BASINGSTOKE Town were unable to put Hampshire rivals Eastleigh’s promotion party on hold at the Silverlake Stadium yesterday.
Jason Bristow’s men played much better than they have been in recent weeks, but second-half goals from Yemi Odubade and former Town striker Ben Wright earned Eastleigh the win.
The hosts only needed to avoid defeat to seal the Conference South title, and promotion, so there were joyous scenes at the final whistle, with the home side being presented with the trophy after the game.
Town made three changes to the side that had lost at Gosport Borough a few days earlier. Two of them were enforced, with Robbie Rice and Adam Green missing out through injury, while Ross Adams was dropped to the bench but went on to play a big part in the game.
Robbie Matthews was handed a start in the centre of defence, while Simon Dunn and Matt Partridge came into the centre of midfield, with Andrew Jenkinson lining up at left-back in a 4-4-2 formation.
Eastleigh had the first chance, Town goalkeeper Louis Wells pushing Daniel Wishart’s early effort around the post, but it was the visitors who were the better side throughout the first half.
Dunn and Partridge brought some much-needed energy and intensity to the side, while Town were able to get the hosts on the back foot by playing quick balls up to strikers Manny Williams and Nicholas Bignall, who looked to exploit the space in behind Eastleigh’s high defensive line.
A mix-up between goalkeeper Ross Flitney and defender Will Evans lets Bignall in, but he failed to make proper contact with his shot, while Dunn’s ball across the face of goal just evaded Williams.
After half-an-hour, Eastleigh manager Richard Hill decided he had seen enough and switched from a 4-2-3-1 formation to match Town’s 4-4-2 shape.
This almost had an immediate impact as Jai Reason crashed a shot against the crossbar from distance, with Wishart putting the rebound wide when he should have done better.
Wells was then called into action to deny Odubade a chance at the near post, but he took a blow to the leg in the process and had to be taken to hospital.
With no goalkeeper on the bench, defender Adams was forced to take over between the sticks, with the gloves having to be removed from the stricken Wells as he was carried off the pitch on a stretcher.
Despite this major setback, Town continued to take the game to the league leaders in the closing stages of the half.
Bignall was denied by a good save from Flitney after getting on the end of a long ball forward, while Williams dragged a shot wide from inside the area.
Basingstoke continued to impress after the break and while they were relieved to see Ben Strevens’ header go straight at Adams, Flitney was the busier goalkeeper.
Another ball over the top resulted in a chance for Louie Soares to shoot, with Flitney pulling off another decent save to keep out his low effort.
Bristow made a double change on 64 minutes, replacing the tiring Partridge with Wes Daly in the centre of midfield and bringing Liam Enver-Marum on for Williams.
Two minutes later, the hosts were ahead. Despite being on the ground, Wright managed to nudge the ball to Odubade just outside the area and his first-time shot found the corner of the net, giving Adams no chance of making the save.
Town continued to press and created some more good openings. Dunn’s touch let him down after good work by Soares, a penalty shout for handball was waved away and Bignall was denied a clear chance by a tight offside decision.
Eastleigh put the result beyond doubt with 10 minutes to go, Wright sweeping home after good work by Dan Spence, with a perimeter fence collapsing during the celebrations.
Fortunately, nobody was hurt and the hosts looked to play out the remaining time, though Adams did well to save at the feet of Odubade.
The visitors got the goal their performance more than merited in the final minute of stoppage time, Enver-Marum forcing home his fourth goal for the club after Flitney had spilled Smart’s angled drive.
Click here to see a post-match interview with Basingstoke Town manager Jason Bristow.
Eastleigh: Flitney, Spence, Green, Strevens, Evans, Todd, Reason, Southam, Odubade, Wright (sub Peacock 89min), Wishart (sub McAllister 55min). Subs (not used): Noice, Beckwith, Dillon.
Basingstoke Town: Wells (sub Adams 37min), Smart, Jenkinson, Partridge (sub Daly 64min), Gasson, Matthews, Soares, McAuley, Williams (sub Enver-Marum 64min), Bignall, Dunn. Subs (not used): Ibe, Johnson-Schuster.