SATURDAY’S game at Stonebridge Road was a great advert for Conference South football, with two sides who try to play an attractive style locking horns.

Ebbsfleet United were probably worth the win but Town left Kent disappointed after playing well but being made to pay for one defensive lapse.


Basingstoke manager Jason Bristow was forced into an unplanned change before kick-off as Shaun McAuley was struck down by illness.

This gave Bristow a decision to make. Jordace Holder-Spooner was the obvious, like-for-like replacement, while the other option was to bring in Robbie Rice at right-back, moving Nathan Smart forward to the right side of midfield.

The Town boss opted for the latter, a move that gave the visitors more solidity but less creativity down the right flank.

Bristow’s only other change was on the opposite wing, Simon Dunn getting the nod in place of Andrew Jenkinson, as Basingstoke stuck with a 4-4-2 formation.

Ebbsfleet’s system mirrored that of their opponents in shape but they differed in approach, making for an interesting tactical battle.

First half

The hosts began the game like a steam train, playing at a high tempo and dominating the opening 20 minutes. The combination of a high defensive line and a pressing game put Town on the back foot, forcing them to launch hopeful balls forward rather than passing out from the back.

More often than not, these direct balls up to the strikers conceded possession and even when the front two were able to win the ball, the Basingstoke midfield were being forced so far back that they were unable to provide adequate support.

Cultured midfielder Daryl McMahon was at the heart of everything for the hosts and his first thought was always to spread the ball wide. They constantly looked to attack down the flanks, with their wingers operating high up the pitch and their full-backs getting forward to support.

However, while the hosts were well on top, dominating possession and territory, Town were dogged in defence, with goalkeeper Louis Wells only having to make one real save in the early stages.

Wes Daly and Neil Barrett did a good job of shielding the back four, with Barrett tempering his natural instinct to break forward, while the energy of Smart and Dunn was crucial in the wide areas.

Going forward, they offered little, but Ebbsfleet’s attacking start did leave space between the defence and midfield. It was this space that Manny Williams exploited, turning on halfway before running forward unchallenged and firing in a shot that thumped into the post.

The game settled down as the half went on. Ebbsfleet’s pressing became less aggressive, allowing Town to pass out of defence, move higher up the pitch and get Daly and Barrett into the game.

Chances remained few and far between but the pay-off of using Smart in midfield was highlighted just before the break. He’s quick, energetic and never gives up, making him an excellent defensive winger, but he’s not as good going forward, something his fluffed shot on the stroke of half-time clearly illustrated.

Second half

The second half began in the same way the first had ended, with Town slightly on top. However, they were unable to create any real opportunities and got hit by a sucker-punch on 52 minutes.

With several players, including Smart, committed upfield, the visitors lost the ball in midfield. For the first time in the match, Rice found himself isolated against Anthony Cook, with space for the tricky winger to run into.

Rice allowed him to make ground from halfway but failed to get close enough when Cook got into a crossing position, while Smart, having worked hard to get back, found himself with nobody to pick up and possibly should have doubled up on Cook.

Instead, Cook was allowed space to cross and Michael Thalassitis met his delivery at the far post, a good header beating Wells.

Ebbsfleet then enjoyed their most dangerous spell of the match and while Town survived it, they were left with a problem.

Their set-up and approach had been fairly cautious while the game was at 0-0, but having gone behind, the onus was on them to attack.

Bristow threw on Holder-Spooner for Rice, with Smart dropping to right-back, while Barrett attempted to get further forward, but Ebbsfleet frustrated Town by keeping possession, McMahon again starring, and looked a threat on the break.


All in all, while it’s disappointing that Town’s winning streak came to an end, there were plenty of positives to take from Saturday’s game.

Ebbsfleet are a good side who may yet challenge for the title but Basingstoke lived with them and even enjoyed spells of dominance.

In addition, they showed that they can play a different style. They enjoyed plenty of the ball in their previous five games but went to Kent knowing that they would be out of possession for long spells.

They adjusted accordingly, soaking up pressure, and while they were not as potent going forward, they did create a couple of chances that, on another day, might have found the net.