BASINGSTOKE Town are up to eighth in the Conference South table, just two points outside the play-off places, after recording their first league away win since early November at Eastbourne Borough on Saturday.
It was the sort of game Town fans have got used to watching this season, with one side dominating possession without scoring and the other clinical on the break.
However, on this occasion, from a Basingstoke point of view, the roles were reversed, with Jason Bristow’s men claiming three points despite finding themselves on the back foot for much of the match.
Bristow made six changes to the side that had lost 3-1 at home to struggling Whitehawk four days earlier. Jordace Holder-Spooner, Kezie Ibe, Robbie Rice and Andrew Jenkinson all dropped to the bench, while Ross Adams and Neil Barrett missed out completely as the Town boss freshened up his starting 11.
Eastbourne made the better start and had the first real effort on goal, Chris Shephard firing wide from the edge of the area, but it was Town who drew first blood after just 11 minutes.
The visitors were awarded a throw-in on halfway and while the Eastbourne players complained that it was their ball, Adam Green took the throw quickly. The ball was worked out to Shaun McAuley on the right wing and his cross was flicked on at the near post by Manny Williams, with Ben Wright sweeping it home on the volley from about six yards out.
If anything, the goal seemed to spur Eastbourne on and they started to create chances, with Shephard failing to make proper contact on a shot from the edge of the area and Tom Derry firing wide from a similar position.
Simon Johnson then clipped the top of the crossbar with a shot from 20 yards but Town served notice of their danger on the break as Williams played McAuley through, but the winger fired wide of the near post.
The hosts should have levelled just after the half-hour mark, when a mistake from Jay Gasson, who did not have his best game, gifted the ball to Derry on the right side of the area.
David Ray did brilliantly to stop Johnson getting on the end of his pull-back but the ball fell to Shephard. It looked a certain goal but the winger was off balance and could only fire over from six yards out.
The miss looked even worse four minutes later as McAuley doubled the Town lead. Again the hosts were caught napping, this time as Basingstoke took a free-kick on halfway quickly. Daly found Wright, who threaded the ball through for McAuley. His first touch took him around the goalkeeper and while he seemed to have taken the ball too wide, the winger managed to squeeze a powerful shot in from a narrow angle.
The visitors remained two goals up at half-time and had a couple of decent chances to put the game to bed shortly after the break.
Louie Soures did well down the left but was unable to find the net from the narrowest of angles, his effort flying out for a throw. However, Williams should have found the net, the striker blasting over after playing an excellent one-two with Wright on the edge of the area.
Eastbourne were still enjoying more possession and they began to create opportunities as the half wore on. Shephard fired narrowly over after cutting in from the right, while Derry failed to hit the target with a header and was then denied by Louis Wells as he shot from an acute angle.
Town were very much on the back foot, though Matt Partridge’s shot from distance did not fly too far over the Eastbourne crossbar, and it took an excellent challenge from Wes Daly to deny Stacy Long a clear chance after a mistake by Green.
However, the hosts did pull a goal back from the resulting corner, Jack Deaman nodding home from 10 yards to give his side a lifeline.
The goal looked to have set up a nervy final 15 minutes for the visitors but they made the three points secure on 83 minutes. A corner was only cleared as far as the edge of the Eastbourne area and when Adam Watts clattered into Gasson, referee Ashvin Degnarain had little option but to point to the penalty spot.
Williams made no mistake from 12 yards, finding the bottom corner with a powerful shot that beat Craig Ross despite the goalkeeper diving the right way – and there was no further drama at Town saw the game out.
Click here to see a video of Town manager Jason Bristow giving the Gazette his post-match thoughts.
Eastbourne Borough: Ross, Tallack, Gorman (sub Lok 64min), Aldred, Rowe, Watts, Hart (sub Long 34min), Deaman, Derry (sub Akokhia 78min), Johnson, Shephard. Subs (not used): Levy, Worrall.
Basingstoke Town: Wells, Smart, Green, Partridge (sub Jenkinson 72min), Gasson, Ray, Daly, McAuley, Wright (sub Ibe 81min), Williams, Soares (sub Dunn 75min). Subs (not used): Holder-Spooner, Rice.