Basingstoke Town 3 – 2 Kettering Town Saturday 6th January 2018
It is for days like today that we follow.
Basingstoke Town delivered their performance of the season to floor league leaders Kettering Town here at The Camrose today in an astonishing match in which they led 2-0, almost threw it away, then snatched a last-gasp winner that was nevertheless deserved on the balance of play.
On a bitterly cold January afternoon Manager Terry Brown yet again revealed his capacity to surprise as he fielded all four forwards to serve it up to the promotion-chasing visitors.
It wasn’t quite 4-2-4, but at times it looked like it.
Colm McAdden was in goal, Tim Wohlfiel and Jordan Goater were right and left back, Guri Demuria and Dan Bayliss were centre backs, captain Charlie Kennedy and Michael Atkinson were holding midfield and Sam Argent and Sam Smart were either side of Ben Wright in the hole as Callum Bunting led the line.
It was good to see a full bench, bolstered by an Academy presence.
It got off to the torrid start we feared it might be and as early as the fourth minute the visitors had a shot fly just wide of McAdden’s right post.
Three minutes later they had a corner, but McAdden caught it and delivered a good throw out to Smart, who won a free kick then a corner on the right to give us some early respite.
Bunting was struggling early on and was sent flying in an aerial challenge from this.
But we were now coming into the game after a tricky first ten and in the 11th minute Wohlfiel cut inside and delivered a great cross with his left foot and Argent drew a save with a fab header.
Argent was playing superbly in a less-than-ideal wide left role and in the 14th minute he won a free kick on the left as he tormented the Kettering right back.
And a minute later from a Wright corner Argent headed just over the bar.
We were well on top now and we really should have led in the 21st minute as Argent yet again showed superb aerial technique to rise to meet a cross from right to left, sent a header back straight to Bunting who, totally unmarked about ten yards out, was shockingly wasteful and failed even to test the keeper, volleying well over the bar.
Two minutes later, Wright, working hard, was fouled on the right and, from his decent ball in, Bayliss had a left-footed shot at the far post pushed away by the keeper for a corner.
That was cleared and a minute later Bayliss fired wide from outside the area.
Then in the 25th minute Wright had a left-footed strike from 20 yards out go straight at the keeper.
Kettering weren’t offering much but, in the 28th minute, they almost led as a mishit attempted clearance from Demuria flew just wide of the post for a corner.
But we were soon back on top and this time we made dominance count.
In the 29th minute the ever-lively Smart went on a surging run and won a free kick about ten yards from the byline left of the area.
Wright whipped in the perfect low ball to the near post and Smart got ahead of his marker and in front of the keeper to tuck it away to give us a deserved lead.
Kettering had no answer and we continued to dominate.
A minute late Smart won us another corner.
We had two more six minutes later.
And, though Argent tracked back to make a great block on 40 minutes, we comfortably saw out the half to lead at the interval.
In truth Kettering hadn’t offered as much as expected and weren’t looking much like promotion material.
They had two big lumps out there too – that made Wright look positively anorexic in comparison – but the expectation was that they would come at us early doors second half.
But it didn’t seem to be happening for them.
Four minutes in they had a 25-yard shot go wide.
And on 52 they picked up a yellow card for simulation.
Atkinson, who worked hard and had a good game alongside the magnificent Kennedy in midfield, was booked two minutes later.
In the 56th minute the visitors had another effort go tamely wide.
Then, after Atkinson conceded a foul to the right of the area, Bunting headed the ball in clear for a corner.
Kettering were having a mini spell, but failing to make it count.
And in the 66th minute they were punished for it.
Wright produced a sublime little flicked pass to Argent who cut inside from the left and delivered an absolute killer diagonal ball to put Bunting clean through on the keeper.
The big forward, to be honest, had been hitherto having a shocker but, fair play to him, he summoned the composure to knock the ball beyond the keeper to the right and round him to finish into the empty net for what surely would be a decisive 2-0 lead.
Kettering were stunned and desperately tried to get back into the game to little initial avail.
In the 72nd minute they won a free kick, but the ball in produced a header wide.
A minute later they shot well over from fully 30 yards out.
We still looked dangerous and in the 74th minute Atkinson linked up with Smart to win a corner on the right.
With ten minutes left, Atkinson was replaced by Hollamby in a switch which smacked of park the bus.
It was probably the reasonable thing to do, but it ushered in a catastrophic couple of minutes.
In the 81st minute, after we failed to close down, they got a left-footed shot away just left of the penalty spot which, goal-bound anyway, took a slight deflection off Bayliss and went into the far corner to give the visitors a lifeline back into the game at 2-1.
And a mere minute later they burst through on the left, the ball was whipped in from the byline inside our area and tucked away by Peterborough loanee forward Matt Stevens.
80 minutes dominance and a two-goal lead snuffed out almost in the blink of an eye.
Kettering smelt blood and we were now under siege.
In the 87th minute Smart was booked for a foul on their left and, from the whipped-in dead ball, they won a corner.
Then on 88 another.
Then three more corners in the 89th minute as we lost the plot, didn’t even leave a man on the halfway lines for opposition corners as an outlet and invited them onto us time and time again.
Tactical naivete of U13’s proportions, frankly.
Kettering then fired over the bar in the first minute of stoppage time and we had the respite of a goal kick.
But they were soon back all over us, it was getting desperate and many feared the worst at the death.
Then the moment.
Smart, who clearly hadn’t heard Brown a few rows in front of me, incessantly screaming at him to get on the halfway line as an outlet, broke on the right, thundered down the flank and won a free kick when felled on the right of the area.
Up stepped Wright to deliver a peach of a ball into the box and Bunting got free and met it perfectly to guide his header to the right of the flailing keeper and into the net.
The crowd erupted into raptures – victory snatched from the jaws of potential defeat and redemption for a two-goal lead thrown away.
There was barely time to restart and the referee blew time on what, for me, was our best league result since we murdered Slough Town 4-1 at home last season.
So many positives to take from this.
Kudos to Brown – his aggressive tactics paid off.
McAdden was sound all afternoon and, apart from that nightmare two minutes, so was the back four.
Goater in particular impressed me.
Kennedy and Atkinson refused to be overrun in midfield and you could see from Kennedy’s “come on!” roar to the BTG what it meant to the captain as he came down the tunnel at the end.
He couldn’t care more if he had been born in the town.
Argent was magnificent despite being out of position, Smart was a handful and scored yet again.
And Wright surely silenced his critics for a week at least with two pieces of quality delivery for two of the goals and a good all-round shift.
Which leaves Bunting.
I will admit I spent much of the afternoon berating him in the stands – especially the golden chance he spurned first half.
But he never gave up, he showed good composure to round the keeper for 2-0 and he sure made no mistake with that aerial headed winner at the death.
Match Report by Ian Davies