IN A GAME spoiled by the wind, Basingstoke Town were made to pay for failing to take advantage when the conditions were in their favour.
Jason Bristow’s men had a stiff breeze behind them in the first half but did not make the most of their natural advantage and found themselves a goal down at the break.
Sutton did a far better job of using the conditions when the teams changed ends. The game descended into farce as the wind strengthened considerably for a 15-minute spell, making things difficult for both sides.
Despite this, Town were able to but their visitors under pressure, but they were unable to create enough in the final third and went down to a narrow defeat.
Bristow picked the same 11 players that had beaten Eastbourne Borough 3-1 the previous week, sending them out in the same 4-4-2 formation that had worked well on the south coast.
Sutton lined up with a midfield diamond. Rhys Weston played the anchor role, with Craig Dundas and Damian Scannell providing width from a narrow starting point and Lee Sawyer just behind the front two.
Sutton seemed to make an interesting decision after winning the toss, choosing to play against the wind in the first half. Captains normally choose to play with the conditions first if given the choice, in case the wind drops later in the game, but it was a decision they would not be left to regret.
The game got off to a slow start as both sides struggled to come to terms with the heavy pitch that made passing difficult.
The attacking space for Town was down the flanks, with the narrowness of Scannell and Dundas giving Shaun McAuley and Louie Soares the chance to get at the Sutton full-backs.
They caused some problems in the early stages but Basingstoke were unable to get the ball out to them enough, often being tempted to try balls over the top of the Sutton defence. Here, the wind worked against them, with their passes getting caught on the breeze, running away from their intended targets.
Sutton were especially strong down their left, with Scannell backed up by Dale Binns from left-back. Nathan Smart battled bravely but did not receive the same support from McAuley that he had the previous week.
One attack down this side resulted in Jay Gasson having to make an excellent block, while it was Scannell’s cross that led to the only goal of the game on 16 minutes for Jamie Taylor.
Town were unable to do many of the good things that had earned them victory at Eastbourne a week earlier. The tempo of their passing was too low, allowing a disciplined Sutton side time to get their shape right, while they failed to put the visitors under enough pressure when they had possession.
Their best opportunities came on the break but too often the final ball was lacking, while their best effort came from a free-kick, Ben Wright clipping the crossbar.
Despite playing into the wind, Sutton were far more comfortable operating a more direct style and it took a couple of good challenges to prevent them being more than a goal ahead at the break.
Playing with the wind after the break, Sutton got their tactics right.
They pressed high up the field, preventing Town passing out from the back and forcing the defenders to kick the ball long. Town’s clearances got caught up in the wind, meaning Sutton were able to play a high defensive line, pick the ball up around the halfway line and pen their hosts in.
For 15 minutes in the middle of the half, the wind was the only winner. It really was farcical and did not really benefit either team, with passing either with or against the wind little more than a lottery.
Town were able to carve out a couple of chances and had a decent spell of pressure in the closing stages, after the wind had died down.
In general, they failed to do enough in the final third, though they did forge a couple of decent openings, with McAuley firing over and Manny Williams denied by a combination of the Sutton goalkeeper and the post.
The Sutton bench made just one change, bringing lively winger Kane Haysman on for striker Taylor in order to further pack the midfield, making it even harder for Town to play through them.
Prior to a couple of late changes, Bristow made an attacking substitution, replacing midfield anchor Daly with the more attack-minded Simon Dunn. His energy livened the midfield up, but he was unable to have a major effect on the game.
Town can consider themselves a little unfortunate not to have got anything out of the game, having hit the woodwork twice, but, in general, they didn’t do quite enough in the final third.
There are a few factors that led to this.
They didn’t show the same energy in pressing as they had a week earlier. This meant that attacks generally began from their own half, giving Sutton time to organise themselves defensively, while they also failed to maintain a high tempo when in possession.
Conceding first compounded this issue as Sutton were less keen to attack, giving Town fewer chances to hit them on the break, where they can be very dangerous.
Sutton should also take credit for using the conditions to their advantage. Playing a high line in the first half encouraged Town to play difficult balls over the top, while their aggressive pressing game kept Town penned back early in the second period.