A frantic meeting at Bashley Road saw two first-half goals, ensuring both teams entered the interval on level terms. Cameron Beard swooped from close range for the hosts on 38 minutes, before a towering Steve Flynn header hauled Poppies back into the quarter-final clash.
Shiv Roushbaiani then tucked the visitors into a deserved lead eleven minutes after the break, but late drama saw Bashley equalise on 76 minutes following a goalmouth scramble. However, the high-flying visitors would not be denied a spot in the final four of the competition, as substitute Stepan Neronski’s drive a minute later flashed into the top corner to seal the victory.
From the beginning
Poppies manager Michael Cuffie opted to make four changes to his side following the Winton-based outfit’s heavy victory against Tadley Calleva at the weekend. Rob Head, Chris Speers, Harry Cooper and Roushbaiani were all restored to the starting line-up, with Charlie Langston, Manny Ohameje, Ali Zintany and Neronski all being named among the substitutes.
The hosts once again started the clash without top scorer Dan Munday, who started on the bench despite his winner from the penalty spot in Bashley’s last outing.
An end-to-end start to the game saw both sides carve out clear openings. On two minutes, Nathan Drake was the first to attempt a delivery into Poppies’ penalty area, but the attacker miscued and Sam Jones’ goal remained untroubled.
Liam Ferrugia then lined up an effort moments later, but a deflected strike fell kindly into Jones’ arms.
The visitors looked to immediately respond on four minutes – a wicked cross into the box drifted towards Roushbaiani, who could only nod narrowly wide of the near post with home gloveman Jason Collins beaten.
An open battle between two sides
It was Collins’ heroics that would soon ensure Bashley’s parity remained on nine minutes, however. Poppies striker Mickey Finch collected possession 25 yards out, and flashed a powerful effort that appeared destined to nestle in the far corner. But the shot stopper’s intervention was superb, a full stretch plunge and a strong palm to clip the strike onto the woodwork and away.
Finch looked to seek revenge soon after, but the visitors’ forward was once again denied by Collins. Another attempt, this time from ten yards further out, troubled the goalkeeper, who parried round the woodwork for a corner. From the resultant delivery, a last-ditch interception from a Bashley defender prevented Speers from nodding toward goal.
After a breathless opening period, the affair settled into a scrappy midfield battle. A rare chance for either side fell the way of Ferrugia, whose set-piece 25 yards from goal bent narrowly wide of Jones’ far post.
The midfielder’s attempt seemed to spark the cup tie into renewed life – fashioning two golden opportunities for both outfits. On 31 minutes, a well-worked foray forward from the home side saw the ball drop in front of Nathan Clements 12 yards from goal, but the young striker’s contact with the delivery was poor and allowed Jones to race off his line and collect.
The visitors then came even closer to breaking the deadlock just a minute later. A ball drilled across the face of goal dropped towards the unmarked Finch, but the striker couldn’t divert the delivery beyond Collins on the slide.
Flynn and Saadi were the next Poppies attackers to chance their arm, but neither were able to convert beyond the spirited Bashley gloveman.
The duo of misses were soon punished by the home side, who opened the scoring after slack defending from the visitors. On 38 minutes, Bashley pieced together a flowing move around the edge of the penalty area, and an eventual pass slid towards goal evaded both Harvey Elsom and Speers, allowing Beard to tuck home at the far post beyond the helpless Jones.
Having fallen behind against the run of play, Poppies rekindled their threat in front of goal and would soon ensure they entered the break level. Ex-New Milton talisman Flynn shrugged off the attention of his marker on 41 minutes, before rising highest to steer a cross beyond Collins and into the far corner.
Clements almost restored Bashley’s lead on the stroke of the interval, but blazed over the target in the first half’s final chance.
Poppies searched for a positive start following the resumption, but Speers’ rash foul in the centre of the park presented Dan Thompson with an opportunity to test Jones. However, from 30 yards the midfielder could only direct his strike comfortably over the crossbar.
The visitors’ bright start was duly rewarded on 56 minutes, as Poppies moved into the lead for the first time. A clever passage of play between Head and Finch saw the latter drive the ball from the byline towards the penalty spot, where Roushbaiani was on hand to finish emphatically beyond Collins.
Hero of the night
Ron Frost, captaining Poppies once again, was soon replaced by Neronski, whilst prolific hitman Munday was introduced by Bashley manager Paul Morris.
Finch and Flynn’s goal-laden partnership almost paid dividends once again on the hour mark, but the former could only fire over the target on the stretch after Flynn’s clipped ball over the home side’s backline.
Youngster Harrison White was soon introduced into the fray by boss Morris and the attacker almost started off his outing with a goal, but White blazed over the crossbar after full back Jack Smith’s wicked set-piece.
Marauding defender Aziz Aldahayan was the next player to unleash a strike at the Bashley goal, but the sliced effort curled harmlessly into Collins’ side netting at the near post.
Bashley’s evident threat on the counter soon resulted in a bizarre leveller. A goalmouth scramble involving a home side’s attacker and Speers ended with the ball spinning past the wrong-footed Jones, undoing the visitors’ hard work throughout the second period.
But with the tie threatening to head to the lottery of a penalty shootout, Neronski’s sublime intervention wrapped up another Poppies triumph in Hampshire.
Third in a row
With Bashley still reeling from their equaliser, the visitors thundered towards the home side’s penalty area where Neronski was teed up 25 yards out. The midfielder’s unerring strike flashed beyond the unmoving Collins and into the top corner, sparking wild scenes in the Poppies technical area.
Jones’ breathtaking late stop from White’s bending strike secured Poppies’ victory, and the Bournemouth-based outfit’s spot in the final four of the competition.
POPPIES: Jones, Head, Speers, Elsom, Aldahayan, Cooper, Frost (Neronski), Roushbaiani (Zintany), Saadi (Gelschleichter), Finch, Flynn
Unused substitutes: Langston, Ohameje
by Dan Davis @Dan_Davis20