Well the final part of my season review covers the last six games which took us into the middle of March, before the season was dramatically cut short, cancelled, erased, forgotten, Null and void or whatever other term you want to call it.
Anyway, following our fruitless trip to fog-bound Cinderford, a week later we had the trip to the outskirts of Swindon to a little town called Highworth. Team news in that week was the return of Basingstoke-boy George Hallahan, back to the yellow and blue, which clearly many Stoke fans had hoped for over previous seasons. However, with George starting on the bench, we had possibly the slowest moving forwards in our club history with Wright and Dillon up-top, on a bumpy sloped pitch.
The game got under away with a strong wind across the pitch, with us attacking the clubhouse end and we have the first chance, but Dillon blasts over the bar from short-range.
Then as expected we go behind, as we can’t seem to make a proper tackle and a cross, come shot is palmed out straight to an open Highworth forward who taps it home, and we trail once again.
The rest of the half saw, us have a lot of the possession, without creating any real pressure on the home sides keeper, but with minute to go, George enters the fray, as he replaces an injured Ben Wright.
The clubhouse comments during the break, were not for the faint of hearted, and the second-half got underway with us still going forwards. Then George picks the ball along the left-hand touchline about 40 yards out. He takes it 15 yards and then completes a one-two pass with Bradley Wilson, which allows George to enter the six-yard box, and then a right-foot shot as he slides it past the keeper from an acute angle and into the net. The fans behind the goal are let’s just say delighted.
It’s all Stoke and after another goalmouth skirmish, the ball falls to Mr Hallahan, and he thumps it past the keeper to give us the lead.
It’s still us on the attack, but Highworth miss a glorious chance when their forward drags it wide of the far post. This seems to enliven the home-side, and they win a corner a minute later. Whoops is the polite word, as the cross flies straight to Aaron Watkins in goal who seems to drop a straight-forward catch and it bounces into the net, and we have been pegged back.
The home-side are now coming at us in waves, and a few minutes later they win a free-kick about 40 yards out. The kick, which is floated in, is met by a Highworth head, that seems to have Watkins caught in no-man’s land and it falls into the far corner of the net and somehow we now trail.
Our attacking play shows no bite to it, and Highworth suddenly look good for their lead, and then another error at the back on 90 minutes, when a Stoke defender trying to clear the ball kicks it straight at his own player, and it falls to a Highworth player who slots it home. Down 4-2, game over and another away defeat.
Up next was the home visit of free-falling Mangotsfield Utd, to Winchester, but the big news of the week, was the return of former Stokie Simon Dunn to the club, and he slipped into a the starting line-up against visitors who were missing a number of key players, as financial constraints, mean’t that their better players, jumped ship in seek of other teams.
The game itself gets underway with the BBC South cameras present as well, and it’s all Stoke as Dunn slides a shot just a yard wide of the far post. Then another chance goes missing, as Bradley Wilson, breaks the offside trap, but his chip although beats the keeper, beats the far post by inches. It’s still Stoke on the attack, but can’t find that breakthrough, and the frustration around the crowd starts to show, but then as we get close to the halftime whistle, the ball is sent back in from an initial corner clearance falls, to the feet of two Stoke players, and Simon Dunn marks his return, as his swinging foot slams the ball past the keeper and we lead at the halftime break.
The second-half, we are straight back on the attack and we double our lead, after Bradley Wilson slots home from a nice move to make it 2-0.
We then miss a chance to increase the lead, as two Stoke players get in each-others way, in the penalty box.
The visitors then have two attacks that are saved by Aaron Watkins.
More chances by Stoke go begging, and Mangotsfield then come back into the game, as a half-clearance is slammed back into the net, and our lead is halved, with ten minutes remaining.
We seem to be making heavy weather of this game, but neither team can find a clear chance on goal, and the referee blows the whistle on another valuable home win. Even better news is received, as Barnstaple have a had 0-6 home thrashing against Paulton Rovers.
