BASINGSTOKE Town made life difficult for themselves in the closing stages of their FA Trophy win over nine-man Whitehawk.

However, while supporters will have left the ground concerned that their side were unable to see the game out more comfortably, one of the main turning points in the match actually came midway through the first half.

Whitehawk shaded the early stages, but by and large, two sides operating 4-4-2 systems were cancelling each other out. Jason Bristow was the manager who took decisive action, making a couple of alterations that got his side on top.

They scored what proved to be the only goal of the game soon and while the second half was overshadowed by two red cards and Whitehawk’s heroic effort to rescue the situation, it Bristow’s actions before the break ultimately decided the game.


Both sides opted for a 4-4-2 system from the start.

Both of Basingstoke’s central midfielders sat fairly deep, with the wide players expected to provide most of the attacking threat, while Manny Williams dropped into the space between the Whitehawk defence and midfield looking to pick up the ball.

Whitehawk’s central midfielders had more clearly defined roles. The impressive David Ijaha acted as a defensive shield in front of the back four, while former Town star Sergio Torres was given a licence to roam forward.

A slow start

The game did not get off to the brightest of starts, probably because both teams were attempting to play in a very similar way, playing out from the back and pressing high up the field when out of possession.

This, in addition to the fact that they were operating very similar systems, led to something of an impasse.

Whitehawk were the better side in the early stages, partly because they were able to get their full-backs forward on a more consistent basis. They created a couple of opportunities, but were unable to force Stuart Moore into a save of note as Town defended pretty well.

Bristow changes things

Midway through the half, the Town manager took decisive action. Jamie Brown and James Harper were asked to sit in front of the defence, while Williams dropped further back, making up a fluid attacking midfield trio with Shaun McAuley and Louie Soares.

It was a move that allowed them to take control of the game. McAuley, Soares and Williams found pockets of space across the pitch, outnumbering Ijaha, while having two holding midfielders allowed the same three players to hunt down the ball when out of possession.

They won the ball in dangerous areas on several occasions and while they were not able to take advantage, the final pass letting them down, McAuley did pop up on the right to put in the cross from which Chris Flood put the hosts ahead.

The closing stages of the half were very open, with both sides having chances, but Town went into the break with their noses in front.

Whitehawk make their own life difficult – but respond well

After an early flurry from the hosts, Whitehawk managed to get on top in the second half, building some pressure, but they suffered a major setback just before the hour, when Gerardo Bruna was shown a needless second yellow card for dissent.

Then, just as they seemed to be recovering from that, John Paul Kissock also received his marching orders.

That should have been the end of the game. With their opponents down to nine men for the final 20 minutes, Town should have been able to pass them to death, exploiting the extra space.

They looked set to do this for a while, but were unable to turn good positions and chances into goals and, with nothing to lose, Whitehawk went in search of an equaliser in the final 10 minutes.

Having been out of form in recent weeks, Town looked nervous, giving the ball away too often and inviting pressure. Fortunately for them, the visitors were unable to find a way past Moore, though they were unfortunate to hit the post, while Jake Robinson really should have done better when presented with a glorious opportunity late in injury-time.


The biggest thing, certainly from a Basingstoke point of view, was the result. Hopefully, it’s a victory that will help Town to turn the corner and restore some of their belief, which seemed to have been shaken recently.

There was more good news in the centre of midfield, where Brown and Harper, who have not made brilliant starts to their careers at The Soccer AM Stadium, played pretty well. They certainly kept Torres quiet, though their collective lack of pace does cause problems when opposing teams break.

Bristow should also get plenty of credit for seeing what was needed and making changes in the first half, though it reaffirms my belief that 4-4-2 may not be the best system for Town going forward.

The last 10 minutes were worrying, but Whitehawk have assembled a strong squad in non-league terms.

Most players in the Vanarama Conference South fall into two categories. They have either come through the system at a Football League club before being released and finding their level or are older players gradually sliding down the pyramid.

Whitehawk have some notable exceptions to that rule. Bruna learned his trade at Real Madrid and Liverpool, Kissock was a regular for Macclesfield in the Conference Premier last season and even had a spell on loan at League One Oldham, while Sam Deering, who came on as a substitute, has been a regular at three professional clubs.

They are a good side and Town have now beaten them twice. No mean feat.