By Josh Hood
The Hampton U16B team kicked off their 2021-22 ESFA Cup campaign in early October at home against Windsor Boys’ School. A determined start and impressive support from the Hampton fans paid dividends, as a 4-1 win was secured in Round 1. In particular, excellent work rate from Jacques Huet and Zaki Sadiq-Baig proved too strong for Windsor as, in spite of a slight lapse in concentration to concede the goal, a perfect start was achieved.
Over a month later, Hampton travelled across London to compete against Bishop Thomas Grant School on an 3G-based, albeit rather small pitch. Nevertheless, the U16Bs were able to create an array of chances in the first half with composure in front of goal being the only issue. That said, soon after the break, a penalty was won and emphatically converted by Sadiq-Baig via a ‘panenka’.
After this, in what became a second half utterly different to the first, the home side shifted up a gear and contested in a much more even matchup. A late equaliser reflected this as a hectic penalty area was the site of the goal, smashed in by the opposition through a sea of Hampton bodies. In dramatic fashion however, a great finish from Aryan Virdi, blasted into the roof of the net from over 20 yards out, put Hampton 2-1 up and into Round 3.
Glyn School hosted their next match and fielded not only a team but an army of supporters almost comparable to that of Hampton on a sunny afternoon on the 3G. Not phased by this however, the U16B team delivered a professional performance. The first half was certainly tighter than the second as the scoreboard read one goal a piece early on. However, an attacking onslaught led by Freddie Bate and Ben Rollason in the latter stages gave the Glyn defenders a crisis to deal with. By the time the final whistle blew, Hampton had racked up a tally of five compared to the home side’s one and continued their increasingly promising progression in the national competition.
The next round was eagerly anticipated and a four hour bus journey away, against Ivybridge Community College in Devon. The importance of the occasion was only heightened by the setting as a Premier League standard pitch in 25 degree heat created the perfect conditions for the ESFA quarter-final. In a tense opening spell, defensive solidity from the Hampton back four was much needed and delivered as ‘keeper Matthew Barkus was not challenged with any serious opportunities.
The second half saw a similar pattern of play until the dreaded prospect of a penalty shootout started to haunt the minds of players and coaches alike. That said, the extremely clinical conviction of the Hampton frontline pulled through as finishes from Rollason, Freddie Hoffman Becking and Bate all contributed to the accumulation of a 3-0 lead. Felix Von der Geest provided an equally admirable display at left back, winning almost every duel he competed in and contributing to the protection of the three goal cushion. As the final whistle blew, a relieved and excited U16B side celebrated their achievement of reaching an ESFA semi -final.
Overseen by an abundance of sunshine and a legion of loyal Hampton fans, the U16Bs kicked off their ESFA semi-final at home just before the Easter break. The centre back partnership of Sam Spencer and Ben Millington-Jones worked faultlessly from the outset to eradicate any attacking threats from the opposition.
Opportunities followed this collective overpowering, as the attacking midfield line of Bate, Hoffmann-Becking and 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 Joe 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. Nevertheless, a consistent defensive display, partnered with ‘keeper Barkus’s vigilance resulted in the home side not conceding a chance by the half time break.
Momentum changed 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 Huet and Finn Gould ensured an overwhelming share of possession for Hampton.
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.
As the final whistle blew, celebrations from the home fans followed as the U16B reached the ESFA final, with a much-anticipated match awaiting the Hamptonians in the summer term.