Well we entered 2020, in 19th place and, as we faced Winchester City in an away game, where there were more Basingstoke fans than home fans, with a few squad changes, as Aaron Kuhl had left the club and in came keeper Aaron Watkins.
The New Year’s game went off with a bang, but unfortunately we provided none of the fireworks. Although the game had an initial slow start, with neither team creating anything of note, this all changed in the 32nd minute, when another free header from a free-kick, put us behind. Worse was to follow just a few minutes later, as we took four attempts to clear the ball from our penalty area, and a side-pass and first-time shot into the far corner of the net doubled the home-sides lead. It could have been worse, except for a reaction save by Watkins in goal, as we trail 2-0 at the break.
The second-half gets underway and within ten minutes another headed goal from a corner, makes it three, then on the hour, Watkins is forced into another save, as he pushes it away for a corner. Yet another headed goal results from the corner and we trail by four.
There has been little or no offence from our forwards and the Stoke crowd are far from happy with this, but then Harrison Cliff links up well with Riccardo Andrady and the cross is met by on-loan midfielder Lionel Masudi, who heads straight at the keeper with the whole goal available.
Then a neat passing move by City, allows them to add their fifth. Watkins makes two saves within a few minutes as City attack at will, and then out of nowhere, the referee awards us a penalty for a late tackle on Bradley Wilson. It’s Wilson who takes the kick, but blazes it over the bar and into the field behind.
The Stoke crowd are making their ways to the car park, when as we enter added time, it is Wilson who finally puts us on the scoresheet as he slots the ball away.
The referee blows the final whistle on a 5-1 defeat, and not the start to 2020 as we wanted.
Just three days later we are back on the same pitch but as a home game as we faced Sholing. My match preview, stated that ‘Goals could be at a premium’, and boy was I wrong about that, as the game got underway, and Sholing could have scored twice in five minutes, mind you, we had a good chance as well. The clean sheet lasted until the seventh minute, when we are unable to clear our lines and Sholing punish us. Just three minutes later it is two-nil, as a lack of defending allows a Sholing player to waltz along our byline and find a wide-open forward at the back post, who taps it in.
If you are a neutral fan, then this is the ideal match, as we should have pulled one back two minutes later, however, we do win a corner just seconds after that, and Adam Everiss sends in a curling corner, that Dean Stow, gets a good header towards goal, it has the keeper beaten, but gets hooked off the line by the defender, or so he thinks as a few seconds later it appears the referee has awarded us the goal and we are back in the game, or so we thought!
The end-to-end football continues, and Ben Cook who initially wins the first tackle, then loses it to the same Sholing player 10 yards inside our half, who then sends a shot from 35yds that flies past Watkins in goal for Sholing’s third goal.
Further attempts on our goal as one shot hits the bar, another Watkins saves, keeps us in the game.
But Sholing do get their fourth goal six minutes before the break, but this high octane game, sees us win a penalty just before the break. Everyone thinks Ben Wright will take it, but it’s Dean Stow, who seems to rush it and the keeper makes an easy save down to his right…… Add whatever words you wish here! Halftime and players and fans trudge off towards the clubhouse.
Within ten minutes of the restart, we concede again, this time via the penalty spot, as Dean Stow brings a forward down.
Five then becomes six just five minutes later, as a cross is hooked back into the net.
We then make three changes in the space of a few minutes, and the game seems to have fallen into a lull, or are Sholing just happy with the six.
Two further saves by Watkins in the space of 30 seconds, does keep it at six, and the game finally comes to an end, with a 1-6 home loss.
Seven days later and this is a true six-pointer, as we travel back into Devon, to take on Barnstaple Town who sit one point above us. The line-up for this critical game included the return of Freddie Gee in goal.
The game took place under very strong winds towards the clubhouse end, with the pitch muddy and very bumpy, and with us attacking with the wind in the first-half, and it’s Stoke who create the first chance and another sad feature of this season’s play, as Bradley Wilson breaks the offside trap, but instead of sliding the ball past the oncoming keeper, he tries to take it around him, and although he does, it allows a defender to get back on the line to and clear his shot, out for a corner.
However, things are made better, as Ben Cook sends a fast swirling kick into the 6-yard box, that gets picked up by the wind, and as the keeper goes to catch it, he fumbles it back into his own net. Although it goes down as a Ben Cook goal, it is actually an own goal, which the honest keeper admits to the small away crowd behind the goal.