Following this home victory, we are due to travel back to our friends at Melksham, but heavy rain and storm-like winds hit the country. A few Stoke fans travel by train, and are being updated by Melksham’s twitter page states the game has passed an early morning pitch inspection, only for a second inspection within an hour, to call of the game. The Stoke fans spend a few hours in nearby Trowbridge, before coming home later that day.
The following Tuesday we were due to host Moneyfields in the rearranged game from December 26th, but further rain falls throughout the day and the game gets postponed around 6pm that evening.
This mean’t our next game, would be the Saturday home game against promotion chasing Paulton Rovers.
The game got underway, on what seemed a very heavy pitch, with Paulton having a keeper who looks about 14 in goal. It is also noticed that D’Andre Brown, is the latest player to be taking our corners. Not sure how many corner-kick takers we used or need in a season.
Paulton hit the post on 11 mins, whilst Cook has a shot well-saved by the young keeper. The game continues, but neither team can find that clear-cut chance, and the game goes into the halftime break score-less, with many Stoke fans wondering why so little pressure was put on the young Paulton keeper.
The restart, does not seem to improve the level of football, and the heavy pitch seems to be ruining the game, but Watkins has to pull out a good save with 20 minutes to go, but then whilst Scotty Armsworth is off the pitch receiving treatment, Paulton win a corner at the clubhouse corner. The kick somehow beats four players at the near post, hits a Rovers player and flies into the net, and we trail 0-1 with around ten minutes left.
The next ten minutes drift by with little goal-mouth action, but then suddenly deep into added-time, somehow we can’t get the equalizer, after 30 seconds of pin-ball football inside Paulton’s penalty area, which includes a goal-line clearance, but the final result is another defeat for Stoke.
With this disappointment, we have to turn it around quickly as we travel upto Melksham just 48 hours later, for a Monday night rearranged game. Melksham another promotion-playoff team are not one of our favourite clubs.
The game gets underway, on another heavy pitch, with a strong pitch blowing across the pitch, and a small Stoke following present, and we are unlucky not to take the lead after good work from George Hallahan and then a cheeky chip has the keeper beaten, but hits the bar and corner post and bounces away.
Again, more golden chances to take the lead are wasted, as two more shots from six yards out are somehow blocked away.
Melksham then have an attack, but a timely tackle by Dean Stow, sends out for a corner, which we clear.
It’s still surprisingly us the team that’s showing the home-side how to play and the frustration is getting to the home bench, who start squealing at the referee, everytime there is a tackle.
Finally, just after the half-hour, we deservedly take the lead, as a lovely attacking move between Stow and Herbert allows Claudio to cross the ball, which falls to Simon Dunn, who somehow hits the bar form four yards, and the ball bounces up to Dean Stow who heads it back in the net, to stun the home crowd, but not for long, as Melksham via a lucky mis-hit shot finds its way to a Melksham forward, who turns and puts it home from five yards.
It’s nip and tuck till half-time, which also sees Hallahan put a shot wide from 20yds as he breaks away from the cart-horse centre-back.
The second-half gets back underway and the small away crowd are wondering if we can continue in the first-half fashion.
It’s Stoke and Ben Cook, after a lovely move down the left, who shimmies two defenders, then rather than shooting, tries to walk it round the keeper, and loses it to him.
On the hour, the inevitable happens, as we fall behind after initially clearing it off the line, but the linesman has it flag up then takes it down, and the referee after a 30-second discussion allows the goal.
If this isn’t enough, the Melksham bench have gotten even more mouthy, complaining about everything and the linesman that side has a constant earful from them.
We then fall 3-1, behind as a lack of tackling on the halfway-line, allows them to break, and a simple cross and tap-in, is enough to put this game to bed.
Despite their lead, the constant whining from the home dugout, if anything is getting worse.
The introduction of Mikey Davis and Ben Wright, seems to liven things up for a few minutes, but we can’t get a clean shot on goal, as the game drifts into added time.
Game-over and all that early quality play, goes to waste.
Then we come to Thatcham Town away, on a day, when another storm hits the UK, and the pitch unfortunately for us has passed the pitch inspection.
