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Havant exploit the space between Town's defence and midfield
BASINGSTOKE Town lost suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of Hampshire rivals Havant and Waterlooville last Saturday, with the game lost in the opening 40 minutes.
Town were over-run in midfield, while Havant exploited the space left between the visitors’ midfield and defence, playing between the lines.
Jason Bristow stuck with the same 11 players who had lost to Hayes and Yeading United a week earlier, again employing a midfield diamond. Wes Daly was expected to anchor the midfield and get Town attacks started, with Shaun McAuley providing the creative spark further forward.
Havant lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Alek Przespolewski, Scott Jones and Nic Ciardini looking to support target-man Dennis Oli from deep.
Havant began the game at a very high tempo, pushing the visitors back – and Basingstoke never really got going. They seemed happy to allow Havant to dominate possession in their own half, but despite Town having more men in the middle of the park, the hosts were able to thread passes into midfield.
However, Basingstoke’s main problem was a lack of protection for the back four, a problem that was highlighted by Havant’s opening goal.
When Matt Partridge gave the ball away on halfway, there was nobody between Havant’s Perry Ryan and the visitors’ defence. He was allowed to run more than 30 yards without coming up against a challenge, while it was only Havant players on the scene when Louis Wells palmed the shot away.
There also seemed to be an element of confusion about who was supposed to be picking up the Havant full-backs. Early on, it seemed the strikers had been tasked with splitting when Havant were on the ball, with Shaun McAuley responsible for the centre-backs.
However, when Havant scored their second goal, it was McAuley who was closest to left-back Daniel Blanchett. His cross was converted by an unmarked Jones, who had ghosted in from Town’s problem area between defence and midfield.
That gap was exploited again for the third goal. Oli dragged Jay Gasson out of position and with nobody filling in, Ciardini ran into the gap from deep and was brought down by Adam Green.
Pre half-time changes
Bristow responded by making a double substitution before half-time, with McAuley and Partridge making way as the visitors reverted to 4-3-3.
Speaking to him this week, the Town boss explained that the move was nothing to do with either players’ individual performance.
“I thought that if I let it go to half-time, we might be 5-0 down,” he said. “I had to get a reaction from the players in some way.
“Shaun was probably working the hardest of the midfield four but his was the position that had to be sacrificed.
“He was disappointed to come off but we have talked and he understands that he had to take one for the team.”
As they had to, Town threw men forward in the second half, looking for a way back into the game. This paid off early on as they pulled a goal back due to sheer numbers in the opposition area, but the Havant manager responded with a double change of his own and stemmed the tide.
The visitors had more chances but left themselves short at the back. Havant scored once on the counter-attack and could have had more goals, were it not for some wayward finishing and some decent saves from Wells.
It was a poor afternoon all-round for the visitors, who were second best throughout.
Bristow’s post-match assertion that his players had not worked hard enough in the first half has some merit. Had the midfielders tracked back better, Havant may not have found as much space in front of their back four.
However, the hosts’ system allowed them to exploit this, with three players looking to occupy the area.
It will be interesting to see what Bristow does to rectify the problem this weekend.