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Chelmsford City 1 Basingstoke Town 0 - A Tactical View
DESPITE being particularly adventurous in the way that they got men forward, Basingstoke Town endured a fourth successive game without a goal at Chelmsford on Saturday.
Jason Bristow set his team up with goals in mind but they again came away empty-handed, failing to create enough chances and falling foul to a ball over the top of their high defensive line.
Town manager Bristow kept faith with the 11 players who had dominated the game at Havant and Waterlooville a few days earlier, sticking with Robbie Matthews and Manny Williams in attack.
Chelmsford matched Basingstoke’s 4-4-2 formation, with Mark Hawkes handing a debut to striker Luke Callander, who played under the new City manager at Heybridge Swifts.
Both sides may have been operating basic 4-4-2 systems, but there were plenty of differences between the sides.
Considering they were the away team, Town were very adventurous. They played a high defensive line and looked to play a pressing game, while their full-backs were keen to get forward and their wide midfielders tucked inside.
Chelmsford’s system was much more rigid. They were content to sit back defensively, with their full-backs and central midfielders very rarely breaking forward.
There was also a massive difference between the sides’ method of attacking. Town looked to pass the ball out of defence and work their way forward patiently, while Chelmsford were more direct, getting the ball from back to front quickly.
As a result, Basingstoke saw plenty of the ball throughout the first half, but they did not play at a high enough tempo to worry their opponents, who sat deep and got bodies behind the ball, frustrating the visitors.
Full-backs Adam Green and Nathan Smart worked hard to get forward but Town struggled to get them the ball and with the wide midfielders tucking inside, they found it hard to make space for crosses.
Getting more crosses into the area has to be a priority if Basingstoke are to continue playing Matthews in attack. He is a genuine threat in the air, as he showed by getting on the end of two decent balls in during the first half, but he’s being starved of service.
They were on the back foot for spells, but Chelmsford looked dangerous going forward. Their wingers stayed wide and looked to exploit the space left by Town’s marauding full-backs, while Kieran St Aimie played the target-man role to great effect and Callander tried to get in behind the high defensive line.
Manny Williams’ one-on-one opportunity apart, they probably created the better openings in a scoreless first half.
Chelmsford were less defensively-minded after the break and the game became slightly more open as a result.
Both sides were leaving spaces between the lines, something that Williams exploited by picking the ball up between the Chelmsford defence and midfield before running forward to get a shot away.
However, by and large, the second half took on the same pattern as the first, with Town seeing plenty of the ball but struggling to create chances.
The visitors were the first to blink, substitutions-wise, with Bristow introducing Jordace Holder-Spooner and Andrew Jenkinson and switching to an even more adventurous 4-3-3 system.
However, this did not solve Town’s problem, which remained a lack of width, while their high defensive line was caught out with 10 minutes to go.
Tiredness may also have played a part in Town’s downfall. A simple ball over the top had Rob Edmans in behind and Town’s defence never recovered.
They were unable to stop Nicky Nicolau, a threat down the left all afternoon, from getting a cross in and the midfield was not back in time to stop the defence being overloaded in front of goal.
It’s easy to blame the strikers when a side is not scoring goals – but they should not shoulder all of the blame for Town’s current plight.
Yes, both Williams and Matthews failed to make the most of some decent opportunities, but they were feeding off scraps for long periods.
They are not blameless, but Town’s midfield are not really providing the ammunition they need.
Tempo was a major problem on Saturday, especially early on. The ball was passed around too deliberately, giving Chelmsford a chance to get organised in defence, with much of the game played in front of the back four.
During their good run, Town started games strongly, often scoring early goals. This meant teams had to come at them, opening up space.
The last couple of games have seen teams sit back, soak up pressure and look to hit Basingstoke on the break. It’s something Bristow needs to find a way of countering.
The only difference, personnel-wise, between the side that won five in a row and the team that has failed to score in four, is that Simon Dunn has come in for Andrew Jenkinson.
This may be a coincidence. Jenkinson seemed to be struggling to get involved in games from the left and there were no arguments when Dunn replaced him.
However, Jenkinson set up the first goal at Dorchester and scored the opener against Dover, while Town have failed to score since he lost his place in the side.
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