Basingstoke Town 2 – 1 Stratford Town Tuesday 20th February 2018
Attendance – 194
The pint half full may claim Basingstoke Town made heavy weather of beating a poor Stratford Town outfit here tonight, but I prefer to say we won the game with two goals of the highest quality, regardless of the fact that it could, and should, have been more.
On a cold but clear and distinctly breezy late February evening at The Camrose, Manager Terry Brown appeared to set up with a very attacking 3-4-3 formation with Colm McAdden in goal, Guri Demuria, Shane Hollamby and Dan Bayliss as centre backs, Tim Wohlfiel wide right midfield, George Bennett wide left midfield, Charlie Kennedy and Michael Atkinson central midfield, and Sam Smart, Callum Bunting and Sam Argent up top.
It was a dull, uneventful start, we had more possession but nothing of real note occurred in the first ten minutes.
In the 11th minute, from a Smart throw in from the right, Bunting hit the side netting from a tight angle.
In response in the 15th minute Stratford had a free kick from the right float harmlessly across the area.
Three minutes later and Wohlfiel, in his element going forwards, picked up Bunting with a cross from the right, and the big forward’s flicked header had the keeper back pedalling rapidly to tip the ball clear.
In the 21st minute we should have led as that man Wohlfiel again whipped in a low ball, it was partially cleared into the path of Smart who blasted the ball over from 15yds out.
Wasteful from Smart but, like the improved Bunting, he was working hard and in the 27th minute Smart won us a corner which came to nothing.
We were totally on top and on the half hour more chances.
First a marauding Smart run on the right culminated in a cross too near the keeper.
But then a minute later, Bennett, whose delivery from wide left positions in the first half was just outstanding, unleashed a fab switching ball from which Smart, ghosting in at the far edge of the six yard box forced a low save with his feet from the keeper for a corner which was cleared.
Stratford couldn’t get a look in and five minutes later another nice move as Bennett fed Argent who then found Wohlfiel whose nice low ball in was cleared for yet another corner which yet again came to nothing.
How were we not in front?
And a bit of frustration crept into our play now and in the 38th minute Bennett fired high and wide from just outside the area on the left.
However, just when it seemed it might be one of those nights, a moment of sheer brilliance.
Argent, once again a handful for the opposition backline, picked up the ball on the left, cut inside, looked up and then picked out Smart and sent in the most sublime cross for him to run onto and volley home from about 12 yards out on the right of the area.
Brilliant ball in, brilliant finish from the two Sams.
We were rampant now, more fab passing, before the interval, especially from Bennett, and it should have been two at half time as Smart got clean through but his attempted chip with the advancing. keeper stranded went horribly high and wide.
Still, we led at the midway point and it was hard to see how the hapless Stratford were going to find a way back into the game.
But they did.
We didn’t start the second half nearly so well and three minutes in we couldn’t conceded the first of numerous free kicks, this one just outside the area slightly to the left after a Demuria handball.
The free kick hit the wall and was cleared, but that proved a temporary let-off.
For, in the 52nd minute, a cross came in from the right, Demuria tried to clear and completely missed the ball, and a Stratford forward was allowed an eternity to get the ball down and slot it home from just outside the six-yard box with McAdden having no chance.
It was virtually the first shot on target from the visitors and an absolute sickener.
We manfully tried to regain the initiative.
In the 55th minute, Bunting had a flick-on header go just wide at the near post from a throw in.
A minute later Bennett fired wildly wide with his right foot as we resumed our domination of possession.
But we were also conceding more free kicks, some real, others imagined by the referee, who didn’t have a great second half.
We were starting to get frustrated and in the 66th minute Kennedy was booked after a foul.
Two minutes later and Bunting, who had faded out the game second half, was replaced by Ben Wright.
And what an inspired move that proved.
Wright immediately brought a renewed composure to our play, he held the ball up well, and was the focal point and inspiration as we started to play football again.
In the 70th minute he whipped in a dangerous free kick from wide on the left but no one could get on the end of it.
Three minutes later Stratford had a low shot go just wide from 20 yards out.
But we were still on top and in the 75th minute Argent was clean through on goal, but his initial shot was blocked by the keeper then his effort from the rebound from a tight angle on the left was cleared off the line.
Seconds later, Smart was replaced by Collier to the bemusement of many – including the stadium announcer by the sound of it! – but to be fair Collier was inventive and acquitted himself well as we now seemed to go 3-5-2.
More danger though in the 78th minute as Stratford got in behind on the left of the area and McAdden was forced into a decent low save.
But we continued to push forward and a minute later we won a free kick 25 yards out, just to the right.
Up stepped Wright to bend his free kick over the wall and into the keeper’s bottom left hand corner.
Wright, maligned by so many so often regarding his fitness levels, stood motionless and just casually raised one hand aloft. “This is what I give you. This is what I do,” was written all over the gesture.
It was a stunning free kick – and hardly his first this season – from a quality football player who would be playing at a higher level but for the career decision to become a SCL tutor, possibly with one eye on the future once he hangs up his boots.
The goal broke Stratford, we continued to hold away in the remaining 15 minutes (11 plus four stoppage) and it might have been three deep into injury time as Argent cut into the box from the right and whipped a cross cum shot right across the goal a yard from the post.
But it mattered not, the final whistle went and we had registered our 13th league win of the season and moved back up to 13th place.
Some thought it a scrappy game but, for me, it was a night to celebrate the fact we are actually so much better than the midtable teams around us and we play the beautiful game in a way they could only dream about.
Two could have been five but that’s because we always try to play football – imagine supporting Stratford Town and imagine having to watch THAT every week.
Hitchin Town may well present a sterner test on Saturday, but one which we will be equal to if we continue to play positive, attacking, football.
Match Report by Ian Davies