BASINGSTOKE Town produced an outstanding defensive display to claim a hugely important victory over promotion rivals Whitehawk.

Having gone ahead early in the game, Basingstoke were forced onto the back foot for much of the second half, but for all of their possession and territory, Whitehawk’s play lacked a cutting edge.

Town defended bravely, but the hosts were guilty of over-playing, trying to score the perfect goal and spurning opportunities to test the visitors, especially in wide areas.


Town stuck with the midfield diamond formation they had used in their midweek win over Weston super Mare, but made a change in attack, replacing Lloyd Macklin with Chris Flood.

Whitehawk lined up in a 4-4-2 formation. Wingers Scott Neilson and John-Paul Kissock played high up the pitch, with Sergio Torres operating as playmaker in the centre of the park. David Ijaha was tasked with anchoring the midfield.

Whitehawk unwilling to cross the ball

Town lost the toss and were made to shoot down the pronounced slope during the first half. They made a strong start, creating a couple of chances in the opening minutes.

One of these near misses was from a left-wing corner taken by Louie Soares, and it was from exactly the same scenario that the visitors took the lead, aided by some sloppy defending from Whitehawk.

Going behind seemed to kick the home side up a gear. After Town’s initial surge, the early stages had been fairly cagey, with most of the action taking place in the middle third of the pitch.

Once the visitors got in front, Whitehawk gained the upper hand. Their passing was exceptional during this period and they were able to pin Town back.

The hosts got plenty of joy down the flanks, with their full-backs getting forward on the overlap as they looked to expose Basingstoke’s narrow midfield.

However, while they got into good crossing positions, they seemed reluctant to put the ball into the box, preferring to play intricate passes around the area.

They created a few half-chances, but on the whole, Town were able to get men into position to defend against this.

Tellingly, Whitehawk’s two best chances of the half came from different approaches. Kissock was denied by an excellent save at the end of a quick break down the right, while Danny Mills headed wide from a rare cross into the area by Lee Hills.

It wasn’t one-way traffic though – and Town really should have gone into half-time two goals ahead when some excellent play from Soares and Flood released Shaun McAuley.

Finishing is not the strongest part of his game. Too often he fails to make the goalkeeper work, going for power rather than precision when he gets into good positions. That was the case on Saturday, the midfielder blasting wide of the near post when he had time to pick his spot.

Basingstoke see the game out

Shooting up the slope after the break, Town were always going to need to produce a strong rearguard action to claim the win.

They created a couple of chances, with Soares failing to make the most of the best one, but in general it was a case of all hands to the pump defensively.

The changes made by Jason Bristow reflected this. Manny Williams was replaced by the energetic Simon Dunn in midfield, while Lloyd Macklin was asked to play on the left wing when he was brought on.

Macklin, a striker, replaced Soares, which on paper seemed an interesting move. It worked really well. I suspect Flood was favoured for the starting berth due to his exceptional work-rate, but Macklin certainly put a shift in for the team when he came on, tracking the Whitehawk right-back.

Flood did the same on the right, making Town’s formation 4-5-1, taking the onus for picking up the full-backs away from the central midfielders. They were free to ensure that Torres was unable to take a grip on the game. The ex-Town midfielder was denied space throughout the game but found it particularly hard in the second half.

Bristow’s third and final change saw Jay Gasson replace McAuley for the final minutes, giving Town a back five.

While Bristow was proactive in terms of using his substitutes, his counterpart, Steve King, was too cautious.

Yes, his side were very much on top for most of the second half, keeping the ball well and piling the pressure on Town – but the visitors’ defence held firm.

Whitehawk created a few good openings, but they could not make the most of them. A couple of times, players looked to play one pass too many, while on other occasions, there was no forward on hand to take advantage of loose balls inside the six-yard box.

Whitehawk’s plan wasn’t working, but it took King until the 85th minute to make a change, throwing a third striker on for one of his centre-backs and getting the ball into the Town box. It was a change that should have been made far earlier.

As it was, Bristow responded by bringing on Gasson and while Neilson nearly scored a fortuitous equaliser in injury-time, Town were able to see the game out.


I’m sure that Whitehawk went away from this game wondering how they lost, but they didn’t do enough in the final third to score a goal.

Town created just as many clear openings, despite having much less of the ball, and their defensive effort possibly deserved a three-point reward.

The shoe was very much on the other foot for Bristow’s men, who produced the sort of away performance that has been frustrating them at The Soccer AM Stadium for the past few months.

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