BASINGSTOKE Town got their tactics spot on to dominate Monday’s Hampshire Senior Cup Final against Havant and Waterlooville.
A comfortable 2-0 victory would have been the right result, but Havant stuck to their task to grab two goals in the dying stages and send the game to extra-time, only for the excellent Liam Enver-Marum to grab a late, late winner.
Town manager Jason Bristow made a few changes to the side that had beaten Staines Town on the final day of the season, but they were mainly cosmetic. Rob Rice replaced Robbie Matthews in the heart of defence, with Nathan Smart coming in for Marcus Johnson-Schuster at right-back, while Shaun McAuley’s place went to Louie Soares.
All three were like-for-like changes and it seemed that Bristow would stick with the midfield diamond he had used in that game.
Instead, he made a subtle change, using a system somewhere between the midfield diamond and 4-3-3. While Manny Williams had been given a free role against Staines, roaming around behind the front two, he operated mainly on the right.
Enver-Marum was the central striker, with Nicholas Bignall playing a narrower role on the left. Soares and Simon Dunn looked to get between the lines from the centre of midfield.
Havant played a basic 4-5-1 formation, with Scott Jones the lone striker. Christian Nanetti was the main support from the left wing, with Nic Ciardini more cautious on the other flank.
Town make an excellent start
Basingstoke were all over their opponents from the first whistle. A high defensive line, allied with an aggressive pressing game, forced Havant, who tried to play out from the back, into mistakes.
With the ball, they played at an excellent tempo, moving the ball around brilliantly. Wes Daly was outstanding in front of the back four, while Dunn and Soares probed forward intelligently, swamping Havant’s holding midfielder, Pedro Monteiro, who had a miserable evening and was hauled off at half-time.
Williams also found space by drifting around on the right, confusing Havant’s marking system, while the first goal came about when Soares broke forward and linked up with Enver-Marum down the left.
In addition to scoring two goals, Enver-Marum played the role of target-man to perfection, holding the ball up and bringing other players into the game.
Town’s high line left space for quick players Jones and Nanetti to exploit, but on the whole, their main tactic seemed to involve getting the ball to Nanetti and asking him to make something happen.
Jones was left isolated and Basingstoke looked dangerous on the break whenever they did manage to create some pressure. Indeed, Bignall should have doubled the lead from such an opportunity, and Havant were fortunate to go in at half-time just one goal behind.
Substitutions have an effect
Havant boss Lee Bradbury’s half-time change saw Alek Przespolewksi replace Monteiro. Perry Ryan and Nigel Atangana, who had been the more advanced midfielders in the first half, became the defensive shield, with Przespolewksi supporting Jones from a central area.
The change had a positive effect, with Havant keeping the ball much better and getting men closer to Jones going forward. They enjoyed a good spell of possession early in the second half, but spent most of the time playing in front of the Town defence and didn’t really threaten.
Town lost some of their dynamism when Dunn had to be replaced but the game looked over when Enver-Marum doubled the lead after good pressure won Town the ball deep in Havant territory.
Bradbury responded by making another change, and it was a strange one. Throwing centre-back Ed Harris into attack alongside Nanetti made sense, but taking off Jones to introduce another defender didn’t.
However, it certainly worked. Nanetti’s direct running eventually bore fruit when Jay Gasson brought him down to concede a penalty, while it was Harris who grabbed the last-gasp equaliser.
Town were dealt another blow just before the end of normal time, when Williams limped off, and they missed his intelligence in the additional period. Kezie Ibe was his replacement, but the formation seemed to switch to more of a 4-4-2, with Ibe on the wing.
The opening 15 minutes of extra-time saw both sides recover from the late drama, remaining cautious and not wanting the throw the game away.
Havant had their best spell of pressure in the whole match early in the second period, missing two excellent chances, and the game seemed to be heading for a penalty shoot-out until Enver-Marum took matters into his own hands.
Town have missed a forward who can create a goal or chance out of nothing all season. They seem to have found one in Enver-Marum, and signing him for next season is a massive boost.
For most of the opening 85 minutes, Town’s tactical gameplan worked almost perfectly. They played the game in the exact manner that Bristow had been trying to perfect throughout the season and proved that it can work.
However, the big question remains. Can they sustain this level of performance over the course of a league season?
If they can, we could be in for an interesting season in 2014-15.