A Fans Perspective 2019-20 Season Part 2 – AFC Totton to FA Trophy Exit

With Martin Kuhl, gone by mutual consent, Dan Brownlie, assistant coach to the last three Managers, Jason Bristow, Terry Brown and Kuhl, was given caretaker charge of the next game at AFC Totton.

On another gorgeous sunny day, a good number of the Basingstoke faithful travelled south in hope of a new era and much-needed points. Dan’s first starting line-up, with Captain Dean Stow, serving his 3-game match ban, was to be 1.Chris Rackley, 2. Alfie Saunders 3. Adam Everiss, 4. Ben Cook, 5. Ryan Suckling, 6. Scott Armsworth, 7. Claudio Herbert, 8. Harrison Cliff 9. Ben Wright (Capt), 10. Zach Robinson, 11. Reece Rusher.

However, it does not start well, as we give a penalty away in the first few minutes, but Rackley’s save low down to his left keeps us level. We then had a 15 to 20 minute decent period of play, which included a disallowed Herbert goal for offside, and a couple of chances that really should have been taken and went in at halftime level, but a much better performance all-round. The home-side then come out with all guns blazing, and created but fortunately missed three or four good chances. Whether the heat started to take effect on the players, as the game went into a lull mid-way through the half. This was then ended as a neat pass to Ben Wright, whose touch and control inside the box, outfoxed two defenders, only for this chance to be wasted, as his shot flies wide of the left-hand post. Rackley, make one more good save before the end, and the game ended goal-less and our first away point and clean sheet to boot. Was this Rackley’s best game whilst with us?

Due to a fixture clash, with both Winchester City and Basingstoke due to hosts matches in the FA Trophy Extra Preliminary Round, and with the rules not allowing us to rearrange the fixture, we had to cede homefield advantage, which mean’t we would travel to Oxfordshire to take on Southern League Division One Central, North Leigh the following Saturday.

By now the three loanees were starting to settle within the team and there appeared to be a renewed camaraderie within the team.

The North Leigh pitch and ground however was a sight to behold, as the sloped pitch and small sloped looking stand, was matched by a wooden structure come clubhouse and changing rooms, that certainly didn’t go down well with our Chairman.

The match itself, was a humdinger of a game, with Stoke attacking up the hill in the first-half, we were first on the attack, the Millers, had caught the bug, of playing it out from the back, no matter the situation, and the slightly chubby keeper, loses it, as we shut them down and the attack ends with Zach Robinson finding the top of the net, with a chip from 18yds. More attacks by Stoke also go unrewarded, and North Leigh’s first attack, nearly costs us dear.

A sharp piece of thinking from a free-kick 25yds, allows a quickly-taken pass to Everiss, who sends in a low cross, for Robinson to put it away, and Stoke take the lead.

This goal seems to spring the home-side into action, as they draw level from a corner, when the referee awards a penalty, when the ball hits Wright on the arm from a corner. The penalty is converted, and despite us then hitting the crossbar through Ben Wright’s thunderbolt, things go from bad to worse, as back-to-back corners, puts pressure on Rackley, who drops the ball from the second corner and another shot ends up, with the referee awarding another penalty for a miss-timed tackle, which is again slotted away comfortably. North Leigh, now attack in waves and we could and should have gone further behind before the break.

Whatever, was in the halftime team-talk does not work, as we then go 3-1 behind as Rackley is able to half-stop a shot that rolls back into the net. Further attacks are somehow kept out, but then on the hour, the game takes a seismic shift. Good work from Harrison Cliff forces us a corner, and the corner-kick falls to Scott Armsworth who smashes it home. A few minutes later we are back level, as Riccardo Andrady finds Robinson, who is able to slot the ball under the oncoming keeper (3-3).

North Leigh encamped in their own third of the pitch, are under non-stop pressure, and the Stoke fanbase are in awe or bewilderment as Wright heads us into the lead. With 15 minutes to go, further chances by both sides are missed, as the game gets stretched. The referee is maybe enjoying this game too much, as he finds seven, yes 7 minutes of added-time, before he blows the final whistle and the players celebrate the victory, behind the goal.

Basingstoke’s first win of the season, in any competition, is met by a good evening, despite the ensuing thunderstorm that evening.

If some supporters believe Dan Brownlie, has inherited a side just at the right time, as the team is at its strongest, that cannot then be said of the next game, as a stormy Tuesday night trip down to the outskirts of Bristol to take on Mangotsfield, is the exact opposite. A depleted squad, puts out one of the best all-round team performances of the season, and although we rode our luck at times in the first-half, it remained goal-less in the first-half. United however, do break the deadlock, just after the restart, and squander two other chances, before Andrady, starts to bedazzle the Utd left-back for 20 minutes which has the small away crowd in hysterics and the left-back in the book, as he gets more and more frustrated. It is from one of these attacks an crosses, that the ball bounces free to Mikey Davis six yards out, and in his first league start, sweeps the ball into the net for the equaliser. Neither team can take control of the 15 minutes of the game, even when defender Ryan Suckling is given a straight red-card, as we fight for every tackle across the park, and the game ends in a one-one draw, and a huge point on the road.

Up next on the fixture list, is a Saturday home-tie against Highworth Town, who sat ten places above us, with us still sitting bottom of the table. The game itself saw the visitors on the attack from the start, including a goal-line clearance by Alfie Saunders, but on 13 minutes, an open forward from a corner slots the ball in the net. The Worthians are still in control, and half chances to Stoke just after the half-hour, somehow stay out. Then as fans are looking to retire to the clubhouse, another wide-open forward, smashes the ball into the net as they double their lead.

