Horndean and Baffins involved in what could be one of the most exciting Wessex League title races of all time

Two Portsmouth area clubs are right in the mix in what is gearing up to be the most exciting Wessex League Premier Division title race for years.

By Simon Carter
Wednesday, 5th January 2022, 1:10 pm
Baffins (blue) and Horndean are two of the top four sides in the Wessex Premier League table. Picture: Martyn White.
Baffins (blue) and Horndean are two of the top four sides in the Wessex Premier League table. Picture: Martyn White.

Horndean’s home win over US Portsmouth on Tuesday saw them open up a three-point lead over Hamworthy United, Baffins Milton Rovers and Brockenhurst.

AFC Stoneham are fifth, but just seven points adrift of Michael Birmingham’s table-toppers with two games in hand.

Behind them are Shaftesbury, who have won eight and drawn three of their last 11 league fixtures and boast the division’s best goals-per-game average of 3.4. The north Dorset club might be 13 points adrift of Horndean, but they have four games in hand.

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Baffins Milton (blue( inflicted Hamworthy's only Wessex Premier loss this season. Picture: Neil Marshall

There have been several one-horse title races in recent times which have done little to create any excitement in non-league circles.

Poole Town collected a hat-trick of titles between 2008/09 and 2010/11, winning by 15, 18 and 20 points respectively.

Winchester City won by 14 points in 2011/12 and Salisbury romped to the silverware by a 20-point margin in 2015/16, winning the title with six games left.

But even that margin was shattered by Sholing in 2018/19, the last season that was completed before the pandemic. Back then, the Southampton-based club finished a remarkable 31 points ahead of runners-up Horndean.

Tom Jeffes, left, wouldn't bet against Horndean or Baffins winning the Wessex Premier this season, but is favouring Hamworthy. Picture: Nathan Lipsham.

There have been some far tighter title races in the 21st century, including two being decided on goal difference - Wimborne pipping Lymington & New Milton in 1999/2000 and Gosport Borough edging out AFC Totton in 2006/07.

In 2016/17 Portland finished just a point ahead of Moneyfields, while Blackfield & Langley did likewise over Andover Town 12 months later.

But none of those seasons saw four clubs - at least - go into their final few matches with a shout of the title. But that is certainly looking the case this year.

Between 2008/09 and 2018/19, the smallest gap between the top four at the end of the campaign was 17 points (in 2016/17). The largest was an astonishing 42 (in 2018/19). In the remaining eight seasons, the gap was anywhere between 20-25 points.

Baffins (blue) came from 0-2 down to beat Moneyfields in Monday's Wessex Premier derby at Dover Road - one of their 10 mainland PO postcode derbies this season

This season, the top seven are currently separated by just 13 points. And the teams in sixth and seventh - Shaftesbury and Bashley - have at least two games in hand on the top five.

You have to go back to 2007/08 to find a top four that finished within 10 points of each other - AFC Totton (106 points), Sholing (102), Wimborne (96) and Poole Town (96) in what was a 44-game season.

Prior to that, the 2001/02 season saw the top three separated by just TWO points – Andover (96), Fleet Town (95) and AFC Totton (94). Fourth-placed Gosport banked 89 points.

The 2019/20 season was looking like providing a similar outcome before Covid-19 wrapped its tentacles around the worldwide sporting fixture list. Then, the top four were separated by just 11 points with fourth-placed Christchurch holding four games in hand on leaders Alresford.

The hope is now the 2021/22 campaign provides the thrilling title race that 2019/20 was promising.

Over the last 10 completed seasons, the average points-per-game ratio of the Wessex Premier champions has been 2.506 points - basically two and a half points per game.

Sholing (2.76, 2018/19) boast the highest PPG average in a season, while Portland (2.35, 2016/17) have the lowest.

At present, Horndean are averaging 2.25 PPG, which over the 40-game term works out at 90 points. Hamworthy and Baffins are averaging 2.31, which equates over the season to 92 points.

There are few margins for error over the course of the next few months …

Horndean might be top, but they face an incredibly tough fixture list in the next few weeks. Of the Deans’ next six league games, four are against teams in the top seven - Bashley (Jan 15, home), Hamworthy (Jan 22, home), Stoneham (Jan 29, away) and Baffins (Feb 12, home). Their other two are hardly straightforward either - Moneyfields (Jan 18, away) and Blackfield & Langley (Feb 5, away).

There was a shock on Bank Holiday Monday when lowly Christchurch shocked Brockenhurst 3-2. But such results are rare - that was only the second time this season that a team currently in the bottom seven has beaten one of the current top seven. Cowes’ 2-1 win at Stoneham in September was the other occasion.

Baffins and Hamworthy have only lost to teams in the top seven - Rovers to Horndean, Stoneham and Brockenhurst (in injury time) and the Hammers only to Baffins.

At this moment in time, it is almost impossible to pick a likely champion. Just ask one man who knows the league well, US Portsmouth assistant manager Tom Jeffes.

Jeffes made his Wessex debut for Bournemouth Poppies in the noughties; he was later part of the Poole side that won the Premier in 2010/11 and was captain when USP were rewarded for their results over the two pandemic-shortened seasons with promotion in last summer’s FA restructure.

Now in his 30s, Jeffes - a striker converted into a central defender - remains a vital part of a US team experiencing their first season in the Wessex Premier.

‘The Wessex League, over the past few years, hasn’t been what it was in the past,’ he commented. ‘You had some extremely good sides - Poole, Winchester, Wimborne, Gosport, Sholing. You had Thatcham and Newbury before then.

‘There was a dip after that and now, it’s not back to the standard it was, but there’s some very good sides in the top eight.

‘It’s wide open this year and that’s great for non-league football in this area.

‘We’ve played everyone apart from Shaftesbury and, for me, I’d say Hamworthy (for the title). They have a strong side - they gave us a bit of a lesson home and away this season (5-0 and 3-0).

‘But they’re not running away with it, and Horndean and Baffins have got a very good chance. I wouldn’t bet against either of them.

‘Wilko (Baffins boss Shaun Wilkinson) has done a good job, he’s brought in some key players. We were gutted to lose Sarge (Harry Sargeant) and he’s fitted in extremely well in midfield with James Cowan. They’ve got Jason Parish, Craig McAllister, Rudi (Blankson) - they’re a real threat going forward.’

Jeffes feels the 10 Portsmouth area derbies that make up a quarter of Horndean’s and Baffins’ fixture lists could work in Hamworthy’s favour.

‘The lads (in the Portsmouth area teams) are all mates, and they are desperate to get one over on the other. The Moneyfields v Baffins game the other day was a perfect testament to that.

‘Hamworthy haven’t got anything like that this season. That’s probably why, if I was a betting man, I’d go for Hamworthy.’

Horndean have three derbies left in 2021/22 - away to Moneyfields and Fareham and home to Baffins So far, they have won five, drawn one and lost one (5-1 at home to Fareham) of their Portsmouth area derbies.

Baffins have four derbies left - home to US Portsmouth and Fareham and away to Horndean and Portchester. So far, they have won four, drawn one and lost one (3-1 at home to Horndean) this season.