A mid season review of the Hellenic League Premier Division seems like something we should do at this time of year, even if the majority of clubs in the division have already played over half of their games.
Here, Football in Bracknell’s Tom Canning takes a look at the season so far for the Berkshire sides and makes a few predictions for the second half of the season.
Want to read the Division 1 East review? That’s here.
After a Berkshire side won the Hellenic League Premier Division for the first time since 2009 we were wondering where the next might come from. A strong field has emerged since Highworth Town, Bracknell Town and Thatcham Town all packed their bags for step 4, but it’s been Ascot United who have firmly said ‘hold my beer’.
The Yellamen will lead the division in to 2019 if they can take six points from their two games at Lydney United and home to Longlevens but the turnaround at the Racecourse Ground has been impressive, not least the emergence of Nathan Minhas as a 30 goal step 5 striker aiming for 40 but Jamie Tompkins side have goals in them across the pitch.
Taking the intro to this piece in to account, it seems incredible Binfield have only managed to play 15 games in the league so far this season, eight less than table toppers and neighbours Ascot for which there seems no rhyme or reason.
The Moles could top the table if they weren’t so far behind in terms of games played but manager Roger Herridge has already highlighted the need for reinforcements with an extensive injury list at Hill Farm Lane if they are to push on and challenge this season.
Keeping striker Ian Davies fit and away from suspension will be important but continuing to introduce youth in to the side will remain key to the clubs progression – see lively forward Eddie Lee for confirmation of that approach.
It’s difficult to know exactly what to make of Reading City at the moment. Clearly the changes on and off the field will take time to settle in but without knowing exactly what happened behind the scenes at the club it’s been a disappointing second quarter of the season after a flying start under Rob Creech and Andy Findlay.
City have been without a league win in six games since beating fourth place Royal Wootton Bassett Town 4-3 but there has been green shoots of recovery for the Scours Lane side. They led both Binfield and Wantage Town at half time in recent fixtures but the challenge for Simon Johnson is simply to halt a slide that see’s them 15th at the time of writing.
Windsor at least do have the FA Vase as an excuse for only playing 17 games so far, they await a Fourth Round trip to AFC Uckfield Town in January and in 15 goal Dan Roberts they have a player in the kind of form to push them up the table – starting with a Boxing Day ‘away’ fixture against Virginia Water at Stag Meadow.
The disparity in games played throws this wide open, Wantage Town could easily put a run together now Ben Sadler appears to be er.. back in the saddle but it’s Brackley Town Saints who seem to hold all the cards.
The Saints are a point behind leaders Ascot in second and have three games in hand, though Gordon Kille’s side have ‘stuttered’ a little losing 2-0 to Bishop’s Cleeve and they were 3-0 down at half time to Lydney Town before that game was abandoned due to the weather.
As well as Ascot, Brimscombe & Thrupp and Royal Wootton Bassett Town complete the top four, the latter impressively so given how poor travellers they are but with one of the best home records and the joint best goal difference.
Below that you can’t discount Bishop’s Cleeve or Flackwell Heath from a challenge and then there’s Binfield who’ve never finished outside the top eight.
Editor’s note: We are awaiting confirmation on promotion criteria for clubs to step 4
As usual, it’s really difficult to know how many sides might go down. At Football in Bracknell we always assume it’s the bottom four but with the division being one team light this season it’s most likely to be the clubs that finish 17th to 19th.
Further muddying the relegation water, Rob Davies pointed out in his Combined Counties League Division 1 review, the FA has taken control of promotion between step 5 and 6 with only the first placed sides at step 6 guaranteed promotion and nine second placed sides from the 19 leagues going up based on the best points per game.
It’s fair to assume at least though that if you finish bottom you are going down.
The Hellenic Premier’s current bottom three is Abingdon United, Longlevens and Tuffley Rovers with both Shrivenham and Ardley United above them improving.
Reading City have a daunting set of games in January against sides chasing the title but their fixture at home to Tuffley on 26th January already looks like a key one.
Rovers have endured a tough season this time around after finishing tenth last season. They’ve only had three league wins this season but are on 13 points, Longlevens above them are on 14 but neither side are yet adrift and a bit of impetus in the second half of the season could easily see any of the bottom three make a break for it.
The part where in May we’re roundly mocked for knowing absolutely nothing. But if I was forced to put money on it I’d have to go with Ascot for the title this season – they have the leagues top scorer and look full of confidence when I’ve seen them play.
Top four: Ascot United (Champions), Brimscombe & Thrupp, Brackley Town Saints and Wantage Town.
Bottom three: Abingdon United, Longlevens, Tuffley Rovers
Further reading: Severn Sports review of the Premier Division’s Gloucestershire sides
Main image: Nathan Minhas scores for Ascot United by Rob Mack/Shooting Stars.
Agree or disagree with Tom’s predictions? Let us know in the comments below.