Jersey Bulls three steps from Wembley after shootout win

Jersey Bulls three steps from Wembley after shootout win
Pierce Roche made two saves in the shootout to help send Bulls through - photo credit Adrian Topley

Jersey Bulls substitute Ruben Mendes returned from a year out injured to score a dramatic late equaliser, and then netted the winning penalty in the shootout as Bulls edged out Hamworthy Recreation to move into the last 16 of the FA Vase.

The visitors, unbeaten in normal time so far this season, had been 1-0 up heading into the last few minutes at Springfield following top scorer Chris Long's strike early in the second half.

But with time ticking away, Mendes' long-range effort seemed to deceive Matty Fredericks in the visitors' goal, sending the tie to spot kicks.

Bulls goalkeeper Pierce Roche saved superbly from Long and then kept out George Deem's chipped panenka-style penalty, as Luke Campbell, Francis Lekimamati, skipper James Queree and then Mendes all converted.

Gary Freeman's side are now just three steps from an appearance in the Wembley final in May.

"If you get to this stage of the competition the games generally are very tight," Freeman told "I don't think we created a great deal so that's something we're going to look at, but we've kept battling, and going behind we've always kept believing.

"I'm pleased for Ruben because he's been out for a long time, but he's got the ability to be able to create something, and he's gone and done that. He's been training hard with us and getting stronger and stronger. It was a tough game to go into, but he's come out of it scoring a goal, the winning penalty and will feel like a hero in there [the changing room] I'm sure."

Ruben Mendes in action
Ruben Mendes scored the winning penalty in the shootout - photo credit Adrian Topley

Wessex League outfit Hamworthy Recreation, based just outside Bournemouth, must have arrived in the island in confident mood, with their one previous defeat this season having come on penalties back in October.

Bulls, sitting one rung higher in the football pyramid, had the bulk of the early possession in what turned out to be a largely forgettable first half. It took 20-minutes for the first shot on target at either end, but Long's shot trickled into Roche's gloves.

As some of those in the 560-strong crowd started to drift towards the bar and toilets to beat the half-time rush, Bulls had their best chances of the first period. First, Lekimamati's powerful free kick was fumbled by Matty Fredericks, before a stoppage-time header from Lorne Bickley that was more comfortable for the Rec keeper. Seconds before the break the hosts had their best chance of the half when Lekimamati got in behind the defensive line, but his lofted effort drifted wide.

Within three minutes of the restart both keepers had made straight-forward saves with the game starting to open up. James Carr darted into the box from the left but fired his shot well off target, and then Ben Le Rougetel hit one from distance straight at Fredericks.

If the message to the Bulls troops at half time had been to get more shots away, then it was a message that had been heard, however it was the side from the south coast that were to get their noses ahead on 50 minutes. Roche's unconvincing punched clearance from Tyler Rudd's cross fell straight to the feet of Long who gratefully slotted in the opener. Game well and truly on.

With quarter of an hour to go, Lekimamati's free kick found Bickley in front of goal, but the tall striker couldn't connect properly with his header. Minutes later he burst into the area but blazed his left-footed shot well off target.

Gary Freeman
Gary Freeman has been manager of Jersey Bulls since their first ever game in 2019

The introduction of Mendes after a year out recovering from an ACL injury came in the 79th minute. Less than ten minutes later he was celebrating the equaliser.

From a central position the midfielder let fly, perhaps it swerved, but Fredericks was seemingly caught wrong-footed, moving to his left as the ball swung to the right. His outstretched arm wasn't strong enough to keep it out. Rec might have felt hard done by, not just by the lateness of the goal, but because they had a player down injured in the right back position as the ball hit the back of the net.

So, to spot kicks, with dozens of youngsters crowded behind the goal at the Robin Hood end. Roche brilliantly saved the first, from Long, diving to his right to palm the ball away. Campbell responded by powering his penalty home to give Bulls the early advantage.

Substitute James King pulled the away side level before Lekimamati converted to put Freeman's side 2-1 up. Roche stood his ground to stop Deem's chip with the minimum of fuss, as captain Queree made it three from three for the hosts, smashing it high into the net.

Ben Cooper had to score, and did, calmly slotting in, setting the scene for Mendes to secure the victory despite Fredericks getting a hand to it.

Freeman added: "This competition is massive. You're not going to just go through and beat teams comfortably, it's going to be a real battle and you've got to stay in games.

"I've no doubt the next game's going to be very, very tough but we know we're capable and that's got to be what we take into the next round."

The win nets the Bulls £1,875 in prize money, with £30,000 set to go to the eventual Isuzu FA Vase winners. The Vase is the headline knockout competition for Step 5-6 clubs in the National League System, and is celebrating its 50th anniversary season.

Wembley Stadium
The FA Vase final on the weekend of 11-12 May 2024 will be staged at Wembley Stadium

Jersey Bulls: Pierce Roche, James Queree (c), Luke Campbell, Harry Curtis, James Carr, Ben Le Rougetel, Luke Watson, Jonny Le Quesne, Francis Lekimamati, Lorne Bickley, Fraser Barlow. Subs: Will Byers, Fergus Boyle, Joe Kilshaw, Kamen Nafkha, Miguel Carvalho, Seaney McColgan, Ruben Mendes.

Hamworthy Recreation: Matty Fredericks (c), Olli Woolley, Ollie Wilson, Brian Foulger, Lewis McMurdo, Harvey Doe, Tyler Rudd, Ben Cooper, Chris Long, George Deem, Frank Rosenwald. Subs: Tom Cooper, Rocco Parmar, Will Gage, Brad Hill, Elliott Lines, James King, Ash Boyt.

HT: 0-0, FT: 1-1, Penalties: 4-2

Attendance: 560