By the time the game started, the sun was out, and that was the only bright thing about the day. Some state it was 15, some say it was 20 seconds, but it does not matter as we open wider than the Grand Canyon, and being honest it did not improve much from there. Three more goals before halftime, whilst we had a decent five minute spell, where Stow hits the post and it fell straight to the keeper. Admittedly, we lost both Ben Cook and Simon Dunn by halftime, but four honestly could have been eight.
The second-half was not much better, as the fifth, was followed up by an unfortunate Stow own goal.
We then have an attack but the header slides past the far post.
A third injury, this time to Hallahan does not look for next weeks game, but let’s finish this one first.
Now into the last few minutes of a game that is really awaiting the final whistle, it sees a Thatcham forward able to hook a cross into the net for seven. Then in added time, another break, another low cross, sees the eighth and final goal and another own goal, this time by Adam Everiss, finishes off the scoring.
The usual post-match drink in the clubhouse is forgone, and the Stoke fans who stayed to watch the end, trudge off home.
The third 8-0 loss of the season, brought us to the last official game of this voided season, as we hosted a Willand Rovers team, that on paper, we could beat.
On the teamsheet, all three players from the Thatcham game make the starting line-up, and this then got a major uplift by the on-loan signing of Hungerford’s forward Conor Lynch.
The first notable action of the game, is the fact that Simon Dunn, has reinjured himself and has to be replaced by D’Andre Brown.
Then on 15 minutes it is Lynch who show the promise we have been hoping for as he breaks away, but gets the ball caught up in the mud, but still turns and shoot past the keeper, only for a defender to clear the ball off the line.
It’s still Stoke coming forward, but we get caught on the break, as Willand switch play from the left and send a long pass over our back four down the right, where their forward is first on it and slots it past the oncoming Watkins in goal, and we trail once more this season.
Lynch, is till proving a handful upfront, but Willand have the next real chance as a free-header at the far post, fortunately flies wide.
It is clear the heavy rain during the weak, is causing the pitch to cut in some parts of the pitch, and the game is not flowing as we would, but we then have a goal chalked off, after our corner is initially cleared, but is sent straight back, in where Lynch slides it home from an acute angle, or so we thin, but the linesman’s flag is up for offside.
We trail at the break, with work to do, plus Barnstaple’s game against Sholing is goal-less.
The second-half gets underway with us again looking the better team, and we deservedly get back in the game, as Lynch is put through ten yards inside the opponents half and breaks away, and their keeper comes out he slots it past him and into the net for the leveler.
We are now getting on top in midfield and Harrison Cliff and Herbert are doing the hard work, and look to set Lynch away again in virtually the same part of the field, but his shot this time slides wide of the far post.
We continue to dominate the game, but Willand are holding firm, though one or two heavy tackles that having nothing to do with the state of the pitch by them are breaking up the flow of the game.
We have one more chance deep in added time, as we a free-kick outside the box. Adam Everiss, takes the kick, but although struck well, it flies comfortably past the far post.
Game over and we share the points with the 1-1 draw. We hear the Barnstaple – Sholing game remains goal-less, so the league position stays the same.
The following Tuesday, we were due to Thatcham Town, but the game was called off early, and up next was due to be the trip back west to play Bristol Manor Farm, but this game already in doubt due to flooding close to the pitch, was then cancelled by the league on the Friday.
This was where the season ended, as the league initially suspended the next three games, only for the ultimate decision to cancel the season, null and void all the previous seven months results, good or bad.
Like Cirencester Town, who stated that their results will be logged and kept for their club history, despite what the League states, we should do the same. Games are games, win or lose, players who scored goals have their careers altered, the wins at North Leigh and Barnstaple, should not be forgotten, similar to those dreadful performances elsewhere, whether we would want to or not.
Yes, the returning players, however many that is, know better will be expected from them whenever the season gets back underway.
Basingstoke supporters have had to deal with some tough seasons recently, and this will be a season to remember like all the previous ones, but also one we quite simply do not wish to see again.