GE HAMBLE have been dealt a crushing blow ahead of tomorrow’s historic FA Vase third round tie against Blackfield & Langley at Follands Park.
Frontman Richard Gregory twisted his knee during Tuesday’s 1-0 Hampshire FA Cup win over Blue Square Bet South side Basingstoke and has been ruled out for two months with anterior cruciate ligament damage.
It’s another cruel setback for the Planemakers, who could be without as many as six players to face a Blackfield side who, like them, are in the last 64 of the Vase for the first time ever.
Already Hamble have been soldiering on without star winger Rory Williams, who missed the whole of November with ruptured shoulder ligaments and is still three weeks away from fitness.
Jamie Musselwhite, one half of the Planemakers’ prolific ‘Batman & Robin’ partnership with Ashley Jarvis, has returned to the Southern League with Sholing, left-back Matt Troon is unavailable, midfielder Liam Crook has a back injury and centre-half Dan Turner is rated 50-50.
On the face of it, tomorrow will be a tall order for injury-hit Hamble against a formidable Blackfield side who have already enjoyed a headline-making run to the FA Cup fourth qualifying round.
But, as they proved against Basingstoke, the Planemakers are capable of upsetting anybody in a one-off game.
“There’s no such thing as our ‘best side’ at the moment because we’re stretched to the limit, but the good thing about Hamble is the strength of the group,” said co-boss Dave Lewis.
“Ashley Jarvis showed against Basingstoke that he could play Conference South football but, since Jamie left, his game’s had to change a bit.
“Holding off the biggest defenders was never a problem for Ash, but he was always more of a foil for Jamie, playing off the shoulder.
“Now we’re asking him to fight more for the ball, it’s diluted his scoring exploits. But Ash never grumbles – he’s all about working for the good of the team.
“It’s the same with Richard Gregory. He was playing up front and scoring, but we asked him to play wide right again and it wasn’t a problem.
“We’re lucky to have players who just get on with it.”
The emergence of young guns Alex Sheath, Rhys Evans and Matt Graham is another source of pride for Lewis.
Centre-back Evans did so well containing Basingstoke’s former Torquay targetman Tim Sills that Lewis marvelled: “You’d have thought it was Rhys who’d been a pro.”
As for the versatile Sheath, he followed a gutsy midfield performance against Moneyfields by partnering Jarvis up top in midweek.
“Alex affects the game and, irrespective of your qualities, that’s what makes you a good player,” said Lewis. “He gave Basingstoke all sorts of problems.”
Such is Lewis’s admiration for Blackfield’s squad that he won’t even bother fretting about the team they put out for tomorrow’s all-Wessex clash.
“I’ve got so much respect for them,” he said. “People talk about money, but Ash Vickers has done a great job as manager and when you add Sam Davies, Glenn Burnett, John McFarlane, Chris Farrell and Reggie Palmer into the equation, it’s about good people surrounding themselves by more good people.
“And, in (ex-Saint) Kev Gibbens, they’ve got a player who brings ten per cent extra out of those around him.”