ON THE final day of a season that has seen them struggle to hit the net, Basingstoke Town signed off with a flurry of goals.
Nicholas Bignall followed his first goal for the club with two more, claiming the match ball, with Wes Daly and Louie Soares also finding the net as Town gave their supporters a glimpse of what might have been.
However, they also demonstrated why they ended the season 14th in the Conference South table. Despite leading 3-0 and 5-1, they allowed Staines a route back into the game, the hosts getting within one goal of staging a remarkable comeback in the closing stages.
To be fair, Staines did not to be on the end of a hiding. They more than played their part in a thrilling game, while it’s unlikely that many goalkeepers have conceded four goals but played better than Town’s Joe McDonnell.
Manager Jason Bristow made two changes to the side that had lost to Concord Rangers three days earlier. Marcus Johnson-Schuster was handed a starting berth at right-back, with Nathan Smart dropping to the bench, while Simon Dunn returned to the centre of midfield in place of Louie Soares.
Neither side had much to play for on the final day of the season, but both went out looking to end the season on a high. The early stages were played at a good tempo, with both sides looking to get men forward operating midfield diamonds.
Staines had a couple of early opportunities, but it was their goalkeeper Jack Turner who made the first real save of the match on 17 minutes, diving to his right to push Manny Williams’ low shot around the post.
Liam Enver-Marum should have scored from the resulting corner, volleying over from inside the six-yard box, but it mattered little as Town took the lead less than a minute later.
Andrew Jenkinson’s cross from the left found Bignall at the back post and he got up above Turner to nod home.
Three minutes later, and the lead was doubled. A short corner was worked to Daly 25 yards from goal and he had time to take a touch before firing an excellent low shot into the back of the net via the inside of the post.
McDonnell made the first of a number of excellent saves immediately after the second goal. The goalkeeper was at full stretch to keep out a header from a corner, before showing great bravery to block a follow-up effort.
The game swung from end to end and it was Enver-Marum who was next to go close. Only a great challenge from Lewis Ferrell denied him a clear run on goal, while Turner made an excellent save to keep out the striker’s header from the resulting corner.
Town did increase their lead on 38 minutes as Bignall intercepted a loose pass just inside the Staines half and charged towards goal, shaking off a couple of would-be challengers and firing home.
The striker almost completed his hat-trick before the break, his shot from the edge of the area being tipped over by Turner, and it was Staines who struck before half-time, Louis-Rae Beadle curling home after the visitors failed to clear a corner.
Staines manager Marcus Gayle clearly wasn’t pleased with his side’s first-half display and made three changes at the break, while the visitors replaced Dunn, who had been struggling with illness, with Soares.
The hosts made a strong start to the second period, with McDonnell making an outstanding stop to deflect Bajram Pashaj’s powerful drive over the crossbar.
However, it was Town who found the net, Bignall completing his hat-trick with a header from substitute Smart’s inch-perfect cross to make it 4-1 just after the hour.
Minutes later, and the visitors were four goals clear as Soares smashed an outstanding shot into the top corner from around 30 yards.
However, Staines refused to lie down. They pulled a goal back on 71 minutes, Louie Theophanous blasting and angled drive beyond McDonnell, while the goalkeeper made a top save to deny the same player soon after, with Beadle heading over when the ball was put back into the area.
McDonnell then did well to keep out another Theophanous effort, after it took a deflection off Jay Gasson, while Dan Brown was afforded a free header but nodded wide.
Town almost claimed a sixth on 84 minutes, Jerel Ifil turning Enver-Marum’s low centre onto his own post, but instead, Staines set up a nervous finale by scoring twice in the closing stages.
Brown got the first, firing home from close range, while Erivaldo Felix headed home a cross in injury-time. There was still time for one more chance, but defender Luke Neville headed over and Town held on to end the season with a win.
Click here to see a post-match video interview with Basingstoke Town manager Jason Bristow.
Staines Town: Turner, Ming, Worsfold, Ferrell (sub Ngamvoulou 45min), Neville, Ifil, Lodge (sub Brown 45min), Beadle, Theophanous, Pashaj, Bassett (sub Felix 45min). Subs (not used): Willock, Dos Santos.
Basingstoke Town: McDonnell, Johnson-Schuster (sub Smart 58min), Jenkinson, Dunn (sub Soares 45min), Gasson, Matthews, Daly, Enver-Marum, Bignall (sub Ibe 76min), Williams. Subs (not used): Adams, Green.