WITH just under three weeks to go until the FA Vase final at Wembley, Sholing sharpshooter Lee Wort has rediscovered his goal-den touch.
But it remains to be seen whether Wort – who plundered a hat-trick in yesterday's 4-1 home win over Verwood Town – will be unleashed on the Sydenhams Premier Division’s form side Folland Sports at Portsmouth Road tomorrow (3pm).
Given Follands’ determination to extend their 15-match unbeaten streak (including 14 wins) against their lofty neighbours, Sholing boss Dave Diaper is considering taking some, if not all, of his big guns out of the firing line for what is sure to be a feisty encounter.
Mindful that any sending-off would rule the offender out for Wembley, he may opt to rest the entire first team and field the Southampton Senior Cup-winning reserves instead.
Not only would it reduce the risk of losing a key player for the biggest game in the club’s history, but it would allow Diaper to run the rule over the next generation of Boatmen looking to push into the first-team next season.
Had the Verwood game not gone to plan, Sholing would have had little option but to play their strongest side tomorrow.
But with just three points separating them from leaders Alresford and four games in hand, Diaper – who saw Mike Carter sent off against Fareham last Thursday - may well be tempted to take the gamble.
Carter will not be ruled out for the Vase, but Sholing are keen to avoid any further disciplinary problems leading up to their May 10 day of destiny.
Wort’s return to the scoresheet is a timely boost for the Boatmen as they seek to become the first Wessex side to pull off a SWL/Vase double since Winchester City in 2004.
The 22-year-old had not found the net since March 20, but he visibly grew in confidence on Saturday once he had tucked away Alex Sawyer’s 34th-minute assist, cancelling out Jack Lovell’s shock opener for the Potters.
Five minutes later the roles were reversed when Wort assisted as Sawyer swept Sholing ahead. And by half-time it was 3-1 with Wort accelerating past two defenders to force a Tyronne Bowers corner which he duly headed home.
Having gone within a whisker of completing his hat-trick early in the second half, Wort’s big moment appeared to have arrived on 80 minutes when Sholing were awarded a penalty for handball by Potters’ impressive skipper Charlie Gajic.
Barry Mason courteously stepped aside to allow his teammate to complete his treble only to watch in horror as Wort knocked a tame effort straight at ’keeper Chris Lynch.
But the pacy No9 atoned five minutes later, racing through and tapping home as Verwood’s dithering defence were still debating how to deal with a long punt into the box.
Reflecting on his mini goal drought, Wort said: “It hasn’t been falling for me, but I knew that if I kept plugging away I’d eventually get there.
“As long as the team keep winning and we get the league wrapped up, I don’t mind.
“I can’t remember the longest I’ve ever gone without scoring, but this was maybe it for Sholing.
“Mind you, I’d happily take another goal drought from now until the Vase final if it meant I’d score at Wembley. That’s every player’s dream!”
Welcoming Wort’s return to the scoresheet, Diaper said: “It will do his confidence the world of good.
“Worty’s goals have got us through games this season, including two or three rounds of the Vase, so he’s entitled to have a bit of a dip.
“I told him in the changing room today that we’re all behind him and he’s got our full support. We rely on him heavily and it was important for him to know that he wasn’t under any pressure.”
Diaper, though, may tactfully suggest that Wort thinks twice before taking any more penalties.
“I was a bit surprised today because Barry Mason normally takes them,” he said. “I can understand Worty wanting his hat-trick, but the last one he took was also against Verwood and he hit the bar!”
Saturday proved a happy homecoming for Sholing who had played their previous nine league games away, registering four wins, three draws and two defeats.
“It’s been exhausting playing Saturdays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays. It’s not so much the physical side as the mental side,” Diaper admitted.
“But we saw the character of the players come through again today.”