By Josh Hood and Vishal Saha
The stage was set for a nail-biting finale as the 2022/23 1st XI took to the pitch for the final time, determined to reclaim Hampton their ESFA title. Certainly not lacking support, the boys had the backing of over 700 fans, overpowered in quantity but certainly not noise by the Shrewsbury representatives. After the morning 3-hour trip to Bet365 Stadium, the stands filled up ready for kick-off against Shrewsbury School at 1:30pm.
It was Hampton who made the brighter and more energetic start. Only a minute in, Toby North made a long ball to number ten, Jamie Wilson who – after a successful 1-on-1 battle with the Shrewsbury defender squared it to Adam Coombs, whose shot was unfortunately blocked.
However, five minutes into the game, luck turned Hampton’s way in the form of a counter-attack. Aaron Mills’ pinpoint through ball reached Johnny Evans-Hutchinson, who after a clever one-two with Coombs, trickled the ball forwards to Ben Robinson – who cooly buried it in bottom corner. The yellow wall of Hampton fans erupted in triumph and were delighted to see their side take such an early lead.
Determined to level the score and regain control of the game, Shrewsbury began to make some progress, advancing into the Hampton territory. McDonald sent a perfectly lofted ball over the Hampton players – which number 12 Cooke deftly received. Cooke struck the ball with great power and accuracy towards the goal, but to Shrewsbury’s frustration, it was no match for Conrad Knight’s lightning-fast reflexes. Knight was able to swiftly react and push the ball away from the goalpost, resulting in a corner kick for Shrewsbury.
At the 27th minute mark, Hampton made their first substitution, which proved to be a game-changing move. They brought on Fifth Year Josh King, talented young footballer from Fulham and England’s national team. His exceptional skills on the field during the ESFA cup run had earned him the nickname ‘English Pirlo’ among the Hampton fans.
Minutes after King’s substitution, some silky dribbling by Wilson, combined with his rapid speed, enabled the play to reach the opposition’s box. After Wilson lost the ball through a slide tackle challenge, King seized the opportunity. After pinching the ball off the toe of Coombs, he effortlessly skipped past two defenders and slotted it home.
Hampton strode out for the second half, knowing that a mere 45 minutes of football stood between them, and a second U18 ESFA trophy in five years. Backed by a loyal legion of travelling fans, both sides restarted with intensity, nobody daring to shy away from the significance of such an occasion.
Shrewsbury however, who were in desperate need of a goal to reignite their hopes, found exactly that with their captain. From centre-back, he drove forward before hoofing the ball, from 35 yards out, over the head of Hampton goalkeeper Conrad Knight. 2-1, and they were back in the game!
Having been faced with a setback, Hampton responded, establishing longer spells of possession and pushing Shrewsbury back into their own half. Everything was still to play for as the game progressed to its final stages and looked set for a nervy finish. Alex Di Soccio had different ideas…
The ball broke in midfield for newly substituted Ben Walker, who played a crisp left footed ball in behind the Shrewsbury defence. After a dummy from Jamie Wilson, the ball fell to the feet of Di Soccio who faked right, then left to lose his defender before striking it home past the flailing left arm of the Shrewsbury goalkeeper.
The Hampton faithful erupted and Di Soccio was crowded by his teammates as the First XI restored their two goal cushion entering the final 10 minutes of the game.
The same defensive solidity, ever present throughout this season’s ESFA campaign, did not ease when most needed as the game was seen out without further goals. The team sprinted over to the travelling fans to celebrate together, capping a remarkable end to an incredible season, in what will have been for some of the squad, their final game for Hampton.