completely deceived Max Frampton in the Harlequins’ goal with a curling free-kick which could well be his last in the Town blue.
It was sweet justice as Benson was crudely dealt with more than once on his return to the ground where he was a full-time pro a few years ago and while Bemerton licked their wounds Dockree unleashed a shot from distance and the slightest of deflections took it into the net to give Town a half-time lead few would have predicted five minutes earlier.
Andover began to get stronger after the break as they stood up to the physicality and with Benson seeing more of the ball and with space to run into he set up Herbert but he shot straight at Frampton.
The same two combined moments later but with referee Welsh playing an advantage for another hack at Benson, Herbert again missed when well placed.
With tempers never far from flaring Herbert then brought a stunning save from Frampton before his side were handed a lifeline with 15 minutes to go as Dan Young took advantage of a defensive slip and hammered home the equaliser to set up a dramatic finale.
The Town fans were fearing an injustice as the free-kick count continued to rise but on 82 minutes Herbert made up for his earlier misses when his instant control brought him time to drill a shot in off the far post. With Bemerton pushing forward Oli Yates hit the post and after five minutes of added time man of the match Lloyd Foot cleared his lines and the cup was heading for Andover.
For boss Neil Benson it was a taste of what to expect come the beginning of August in the Premier Division and a richly deserved success at the end of what has been a memorable first season for the new club.
With runners-up slots in the Wessex League Division One and the Andover Open Cup and the possibility of the U18s snatching the SW Counties League title in the next couple of weeks the sign writers can now prepare the new honours board at the Portway Stadium.
Reaction to follow