A Nathan Smart wonder-strike earned Basingstoke Town a vital victory away at Conference South play-off rivals Bath City.
The right-back fired in off the underside of the crossbar from 25 yards with just seven minutes left at the Mayday Trust Park on Saturday, earning his side three very valuable points that lifted his side up to 10th in the table. They remain nine points outside the top five, but have games in hand over most of the sides above them.
The game was only the second Town had played in the whole of February and manager Jason Bristow made three changes to the side that had drawn at Boreham Wood almost three weeks earlier.
Two of them were enforced, with Andrew Jenkinson coming in for the suspended Adam Green at left-back and Simon Dunn replacing the injured Matt Partridge in midfield. The other alteration saw Jordace Holder-Spooner start in attack instead of Kezie Ibe.
Despite their long lay-off, the visitors showed little sign of rustiness in the early stages. Dunn had the first shot of the match, a dipping volley that did not come down in time to trouble Jason Mellor in the home goal.
Town had clearly taken Bristow’s instructions to shoot on sight to heart and another effort from distance, this time by Shaun McAuley, caused Mellor problems. The goalkeeper spilt the ball and only just managed to prevent it crossing the line.
Holder-Spooner was next to trouble the ’keeper, turning well at the near post before getting in a shot that hit Mellor in the face.
After a poor opening 20 minutes, Bath began to show signs of improvement, their first effort of note coming from Andy Watkins, but his shot from distance flew well over.
The game became more even but it was still Town carving out the better opportunities, the hosts making some important blocks to stop them getting further shots on goal.
Holder-Spooner was next to go close, winning the ball in a dangerous area before exchanging passes with Louie Soares. He then beat a defender but was unable to get his angled drive on target, the ball flashing across goal.
A free-kick just evaded former Town striker David Pratt at the far post but it was the visitors who looked far more dangerous as the half drew to a close.
Williams’ scooped pass put Soares in the clear but he took too long to get his shot away, allowing a defender to get in and make a challenge, while Williams and McAuley also went close in the final moments of the half.
Basingstoke continued to make most of the running in the second half, putting together some lovely intricate moves around the Bath area.
One of these moves saw Wes Daly put in down the right and while he couldn’t get a shot away, the ball broke for McAuley, but Mellor was able to keep out his angled drive with his feet.
Another one-touch move almost resulted in a chance for Dunn, but a last-ditch challenge stopped him getting a shot away, while a neat one-two from a short corner saw Soares’ shot from a narrow angle kept out by the feet of Mellor.
Still the pressure continued. Jenkinson’s cross almost resulted in an own-goal, Aaron Brown heading just wide, while Daly’s shot from the edge of the area was too close to Mellor and McAuley fired narrowly wide from long range.
That proved to be McAuley’s last major contribution as he had to be replaced soon after, feeling his ribs after a collision with Pratt.
Bath pressed briefly, David Ray doing well to block from Watkins and Ross Stearn shooting straight at Louis Wells, but Town were soon back on top.
Substitute Robbie Matthews just failed to get on the end of Smart’s cross, while Mellor saved with his feet for a third time, denying Soares after he had cut in from the right.
The visitors got the goal they very much deserved on 83 minutes, when the home defence backed off Smart, allowing him to fire in an excellent shot that dipped over Mellor and in off the underside of the crossbar.
Bath had some late pressure, forcing a couple of scrambles in the Town area, but the visitors survived and could have added to their lead, Kezie Ibe failing to make the most of a dangerous break and Williams shooting narrowly over from distance.
Click here to see a post-match video interview with Basingstoke Town manager Jason Bristow.
Bath City: Mellor, Simpson, Brown, Ball, Gallinagh, Connolly, Stearn (sub Low 81min), Allen, Pratt, Watkins (sub Reid 80min), Keats. Subs (not used): Bowman, Wilson, Rollo.
Basingstoke Town: Wells, Smart, Jenkinson, Dunn, Gasson, Ray, Daly, McAuley (sub Matthews 70min), Holder-Spooner (sub Ibe 66min), Williams, Soares. Subs (not used): Barrett, Rice, Adams.