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Shots eye St Mary's visit

NEIL Champion relived that hair-raising moment in the Hampshire Senior Cup final three years ago and declared: "I don't want to go through that again," writes JON COUCH.

NEIL Champion relived that hair-raising moment in the Hampshire Senior Cup final three years ago and declared: "I don't want to go through that again," writes JON COUCH.

Champion was sensationally sent off after just 15 minutes of the final against Basingstoke at The Dell in 1999 after his tackle left Town defender Toby Redwood with a broken leg.

Memorably, the Shots still went onto win the cup 1-0 with a last minute goal from Gary Abbott, but it's a game which Champion would much rather forget.

Ironically, the tenacious midfield man has the opportunity to do just that at the brand spanking new St Mary's Stadium on Wednesday night — but this time while playing against his old team mates in red and blue.

Champion is a regular performer these days for Doc Martens premier division high-fliers Havant & Waterlooville — the team who stand in the way of the Shots recording their third Hampshire Cup success in four years.

Champion said: "It was a horrible moment. I just went in for a fair tackle and unfortunately the lad was badly injured which perhaps influenced the referee's decision to send me off. I didn't think I deserved it because I won the ball.

"But I've put it down to just one of those things and fortunately for me and the team, Abbo popped up in the last minute to win the game for us and set up a memorable night.

"Ever since I left Aldershot, its always the first result I look for. I had some great times there and although there's only three players left that I know there now, it will be great to see them again and catch up on old times.

"It will also be great to see the fans again. I had a good rapport with them and when I returned to the Rec in the FA Trophy last season [Aldershot won 1-0], I had a great chat in the bar with them afterwards, which was nice."

Nowadays, Champion has his sights set on a very similar goal to his former team-mates and supporters at the Rec, and he seems to be making a good fist of it.

Similarly to Aldershot, Havant, managed by former Coventry and Birmingham defender Liam Daish, finished the Doc Martens season in an excellent third position below the high-flying top two of Tamworth and newly-crowned champions Kettering.

Two of their star players, talented striker James Taylor and midfield man Tim Hambley recently represented the England semi-professional side, while in Daish and defensive partner Shaun Gale, they have a very experienced rearguard.

And then of course there is still ex-Farnborough and Reading striker David Leworthy, still wracking up appearances for the Hawks well into his 40th year.

But despite the obvious talent on view, the Hawks will go into the game tomorrow night on the back of a defeat. They ended their season on Saturday with a 2-1 defeat by lowly Cambridge City.

Champion, for one, is expecting a tight game. He added: "We've done alright this season. Third in this league is a good achievement and we've also had good runs in the cups.

"But playing against Aldershot in front of a big crowd at a place like St Mary's is a very special occasion for us. We are thoroughly looking forward to it and we are hoping to give a good account of ourselves."

One man well aware of Havant's capabilities is new Shots boss Terry Brown, looking to give the club the unique accolade of being the last club to win a cup final at the old Dell and the first at the new St Mary's.

The 32,000 all-seater stadium is the Premiership's newest arena and regarded by many as one of the best.

Just the privilege of being there and experiencing the best that the Premiership has to offer will make tomorrow night THE highlight of Aldershot Town's short but proud history thus far for players, managers and supporters alike.

That aside, however, Brown has other pressing issues on his mind — namely preparing his side for what, on paper, looks like being Aldershot's toughest cup final assignment yet.

The chances of Aldershot repeating the scoreline from their last Hampshire Cup final in 2000 — a 9-1 victory over Andover at the Camrose, are unthinkable to say the least.

Brown said: "Havant are a good side, it's going to be a tough match. We've had them watched twice over the last couple of weeks and they are very strong going forward. They've got two very quick boys up front and attacking midfield players, plus a lot of experience at the back in Daish and Gale.

"But our boys have been looking forward to this from the moment it was announced, in fact I think it's been playing on their minds a little in recent weeks with places in the side being up for grabs.

"It promises to be a very exciting night for everyone associated with the club and we'll be going all out to round it off with a victory.

A lot of supporters have told me about the game against Basingstoke with ten men and describing it as the best game in the ten years of Aldershot Town. It will obviously be a massive achievement for us to match that level of excitement, but the game potentially has all the ingredients."

Brown has a full squad to choose from with Dave Carroll and Chris Allen both eligible and slight injuries healing nicely.

The good news for the Shots is that Richard Gell is hoping to return to the squad after his recent injury problems. Gell trained for the first time on Thursday night and played 60 minutes for the reserves on Saturday, while John Nutter enjoyed a full game.

The only slight doubt is Player of the Year Jason Chewins, although he should be fit despite limping off with twisted left ankle in Saturday's 3-1 victory at Boreham Wood.

Reduced price tickets are still available from the club, priced £7 for adults and £3 concessions.

The club shop opens today (Tuesday) from 9.30am to 2pm. Alternatively, tickets can be purchased at St Mary's, priced £10 adults and £5 concessions.


Charlotte Neal
Chief Reporter (Aldershot)
Joshua Smith
Farnborough Reporter
Jon Couch
Sport Editor
Stephen Lloyd
Fleet & Yateley Reporter
Ros Collins
Junior News & Mail
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