Farnborough Town 4 – 3 Basingstoke Town Monday 1st January 2018
Attendance – 395
It was the worst red-card decision I have seen in 50 years of watching live football, but that was not why we lost today.
On an initially sunny, if very chilly, New Year’s Day afternoon at Cherrywood Road, Basingstoke Town twice surrendered the lead to a weak Farnborough outfit and ended up coming away with nothing amid some, for me, defining seasonal performances, some positive, more negative.
Manager Terry Brown set up with Colm McAdden in goal, Tim Wohlfiel right back, George Bennett left back, Guri Demuria and Dan Bayliss centre backs, captain Charlie Kennedy, Michael Atkinson and Jack McKnight in midfield and Ben Wright, Sam Smart and Callum Bunting up top.
We got off to the best possible start as, in the very third minute, Smart picked up a bouncing flick on from Wright way outside the area, spotted the keeper off his line and showing the most amazing technique to send a looping shot over the stranded stopper and into the far top corner from fully 35-40 yards out to give us the lead.
It was yet another amazing goal from this sensational little player who is surely destined for bigger and better things at a higher level.
We were on top early, but the hosts, while not seeing much of the ball, had their moments.
In the eighth minute they won a corner, but it was wasted.
Three minutes later they had a deflected shot which McAdden took comfortably.
And 60 seconds after that McAdden was forced into a fine one-handed save as a shot flew across him after they cut in from the left.
But we still looked the more dangerous and in the 13th minute on the break down the left the excellent Smart picked out Atkinson on the right with a superb pass, and tbh the midfielder needed to do better and at least test the keeper, taking a decent first touch but then firing over the bar.
We were now putting the hosts and their dodgy back line under pressure and winning free kicks.
Bunting won one on the left after 15 minutes then Bennett another on 17 from which Wright eventually fired over the bar.
A real chance on 23 as Smart delivered a superb cross from the right, but Bunting’s free header inside the six-yard box simply wasn’t good enough.
We weren’t taking our chances to extend our slender lead.
In the 24th minute a McAdden error conceded a corner.
But it was cleared.
Then in the 27th minute McAdden was quick off his line to deal with danger, but Bennett went down injured in the process.
Jordan Goater replaced him on the half hour.
Almost immediately, though McAdden tried to clear from off the line, an inswinging corner was adjudged to have crossed the goal line and it was 1-1.
Never good to concede direct from a corner and McAdden will surely feel he could have done better there.
And a mere two minutes later, we concede a penalty, McAdden is sent the wrong way and we have gone behind, having led.
The scintillating Smart refused to be daunted and after more good work a few minutes later he got away a deflected shot which was saved.
And in the 43rd minute Smart fed Goater on the left, he sent a lovely little ball to put Bunting through one on one on the left of the area but the big forward simply fired straight at the keeper.
And in the second minute of first half stoppage time Atkinson showed what he can offer in the final third when he has the confidence and decisiveness to try things with a sublime dinked ball to put Smart through, but the keeper pulled off a good save.
Half time, we have led, should have gone two or three up, but we are behind.
The good news is Farnborough look weak.
The bad news is so do we – in too many areas of the park.
One minute into the second half and Smart again picks out Atkinson. But he dwells on the ball too long, neither shoots nor passes and is closed down.
Three minutes later we are almost made to pay as they hit the upright from a left-footed shot from the edge of the area.
In the 50th minute Atkinson wins a free kick with a more decisive surging run and, from the low free kick, Wright drew a save from the keeper who parried clear.
Then, out of the blue two minutes later, a piece of unexpected quality accompanied by trademark desire to get us level.
Hopeful ball over the top after a set piece is cleared and, having not yet tracked back, who else is there leading the line but Demuria!
He has a fair stab at dinking the onrushing keeper then follows through by running in behind him to poke home the equaliser.
The big defender raised one hand aloft in triumph, uttered something guttural – which I would have loved to have been “meat!” but probably wasn’t – and made his primal way back to his own half for the restart.
What a guy!
Farnborough were rocking now and, on the hour, a nice ball down the left channel put Wright and, with the keeper committed, Wright finished superbly with the outside of his right foot to restore our advantage.
