HAVING spent most of the season dominating games without getting the goals their possession deserves, Basingstoke Town turned the tables on Saturday, beating Eastbourne Borough 3-1 despite being on the back foot for long spells.
Getting an early goal was crucial but Town defended well and were clinical in attack, while the hosts were wasteful with the chances they did create.
Jason Bristow made six changes in personnel and altered his formation in response to his side’s 3-1 defeat at home to Whitehawk four days earlier.
David Ray was restored in the centre of defence at the expense of Ross Adams, who was not even named on the bench, while Nathan Smart replaced Robbie Rice, whose mistake had led to the first Whitehawk goal, at right-back.
There were two more changes in midfield as Louie Soares and Wes Daly replaced Andrew Jenkinson and Neil Barrett. Soares and Shaun McAuley played on the wings as Bristow switched from a midfield diamond to a more traditional 4-4-2 formation.
In attack, Ben Wright and Manny Williams came in for Jordace Holder-Spooner and Kezie Ibe.
Eastbourne operated a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Gary Hart, Chris Shephard and Simon Johnson supporting lone striker Tom Derry.
Eastbourne were on the front foot from the first whistle and passed the ball extremely well throughout. They used their extra man in midfield, passing the ball through the centre of the pitch at a good tempo, with their full-backs getting forward to provide even more options.
Out of possession, they were happy for the Town defenders to have the ball but closed down quickly whenever passes were made into the midfield and prevented the visitors from playing through them.
They were set up pretty well and it was indiscipline that cost them both of Town’s first-half goals.
The hosts felt they should have been awarded a throw-in during the build up to the opener. Adam Green took the throw quickly and Eastbourne never recovered their shape, the move ending with Ben Wright volleying home from close range.
The pattern of the game continued in the same way after the opening goal, with Eastbourne very much on top, though they were mainly reduced to shots from long range.
The one time they were able to get in behind came after a mistake from Jay Gasson, who was robbed by the hard-working Derry, but Johnson was denied by David Ray’s excellent challenge and Shephard fired a great chance over the crossbar.
The hosts were forced into an early change as Hart went off injured, but Stacy Long simply took his place on the left wing.
The first half was a struggle for Town, who were hassled and harried effectively as they tried to play the ball through midfield.
The result was that they were often reduced into more direct balls forward and while Wright’s hold-up play was pretty good, they found themselves on the back foot for long spells.
The second goal was similar to the first, in that it came about as a result of Eastbourne switching off following a decision by the officials.
Gasson was adjudged to have been fouled on halfway and while the hosts complained, Daly took the free-kick quickly, finding Wright in space, and he played McAuley through to double the lead.
It was more of the same after the break as the hosts prodded and probed without really troubling the Town goal – and it was the visitors who created two early chances, taking advantage as Eastbourne threw more men forward.
Eastbourne manager Tommy Widdrington made his first tactical change on 64 minutes, but it didn't have the desired result.
Derry was doing well as the lone striker but the manager asked him to move to the wing, making pacy substitute Darren Lok the focal point of the attack. Neither player was able to affect the game, while Derry ended up being taken off.
Town worked extremely hard and defended well as a unit but the hosts did pull a goal back from a set piece and the game looked to be heading towards a nervy finale.
A terrible miss-timed tackle on the edge of the area put paid to the hosts’ chances, Williams slotting home from the penalty spot to secure Town’s first away win in the league for more than two months.
Town’s victory was very much down to work-rate and discipline rather than tactics.
The hosts probably had the edge from a strategic point of view as they were able to play their own game, while stopping Basingstoke from passing the ball through midfield as they like to do.
However, the visitors were able to make up for this by working extra hard, with everybody, even flair players such as McAuley and Wright, putting in a real shift for the team.
Bristow may have also learned a lot about his players from the game.
Soares did not have a major impact on the game but he has the pace and skill to take on opposition players, something Town have been missing. He also provides genuine width, which creates space in the centre of the park for Town’s passing game.
In defence, both Ray and Smart were excellent, while Daly proved that he remains Basingstoke’s best player when it comes to protecting the back four.
It also seems that a good partnership may be developing between Williams and Wright in attack. They did not see a lot of the ball on Saturday but there were a few occasions where they dovetailed effectively.