The second-half continues in the same fashion, and two saves by Rackley keep us in the game. We come into the game through breaks by Herbert & Andrady, but Highworth are able to repel them. But then when things look bleak, a little bit of luck, can change the face of the game. With 15 minutes to go, a harmless cross is caught by the keeper, but then falls into his own defender, and the keeper drops the ball, which then rolls backwards into the net. Despite the pleas of the visitors for a foul, the referee quickly consults the linesman, who confirms the goal, and it’s back at 1-2. This breathes new life into the team, and we attack down both flanks, however the visitors have the next real chance which is kept out by Rackley.

The continuing pressure is too much for Highworth, as Andrady sends in another cross from the right, which is only blocked out to Harrison Cliff, who takes one-touch then smashes a low left-foot shot past the crowded goalmouth and into the net. Within a minute Dean Stow misses a chance, as he heads wide from an Andrady cross.

Then on the stroke of 90 minutes, Highworth are broken, as they fail to deal with a long throw-in, and Zach Robinson is first on it, as he turns and slots the ball home, and we take the lead.

Another referee who find seven minutes of injury-time, which we deal with easily, and Stoke have their first league win (3-2), which sends the crowd behind the goal and around the goal into raptures.

With the league taking a week-off, and Dan Brownlie’s unbeaten managerial start at four games, it’s the FA Trophy next round, and our success at North Leigh, sends us back on the road to division rivals Cirencester Town. Leading upto the game we sign Aaron Kuhl to the squad.

It’s Stoke who are first out of the gate within five minutes, as an initial attack and cross down the right is blocked only for the second cross, to find Ben Cook at the far post, who sends a looping header over the keeper who thinks it’s going wide, only for it to hit the far post and into the net.

Chances are missed by both teams, until the Centurions equalise on the half-hour, when a forward is able to score from an acute angle. However, the home crowd are silenced as we retake the lead just two minutes later, as a Claudio Herbert run and cross, is blocked straight to Riccardo Andrady, who slots it home. We are still on top, and with Kuhl running the midfield, we fail to increase our lead, as the referee blows the halftime whistle.

After the break, and yet again, we concede another early goal, as Cirencester beat Rackley from 20yds. But today, we want this game, and just a few minutes later, further good work from Herbert who finds Andrady, who slides the ball across the face of the goal, and Zach Robinson is there once again as he taps it home.

We then miss a couple of chances to increase our lead, whilst our defence appears to be holding firm and three huge blocks or last ditch tackles in six minutes of added-time are rewarded as the referee blows the final whistle, and we march through to the next round.

The small away crowd may find getting to Cirencester not the easiest by train, but enjoy the journey home!

The unbeaten run now at five, we are scheduled to face Melksham Town twice in two weeks, the first is the Saturday home league game and the first of a few eventful events against this team from Wiltshire.

With Dean Stow returning, we have a few changes as the AFC Wimbledon duo plus Ben Wright are missing for the game, it’s Stoke on the front-foot in the opening minutes, and we take the lead just before the ten minute break, as the ball drops to Mikey Davis, who smashes home a low shot.

We double our lead before 20 minutes have been played, as Claudio Herbert takes on three players and forces a corner, which finds Scott Armsworth at the far post and he heads home.

Our home crowd, are loving this, but things came unstuck very quickly as Melksham find the net twice in the space of five minutes.

A few meaty tackles are going on the in the middle of the park, which the ref allows to go unpunished, before Stoke regain the lead following a free-kick just outside Melksham’s penalty area. Dean Stow steps up and beats the wall, and his shot is too powerful for the keeper, who can only parry it into the net, and we lead 3-2 into the break, despite the visitors missing two sitters in the six-yard box. At halftime Stoke Life Member Jim Gould is handed a commemorative shirt from the Supporters Club to celebrate his 80th birthday.

The restart takes some time to get going as numerous heavy tackles by the visitors, encouraged by their bench, make the game a very stop and start affair. This continues as the Melksham left back receives his marching orders for a second-yellow card. If anything this reignites Melksham who have the next 15 to 20 minutes, but some decent tackles keep them at bay.

The game with all the stoppages is now deep in stoppage time, but ball is put over the top and Andrady just beats the advancing keeper to the ball, who goes straight through Riccardo who is down injured. The referee in all the commotion has pointed to the spot and it’s Dean Stow who has the ball, whilst Andrady receives treatment. Stow, completes his return and smashes his penalty into the roof the net to secure a 4-2 victory. The crowd around the ground now have the belief the tide has turned and things look for the better and the unbeaten run stands at six games.

The rematch takes us to Wiltshire on a day more suitable to ducks, as the game gets passed fit despite the morning hours of wind and rain at the ground.

Zach Robinson is back in the starting line-up and the game gets underway, in a downpour, but Stoke create the first chance when we break and Andrady’s shot is saved by the keeper. Both teams are playing attacking football as the weather seems to worsen.

We seem to be holding them, but with five minutes to go before the break, a shot from all of 40yds seems to take Rackley by surprise and it finds the back of the net.

Like the first game, the second-half starts with some heavy challenges, that again go unpunished by the referee, but the home-side are the team with the initiative, but fail to take their chances. With 15 minutes to go, we have our best period of the match, as we push Melksham further and further back into their own penalty area, but either our shots are blocked or take deflections, just wide of the post. The game ends with us losing 1-0, and out of the FA Trophy.

This means we are out of all four cup competitions by October, and much needed extra-income is gone.

This is also Dan Brownlie’s first defeat as the Manager and up next will be part 3 – The road from Paulton to Christmas.