Mid-season review: a tale of mixed fortunes
Monday 23 December 2019 - by Stuart Smedley (Updated on 23 December 2019 at 15:52)
For Royal Wootton Bassett Town the story of the season so far has been one of mixed fortunes. Some sides – in particular Bassett's Ladies and Under 18 Floodlit League teams – have enjoyed much success in the first half of their 2019-20 campaigns. But others have found the going difficult.
That creates differing challenges for Bassett's various teams for the rest of the season. For those who have enjoyed promising starts, the test will be whether those can be maintained and translated into honours come spring. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the goal for the rest of the campaign is to show improvement.
Disappointing is one way of describing the first half of Bassett's season. At Christmas the first team sit 16th out of 19 teams in the Hellenic League Premier Division, with five wins and three draws from their opening eighteen games. Bassett have also been eliminated from all cup competitions, having earned solitary victories against lower league opposition in both the FA Vase and Hellenic League Challenge Cup.
The promise that was hinted at in a successful preseason has failed so far to materialise. Nevertheless, Bassett's recent three game winning streak, modest though it may have been, suggests there exists the potential to improve and move away from the lower reaches of the table.
Defensive frailties have been at the heart of Bassett's struggles, with 46 goals conceded in the league so far. Goals at the other end have not been hard to come by, but points are always going to be few and far between when shipping nearly three per game.
Given the poor start to the season, there has been a significant turnover in personnel. This has seen a switch in preference away from experience towards providing opportunities to promising youngsters.
This is where hope lies for the remainder of the season. Goalkeeper Declan Lehmann and midfielder Caine Bradbury have stood out since making their debuts on opening day, while the versatile Alfie Presley has demonstrated he belongs at this level with solid performances at winger and full back.
In recent weeks, they have been joined by a trio of Bassett youth section products – Dan Warre, George Ford and Landon Golding – all of whom have impressed in the limited appearances they have made at a young age.
Bassett's Ladies appear to go from strength to strength, season after season. Having landed a league and cup double last season, as well as promotion to the South West Regional Women's Football League Premier Division, 2019-20 was set initially to be a season of consolidation.
But at Christmas, Jonny House and James Goddard's team find themselves top of their new division, with six wins from seven games, and also set a record with two victories in the FA Women's Cup that took the team to the second qualifying round.
An already strong squad was bolstered further in the summer, and Bassett's players – both new and old – have shown they belong at a higher level.
The new year is going to be testing though. Although top of the league, they are one of at least four sides who appear capable of claiming the title. And Bassett have crucial games to come against those teams, with both home and away fixtures to play against Bishops Lydeard, Ilminster Town and Portishead Town (Bassett's FA Cup conquerors), as well as a visit to Cornwall to play Callington Town, who are currently the only side to have defeated Bassett in the league.
Regardless of where they finish though, this season is set to be a success for the Ladies. And they also have an opportunity early in the new year to book their place in the Wiltshire County Women's Cup final – a competition that can potentially deliver silverware – for a third consecutive season.
Recent years have been rather testing for Bassett's Development team, and after a heavy defeat on the opening day of the Wiltshire League season as well as a change in manager that appeared set to be the case again.
But under the stewardship of the new managerial team of Steve Yeardley and Steve Shaw the Development side have enjoyed a solid start that sees them in seventh in the top half at Christmas.
They have had the fortune of playing more games than some of the sides immediately below them, but given some of the strong results they have had – including a five game unbeaten run, Bassett will be confident of defending that position.
For the first time since 2016-17, Bassett entered a side in the Wiltshire League Floodlit Division this season. They have proved more than competitive too, with Shane Saunders' side one of four teams who appear to be in the mix for the title.
Bassett sit second at Christmas, level points with leaders FC Chippenham Youth albeit having played a game more. Chippenham Town, who Bassett beat 3-2 in December, and Shrivenham, who triumphed 4-2 on their visit to the Gerard Buxton Sports Ground, are also in the hunt in what has largely been a competitive division so far.
The club's Veterans section continues to thrive, with strong numbers attending their Friday football sessions and three teams playing friendlies and competing across various competitions.
Two sides are participating in the inaugural Wiltshire League Veterans Division, though various factors have contributed towards the Blues playing only one game and the Yellows still to play their first.
Links with armed forces Veterans teams continue to be forged. At the start of December, a Bassett team faced the Army FA Masters at the Aldershot Military Stadium in a friendly, and they will face old friends the RAF FA Veterans in Cardiff in January.
While last season's cup success for the club's youth section is not going to be matched, there remain a number of Bassett's youth sides who are in contention for league honours in 2018-19.
Three of Bassett's 'Yellow' teams are among those who enter the second half of the season with a realistic shot at a top two finish in the North Wilts League.
After a fine run to the quarter finals of the League Cup, the Under 16 Yellows are currently in second in Division Three and can even pull level on points with leaders Lydiard Millicent Juniors if they win their games in hand. In a top-heavy, competitive division, they will also have to contend with Marlborough Youth and Wroughton Youth White.
The Under 18 Yellows, who narrowly missed out on a place in the League Cup semi-finals, are currently in second place as well and will aim to reign in Division Two leaders Blunsdon Youth in the new year.
They are joined as contenders by the Under 15 Yellows. They are one of four teams in Division Three within three points of current leaders FC Calne Youth Hurricanes. Although they have played more games than their challengers, it is all to play for in an extremely tight division.
Of Bassett's 'Blue' teams, the Under 13s are best placed to challenge. They have been much improved in their second season of competitive football and are one of four teams level on points at the top of Division Two as they battle it out with Ferndale Rodbourne YCFC, Robins and FC Salisbury United.
Runners-up and cup winners last season, the Under 16 Blues are in the mix in a Division One field that is again strong. They are in third place, three points behind FC Chippenham Youth White having played a game more.
Elsewhere, the Under 14 Blues are the sole remaining Bassett youth side to be alive in a cup competition and can advance to the last eight of the County Cup if they see off league rivals Wroughton Youth Panthers. The going has been tough for them in Division One so far, but hopefully their cup run can bolster their confidence.
Also at that age group, a run of narrow defeats for the Under 14 Yellows has seen them slip out of contention in Division Two but they can still push for a top half finish.
So far it's also been a mixed season results-wise for the Under 15 Blues and Under 12 Yellows, who are fighting for a mid-table finish in Division Two and Four respectively.
Meanwhile, results for the Under 14 Whites, Under 13 Yellows, Under 12 Blues and Under 12 Whites may not necessarily stand out, but their performances have certainly been improving after tricky starts.
At the non-competitive age groups, Trophy and Cup competitions are due to begin for the nine teams operating from Under 7s through to Under 11s.
On-field achievement is not the only metric of success. Some seasons, such as 2018-19, will deliver a bounty of honours that should be celebrated. Teams demonstrating progress and improvement over the course of a campaign is worth recognising too – and is something all sides should aim for.
It is also worth celebrating the continued strength of the club in terms of the number of teams it boasts - 29 sides currently run from Under 7s through to Over 50s - and the community football programmes being run.
Both are matters that Royal Wootton Bassett Town can be immensely proud of.