SOUTH Wilts' lead over Havant at the top of the ECB Southern Electric Premier League is down to a mere four points after the defending champions crashed to a 45-run Vice President's Day defeat by the Hampshire Academy at Lower Bemerton.
They collapsed to 140 all out, chasing a modest Academy total of 185-9.
After the pasting, philosophical skipper Tom Morton described some of his team's sporadic batting as “reckless” and brandished the hosts as below par.
He said: “I can't criticise the batsmen too much because we've scored something like 960 runs in recent matches, but the performance against the Academy wasn't good.
“Five of our top six, myself included, made starts but no one went on and got over 30.
“Some of the dismissals were reckless, poor shots. People got in and got out. It wasn't good enough.”
South Wilts must have thought they were on for a seventh win in nine games when they watched the Academy collapse from 148-3 to 195-9 - six wickets going down for 47 runs.
Edie Abel (16) unleashed four superb boundary shots to get South Wilts off to a positive start, while Morton (23) similarly enjoyed picking off some loose stuff.
But, either side of Jack Mynott (5) being trapped leg before, left-armer Tom Barber (2-34) removed both openers - Abel yorked and Morton off an under-edge trying to pull.
South Wilts came in at tea 55-3, but prospered immediately after the break, with Steve Riddle (30) nailing the spinners and taking South Wilts half-way to their target at 97-3.
Wickets fell in clusters after that - two at 97, and two more at 119 before Brad Taylor (4-24) ripped through the tail.
Taylor bowled in tandem with leggie Mason Crane, who, though, bowling far too many 'four balls' than he'd prefer, nonetheless took three wickets.
He had Riddle caught at cover, James Hayward holing out irresponsibly on the deep square-leg boundary and then James Hibberd bowled.
Former St Cross Symondians batsman Esson, on debut, wouldn't want to watch any re-showing of his dismissal, bowled heaving across the line by Taylor.
South Wilts saw their last seven wickets fall for 43 runs - almost a mirror image of the Academy's own collapse earlier.
Perhaps it was the heavy rain storm that hit Bemerton shortly before the vice presidents tucked into lunch.
They were going along quite nicely at 148-3 after lunch, with Andy Gorvin (44) and Jake Goodwin (29) building on the earlier efforts of Tom Alsop, unluckily run out for 31, and Oli Soames (24).
But when Gorvin (44) picked out Riddle at extra-cover - ironically, the Academy prospect caught the South Wilts batsmen in the same position later - the Hampshire youngsters capitulated.
Hayward's three-wicket spell - the left-arm spinner finished with a telling 3-17 off ten overs - unsettled the Academy.
Rob Franklin (4-70) wheeled away to take the last three wickets to leave the Academy 185-9.
· On Saturday at 11.30am, South Wilts visit a Bashley (Rydal) side without a win in six Premier League games since May.