IT WAS a game lacking in quality and intensity, but Saturday’s 0-0 draw between Basingstoke Town and Bishop’s Stortford was fairly intriguing from a tactical point of view.
The hosts operated a 3-5-2 formation, one of very few they had not already tried before, while Stortford used an interesting hybrid, somewhere between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3.
It would be difficult to argue that either formation was a total success, given the lack of goalmouth action throughout, but the game will have left both managers with plenty to think about.
Jason Bristow made just one change in personnel, but that was an interesting one, with captain Wes Daly dropped to the bench.
Daly, like many others in the Town squad, has had a disappointing season, but his absence should not be taken as a clear indicator that he will move on in the summer. Bristow left the midfielder on the bench for several games at the end of last season, but then re-signed him and made him captain.
Daly’s place in the team was taken by Ross Adams, the forgotten man of the Camrose, who lined up as the central player in a back three. Nathan Smart and Adam Green were asked to act as wing-backs, with Andrew Jenkinson, Louie Soares and Shaun McAuley giving the centre of midfield an attacking look.
Stortford’s formation was hard to nail down. At times, it seemed that Cliff Akurang and Brian Woodall were the strikers in a 4-4-2 formation.
However, as the game settled down, Woodall began to drift more and more towards the left wing. Late replacement Luke Milbourne played high up on the right wing, with Reece Prestledge tucking in on the left to give his side an extra man in the middle of the park.
Town keep possession well – but struggle to get into dangerous areas
The most noticeable thing about the game in general was a lack of intensity, particularly when in possession. It made for a very dull affair.
Stortford’s game plan was a direct one, with Akurang looking to flick the ball on for Woodall and Milbourne, but they struggled to make this work playing into the wind during the first half and rarely threatened.
Town made the better start, threatening mainly down the right, where Smart reminded everyone of his qualities as a wing-back, but they were unable to make the most of their opportunities and became predictable as the half progressed.
The plan was to keep possession and they were able to do that, but not in areas where they could hurt the visitors. The three centre-backs and Andrew Jenkinson, who did a good job just in front of them, saw plenty of the ball, but they were unable to move up the field.
At times, there was a massive gap between the defence and Jenkinson and the other players, meaning that short passes were not always possible.
Stortford also worked hard without the ball, and it didn’t take them long to work out that Jenkinson was the playmaker. He was closed down quickly, meaning that the central defenders were left attempting to play difficult balls forward.
Playing both Soares and McAuley in the centre of the park did not quite work. Both are forward-thinking players and neither was really willing to drop back a few yards to pick the ball up from Jenkinson or the back three.
What Town were missing was a physical central midfielder, somebody to win the ball or take it from the defenders and feed Jenkinson in space. It’s a type of player they don’t really have in the squad and something Bristow must be considering as he looks ahead to next season.
Bishop’s Stortford changes see them improve
The visitors provided very little attacking threat in the first half, and manager Rod Stringer reacted 10 minutes in the second period, making a double change.
The changes saw Stortford move to a 4-5-1 formation, with Prestedge supporting Akurang from a central position. It also saw the introduction of right winger Harry Baker, who was a bright spark in an otherwise poor second half and the only player on the pitch willing to dribble at the opposition defence.
The visitors ended the game on the front foot and could have claimed all three points through Akurang, who did well to get himself into dangerous positions despite facing three defenders, but failed to apply the finish.
Bristow will have learned a lot from what was a poor game.
3-5-2 is a system that could work for Town. It suits Green and Smart, who like to get forward, while giving Basingstoke the three-man central midfield that it seems they need to make their passing game work.
However, playing McAuley and Soares together in this system did not work. There’s certainly room for one of them in the side, but a combination of two of Jenkinson, Daly and Simon Dunn would give the midfield a more joined-up look.
Another option might be to play Soares as the right wing-back. It would be harsh on Smart, who impressed, especially in the first half, but it’s a position that Soares has played before and would give him the space to take on defenders, which is his main strength.