We needed to fight to maintain or extend it and initially we did.
Though clearly not matchfit, Kennedy pulled off a great tackle in the 62nd minute.
We remained on top, but Bunting in particular was proving wasteful.
His first touch too often wasn’t good enough, to my eyes he’s little quicker than Wright and a sporadic aerial challenge on its own isn’t enough.
Farnborough showed they were still dangerous with an effort over the bar on 70.
And then a magnificent tackle from Atkinson halted a Farnborough break and got us back on the attack.
In the 73rd minute Wright released Bunting on the left but again he shot at the keeper when clean through.
We won a corner from that.
Then Goater, too physical against his old club first half and carded, was more mature second half and won a 75th-minute free kick, cutting in from the left.
But McKnight floated it just over the bar.
We had pressed for that two-goal lead, hadn’t got it and in the 77th minute were made to pay.
With Wohlfiel offering more going forwards then defensively it was left to Demuria to try to cut out a marauding run down the left.
He failed, in came the cross, a free header and its 3-3.
We started to get that sinking feeling.
As Sam Argent and Liam Hunt watched from the bench unused, Farnbourgh fired just over the bar on 80 minutes.
On 82 a decent flick on from Bunting for once, but Smart was surely tiring by now, having done the running for both fellow forwards, and his touch was too heavy.
60 seconds later the killer blow.
A great 30-yard run down the right, no challenge from midfield, no challenge from Goater, they cut inside, no challenge from central defence and a clinical finish into the far corner and its 4-3.
Cracking goal, but we let it happen.
To add insult to injury in the 86th minute a moment of sheer Official incompetence.
As many will know I criticise referees about twice a season, but this was disgraceful.
Kennedy wins a free kick, the Farnborough player refuses to release the ball, the referee does nothing to stop this then looks on as Kennedy grabs at the ball only and attempts to wrestle it from the player’s hands to the extent that, by choosing to hold onto that ball like grim death, the Farnborough player ends up on his arse.
To my utter disbelief Kennedy gets a straight red and will now miss three matches.
We then had to play the last four minutes plus five minutes stoppage time with ten men, but as stated in my intro, it’s not why we lost.
A more influential decision was a failure to give a penalty – or even a corner – for what looked like a hand ball from the eventual free kick.
Farnbourgh might have made it five with a deflected shot on 88 and a blocked shot on 90.
And in the 94th minute, we won a free kick, the ball in was cleared and Demuria was on the edge of the box to fire in a last desperate shot which was cleared from a yard or two off the line.
And so we were beaten by 19th in the league, having dominated most of the game.
We will all have our own ideas why we lost this game but, for me, stood there halfway through the season it was a match which defined our shortcomings, injury and low budget notwithstanding.
We have a decent young keeper, but he’s a teenager, will make occasional mistakes and here he conceded a goal direct from a corner.
Our full backs offered more going forwards than defensively.
We conceded FOUR and it has to be someone’s fault.
In midfield, McKnight made too many mistakes and Atkinson needs to be more decisive if he wants to make the case for playing in other than a purely holding role.
Up top, I’m afraid today Bunting looked like a guy a mid-table Step 3 outfit (Chesham United) no longer wanted.
His first touch isn’t good enough, he’s not quick and an aerial threat alone isn’t enough.
He’d be a 20-30 goal a season man at Step 4, as his Cup tie goal sprees against lower-level opposition illustrates, but he falls short at our level at present.
I can’t knock Wright today because he scored.
But while he has quality both he and Bunting were carried today – in terms of running and more – by our one true star.
Smart has had a lean spell lately, but his sheer pace and desire and great attitude meant he never stopped tormenting defenses, he has single-handedly played himself back into form, he gives a lot better service than he receives, and he is – quite simply and sadly – too good for the team he is currently in.
Finally I have to question why Liam Hunt never got on the pitch today.
And I can only assume Sam Argent is injured and was on the bench for decorative purposes as he should have been on for Bunting by the hour at the very latest.
We need to be winning matches like this to climb the table, because some weeks the opposition will be a lot stronger.
Like, say, Kettering Town at home this Saturday.
Match Report by Ian Davies