Town pulled back by Rovers in opener

By Connor Steel / Photograph by Baffins Milton Rovers

COMPETITIVE football returned to Cams Alders on Tuesday evening (03/08) as the 2021-22 Wessex League campaign finally got underway; marking a return to league football for the first time since early December 2020 at the home of Fareham Town FC.

It was an occasion that promised so much with Baffins Milton Rovers the visitors in a local clash under the lights, with the 90 minutes a brilliant watch as it ended in a two-all stalemate despite many chances for both sides.

In front of a crowd of 264 people, this Portsmouth derby started brightly with both teams having spells of possession in a cagey opening period; perhaps not willing to make the first mistake of the new season.

The home side had the first chance as Josh Benfield’s effort went over the crossbar after 27 minutes, sandwiching a series of yellow cards for Baffins Milton Rovers as this game sprung into life with some strong tackles from both sides.

The away side then saw their first chances as both Tommy Scutt and James Scott Cowan went close in a spell of good attacking possession towards the break, looking more likely to take the lead; but it was actually Fareham who took an arguably surprising lead on 43 minutes. The goal was scored by Creeksiders debutant Ross Kidson, who simply guided a header into the bottom corner following a great move/cross down the left wing, which was the last notable action as the teams went off for half time with the home side ahead 1-0.

Fareham knew that it was always going to be tough to hold onto their lead against a strong willed attack by Baffins; so it proved when the visitors equalised on 53 minutes as the ball broke to Miles Everett on the edge of the box. He was allowed space to advance and fire an effort into the net, beating Town keeper Dan Kempton for pace at his far post. But no sooner had away players finished celebrating were Fareham ahead again, scoring within seconds of the restart at the centre circle.

Switching off after their deserved equaliser, Baffins allowed a passing move to find Charlie Cooper in space approximately 20 yards out from an angle. After cutting inside and other options available the young midfielder fired a curling effort into the far corner; catching out visiting keeper Konrad Szymaniak with the shot as it hit the back of the net to spark huge cheers amongst the home contingent.

Falling behind seemed to spark Baffins into life as fresh legs were placed onto the pitch, not wanting to lose their first match of the new campaign. This got the desired effect as it helped push the visitors up the pitch as they forced Fareham back, with chances from Callum Dart’s shot from distance and a flicked header by Tafadzwa Kanjanda going close. Home fans began fearing that one of these opportunities would be taken, which was proven yet again as Tommy Scutt found space in the box and looped a header over the defender into the net for two-apiece on the night.

Although this was the final goal of an entertaining opening 65 minutes, there were plenty of chances for both sides to take the lead with a late-ish winner. Curt Robbins forced a great save from the away keeper with 21 minutes left on the clock, while Ethan Jones smashed the crossbar with a power effort just moments later.

Down the other end Baffins should have taken a lead as Cowan went close with a free-kick effort from 25 yards out, while Billy Connor’s drive was saved with a strong hand by Dan Kempton on 77 minutes.

The final 10 minutes were scrappy, with a yellow card shown to away scorer Tommy Scutt, whilst injuries and enforced substitutions for both sides killed off any building of momentum. It did appear that tiredness and fatigue was settling into the legs with a series of small mistakes/misplaced passes but after 80 minutes of exciting and attacking football, this was not overly surprising. Five minutes of stoppage time ultimately passed without incident, meaning that the points were shared between the two sides hoping to finish high in the Wessex League.

It is difficult to say who the happiest manager would be following this league opener but both would be delighted that their side didn’t start with a defeat, particularly as both sides started without key first team players due to injuries and undisclosed circumstances.

Following this entertaining two-all result, Fareham and Baffins Milton Rovers sit in mid table after other score-lines were settled elsewhere in the competition; with both now focusing on the FA Cup Extra Preliminary rounds this weekend. Town are scheduled to host Street FC whilst the away side will play Tadley Calleva in Basingstoke on Saturday afternoon (Both 3pm kick-offs).