BASINGSTOKE Town conceded two poor goals to suffer a disappointing defeat away at struggling Tonbridge Angels on Saturday.
After dominating the first 45 minutes, Town gifted their opponents the lead on the stroke of half-time, a terrible mistake from goalkeeper Louis Wells resulting in a penalty converted by Mark Lovell.
Basingstoke did draw level with 20 minutes to go, Shaun McAuley firing home from close range. However, an excellent strike from Tonbridge substitute Michael Bakare had the hosts back in front almost straight away, and they held on to claim a vital three points in their battle against the drop.
The result leaves Town 14th in the Conference South table ahead of tomorrow night’s visit of Chelmsford City, and while they are probably safe already, their hopes of a top-10 finish are fading fast.
Those hopes suffered a blow before the match, when it was revealed that defender David Ray, Town’s best and most consistent performer over the course of the season, is likely to miss the remainder of the campaign due to an Achilles injury.
Robbie Rice took his place in the heart of the defence, with Nathan Smart dropping to right-back and Wes Daly coming into a three-man midfield. The only other change saw Manny Williams replace Louie Soares as manager Jason Bristow opted for an attacking 4-3-3 formation.
Town were the better side throughout the first half and had the ball in the net after just five minutes. Nicholas Bignall did well on the right side of the area and while Williams failed to make proper contact on his cross, Liam Enver-Marum was on hand to force the ball in from close range.
Sadly, the assistant referee ruled that he had used his arm to guide the ball in, and the goal was chalked off.
Town were keeping possession well but Tonbridge were a threat on the break and Alex Teniola would have been in had his touch been better after outmuscling Jay Gasson.
Andrew Jenkinson tested home goalkeeper Lewis Carey from distance but Town ’keeper Wells was called upon to make an excellent stop moments later. A cross from Henry Muggeridge was flicked on by Luis Cumbers and Wells did brilliantly to claw the ball away at full stretch.
Another headed chance fell to Tonbridge defender Gary Elphick, but he headed over, while good interplay from the Town front three resulted in a decent opening for Enver-Marum, but he shot too high.
Basingstoke had a second goal disallowed just after the half-hour mark. A low ball across the penalty area was missed by everyone except Bignall, who slotted home nicely, but a tight offside decision ruled the goal out.
The hosts saw Nathan Green and Teniola fire off-target, but they got a lucky break on the stroke of half-time.
Despite Jay Gasson being on the ground after taking a knock, Adam Green took a quick throw to Wells. He overplayed, attempting to beat Teniola, who robbed him of possession.
The Town ’keeper had little option but to pull the striker back and concede a penalty. He was perhaps fortunate to only be shown a yellow card but Lovell sent him the wrong way from the penalty spot to put Tonbridge ahead at the break.
Enver-Marum was presented with a decent chance in the early stages of the second half, but his shot from the edge of the area lacked power and was too close to Carey.
McAuley also went close direct from a corner as Town pressed for an equaliser, while Adam Green’s effort from 20 yards whistled narrowly over.
Tonbridge then had a decent spell, killing the game by keeping the ball in the Town half, but the visitors managed to pull level on 70 minutes. A low ball in from the right was not dealt with by the home defence and McAuley was on hand to fire home from close range.
However, parity lasted just three minutes. Town gave possession away in midfield and the ball found its way to substitute Bakare, who produced a great turn to leave Adam Green for dead before making ground into the area and sweeping the ball past Wells.
The visitors huffed and puffed in the final stages, but rarely threatened the Tonbridge goal. Soares had the best chance but blasted well over from the edge of the area, while Chris Piper almost put the game beyond doubt, Wells saving with his legs to prevent a third goal in stoppage-time.
Tonbridge Angels: Carey, Piper, Watts, Ijaha, Elphick, Miles, Muggeridge, Lovell (sub Walder 89min), Teniola, Cumbers (sub Bakare 67min), Green (sub Appiah 57min). Subs (not used): Pinney, Collins.
Basingstoke Town: Wells, Smart, Green, Jenkinson (sub Soares 68min), Gasson, Rice, Daly, McAuley, Enver-Marum, Bignall, Williams. Subs (not used): Adams, Holder-Spooner, Barrett, Johnson-Schuster.