WINCHESTER City lived up to their tag of Sydenhams Premier Division title favourites with a clinical 7-0 opening day victory over Bournemouth Poppies.
And they even had the luxury of naming last season’s Wessex top gun Warren Bentley on the bench!
Having picked up a dead leg for the reserves on his return from holiday in midweek, former Alresford hotshot Bentley was only sparingly used, coming on for the last 25 minutes.
By then City were 5-0 up and motoring, fuelled by a first-half hat-trick from hungry, young frontrunner Sam Wilson.
The ex-Eastleigh marksman – once described by Spitfires boss Richard Hill as the club’s best finisher – went on to help himself to a four-goal haul, just as he did against Totton & Eling towards the end last season.
All that and City are also the beneficiaries of a stronger, fitter, more committed Zach Glasspool who excels at holding the ball up and bringing others into play.
There was never any doubt about Glasspool’s talent during his early days with Eastleigh and Winchester, but it was his two-year stint at Alresford with City’s new managerial pairing of Tim Cole and Danny Robinson that unlocked his true potential.
While Bentley stole the show with 51 Wessex goals last term, his trusty sidekick Glasspool helped himself to a tidy tally of 26 in 41 starts.
“Zach flitted around a bit and fell out of love with football, but Tim and I like to think we get the best out of him and, on his day, he’s unplayable,” said Robinson. “Him and Steve Hutchings of Moneyfields are the best in the league playing back to goal.
“It helps that Zach’s back in love with the game now. He’s been the first to arrive and last to leave all pre-season.”
Poppies boss Ken Vaughan feared a “baptism of fire” for his inexperienced, young side – and so it proved.
Apart from a bright spell after Glasspool had uncharacteristically wasted the chance to build on Taz Roberts’ ninth-minute opener, the visitors were virtually always second best.
Wilson, who had masterfully picked out Roberts’ run for the first, plundered the next two himself, first capitalising on strong hold-up play by Glasspool in the 28th minute before punishing Poppies on the break six minutes later.
Glasspool then caught Bournemouth cold after a lengthy pause in play, turning and firing low into the far corner, and Wilson poked home his hat-trick goal in first-half stoppage time after Dominic Cope had headed down Chris Manning’s free kick.
Bournemouth had another brief purple patch around the hour mark with City ’keeper Ross Casey smartly blocking out substitute Harry Cooper before livewire No9 Sam Pekun missed a free header and scuffed another effort wide. But the more the visitors pushed forward, the bigger the invitation was for Winchester to catch them on the break.
Goal of the game arrived on 74 minutes when Joe Wright unleashed a terrific crossfield pass and Mike McEnery squared for fellow sub Chris Mason to sweep home.
Fittingly it was the razor-sharp Wilson who had the final say, pouncing on the loose ball after Bentley’s initial shot had bounced off ’keeper Kenny Vaughan.
The landslide scoreline puts City top of the fledgling league table, but Robinson insisted: “Today’s result doesn’t make us favourites, it doesn’t make us anything. It’s no good scoring seven unless we back it up with good results at home to Fareham (tomorrow, 7.45pm) and at Hamworthy on Saturday.
“The players know the expectations and, if they don’t do it, we’ve got about eight others wanting their shirts!”
Winchester City: Ross Casey, Ryan Holloway, Joe Wright, Stuart Green, Ben Stanbrook, Luke Dempsey, Adam Roberts, Chris Manning (Chris Mason, 65), Zach Glasspool (Warren Bentley, 65), Sam Wilson, Dominic Cope (Mike McEnery, 70). Subs: (not used) Adam Tomasso, Andy Mott.
Bournemouth Poppies: Kenny Vaughan, Pablo Martinez, Howard Nhemchena, Connor Doe, Jorge Valencia (Harry Cooper, 46), Fawzi Saadi, Jamie Hales (Lyam Teixceira, 74), Will Robinson, Sam Pekun, Marc Fairbrother, Connor Phillips. Sub: (not used) Sami Makhloufi.
Referee: Colin Hopkins Attendance: 139