By Dan Davis (@dan_davis20). This article first appeared in Nerve magazine issue 4, and has been modified.
River Smith netted the winner at Hurn Bridge as Bournemouth Poppies edged to victory over Hythe and Dibden to clinch the Bournemouth Senior Cup.
Poppies, under the leadership of Michael Cuffie, have been a rejuvenated force this season and deservedly lifted their first piece of silverware last month. The club were forced to wait for their date with destiny, after the original evening the final was pencilled in for was swamped by heavy rainfall.
But when the big day came, Poppies took their opportunity and added further silverware to the Victoria Park trophy cabinets.
The complexion of the Winton-based side is entirely different this time around. The club have been in dire need of a regular, reliable goal scorer for a number of seasons, and at the start of this campaign two were secured – Steve Flynn and Mickey Finch.
The deadly duo rapidly fired Poppies into the Wessex Premier top four, and also earned moves away in the process. Flynn put pen to paper on a dual registration deal with higher-league Wimborne Town, whilst Finch opted for a move to Wessex Premier rivals Hamworthy United.
Flynn started up top in the Senior Cup final, consistently proving to be a danger for Hythe on an increasingly slick pitch. His strike partner was Smith, who had joined from Hamworthy. At the time of writing, the ace has bagged 15 goals in 16 starts for his new club, whilst Flynn has instead moved to Lymington Town.
Despite the changing state of the club’s squad, Poppies have already lifted one trophy this season and are firmly in the hunt for their finest ever Wessex Premier finish.
The newfound winning mentality was evident from the first whistle in the club’s first cup final in years, despite the stubborn opposition posed by Hythe.
The Winton side went on to lift the trophy for the fifth time in their history, to cap off an entertaining, goal-laden run to the final.
Hythe, an outfit based in Southampton, had despatched Brockenhurst, Christchurch and Hamworthy United to reach the final – all Wessex Premier sides, in addition to Poole Town’s development squad.
In what proved to be an enthralling encounter, Hythe proved once again they were more than capable of causing another local cup upset.
Fillipos Terzidas tested Poppies’ goalkeeper Sam Jones in the 16th minute with a powerful, low drive, before Jones was once again called into action to clutch onto Hythe winger Liam Goulding’s strike.
But Poppies are a renewed force this season, rapidly making a name for themselves as a battling, prolific side in front of goal. Steve Flynn, who has also turned out for Wimborne Town this campaign, typified this threat with a scorching effort which forced Hythe goalkeeper Ellis Grant to palm over the crossbar.
River Smith, the eventual scorer, came close to breaking the deadlock once again in the first half, but was denied by a sprawling save from Grant at the foot of his post.
Hythe hitman Matt Smith then cracked a shot against the top of the crossbar in the half’s final piece of action.
But just seven minutes after the interval, it was Poppies who would open the scoring and go on to clinch their first trophy since 2011. Smith collected possession and glided through the Hythe ranks, before arrowing an effort through Grant’s legs to spark scenes of jubilation among the Poppies’ faithful.
The Victoria Park outfit then clung on through the rest of the final, with further heroics from shot stopper Jones and defender Harvey Elsom ensuring the first piece of silverware this season headed to Bournemouth.
With further success a tantalising prospect on the horizon, Poppies will be aiming to continue their campaign in style, starting with a Hampshire Senior Cup quarter final at Victoria Park against Southampton on Tuesday 19 February (7:45pm).