Game of two halves sees promising season end on a negative note

Saturday 06 April 2019 - by Stuart Smedley (Updated on 07 April 2019 at 11:55)

Royal Wootton Bassett Town ended their 2018-19 Hellenic League Premier Division season with a 3-2 home defeat against Longlevens, having been 2-0 in front at half time.

Gerard Buxton Sports Ground, 6th April 2019

Royal Wootton Bassett Town threw away a 2-0 half time advantage as they finished their 2018-19 Hellenic League Premier Division campaign with a 3-2 defeat against Longlevens.

Goals from TJ Bohane and Brad Pagliaroli had put Sam Collier's team in a commanding position at the break. But a lethargic second half performance, combined with a resurgent display from their relegation battling visitors ultimately saw Bassett pass up the opportunity to end their season with three straight victories and match the club's highest ever points total while a member of the Hellenic Premier.

In all, the final ninety minutes before the summer break was a microcosm of Bassett's year: dominant and in full control in parts, yet clearly second best in others. While currently sitting eighth, it is likely that Binfield and Flackwell Heath will overtake them, meaning that a top half finish at step five remains elusive.

Against Longlevens, it was another case of what could have been.

The hosts did cede the first chance of the game to the visitors as Jay Malshanskyj forced a smart tip around the post from Gary Aulsberry in the opening minute.

But with nine minutes on the clock Collier's team were in front. Sam Packer picked out Pagliaroli on the left with a weighted diagonal free kick and the forward proceeded to drive past his man and cutback from the byline for Bohane, making his first start since returning from injury, to bundle home his twentieth goal of the season.

Longlevens were posing a threat, but a strong defensive display, led by experienced centre halves Mark James and Carl Evans, prevented them from mustering anything more than half chances. Two speculative efforts from Brad Martin saw the dangerman volley over and force a comfortable parry from Aulsberry, while the same player skewed over a side-foot volley from a Harry Emmett cross while under pressure.

Bassett, meanwhile, were looking the more dangerous when they approached the final third, and they duly doubled their advantage seven minutes before half time.

And it came via a well-worked goal. Cutting inside from the right, Josh Shama picked out Pagliaroli with a pin-point Crossfield pass. The winger then breezed past Finn Brown before arrowing a powerful drive into the opposite corner from a tight angle. That took Pagliaroli to eighteen for the season – a fine return, which has featured some spectacular finishes.

He then came close to doubling his tally for the day. Shama again teed him up, just beating the defender to the ball in order to toe-poke a pass to his teammate. But, after shooting towards the nearside bottom corner from an angle, the double Player of the Year award winner was thwarted by Ashley Wintle batting the ball around the post.

Still, Bassett were in no mood to rue that close call. They appeared fully in control, with Longlevens heads going down given the position they were in.

While Bassett had stepped down a gear and were defending deeper than they had done in the opening 45 minutes, in the early stages of the second half their lead did not appear to be in that much danger.

Shaun O'Connor and Martin both struck straight at Aulsberry and Bassett again almost had a third when a delicate Bohane free kick was palmed over.

But, with eighteen minutes remaining, Longlevens salvaged a lifeline. Awarded a free kick thirty yards out from goal, the danger did not appear to be grave. Yet, presented with just a one-man wall, O'Connor struck a low, powerful effort down the middle, with the movement on the ball deceiving Aulsberry.

Five minutes later they were level. Aulsberry failed to pluck an O'Connor corner out of the air, and the ball was recycled into the box and flicked home by Malshanskyj.

Sensing a winner, the final stages of the game saw the Bassett goal come under siege. And Longlevens should have been ahead when possession was stolen from Packer and O'Connor worked a pass inside to an unmarked Sam Hendy, but he somehow shot over from ten yards when it appeared easier to score. Martin and Malshanskyj then both narrowly missed the target from the edge of the box as Bassett seemed increasingly likely to somehow hang on.

But a Longlevens winner arrived with three minutes to go. Hendy beat Elias Youssef in the air to head a goal kick down to O'Connor and, with his second touch, the forward, catching the 'keeper off his line, sailed an audacious thirty-five yard strike over Aulsberry's head and into the net.

On the balance of things, it sealed a victory Longlevens deserved - and three points that helps them hugely in their fight to maintain the step five status that it would be great to see them preserve.

For Bassett though, it only added to the significant tally of points they feel should have been theirs were it not for sloppy mistakes in what was ultimately a promising season that could have been better.

For Bassett though, it only added to the significant tally of points they feel should have been theirs were it not for self-inflicted wounds in what was ultimately a promising season that could have been better.

Man of the Match: Danny Lachacz – he finished a strong season with a typically dogged, battling performance in the middle of the park, tidying play up and winning the vast majority of 50-50 duels that he contested.

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