An Alex Campana hat-trick helped Berkhamsted to book their place in the last-16 of the FA Vase as they triumphed 4-2 against Hullbridge Sports in an entertaining match at rainy Broadwater on Saturday.
Berko made the perfect start, taking the lead in just the third minute as Campana scampered down the left wing and crossed for top scorer Bradley O’Donovan, who converted the chance on the turn.
Comrades midfielder Max Farrelly got injured early in the game when competing for the ball and was replaced by right winger Frankie Jowle, while Adam Mead got forward but his header was saved.
Shortly afterwards, an O’Donovan header from a cross by Josh Chamberlain went over the bar as Berko pressed hard from the start.
It was Campana who doubled the lead on the half hour mark, working his way inside the penalty area and unleashing a fine shot to beat Jamie Merralls in the Sports goal at the near post.
A third goal from Steve Hawes was disallowed for an offside flag that popped up as the ball went in the net, but apart from that the referee was in lenient mood and both sides benefitted – he only gave a yellow card to Hullbridge man Rory Clarke for a dangerous elbow while Berko’s Lewis Rodrigoe also saw yellow for a bad tackle.
Hullbridge got back in the game when James Baldry blocked Jamie Brinklow and the referee pointed to the penalty spot; Sports’ leading scorer Luke Hornsley firing the resulting kick into the bottom corner of the net to make it 2-1 at half-time.
Parity was restored at the start of the second half as Hullbridge equalised against the run of play when Berko keeper Carl Tasker failed to hold on to the slippery ball that was played back to him and he laid it into the path of Hornsley who accepted the gift at the Railway End.
Berko were suddenly under the cosh, conceding numerous corners, but responded well after Tasker saved well from Hornsley.
At the other end, Jowle took his time when he was left free at the back post and looked to convert a cross, but Merralls pulled off a good save at the expense of a corner.
However, Campana put paid to talk of extra-time and a replay with two goals in the last quarter of an hour. First, the big men came up for a set piece and a header struck the post, but Campana was on hand to prod the ball over the line past a despairing Sam Taylor on the goalline.
Hullbridge were forced to push up in the last quarter of an hour and Berko took advantage. They brought on substitute Jordan Gilbert and he created the final goal by surging forward and playing the ball into the path of Campana on the left of the area – his low shot completed his hat-trick and sealed an excellent win to the relief of the large home crowd.
Berko’s sixth win in the Vase this season puts them in today’s draw for the next round, just three more wins away from Wembley Stadium.
It was one of only four ties to be completed on Saturday, as the torrential rain made most non-league pitches around the country unplayable, but Berko groundsman Steve Davis had prepared a puddle-free surface and visitors from postponed games boosted the crowd.
Berko: Tasker, Mead, Weeks, Baldry, Sears, Rodrigoe, Farrelly (Jowle), Hawes, O’Donovan (Gilbert) Campana, Chamberlain (Carter). Subs not used: Edwards and Nash-Barker.
Berko’s Suburban Plate reserve game at Tring Athletic was called off at lunchtime on Saturday due to the waterlogged pitch.
Berko will be hoping the weather improves so that they can get back in the promotion race, with nine vital points at stake in the next eight days as they are scheduled to play three away games.
On Tuesday night they go to Holmer Green, on Saturday it is a trip to London Tigers and the following Tuesday they visit Stotfold.
In the Suburban North on Saturday, Berko’s reserve side are at home to Biggleswade United.