IT WAS a game that could, and perhaps should, have been over within the first 20 minutes, but Basingstoke Town were unable to make the most of their early dominance, allowing visiting Maidenhead United a route back into the match.
The hosts were not at their best at the Camrose on Saturday, but will feel that they should have picked up three points after leading by two goals early in the second half.
Town were forced into one change as Shaun McAuley rested sore ribs, with Adam Green replacing him after returning from suspension. However, this meant a couple of positional switches to the side that had beaten Bath City, with Andrew Jenkinson moving from left-back to the left side of midfield and Louie Soares shifting over to the right flank in a 4-4-2 formation.
Maidenhead operated a 4-2-3-1 shape, with veteran Richard Pacquette the spearhead in attack, supported by Harry Grant in a central position, Danny Green on the right and Harry Pritchard on the left.
Town start well
The hosts made a very positive start, putting Maidenhead on the back foot from the first whistle. Soares might have given them the lead in the first minute, while Jordace Holder-Spooner did put them ahead 11 minutes in and they failed to make the most of several other openings in the first 20 minutes.
Missing Shaun McAuley, Town’s front four were unable to interchange in the same way they had against Bath a week earlier. Soares and Jenkinson switched wings a couple of times, but all-in-all, the formation was more rigid.
However, that mattered little, mainly because Maidenhead got off to such a bad start. They looked to play out from the back but were unable to do so as Town’s aggressive pressing game forced the defenders to clear their lines.
As a result, they were unable to take advantage of having an extra man in the middle of the park, while the players asked to support Pacquette failed to get close enough to him.
The visitors had even bigger problems without the ball. They chose to operate a high defensive line, but failed to put enough pressure on the Town midfield, allowing Wes Daly the time and space he thrives on to pick out team-mates looking to run in behind.
Holder-Spooner’s goal came from a corner but Town were able to turn the Maidenhead defence on a regular basis and probably should have scored more than once in the opening 20 minutes.
Visiting manager Johnson Hippolyte responded pretty quickly, and with decent results. He asked Grant to get closer to Pacquette and managed to persuade his players to up the tempo of their play and put more pressure on the Town midfield.
This bore fruit almost straight away, Basingstoke giving the ball away in dangerous areas on a couple of occasions, something that seemed to give the Maidenhead players a real lift.
The visitors didn’t create too many chances, though it took a well-timed intervention from Town goalkeeper Louis Wells to stop Grant getting through, but they got into good areas and had the hosts on the back foot for the rest of the half.
Now it was the hosts being forced to throw long balls forward to the strikers, not a style of play that suits either Manny Williams or Holder-Spooner.
Two goals in five minutes redefine the match
Having survived until half-time, the game looked to be swinging the way of Basingstoke when they doubled their lead with their first attack of the second half, Jenkinson meeting Soares’ cross as the hosts got men into the box.
However, they then seemed to relax, perhaps thinking that the game was won. Again Maidenhead were let back into the game, creating a couple of opening before they reduced the deficit. Town had led by two goals for just five minutes and the momentum was back with the visitors.
Hippolyte had been busy at half-time, making some more changes. Jacob Erskine was a like-for-like replacement for Pacquette in attack but he was given a strike partner in Danny Green, with Grant and Pritchard playing on the wings.
The central midfielders also ventured forward with more regularity, with Tyrell Miller-Rodney forcing Wells into a save at his near post after breaking into the area.
The second half was pretty even, with both sides creating a few chances, but Jason Bristow decided to make some changes.
He introduced Neil Barrett at the expense of the impressive Jenkinson, presumably in an effort to make Town more solid in the centre of midfield, while Kezie Ibe replaced Holder-Spooner, giving the hosts a more direct threat.
Hippolyte made his second change in the final 15 minutes, bringing on his son, Johnson, a striker, in place of his right-back and throwing caution to the wind.
However, the younger Hippolyte was still awaiting his first touch when his side levelled. Pritchard, the best player from either side on the day, was given time to fire in a shot from 25 yards and when Wells spilled the ball, Erskine was on hand to find the net with the rebound.
The visiting manager immediately made his final change, replacing Grant with a centre-back, Curtis Ujah, as he looked to hold on to a precious point.
It was ultimately the right move, the visitors getting the draw they were looking for, but the reorganisation allowed Town to dominate the final 10 minutes. Again, they created openings, but were unable to make the most of them, with Williams wasting the best one, needing too much time to get his shot away.
Bristow also made his final change, but it was a slightly strange one. Striker Robbie Matthews was introduced as they looked for a late winner, but at the expense of Soares, the player most likely to create an opportunity.
Getting a 2-2 draw was a victory for visiting manager Hippolyte, who showed why he has been Maidenhead manager for so long. He reacted well to what was happening on the pitch, making the necessary adjustments in both halves.
Basingstoke were not at their best but still had enough chances to win the game comfortably, so they will certainly see it as two points dropped.