Masked avenger Connor Duffin returns to top of Wessex League goal charts on great night for table-topping Horndean

The masked avenger - Connor Duffin scored twice as Horndean gained revenge for their 5-1 home thrashing by Fareham. Picture: Martyn WhiteThe masked avenger - Connor Duffin scored twice as Horndean gained revenge for their 5-1 home thrashing by Fareham. Picture: Martyn White
The masked avenger - Connor Duffin scored twice as Horndean gained revenge for their 5-1 home thrashing by Fareham. Picture: Martyn White
Connor Duffin jumped above team-mate Zack Willett at the top of the Wessex Premier goal charts on a superb night for Horndean.

Duffin took his seasonal tally to 32 league and cup strikes with a brace as the Deans claimed a 2-0 victory at Fareham Town this evening at Cams Alders.

That saw Michael Birmingham’s side open up a two-point lead at the top after Hamworthy, who have a game in hand, were held 1-1 at rock bottom Amesbury in one of the shock results of the local non-league season.

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Baffins’ 2-0 defeat at Cowes Sports was another good result for Horndean, who remain six points ahead of third-placed Brockenhurst (but having played two more games).

Willett had taken over as the leading goalscorer among Premier Division players in league and cup action with a hat-trick in a 3-1 win at Stoneham last weekend.

Duffin took just 16 minutes to join him on 31 goals at Cams Alders, sliding in to convert a low Willett cross.

Still wearing a face mask following his broken nose against Bashley last month, the striker sealed Horndean’s victory with a stunning free-kick 15 minutes from time.

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Duffin had scored direct from free-kicks against Moneyfields and Hamworthy last month, and he stepped up here to cream a 30-yard strike that whistled past Jon Webb and into the bottom right hand corner of the net.

Duffin, therefore, was the masked avenger – his side taking revenge for their 5-1 home humbling by Fareham in late November!

The only blot on a fine success for the Deans was the injury-time dismissal of Harry Jackson. Having previously been booked, he gave away a needless foul near the halfway line and was shown a second yellow - followed by a red - by referee Jacob Wright.

This was a clash between two of the three highest scoring teams in the top five tiers of English non-league football meet tonight.

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The Deans remain the second highest-scoring side among the 317 clubs who comprise the 16 step 5 leagues in this country, having now netted 92 goals in 29 games.

The only team in the top five tiers of non-league who have netted more often are Southern Combination League leaders Littlehampton (97 in 26 games).

Pete Stiles’ Fareham, who failed to score for only the fourth time in 28 Wessex games in 2021/22, are the third highest scorers with 85 goals.

Going into the match, Horndean had scored a league goal on average every 28 minutes this season, with Fareham averaging a goal every 28 and a half minutes.

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With that in mind, who would have bet against a 3-3 draw at Cams Alders?

No doubt the 374 spectators who made up Fareham’s second highest attendance of the season would have been expecting to see more than just two goals.

But, for once, defences were generally on top in a game where neither keeper had a huge amount of saves to make.

Fareham boss Pete Stiles was forced to make yet another change in goal after Jay Morris - the eighth shot-stopper used this season - suffered a hip injury in keeping a clean sheet on his debut against Blackfield at the weekend.

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In came Jon Webb for his fifth Creeksiders appearance of the campaign.

Webb had made his debut during October’s 3-0 home Wessex League Cup win against Horndean. But none of the 14 players used by the Deans that evening were on show at Cams Alders tonight.

Prior to the game there was a minute’s applause for Mick Austin, who had passed away last week. The grandfather of Fareham striker Gary - made captain for this game - Mick had also been a long-serving secretary at the Deans.

Duffin could have opened the scoring as early as the sixth minute, but Webb blocked a shot with his feet.

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Austin was the hosts’ best chance of a goal in the first half - one effort being blocked for a corner and an acrobatic volley from Charlie Cooper’s cross directed straight at Cameron Scott.

Scott also had to get down quickly to concede a corner from Ryan Mackney’s low, skidding 30-yarder.

Fareham looked most dangerous throughout from set-pieces, either via Ethan Jones’ long throw ins, corners and free-kicks.

Stiles was forced into a late first-half change when Cooper, who had pulled up chasing a through ball 10 minutes earlier, hobbled off just before the interval to be replaced by Casey Bartlett-Scott.

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Duffin headed a Ben Anderson cross over at the far post before Austin was withdrawn on the hour mark for Josh Benfield. At Baffins a week earlier a similar move had paid fantastic dividends, with Benfield scoring twice late on to secure a thrilling 5-4 victory.

This time, Horndean’s defence stood up well to whatever was thrown at them and Fareham, in truth, rarely looked capable of creating chances from open play.

It was a different story from set-pieces - Ross Kidson twice heading wide from them while Benfield headed a Bartlett-Scott corner over the bar.

It wasn’t Horndean’s greatest attacking performance of the season either, but boss Birmingham won’t mind that. A 1-0 win brings as many points as the two 9-0 league victories they recorded earlier in the season.

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Duffin’s stunning set-piece ensured a far more relaxing final few minutes than would otherwise have been the case, which made Jackson’s sending off even more frustrating for the table-toppers.

There was a second sub appearance for Hawks youngster Leon Baker-Keto, who replaced Anderson immediately after Duffin’s second goal.

The teenager could have added a third in time added on, sprinting clear into the penalty area on the left side before firing in a low shot which Webb saved with his feet.

Fareham: Webb, Wilcox, Jones, Clark, Kidson, Mackney, Robbins, Cooper, Holmes, Austin, Morgan. Subs used: Bartlett-Scott, J Benfield, Bennett.

Horndean: Scott, Taw, Miller, Lee, Field, Hookey, Howes, Anderson, Duffin, Willett, Jackson. Subs used: Baker-Keto, Kimber.

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