By Josh Hood
The Hampton U16Bs convincingly saw off Tunbridge Wells Grammar School to reach the ESFA final, as Joe Bolger scored both goals in a 2-0 affair.
Overseen by an abundance of sunshine and a loyal legion of Hampton fans, the U16Bs kicked off their ESFA semi final at home on Wednesday 29 March. A committed start was undoubtedly aided by the unrelenting support from the crowd, as Hampton put their stamp on the game. The centre back partnership of Sam Spencer and Ben Millington-Jones worked faultlessly from the outset to eradicate any growing, attacking threats from the opposition.
Before long, opportunities followed this collective overpowering for the home side, as the attacking midfield line of Freddie Bate, Freddie Hoffmann-Becking and Zaki Sadiq-Baig all linked up to produce some mouth-watering attacking play. About 20 minutes into the game, this culminated in a free kick, sprayed into the box by Millington-Jones, and nodded in clinically at the far post by Bolger – the early onslaught had paid off.
The latter stages of the first half saw a more even contest, fuelled by Tunbridge’s increased desire and the pleasant, albeit scorching weather conditions. Nevertheless, a consistent defensive display, partnered with ‘keeper Matthew Barkus’s vigilance manifested itself in the achievement of not having conceded a big chance by the time the break arrived.
However, momentum changed hands again at the start of the second half as a well-deserved provision of water revitalised energy levels in the side. Astonishing tenacity from the holding midfield duo of Jacques Huet and Finn Gould ensured an overwhelming share of possession for Hampton and allowed them to unleash a variety of promising efforts on goal.
Once again, the pressure took its toll on the Tunbridge defence as a loose ball on the edge of the penalty area was capitalised upon by Bolger who calmly slotted the ball past a rushing-out goalkeeper to firmly place one of Hampton’s feet in the final.
Even so, far from over yet, the tie posed Hampton one or two more issues as it reached its conclusion. A series of attacking substitutions gave the away side a threat down the flanks as one run of play resulted in Tunbridge hitting the post from about 10 yards out. That said, Lucas Hermann Sosa, Kieran Bouwmeester-Reid and Felix Von der Geest put in impressive stints at fullback and minimised exposure to the increasingly frustrated Tunbridge offence.
In the tense closing stages, the much needed energy of Ed Joyce and Ben Rollason regained territory for Hampton. This brought the passages of play closer to the opposition goal where yet more chances were created and nearly taken, in front of the eager supporters.
As the final whistle blew, celebrations prevailed as the U16B footballers broke up for the Easter holidays, with the knowledge that the ESFA final awaited them upon their return to school in a matter of weeks.