BASINGSTOKE Town manager Jason Bristow was left fuming as his side slumped to defeat away at struggling Tonbridge Angels.
What must have been really frustrating for Bristow, whose anger was clear to see in his post-match interview, was the fact that his tactics worked.
The Town boss switched from a 4-4-2 formation to an attacking 4-3-3 shape, and his alteration had the desired effect as his side had the better of the first half.
However, they then conceded a terrible goal on the stroke of half-time and while Shaun McAuley pulled them level after the break, parity lasted just three minutes before Tonbridge got what proved to be the winning goal.
Having set his side up in a 4-4-2 shape for most games in the last few months, Bristow opted to switch to a 4-3-3 shape, with Manny Williams, Nicholas Bignot and Liam Enver-Marum all starting in attack.
Tonbridge lined up in a traditional 4-4-2 formation.
New formation works for Town
In addition to giving the visitors more of an attacking threat, playing 4-3-3 worked to the benefit of several Town players.
This should not come as a surprise, given that Bristow began the season using this formation and presumably had it in his thoughts as he recruited players over the course of the summer.
Wes Daly is at his best in a three-man midfield. With more help defensively, he can concentrate on dictating the play with his range of passing.
The same is true of Shaun McAuley, who is at his best when given freedom to roam in the space between the opposition’s defence and midfield, rather than being tied down on the wing.
A 4-3-3 formation also suits left-back Adam Green, giving him space to attack into down the left flank.
In addition, a three-man midfield also helps Basingstoke to play the attractive, passing game that they have been striving to perfect over the course of the season.
The tactics worked well, with Town making a positive start. The front three linked up well, while Enver-Marum also did a good job in the target-man role when the visitors were forced to take a more direct route forward, flicking the ball on for Bignall and Williams to chase.
The strikers also worked hard to press the Tonbridge defence, preventing them from playing out and allowing Town to pin their hosts back.
The visitors had two goals disallowed in the early stages but Tonbridge defended pretty well on the whole, reducing the amount of clear chances Town were able to create.
Tonbridge threaten on the break
The home side’s main tactic was to get the ball out to their wingers and put crosses into the area. The best chance they created in the first half came from such an attack, Louis Wells making a fine save to deny Luis Cumbers, but they were also dangerous on the counter-attack.
With Adam Green marauding forward, Tonbridge’s right-sided midfielder, Nathan Green, occasionally found himself in space. This was partly due to him neglecting his defensive duties, something that may have played a part in him being substituted after half-time, but he caused the visitors problems.
Town’s hard work is undone
The turning point in the match came seconds before the half-time whistle – and saw Town undo all of their hard work.
Adam Green took a throw when he shouldn’t have and Wells dawdled on the ball, allowing striker Alex Teniola to nick it off him, resulting in a penalty that Mark Lovell converted to give the hosts the lead.
Basingstoke never really recovered from this. They failed to show the same energy in the second half, unsurprising given the number of games they have played in recent weeks, allowing Tonbridge to frustrate them by keeping the ball.
Home manager Tommy Warrilow replaced Nathan Green in an attempt to curve Adam Green’s attacking intent, while his second change saw the pace of Michael Bakare introduced in attack.
Town managed to scramble an equaliser, McAuley getting into the area to make the most of a mistake by the Tonbridge defence, but parity lasted just three minutes, and again the visitors were the architects of their own downfall.
Bristow had replaced Andrew Jenkinson with Louie Soares, giving the Town midfield a very attacking look, and before the visitors could work out what to do having got level, Tonbridge were back in front.
When possession was ceded in midfield, Bakare found himself with far too much space to run into. He did well to beat Adam Green and finish emphatically, but Town hadn’t readjusted quickly enough.
The hosts knew that three points would give their hopes of avoiding relegation a real boost and nerves told in the closing stages, as they defended deeper and deeper. However, Basingstoke were unable to take advantage, creating very little in the closing stages.
Simple really. Bristow got his tactics right early on, getting the best out of his players, but conceding a terrible goal on the stroke of half-time was crucial.