BASINGSTOKE Town’s hopes of reaching the Conference South play-offs suffered a major blow as they were beaten at home by one of their rivals for a place in the top five.
The hectic fixture schedule, which saw Jason Bristow’s men play five games in the space of 11 days, finally seemed to catch up with Town on Tuesday night.
The main problem was a growing injury list, which saw Town without six players for the visit of Eastbourne, while the strain of playing so many games in such a short space of time seemed to catch up with certain individuals.
Basingstoke were especially thin on the ground in the centre of midfield, missing Wes Daly, Shaun McAuley, Neil Barrett and Simon Dunn. That left Andrew Jenkinson as the only fit central midfielder, with Robbie Rice asked to fill in alongside him.
The hosts were also without strikers Manny Williams and Jordace Holder-Spooner, meaning that Kezie Ibe was partnered by Robbie Matthews in attack.
Despite the changes forced upon them, Town got off to a good start. Right-back Marcus Johnson-Schuster, making his first league start, put in a good cross that Craig Ross in the Eastbourne goal made a mess of, while Adam Watts was fortunate to be booked after pulling back Ibe as he looked to run through.
They took the lead after 14 minutes, Louie Soares coming off the left wing to power home a header from Nathan Smart’s cross.
A couple more half-chances followed, with Matthews’ touch letting him down and Rice firing over the crossbar, but two goals in the space of three minutes just before the half-hour mark changed the complexion of the game.
Louis Wells made a good save to deny Frankie Raymond but the resulting corner led to the equalising goal, Ollie Rowe heading home at the far post.
Things got even worse for the hosts almost straight away, Elvis Hammond slotting past Wells after being put through by Raymond.
Former Fulham and Leicester striker Hammond was a handful all night and he was denied twice more before the break. A decent block was needed when he found space to turn in the area, while Wells also made a good save at his feet towards the end of the half.
The goals seemed to have knocked the stuffing out of Town but they responded well to whatever Bristow told them at the break.
However, with so many quality players unavailable, they struggled to find a way through the visiting defence.
Jay Gasson and the impressive Soares put difficult volleyed chances narrowly wide and Smart headed too close to the goalkeeper, but the better opportunities fell to the visitors.
Hammond’s angled drive forced Wells to save with his legs, while the home goalkeeper did even better to deny Lewis Tallack, tipping his effort over the bar after Town were caught short in defence.
Soares was the hosts’ main threat and good work from him set up a chance for Smart, but Eastbourne got bodies in the way, while Ibe had a half-hearted shout for a penalty turned down by the referee.
Another strong run from Soares almost created an opening for Ibe but the final opportunity fell to Matthews. Adam Green’s long ball found him in behind the Eastbourne defence but he could only volley tamely over the crossbar as the game ticked into injury-time.
The defeat saw Basingstoke slip a place to 10th in the table, seven points outside the play-off places.
Click here to see a post-match video interview with Basingstoke Town manager Jason Bristow.
Basingstoke Town: Wells, Johnson-Schuster, Green, Rice, Gasson, Ray, Smart, Jenkinson, Ibe, Matthews, Soares. Subs (not used): Adams, Debattista, Maylen, Parker, Greene.
Eastbourne Borough: Ross, Tallack, Cole, Aldred, Simpemba, Watts, Rowe, Raymond, Hammond, Gorman (sub Johnson 84min), Long (sub Lok 70min). Subs (not used): Levy, Stinson, Worrall,.