This is a simple view of the season, by me purely as a supporter, and where possible will not single out players where possible. It will on occasions however state players in good and bad situations.
For those who attended the numerous pre-season friendlies, there was some clear worry, about some of the performances, but Martin Kuhl, like all Managers will always state, these games are not necessarily about results, but more about build your squad, alongside trialists for those games, as well as trying out players in various positions, to see what strengths your squad may have, and what holes you possibly need to fill. Ultimately, it is about trying to set your starting squad, before the opening game of the season.
The opening game of the league season, Barnstaple Town at home saw, us with a starting line-up of 1.Freddie Gee, 2. Morgan Toney-Green 3. Adam Everiss, 4. Dean Stow, 5. Kraig Noel-McLeod, 6. Joe Hancott, 7. Reece Rusher, 8. Ben Cook, 9. Ben Wright, 10. Claudio Herbert, 11. Harrison Cliff. Ultimately Barnstaple Town, would eventually be the only team that officially, unofficially, depending on which way you view it, ended up lower than us in the league.
The game saw Barnstaple Town a bigger, more experienced team back then, use the match officials to influence the game, and this was to be a worrying sign of the season, as we faced many other similar teams this season. A few players including Kraig Noel-McLeod, were already known to be only around for a game maybe two, but both started, and things looked good when we opened our season’s account through Reece Rusher. This was unfortunately to be Rusher’s only goal for us this season, and sadly affected the team and many fans expectations. Falling 1-3 behind on the hour, we then mounted an assault on the visitor’s goal, and pulled one back, but then an unfortunate own goal, put us two goals behind again, but then the more concerning Freddie Gee injury incident, left the game at a different level, as he could barely stand, let alone kick the ball for the last 15 minutes of the game. Not only our first loss of the season, but many Stoke fans went home unhappy with the lack of duty of care to our players.
With Noel-McLeod gone, up next was a poor loss on the road at Sholing 2-0, and with defender Morgan Toney-Green gone, another shocking early exit in the FA Cup, and much-needed money lost in a 0-2 defeat at home to London-based Westfield, which sent us into the Bank Holiday Monday home game against our groundshare hosts Winchester City, with lots of areas to improve.
Kuhl’s side were on the front foot from the start, and finally took the lead through a super solo-effort by Claudio Herbert, only to be frittered away by another defensive lapse, before half-time.
Both teams had chances in the second-half, but failed to take them, leaving both clubs sharing the points, and Basingstoke’s first of the season.
A week later, on the road at Slimbridge, was another game where initial possession, counted for nothing, and Slimbridge who were bottom then, scored twice in the space of five minutes around the half-hour. We never honestly, looked like getting back into that game, and were in the end fortunate to lose by just the 2-0 scoreline.
Sitting 19th in the league, we then had the Tuesday night visit of Larkhall Athletic to the Simplyhealth Stadium. This game will be remembered for the disgraceful behaviour of the Larkhall players, as yet again Stoke missed early chances, including Ben Wright’s early penalty miss, before Athletic, punished us twice in the first-half, before a scything two-footed tackle saw the Athletic player given a straight red card. Further unsavoury behaviour between the visiting players and home crowd, set the game to one side, and despite a late assault and Adam Everiss’s late, late finish, it was to be another loss for Martin Kuhl’s side.
Up next was a free Saturday, as we sat idle, whilst others took part in the FA Cup, which then brought us to another Tuesday night fixture, this time Moneyfields at home in the League Cup. This saw us with the first tranche of loan-players as we started Forest Green Rovers defender, and Stoke-boy Alfie Saunders, along with AFC Wimbledon’s duo defender Reuben Collins and forward Zach Robinson. Again, Stoke had the lion-share of the game, missed chances, whilst the visitors rode their luck and we should have comfortably been ahead before the break. Despite further pressure, we then bizarrely went down to ten men, when Chris Rackley’s high tackle outside the box, was deemed a straight red card, and defender Andrew Charsley, off the bench went between the posts. Despite this, we deservedly took they lead through a Ben Wright finish, and looked fairly secure, until deep into stoppage time, an apparent free-kick to the visitors, allowed them to send in a deep cross to the far post, where the ball is forced, over the line, and as the League Cup with no replays or extra-time, sends the game into a penalty shoot-out. With a make-shift keeper in goal, and Rusher’s penalty-miss, we fell out of the League Cup 5-3 on penalties, and with another loss leads to the start of rumblings amongst the Basingstoke faithful, around Martin Kuhl’s management.
Up next was the home match against Cinderford Town, and on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, the game took a sudden change around the quarter-hour, when a mid-air challenge between Captain Dean Stow, and a Forrester’s defender, sees them both receiving straight red cards. Worse was to follow as 5 minutes before the break, a last-man challenge by Reuben Collins, sees the referee brandish his red card for the third time, and Stoke are reduced to nine men.
The second-half has both sides squander chances, before Cinderford take the lead with 15 minutes to go. But then good defensive work from Riccardo Andrady, and positive pass sends Claudio Hebert on the attack. Herbert who only seems to score crackers, dummies his defender, and then thunders a left-foot shot into the net for the equalizer. However, a characteristic from last season, appears again, as with just two minutes to go we give the visitors way too much time and space around the box, and we go behind once again. This loss sends us to the bottom of the table. This was however known for the BTG chant “Shoes Off If You Love The Stoke”
The next match is the heralded Tuesday night match at Premier League AFC Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium, as we took on their U23 side in the Hampshire Senior Cup.
With Rackley (suspended) and Freddie Gee still injured, Kuhl called upon the services of AFC Wimbledon loanee Albert White in goal. Other than that, we had a full-strength side, but on a warm evening, we spent most of the night chasing shadows. Three-down by halftime, we appeared to capitulate at the start of the second-half, as non-existent marking, plus some sublime finishing saw the home side add a further four goals within the first twenty minutes. Basingstoke then had around ten minutes of good possession, but bad luck and some poor finishing, saw us fail to open our account. The eighth and final goal was added with five minutes to go, and the great experience for our players and fans of being a Premier League ground, had been ripped from us by a Bournemouth side, who had included experienced players like Simon Francis.
This was the final nail in the coffin, for the Board and many Basingstoke fans alike, and within 48 hours of this defeat, Martin Kuhl, probably already aware he was treading on thin ice, agreed it was in the best interests of the club for him to part ways with the club.
Martin Kuhl’s 2019-20 record finished at;
League Pld 6 Won 0, Drawn 1, Lost 5
Cups Pld 3 Won 0, Lost 3
Overall, Martin Kuhl, who I always found open to talk to, was a strong-willed determined Manager, more use to dealing with older professional players and already under pressure from taking us down the previous season, seemed to lose the way to communicate with younger more inexperienced players.
Up next Part 2 – AFC Totton to Christmas…..