A WONDER strike from Shaun McAuley saw Basingstoke Town bounce back to winning ways with a 1-0 win over visiting Ebbsfleet on Saturday.
The midfielder scored what turned out to be the winner with a sweetly hit free-kick from 30 yards out, which flew into the net after 23 minutes.
Dragons boss Jason Bristow kept faith with the starting XI that had lost at Farnborough five days earlier and they started well.
David Ray dived full length and just failed to get his head on a McAuley cross and then Chris Flood had a shot blocked in the opening 10 minutes.
Nathan Smart, who had the Ebbsfleet number three Joe Howe in his pocket all game, forced a corner and from Bird’s flag kick Jay Gasson’s header was cleared off the line by Matt Godden.
The visitors edged their way back into this entertaining game, with a number of their own corners and they came so close to opening the scoring on 20 minutes.
Anthony Cook’s cross was headed against the crossbar by Billy Bricknell.
The home side made the most of the let off, as McAuley struck with a superb free-kick, spotting Ebbsfleet goalkeeper Preston Edwards moving off his line and beating him at his near post with a lovely struck shot.
The advantage should have been doubled soon after, as Liam Enver-Marum beat his man on the edge of the box and played a lovely one-two with Manny Williams, but the striker then scuffed his shot inches wide of the post.
Another good run from Town defender Smart saw him skin Howe and force another corner, from which Gasson’s backward header was cleared.
Town certainly had the better of the opening 45 minutes, but they only had a one goal advantage going in at half-time.
From the start of the second half it was clear Ebbsfleet wanted an equaliser and they attacked in waves.
The visitors appealed for a penalty as Tommy Fraser fell into the box, under the challenge of Manny Williams.
However, referee Lloyd Wood rightly awarded a free-kick on the edge of the area and Bird headed it away.
Captain Daryl McMahon looked to test Stuart Moore from distance, but his shot went over and then Moore was called into action a couple of times as his own defence put him under pressure from wayward back passes.
Ebbsfleet for the second time in the game tested the woodwork, as McMahon crashed a shot off the crossbar.
The Kent side had the upper hand and had a lot of the ball, but could not carve out any clear cut chances thanks to the home defence.
As they pushed forward in the final minutes, Town sub Nicholas Bignall made use of the space and should have hit the target, but his effort went wide.
Stuart Moore – 8 out of 10
Back-to-back home clean sheets for the shot stopper and commanded his area well.
Nathan Smart – 8
Had the number of the Ebbsfleet’s number three Joe Howe in the first 45 minutes, so they doubled up in the second-half to stop the threat.
Tom Bird – 7
Solid game at the back and going forward.
Louie Soares – 6
Not really in the game.
Jay Gasson – 8
Tough afternoon and carried on despite picking up a knee injury in the second-half.
David Ray – 7
So nearly scored early on. Defended well, but one bad back pass saw his ears ringing from Moore’s outburst.
Simon Dunn – 7
Worked hard in front of the back four.
Shaun McAuley – 8 (Gazette Star Man)
A super goal - which was worth the admission money on its own.
Liam Enver-Marum – 7
Had chances, but failed to take them and got booked again.
Chris Flood – 7
Not so much in the game as he was in the last home outing.
Manny Williams – 8
Always ready to support the front two and looked lively all afternoon.
Nicholas Bignall (for Flood 72min) – 7
Took his time to get his first touch, but then had a couple of chances.
Lloyd Macklin (for Enver-Marum 83min) – 6
Not enough time to get into the game.
Subs (not used): Rice, Jenkinson, Argent.
Ebbsfleet United: Edwards, Sessegnon (sub Shane Huke 63min), Howe, McMahon, Acheampong, Clark, Johnson, Fraser (sub Sheringham 75min), Godden, Bricknell, Cook. Subs (not used): Osborn, Rance, Hall.