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Town match Boreham Wood's shape and work hard to secure victory
A CHANGE in formation brought about a change of fortune for Basingstoke Town on Saturday, with a switch to 4-4-2 bringing about a 1-0 victory over visiting Boreham Wood.
It was not a great performance from Town, who failed to pass the ball as well as they have in many other games, but they created more chances than the visitors, who seemed to be playing for a draw, and deserved the three points.
Town manager Jason Bristow made two changes to the side that had lost 5-1 to Havant and Waterlooville a week earlier, with Nathan Smart coming in for the injured Robbie Rice and Andrew Jenkinson replacing Neil Barrett.
However, the bigger change was in the formation. Town switched from a midfield diamond to a traditional 4-4-2 shape, with Shaun McAuley and Jenkinson playing as wide midfielders.
It’s a tactic Bristow has used against Boreham Wood, very much a 4-4-2 side, in the past. He did the same thing last season, his side earning a decent draw away from home.
The advantage is that each player has a direct opponent, a one-on-one battle that they have to focus on winning – and Town players won most of the battles on Saturday.
With both sides playing the same formation, the teams cancelled each other out in the early stages, with little or no action in either penalty area throughout the opening 20 minutes.
It made the game a poor watch but, having been over-run in the early stages a week earlier, a dull start to the game may have been exactly what Bristow was looking for. His side certainly looked much more solid defensively, with much less space between the lines for the opposition to exploit.
They also managed to play the ball out from defence relatively well, with central midfielders Wes Daly and Matt Partridge dropping back to pick the ball up from the centre-halves and starting attacks.
Unfortunately, these attacks too often ended prematurely due to misplaced passes further forward, but the hosts improved as the half went on, getting into dangerous positions and forcing Boreham Wood onto the back foot.
The visitors offered very little going forward, with their one chance of the first half coming after a mistake by Jenkinson, who tried to do too much in a dangerous area.
Town managed to maintain the supremacy they had enjoyed at the end of the first period after half-time, dominating in terms of possession and territory.
They also seemed to play with a bit more positivity, the midfielders switching positions at times to open up pockets of space. However, due to a mixture of misplaced passes and some good Boreham Wood defending, they were unable to make the breakthrough and the game seemed to be heading for a goal-less draw.
Bristow’s substitutes both had an impact.
Simon Dunn replaced Jenkinson, who had a quiet game on the left side, and immediately showed what Town have been missing in his absence. His energy lifted the hosts and he created problems by floating inside and getting between the visitors’ defence and midfield.
Big striker Robbie Matthews also posed problems, not just with his height but also because he is deceptively quick over the ground, providing an unusual threat in behind.
He went close with a well-struck volley before playing a big part in the winning goal, putting pressure on Boreham Wood defender Callum Reynolds, who poked the ball into his own net.
Ironically, the goal came from a hopeful ball forward, something Town have been trying to avoid this season.
Having gone behind, Boreham Wood were forced to take a more attacking approach. They brought an attacker on for a full-back but only really created one chance, while Town looked increasingly dangerous on the break.
Bristow got his tactics spot on last weekend, trusting his players to do their jobs. However, whether a 4-4-2 formation is the answer going forward remains to be seen.
On the plus side, there was no obvious weakness and Town got the win without playing anywhere near their best, particularly when it came to the passing game Bristow is trying too perfect.
However, Boreham Wood were decidedly poor on the day and with so many teams playing three men in the centre of midfield, Town run the risk of being outnumbered in that area.
Bristow has shown that he is willing to tinker with formations in the past and it will be interesting to see how the team lines up at Dorchester this weekend.
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