Striker signed on recommendation of former Burnley, Leeds and Bolton ace claims crucial debut goal as Horndean beat Baffins Milton Rovers to return to top of the Wessex League

A striker signed on the recommendation of a former Premier League star grabbed the crucial opener as Horndean completed a Wessex League derby double against Baffins to reclaim top spot.

By Simon Carter
Sunday, 13th February 2022, 1:30 pm
Baffins' Jack Williamson tackles Horndean's Leon Baker.
Picture: Sam Stephenson.
Baffins' Jack Williamson tackles Horndean's Leon Baker. Picture: Sam Stephenson.

Just six minutes after being handed his debut off the bench, Karol Skoczen - signed only last week from divisional rivals Alton - latched onto an underhit back pass from Jack Williamson.

Skoczen won the race for possession with Baffins keeper Charlie Searle with the ball slowly rolling uphill into an empty net to put Horndean ahead with only nine minutes remaining of the PO postcode derby.

Former Baffins midfielder Tommy Tierney - another second-half sub - completed the 2-0 victory in the 88th minute. To say he was delighted with scoring is the understatement of the 2021/22 local non-league season.

Horndean's Zak Willett chases Baffins defender Rhys Lloyd. Picture: Sam Stephenson.

But if Tierney was well known to both sets of players, less so Skoczen.

Deans boss Michael Birmingham didn’t know about him until a chat with Bognor Regis coach Robbie Blake.

Birmingham had drawn a blank in his bid to find a new striker with both 32-goal top scorer Connor Duffin and Harry Jackson ruled out of the Baffins clash through suspension.

Duffin was serving the second game of a two-match ban for accruing 10 bookings this season, while Jackson was serving a one-game suspension for two yellows at Fareham Town recently.

Horndean's Ben Anderson (middle) puts pressure on Harry Sargeant. Picture: Sam Stephenson.

‘I’d drained my contacts book,’ said Birmingham. ‘I was just talking to Robbie and he mentioned they’d had Karol in pre-season and he wasn’t bad.

‘Robbie Blake played in the Premier League so he should recognise a good striker.

‘I thought a gritty PO derby might be too much for him to start, but he did well when he came on - it’s more competition for places.’

Skoczen was on target for Bognor when they defeated Hawks 3-2 at Westleigh Park in a pre-season friendly last July.

Horndean skipper Ash Howes plays a pass. Picture: Sam Stephenson.

He didn’t do enough to win a contract, though, and had scored twice in 10 appearances for Alton prior to moving to Deans.

Birmingham also handed a debut to Chichester City striker Callum Overton, starting up front in the position Duffin would normally operate.

On the left flank, where Jackson had been a regular, was teenager Leon Baker, dual signed from Hawks in a bid to gain much-needed experience of men’s football.

Asked whether Overton would feature again or if his appearance was a one-off, the boss replied: ‘That’s for me and Chichester to talk about.’

Both Duffin and Jackson are available for next Saturday’s home game with lowly Hythe & Dibden, after which the Deans have back-to-back fixtures with title rivals Brockenhurst.

For large periods of the fixture, the passions normally found in a derby of this magnitude – given the importance of the fixture in terms of the promotion race – were absent.

There had been a brief raising of tempers towards the end of the first half. First, Baffins defender Lee Molyneaux was booked for scything down Baker, who needed treatment. Shortly after, Horndean skipper Ash Howes was cautioned. The Baffins twitter account said he was booked ‘after kicking out at Tommy Scutt’ while the Horndean account claimed it was ‘a mis-timed challenge’. A difference of opinion therefore, but it was certainly a clumsy challenge.

And if we’re talking about passion, just look at Horndean’s second goal – Tierney sprinting away to celebrate right in front of the Baffins dugout after converting a Zak Willett cross from close range.

Emotions were no doubt running high, as Tierney had been deemed surplus to requirements by Baffins boss Shaun Wilkinson in 2020.

‘It didn’t work out for Tommy and Baffins,’ said Birmingham. ‘Wilky’s got his ideas and Tommy wasn’t part of those ideas.

‘That’s fair enough - in football, everyone’s got a point of view.

‘It’s never personal, it’s all about opinions. It’s not to say Wilky is right or wrong, or I’m right or wrong either.

‘They’re two fiery characters - I’ve known Wilky for years, he always wears his heart on his sleeve.’

Tierney was one of three ex-Baffins players on the winning side - along with the impressive Rob Taw at right back and left-back Josh Deans. A fourth, Brandon Miller, was an unused sub and a fifth - first choice keeper Cameron Scott - was absent.

Scott was in Mexico for the wedding of Baffins striker Jason Parish, and won’t be back in contention until the first game of the Brock double header on February 26.

Ex-Pompey Academy keeper Leon Pitman did well against Baffins, even though he didn’t really have too much to do - apart from diving to his left to keep out a James Cowan free-kick in the first half.

Horndean are now two points clear of Hamworthy United, who have three games in hand and are the undoubted title favourites.

Tim Sills’ Hammers - who at the weekend progressed to the quarter-finals of the FA Vase - will return to top spot if they beat lowly Bournemouth Poppies at home on Tuesday.

Brockenhurst will also go level on points with Horndean if they beat struggling Amesbury the same evening. If they do, the New Forest club will still have a game in hand on Horndean as the race for the one automatic and one play-off place intensifies.

Horndean: Pitman, Taw, Dean, Martin, Field, Hookey, Howes, Anderson, Baker, Willett, Overton. Subs used: Tierney, Skoczen, Dempsey.

Baffins: Searle, J Williamson, Lloyd, Molyneaux, Sanders, Sergeant, Bridgman, Cowan, Scott, McAllister, Blankson. Subs used: Britton, Johnston, Pelham.