If anything the wind is getting stronger and the home team are struggling to clear the ball, and we look to press our advantage, and a good move by Ben Cook allows Ben Wright to turn and hit a shot, that takes a deflection of a defender and flies just over the crossbar. Another vicious corner from Cook hits the bar and flies over, but the referee awards us another corner from the other side. Ryan Suckling sends in another wicked corner and this gets headed over the bar by a defender. The third corner gets palmed away by the keeper for a throw-in.
Barnstaple have their first attack of note on 20 minutes, but stout pressurised defensive work snuffs out any sort of shot.
It’s an action-replay of earlier as Wilson again rounds the keeper, only for a defender to come to the rescue once again. From the corner and two further ensuing corners, it’s panic stations in the Barum defence, but they manage to scrape it clear.
We then double our lead, as a free-kick is hit deep into the Barum penalty area, where Dean Stow, gets a head to it, and it loops up into the air, hits the post then bounces back into the goal. The Barum players have a right dig at their keeper for letting it in.
By now the wind has forced the club in sending out two people to retrieve the footballs flying out of all parts of the ground, as the wind plays more and more tricks with any sort of clearance.
Josh Edwards makes a timely interception just as the halftime whistle blows, with us leading by the two goals.
The Btg are clearly worried whether two goals with the wind against will be enough, as the game gets back underway, with us attacking the rugby ground end, and a nice interception and pass to Wilson, sets him away, but the bumpy ground does him and he loses the ball.
The next fifteen minutes, Barnstaple start to exert some pressure, but either their shooting does not allow for the wind, or the Stoke defence are making it difficult for them to play, as we make tackle after tackle, and clear our lines.
Freddie Gee, makes two good saves, but as the game moves in to the last twenty minutes, Barnstaple seem to be running out of ideas, and their huge No.6 receives his second yellow-card and he’s off.
We make a couple of changes to freshen up the team, and the home-side are still struggling to put any real threat on our goal, as the game enters the final few minutes. One more save by Gee, and the referee has seen enough and blows the final whistle and it’s your Basingstoke side who will not only be leaving North Devon with all three points, but will also move off the bottom of the table.
Up next was a Tuesday night home game against Thatcham Town, but this was washed out due to a waterlogged pitch, which mean’t we next faced AFC Totton at home on the Saturday.
With Freddie Gee picking up another injury, Aaron Watkins returned in goal, and young AFC Wimbledon loanee Elliott Bolton, was in the starting line-up, the game passed a mid-morning pitch inspection, and we attacked the clubhouse end in the first-half.
It is Stoke with the first attack, but D’Andre Brown, just fails to get on the end of a Bradley Wilson cross.
However, we fall behind just a few minutes later, when a free-header at the near post beats Watkins in goal.
It is also noted at this time, that the referees black kit looks very similar to Totton’s kit which has black shorts and shirt is black at the back, but the referee carries on regardless.
Dean Stow then hits the outside of the far post from a 30-yard free-kick. We continue to attack, but fail to put any real pressure on the visiting keeper.
We then fall two behind, as the referee awards a penalty for a mis-timed tackle. It’s put away with ease.
Then just before halftime their keeper then goes in the book for verbally abusing the linesman.
The second-half starts and Stoke should have one back, somehow a Stoke forward hits the keeper from four yards out.
We start to make some substitutions to try and change things up, but neither team can create any goalmouth chances, and the pitch is starting to cut-up, which makes attacking play more difficult to achieve.
The game is now drifting towards the last ten minutes and Totton, are comfortably holding us goal-less, and the game ends in a whimper, with Stoke back to losing ways.
Our next game sees us on the road to a tough match-up at Cinderford, and a number of fans travel on the team coach, as yet another team in our league, is in the middle of nowhere.
As we approach the valley of Dean, we begin to notice the fog in the fields as we travel up higher to the outskirts of Cinderford. As we arrive at the ground, the fog has fallen and the pitch is and surrounding hill is covered in fog, so we retire to the clubhouse for a pre-match drink wondering if the game is to go-ahead.
The home crowd certainly want this game to go ahead, and seem to push the referee towards, making a positive decision.
Three pitch inspections are made as the game gets delayed by 30 minutes, as the fog seems to improve, only for it to worsen minutes later. With the linesman unable to see the far corner of the pitch, the referee makes the decision to postpone the game.
Our fans in the clubhouse actually take the decision pretty ok, as we know we haven’t lost and live to fight another day, especially as we hear our relegation rivals Barnstaple are being thumped 4-0 at Slimbridge.
We take back to the road home, knowing up next is another away game at Highworth Town, once more another small village classed as a town, this time near Swindon in Wiltshire.
Up next Part 5 Highworth Town to league abandonment.