Bassett hoping competition is the key to success this season
Monday 31 July 2017 - by Stuart Smedley (Updated on 31 July 2017 at 16:08)
For Royal Wootton Bassett Town manager Rich Hunter it's been perhaps a busier summer than originally anticipated.
Having taken over shortly after the start of the 2016-17 campaign in difficult circumstances, the Bassett boss performed admirably as he helped steady the ship, leading to an eventual mid-table finish in the Hellenic League Premier Division.
Come the end of the year, he had a settled squad, with the priority for the summer set to be fine-tuning the cadre of players at his disposal ahead of his first full season in the hotseat.
Yet the departure of last season's Manager's Player of the Year, Players' Player of the Year and top scorer presented Hunter with what many would have considered an unenviable challenge.
However, while 'keeper Curtis Meare, defender Dan Comer and forward Steve Robertson have all moved on to league rivals Wantage Town, Hunter has astutely filled the gaps created by their departures.
On top of that he has recruited strongly, bolstering the squad's strength in depth.
Meare was superb between the sticks for Bassett over the past two years. But his place will be taken by Ant Brown, who joins from Malmesbury Victoria. And, on the basis of his pre-season performances, he possesses shot-stopping and kicking abilities that rival those of his predecessor.
Defensively, Jonny Aitkenhead and Chris Jackson have been snatched away from Division One West champions Fairford Town, while Aaron Stevens – Player of the Year last year at Purton, former Wantage full back Sam Brown and ex-Malmesbury right back Josh Hughes have also put pen to paper.
Both Aitkenhead and Stevens – Bassett players in their youth football days – are versatile enough to fit in anywhere along the backline, while Jackson is an imposing centre half.
It's in the midfield that Bassett have reinforced most.
Classy holding player Callum Wright, returning to the game after a lengthy layoff thanks to a knee injury picked up while at university in the United States, is as good as a new signing. Alongside him, Gio Wrona brings both youth and Southern League experience, Nathan Blackford – another capture from Fairford – will provide energy and goals, Aaron Maximen offers a physical presence alongside a great touch, and Joe Herbert brings goal-scoring ability from the middle of the pitch.
Up front, Nathan Gambling returns for a second spell from Highworth Town, and is a proven goalscorer at this level. His hold-up ability will also serve to support the skilful, pacey Mason Thompson - signed from Wantage - and tricky Bradley Clark.
They'll all be vying for places alongside the vast majority of last season's side, who – except for the aforementioned Wantage-bound trio and Liam Edmondson – have all committed themselves to Bassett again.
Unsurprisingly, competition for places has been fierce in a pre-season that has yielded three wins and four defeats, with performances that have, admittedly, been varying in quality.
Bassett's series of friendlies started with a 2-0 victory away against Western League Premier Division Chipping Sodbury Town thanks to goals from Dan Bailey and Callum Wright.
They then defeated REME MOD Lyneham 4-2, with Mason Thompson registering his first goal for the club. He was on target again in a 2-1 triumph away at Corsham Town.
A home fixture against Swindon Supermarine saw Bassett face their first test against higher level opposition. Hunter used the game to experiment with formations, and his team ended up losing 5-0.
Their final week of tune-ups began with a seven-goal thriller away at Malmesbury Victoria. Although Thompson bagged a brace and Nathan Gambling also struck, Bassett were on the wrong end of the scoreline.
The team's penultimate warm-up was a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Devizes Town on a trying evening at the Gerard Buxton Sports Ground.
But Bassett redeemed themselves in their final friendly against Southern League Shortwood United. Josh Hughes put the hosts ahead in a first half during which Bassett were unfortunate not to have extended their advantage. Their performance level was high throughout, but Shortwood were able to come from behind and prevail 2-1.
Despite the result, it was a positive way to complete preparations for the campaign ahead of the serious business getting underway on Wednesday at Brackley Town Saints.