It’s long been my view that every cup has a unique history worth cherishing. The Southampton Senior Cup is no different and in fact can boast more history than most. The final between Sholing and Team Solent was the 99th in the tournaments history and the programme included a list of previous winners which included a litany of illustrious sides from the cities footballing past such as Bitterne Nomads, Harland and Wolff, Sholing Sports and Bitterne Guild.
Although the Southampton Senior cup attracts entrants from further afield appropriately the final pitted against each other the two best non-league sides from the city itself. Sholing had already had a taste of cup glory, just a few days before, having claimed the Wessex League Cup with a 2-1 win over Baffins Milton Rovers on Monday – a final they reached by knocking Solent out in the semi’s. As well as revenge for this Solent were also looking to defend the trophy they won in 2015 and 2016.
Solent are a side who are capable of playing some extremely good football and they provided a clear demonstration of this in the opening period of the game as they seized the initiative. Their pressure created several chances with Tyrell Mitford putting the ball agonisingly wide of the post, Jesse Waller-Lassen testing the Sholing ‘keeper with a fierce shot from range and Tobi Adekunle hitting the crossbar with another effort from distance.
Sholing were little more than spectators for much of the first twenty minutes, however as with the last time I saw these sides meet they remind me a little of Muhammad Ali against George Foreman. Sholing simply absorbed the Solent pressure and kept calmly working away confident that when the time came it would be they who would land the deciding blow.
Perhaps this sense of assurance stems from having Dan Mason up front. The powerful centre-forward, who plays well with his back to goal and ball to his feet, has scored 30 League goals this season – giving him the Wessex League Premier golden boot. As that tally would suggest Mason needs only the faintest glimmer of opportunity to find the back of the net and when he turns his marker to find a little space inside the box he duly finds the net for a goal which is very much against the run of play. Equilibrium was though restored soon after when Waller-Lassen powered through the Sholing defence and one-on-one with the Sholing ‘keeper unselfishly slid the ball across for Tyrell Mitford to slot into an empty net on 29 minutes.
The balance though was to last only a few minutes into the second half: Attempting to claim a floated-in corner Solent ‘keeper Bradley Banda dropped the ball. It was hooked away, but the referee spotted an infringement – a handball by Solent’s Jemal Wiseman, and pointed to the spot. Lee Wort stepped up for Sholing and though the eager-to-make-amends Banda got an elbow, or some body part, on it the power of Wort’s strike saw the ball deflect into the net for Sholing’s second.
A second equaliser did not appear to be beyond Solent, but the chances of one were dramatically cut when Solent’s Wiseman, picked up a second yellow for what appeared to be dissent. I got another sense of déjà vu, recalling the recent Solent v Moneyfields game in which a silly second yellow effectively cost Solent 3 points by allowing the title-chasing Money’s back into the game. Interestingly Solent’s manager James Taylor was not at the game as he was himself serving a suspension.
Waller-Lassen ensured Solent still had some attacking edge. The game was the Solent captain’s swansong, having signed for Salisbury, and he seemed determined to go down fighting, wriggling into the box and forcing a save from the Sholing ‘keeper at the near post. On the two occasions I’ve seen him Waller-Lassen’s quality has stood out. His vision is superb and he has a knack of playing oblique balls which no one else would think of as well as having an ability to put all sorts of curve and spin on the ball.
Whatever quality Waler-Lassen possessed it was however, not enough to save 10-man Solent. Sholing were comfortably dictating the pace and scored a third when Micky Hubbard’s long range effort found the back of the net. It had looked innocuous enough, but Banda – who was not having a good evening – somehow managed to let it through.
The goal finally destroyed what remained of Solent’s resolve. Struggling to get out of their half they increasingly resorted to playing balls back to their ‘keeper and became involved in a few niggly tussles.
The final whistle then was a relief all round. Though a few made speedily for the exit most of the 748 strong crowd stuck around for the presentations. Assisting was none other than ‘Roly Poly Goalie’ Wayne Shaw. Shaw has long been a well known figure on the football scene locally, but this season became something of a national celebrity thanks to his position on the bench during Sutton United’s FA Cup run. This undoubtedly says something about cup football in its own right, but whether it’s good, or bad is quite another matter.
The night though belonged to Sholing. Shaw shook hands and warmly embraced each Sholing player as they collected their medals before the trophy was lifted for the 99th time.