Report by Dan Davis (@dan_davis20) at MA Hart Stadium
Bournemouth Poppies emerged victorious in the Bournemouth Senior Cup last night after beating giant killers Hythe and Dibden 1-0 at the MA Hart Stadium.
The club’s eight-year wait to bolster their trophy cabinet was finally brought to an end after River Smith’s second-half strike fired Poppies to victory.
Manager Michael Cuffie opted to make three changes to his side, following last weekend’s stalemate with Team Solent at Victoria Park.
Full-back Aziz Aldahayan was restored to the starting XI, whilst midfielder Harry Cooper also returned. Charlie Langston was instead named amongst the substitutes, and Manny Ohameje started ahead of Nasim Meddah.
Recent signings Marcus Cullen and Meddah missed out on the matchday squad altogether.
Hythe boasted former Southampton and AFC Bournemouth midfielder Jo Tessem in their ranks.
The Southampton-based outfit had enjoyed a successful, goal-laden run to the final, after taking high-profile scalps in the form of Brockenhurst, Christchurch, Poole Town Reserves and Hamworthy United – all higher-league opposition.
But it was the Poppies, flying high in the Wessex Premier Division, who started the brighter. An inviting delivery aimed towards Ali Zintany narrowly evaded the wide-man, with Hythe scrambling the ball behind for a corner. The resultant set-piece from Chia Khider was cleared at the near post, however.
Hythe flew forward on four minutes after a rapid breakaway, but Liam Golding fired comfortably wide of goal.
Steve Flynn, Poppies’ top scorer in the competition, then went close at the other end, narrowly steering a pinpoint long throw from skipper Ron Frost over the crossbar.
The fluid, end-to-end nature of the clash continued, and on 13 minutes Zintany went close to breaking the deadlock once again after rifling wide of goal following a flowing Poppies move.
The first golden opportunity of the final fell to Hythe, however. Filippos Terzidis collected an incisive through ball in his stride, and let fly from 12 yards. Only superb goalkeeping from Sam Jones, who had raced off his line to smother the effort, prevented the lower league side from taking the lead.
In what was rapidly becoming a tale of two excellent shot stoppers, Hythe’s Ellis Grant had to be alert to parry away Smith’s low strike on 17 minutes, before Hythe’s number one also denied efforts from Frost and Zintany minutes later.
Grant saved the best of the bunch from a superb, curling effort from Flynn. The towering striker, who has also turned out for Southern League Premier side Wimborne Town this season, bent a strike that appeared destined for the top left corner, only for Hythe’s goalkeeper to acrobatically parry over the crossbar.
Smith was once again denied at the foot of the far post by Grant’s heroics, with frustration subsequently beginning to build within the Poppies’ ranks.
Cooper and Khider were swiftly shown yellow cards, and Hythe could even have entered the interval a goal to the good. O’Dell’s deflected shot dipped narrowly over the crossbar with Jones at full stretch, before Robbie Pittman headed the resultant corner off target.
The half’s final attempt on goal once again came from the side in green, Smith fizzing a drive onto the top of the crossbar and behind.
After both sides emerged for the restart, Poppies immediately set about trying to open the scoring. Just two minutes into the half, Cooper’s teasing delivery was punched onto the woodwork by Grant, with the goalkeeper collecting the dropping ball at the second attempt.
However, the shot stopper was finally beaten on 55 minutes as Poppies moved into a slender lead. A defence-splitting pass was collected sweetly by Smith, who unleashed a strike. The effort looked to have been fielded by Grant, before the ball agonisingly squirmed through the goalkeeper’s grasp and nestled in the back of the net.
Poppies boss Cuffie then made a double substitution, introducing Langston and Dominic Falco in place of Ohameje and Khider.
And moments after the first alterations of the final, Hythe almost found a leveller. A cross into the penalty area wasn’t dealt with by the Poppies defence, leaving an opposing player free to arch a header towards the far corner. Jones pulled off a stunning one-handed stop, however, to push the effort over the top and preserve Poppies’ lead.
Smith almost bagged his second of the game on 67 minutes, but was denied at the near post by Grant’s strong right palm.
With the tie still firmly in the balance, Hythe made three substitutions in search of an equaliser.
But it was Poppies who almost finished off their Wessex One opponents, Frost’s long-range effort almost deceiving Grant before the goalkeeper recovered to prevent the ball from trickling over the line.
Jones was called into action at the other end as time ticked steadily away, but was found in unerring form once again after the ball had squirmed free at the foot of the far upright.
With 88 minutes played, a further guilt-edged chance to seal the title was squandered by Poppies, after Cooper’s low drive fizzed along the surface and was clawed out by Grant. Smith then fired the rebound wide, but the effort would have been chalked off by a raised offside flag had it been on target.
Falco then raced clear of the Hythe backline and fired wide in Poppies’ final chance of the clash, but the Wessex Premier side clung on throughout four additional minutes to lift the Senior Cup.
Poppies: Jones, Aldahayan, Speers, Elsom, Ohameje, Khider, Cooper, Frost, Zintany, Flynn, Smith
Subs: Langston, Garcia, Falco, Stacey, Harvey