BASINGSTOKE Town were left frustrated by Bishop’s Stortford’s counter-attacking system and their own poor finishing as they went down to a disappointing defeat on Saturday.

The hosts got off to a good start but were unable to get their noses in front. Instead, it was Stortford who went ahead, taking advantage of the space in behind attacking wing-back Tom Bird.

Having taken the lead, the visitors were able to sit back, soak up the pressure and look to hit Basingstoke on the break. In general, it worked pretty well, thanks in part to some poor play from Town in the final third.


Town stuck with the same 3-5-2 formation that had brought them success away at Maidenhead United four days earlier. Stortford lined up in a 4-2-3-1 system, with new signing Greg Pearson leading the line and attacking wingers Bobby Joe Taylor and Sheldon Sellears looking to support him.

Town miss big chance to take crucial lead

Basingstoke got off to a good start, dominating the opening 10 minutes. It was immediately clear that Stortford’s gameplan was to defend relatively deep, allowing Town to have the ball in their own half but closing them down when they crossed the halfway line.

When they won the ball back, they looked to play directly up to Pearson, with the wingers busting a gut to get forward and support him before Town could get their defensive players back into position.

With the visitors trying to make themselves difficult to break down, making an early breakthrough would have been crucial for Basingstoke.

They had a golden chance to open the scoring after just three minutes, when Liam Enver-Marum found himself one-on-one with Stortford goalkeeper Jake Larkins.

The ’keeper did pretty well, coming out quickly and making himself big, but Enver-Marum’s record when going through on goal hasn’t been great of late and he smacked the ball into Larkins’ chest.

When he first joined the club last season, Enver-Marum seemed to try and take the ball around the goalkeeper when in these situations. Recently, he has been trying to get his shots away early, with mixed results.

The striker’s first goal against Maidenhead, which you can see in the video below, was an example of this tactic working well. The goalkeeper is not expecting him to shoot and Enver-Marum fires an excellent shot into the far corner.

However, if you look at the third goal, you can see why this is not always the right choice. With the goalkeeper racing out to meet him, Enver-Marum fires too close to him. He snaffles up the rebound, so it wasn’t much of a talking point, but with the goalkeeper closing him down, he may have been better off trying to take the ball around him.

The same thing happened for the second goal at Boreham Wood. His initial effort was a poor one, but he was able to win the race to the loose ball when the goalkeeper failed to hold it.

On Saturday, Enver-Marum twice found himself with only Larkins to beat, though he was flagged offside in the second half. On both occasions, with the goalkeeper bearing down on him, he took the early shot, hitting the body of the ’keeper, when he had space to knock the ball past the onrushing Larkins and give himself a tap-in.

Video courtesy of BTFCTV/YouTube

Stortford cause problems down Basingstoke’s left flank

After a strong opening 10 minutes, Town began to struggle somewhat. Maybe it had been too easy early on, but their play became casual, with possession conceded far too easily.

The game got scrappy, which suited Stortford, and they began to get some joy, particularly down the right flank, with Sellears and right-back Ashley Miller causing Bird problems.

Bird didn’t have his best game, but the systems employed by the two sides were also a factor.

In addition to being Town’s defensive width, Bird and Nathan Smart on the other side also have to provide an option out wide when attacking.

Bird is attacking by nature and while Sellears followed him back to a degree, he was then able to pass responsibility on to Miller. If Town lost the ball with Bird higher up the pitch than Sellears, he had a real problem, and this was something that happened on a fairly regular basis throughout the game.

It was not really a surprise that Stortford scored following an attack down their right flank, but on this occasion it was a late run from Miller that gave Bird a problem. The right-back may have been offside, but Bird was caught in no-man’s land when a clever pass found him near the by-line and he had time to cross for Pearson to score.

It’s an issue that has to be overcome when playing with wing-backs. Bird possibly could have played a bit deeper to limit the threat of Sellears, but that would have left Town with five defenders against a team sitting deep and inviting pressure.

He possibly could have got more support from the central defenders, with the three of them shifting across when he went forward and Smart ready to fill in on the right.

Basingstoke like to get both wing-backs forward at once, but that’s something that they may have to temper if they come up against teams who keep their wingers high up the field.

Brave substitutions from Bristow

Town’s malaise continued after they went behind, but in the latter stages of the first half and the early moments after the break, they were able to get back on top.

Their problem was two-fold. If they passed the ball around, Stortford got the chance to get into their defensive shape on the edge of the area. If they went more direct, there was little support for the front players.

Too often, they took the latter option, trying to force things. When they kept the ball, they did have some joy as the visitors were moved out of position, but the final ball or finish was lacking.

Town manager Jason Bristow decided that he had seen enough just after the hour, making a double change and reverting to a midfield diamond.

This didn’t solve the problem down the flanks as Bird and Smart were still expected to provide attacking width, but the introduction of Manny Williams meant there was somebody closer to the strikers.

On 77 minutes, Bristow made his final change, throwing on striker Nicholas Bignall in place of defender Rob Dickie. It was a brave move and one made for all of the right reasons, but it upset the balance of the team.

Bird and Smart were forced to play further back, robbing the hosts of anything in the way of attacking width, and an enormous gap soon formed between the defence and Town’s four-man forward line. The hosts were forced to throw long hopeful balls forward and Stortford responded by getting more men behind the ball.

Smart’s dismissal didn’t help, but it didn’t actually make much difference to the shape of the game.


Town may have to get used to playing in games like this, especially at home, with opponents looking at the table and trying to get men behind the ball.

The game would have been totally different had they managed to get an early goal, and I expect they’d have gone on to win comfortably. However, once they let Stortford into the game, and particularly once they got in front, it was always going to be a difficult afternoon.

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