Match Preview: Merthyr Town vs Basingstoke Town – Saturday 6th January 2024

Match Preview: Southern League Premier South
Merthyr Town vs Basingstoke Town
When: Saturday 6th January 2024 Kick-off 3pm
Where: Penydarren Park, Park Terrace, Merthyr Tydfil CF47 8RF
Merthyr Town (The Martyrs), Avg 2023-24 Home Att 814

We enter 2024 with the last four months of this seasons campaign to go, knowing that we have still some way to ensure safety this season. The two draws after Christmas, helped prove that we can match most teams in our league, but we will need to prove that battling performance a number more times, and this Saturday’s game at Merthyr Town would be a good start.
We played Merthyr at Winklebury back in early October on a two-game losing streak, which became three, despite taking a well-deserved lead, a long-range shot with twenty-five minutes levelled the game, as this seemed to spur the visitors on, who added two further goals in a 3-1 loss.

Our Opponents
The Martyrs are managed by Paul Michael, since April 2022, after resigning his Managers role at Yate Town, to take up his role at Merthyr, which as a club is much closer to his home in Wales. Michael had been at Yate in 2020, but clearly his time was affected by the cancellation of football due to covid.

The Martyrs sit in fourth place following their New Years Day one-one draw at fifth-placed Hungerford Town. Their record sits at Pld 23 Won 14 Drawn 3 Lost 6, and 45pts. They have a plus eighteen goal difference, although their home record sits at 6 Wins, 1 Draw, but 5 Losses. Their leading goal-scorer according to the league website is striker Ricardo Rees, with twenty league goals. Rees (22), joined the club from Yate Town when Manager Paul Martin, brought him when he left Yate Town in 2022. Prior to Yate Town, he started his career in Bristol City’s U23 side, and had loans spells at club such as Salisbury. Two other strikers Tom Hillman & Lewis Powell (one & three goals respectively), left the club in December. Two other strikers Olly Mehew, has three goals and joined having been at clubs like Forest Green Rovers & Tiverton Town after  starting his career at Bristol Rovers Academy, whilst Gethyn Hill re-signed for the Martyrs from Taunton Town and has two goals.

In midfield, young Cardiff City graduate Frazer Thomas, joined Merthyr this season, and has added five goals. Jack Evans, joined at the end of last season, having spent time at Swansea City & Newport County. Another Evans, Keiran Evans, the attacking midfielder now in his third season at the club, previously played for Gloucester City.

The defence starts with full-back Thomas Handley, who is in his second season at the club and has scored five times for the Martyrs this season, having joined from Cirencester Town. Left-sided player Noah Smerdon, joined this season from Tuffley Rovers and has added two goals. Smerdon started his career at West Bromwich academy, then joined Chippenham Town, before arriving at Tuffley Rovers. Another full-back is 18 year-old Joe Keeping who was part of Cardiff City’s U18 squad. In goal will be Australian born Jamie Cogman, who started his career at Brisbane Roar’s academy team before signing for Cardiff City in 2019. He joined the Martyrs in 2022, and has been an integral part of the club since then.

Our Basingstoke Town Side
Having battled for two points in the last two games of 2023, we travel into Wales to take on a third promotion chasing team in a row Merthyr Town. Our league position still remains in a worrying thirteenth place, with our league record at Pld 26 Won 7 Drawn 7 Lost 12 GF 47 GA 59 with 28pts. It is an ongoing concern, as the teams below us have a range of three to eight games in hand,

Rumours that a number of our injured players are likely to be added to our match-day squad is positive news, and this includes striker Liam Ferdinand, who could be back in some part to support leading goal-scorer Dan Rowe tomorrow afternoon. Bradley Wilson & George Reid should once again be our attacking wing threat. Stefan Brown is once again an option to start or second-half change.

Massimo Giamattei who has settled well into a midfield role, will now face competition from the possible return of Ben Cook, Michael Atkinson and or Simon Dunn to this area. D’Andre Brown who has impressed in recent weeks, will likely keep a starting role, despite who starts. Paul Hodges is also due back from Australia, and may play some role tomorrow too. It is likely that the returnees may play initial part roles or options off the bench. What this does to dual-reg Mal Nicholls is uncertain, but an option of one of the five substitutes.

Our defence with the help of the midfield, have cut out the simple errors in the last couple of games, and will need to repeat this error-free football, if we are to stay in the game tomorrow afternoon. How Manager Dan Brownlie decides to set up tomorrow, in either our current back five, or return to a back-four format, will be a major decision, as Merthyr will look to come at us from the start. Central defenders Billy Upton, Scott Armsworth & Anthony Cheshire, are likely to start in whatever line-up, and this leaves a number of players fighting for the remaining roles at the back. Callum Winchcombe & Kai Hobbs on the left, whilst temporary captain Markus Johnson-Schuster is likely to be on the right. Depending if Dunn or Atkinson start, then he may retain the captains armband for one more game. Nathan Smart, will likely be an option off the bench.
In goal it could honestly be either last Saturday’s starter Paul Strudley, or Mark Scott.

Tomorrow’s long-trip to Merthyr will be a very challenging day and Basingstoke will need to be at its best, if we are to return to England with any points, and our fight to push back up the table, with the understanding that we have two massive games coming up in the coming weeks.
I’m hopeful that will be a decent crowd of Stoke fans travelling and the players will need your full support in 24 hours-time.

Match Preview by Martin French..