Basingstoke Town 0 v 0 Royston Town Saturday 23rd December 2017
Attendance – 293
“Why do we bother, Fawlty?” “I didn’t know you did, Major.”
On a cold, grey, December afternoon, there was little Festive cheer here at The Camrose as a depleted Basingstoke Town squad looked every inch the potless, bottom-half-of-the-table, outfit they are as they dropped points at home to mid-table Royston.
Manager Terry Brown watched in impassive silence in the stands for the first hour, by which point frustration had understandably got the better of him as he belatedly urged his troops to try to seize a late victory that was never probable.
Though in truth both sides had their chances to win an otherwise largely lifeless encounter, with little cutting edge in the final third on either side.
It was a poor advert for Step 3 and anyone who swerved the Festival Place Christmas shopping chaos for the football might have wondered if it had been the right call come 5pm.
With Shane Hollamby, Charlie Kennedy, and Dan Collier all unavailable, Brown was again short of options.
Colm McAdden was in goal, the back four was Tim Wohlfiel, Guri Demuria, Dan Bayliss and Jordan Goater; Michael Atkinson was holding midfield, Jack McKnight was on the right, Sam Deadfield was in the hole, George Bennett was on the left, leaving Sam Smart and captain for the day Sam Argent up top.
An incomplete bench comprised academy centre back Liam Hunt, Ben Wright, and Callum Bunting.
It was an uneventful start.
Two minutes in Royston had a shot from outside the area which was deflected for a corner which came to nothing.
Royston were looking slightly the stronger in the opening minutes, but we then began to press.
In the ninth minute, Deadfield, one of our few inventive players, fed McKnight on the right and his dinked cross/shot clipped the bar.
But two minutes later a low Royston shot from 20 yards out drew the first of numerous saves from McAdden.
Unfazed by that, in the 17th minute McKnight fired over the bar from 25 yards out after more work from Deadfield, and at this point it was looking like that pair were the only ones able to string two passes or a half-decent shot together.
Numerous hopeful long balls failed to reach their target all afternoon.
That said, in the 20th minute Goater, Deadfield and Argent combined to win a corner.
The ball in was deep and Demuria headed back across goal in the six-yard box and we won another corner.
Another deep delivery was headed back and this time Bayliss had a free header but it was well over.
We were starting to get on top and in the 23rd minute Smart on the right produced a nice flick on to himself and won a throw in on the right near the corner flag.
But Royston broke fast after regaining possession and it took an excellent sliding tackle from Atkinson to halt their advance.
Two minutes after that Goater, who refused to be bullied off the ball, won a free kick on the left near the centre circle.
But though Argent climbed high to win a corner from the delivery, that came to nought.
It was largely that sort of game, both sides looking ineffective going forwards.
And in the 32nd minute Royston shot well over the bar from the right edge of the area.
With little creativity it looked like it might take a mistake to break the deadlock and there was a rare one from the otherwise very reliable Atkinson on 34 as his ill-judged back header was intercepted.
Royston burst through on goal, but a great low save from McAdden to his left saved the day.
Royston were shading it now and on 37 they had a low, but tame, shot go wide from 15 yards out.
In response, in the 40th minute we had a shot blocked in a congested area after a corner.
And on 44, Argent who struggled to get into the game at times, won a free kick 30 yards out to the right, but McKnight curled the dead ball tamely over the near-side upright.
Then, right on half time McAdden made a great point blank block from seven yards out as Royston finished the first 45 the stronger.
Two minutes into the second half and Smart, who showed plenty of energy but seems a bit out of form at present, had a low shot from a tight deep angle at the edge of the right of the area blocked.
Then on 49 Bennett actually put his body in the way of a player and the ball for once, but conceded a free kick from which Royston had a shot go just wide from 12 yards out.
A minute late Argent was fouled off the ball by Royston’s dreadlocked central defender, who was frankly a poor advert for Rastafarian peace culture all afternoon.
Argent was struggling a bit after that.
On 52 Smart whipped a ball in which eluded the skipper.
Then a minute later Argent sent a weak effort well wide from outside the area after good work from McKnight.
On 58 Royston made a double substitution and it almost had an instant effect as one of their players got clean through on the right, but fortunately the dinked chip hit the bar with the advancing McAdden stranded.
On 59 Bunting came on for the struggling Argent.
Big chance for us on 63 as Smart burst through one on one down the centre, but his low shot was an unimaginative effort and was blocked.
On 66 Wright came on for the tiring Deadfield who had faded out of the game.
Three minutes later great work from Goater down the left, he fed Bunting whose first touch was poor, but he recovered to cut inside to deliver a sweet ball to Smart, running in at the far post, but his volley went well over.
On 73 Smart, who to be fair never stopped working, won a corner but, from the delivery, Bunting headed well over.
Still danger from Roystion though and on 75 McAdden made another good save from a left-footed effort in the area.
Royston were that bit more inventive, with a few attempted diagonal defence splitting passes, and in the 82nd minute they won another corner after a diagonal ball to the left opened us up, but it came to nothing.
Four minutes later more of the same, but McAdden was alert to the danger and off his line fast to smother the ball.
We were finishing strongly though and on 87 Smart delivered a great cross which was agonisingly intercepted just before the ideally-placed Bunting at the far post could head it home.
In the 90th Bennett, who put himself about a bit more today, got booked for a foul, but at least he had got stuck in more.
And the much-maligned (though, to be fair, mostly by me) Yeovil unit was almost the architect of a 92nd-minute winner as, on the break, he knocked the ball round his man on the left, ran the other side of him, and picked out Wright on the right.
It was two on two with Smart, Wright’s low ball into the box was decent but, not for the first time today, Smart’s first touch was poor and the golden chance to nick a win evaporated.
And so it ended goalless.
The pint half full will say on another day Smart could have had a hat-trick.
The pint half empty will say the excellent McAdden kept us in the game numerous times and was the moral man of the match.
Take your pick.
Gosport Borough on Boxing Day next and a fabulous chance of a belated Yuletide goalfest in our favour.
That’s the theory, anyway.
Merry Christmas. ?
Match Report by Ian Davies