Despite putting in a performance worthy of a point, Wootton Bassett Town's start to their Christmas schedule was a poor one as a 79th minute goal from Mike Rhodes gave Cheltenham Saracens the three points.
Bassett welcomed back John Magani, making his first appearance since midway through last season, and the tricky forward was a thorn in Cheltenham's side from the off. In the 13th minute good work by Magani opened up an opportunity for Leigh Jones on the edge of the area. Jones' shot from a tight angle sailed wide though.
Three minutes later, Ben Gascoyne worked his way out of the corner before firing an effort from 18-yards but once again Ryan Betteridge wasn't made to work in the Saracens goal.
Both sides pressurised each other but both defences held firm for the majority of the first half. Gascoyne had another chance in the 34th minute as he struck over from 30-yards.
Despite causing Cheltenham problems with the pace and trickery of Magani and Gascoyne up front, it was Cheltenham who had the best chance of the first half as some sloppy play at the back allowed the home side to create chances.
Eight minutes before half time, a clearance from Mike Wilce was missed by Dwayne Quinn and Andy Crosskey charged down loose ball. Crosskey managed a shot from the edge of the area but the ball rolled wide of the target.
Crosskey forced a save from Paul Hawkins in the 43rd minute after striking first time from Adam Staines' header.
Four minutes after the restart the Cheltenham defence failed to clear a Steve Bunting corner and the ball fell to an unmarked Leigh Jones on the edge of the area. Jones' effort took a deflection and was safely held by Betteridge.
Cheltenham countered from this and Marcus Finch managed to get a deft touch on the ball 15-yards out, only for the ball to roll just wide.
On 52 minutes Luke Tovey beat Jones down the right before crossing to an unmarked Finch, his 20-yard effort went just over as Bassett's fatigue started to show.
Two minutes later Jones again intercepted a clearance on the edge of the area. Again the shot was deflected well wide of goal and Betteridge fumbled an easy save wide, gifting Bassett a corner.
On the hour mark Alex Moxey sent a high ball over the top after a Bassett attack had broken down, which Crosskey found himself on the end of. The forward, however, shot wide.
James Townsend replaced Steve Bunting with twenty five minutes to go before an auspicious 30-yard effort from Paul Crabtree nearly gave Bassett the lead. Magani played the ball back to Crabtree, and with no other option the midfielder let fly from distance. The ball looked as though it would sail well over but dipped, testing Betteridge – who in the end breathed a sigh of relief when the ball went over.
A small fracas between Staines and Richard Unwin produced the only two yellow cards of the night after Unwin felt Staines had challenged Hawkins dangerously after Hawkins spilled and recovered a high ball.
With fifteen minutes to go Gascoyne again worked his way through the Cheltenham defence before seeing his shot parried away by Betteridge only as far as a waiting Magani. Magani's effort was weak and rolled across the face of goal as Magani went for too much placement and not enough power.
A long Gascoyne throw was then flicked onto Magani at the far post. Magani shot on the turn only for his effort to be blocked.
Townsend then had a good chance but his first touch was his downfall as he failed to control a low Gascoyne cross at the far post before Gascoyne had a shot from the edg of the box saved.
Cheltenham broke from this and got their goal. Crosskey took on two in the corner before sending a ball across goal. Rich Gee failed to clear from this when he had a chance to and the ball fell to Rhodes twenty yards out. He drilled a low shot into the bottom corner past a stranded Hawkins.
Bassett had one more chance with six minutes to go. A Gascoyne ball once again fell to Jones on the edge of the area. Jones' effort was drilled low and towards goal and was helped on by Stu Hemsley but Betteridge was there to collect the loose ball and preserve the win.
Scoop's Man of the Match: Ben Gascoyne – Once again a thorn in the opposition's defence side as his twisting runs and power created a number of chances. Him and John Magani both kept the Cheltenham defender's on their feet but a lack of support from central midfield didn't allow the two to cause greater damage.
Scoop Rating: 7/10 – A solid performance against the best footballing side Bassett have faced all year but some average defending let the side down in the end and failure to score from chances hurt as well. Two wins from the remaining two games over Christmas and New Year are needed if Bassett are to stay in touching distance of the leaders.
Credit: Stuart Smedley
Last modified on Friday 18th September 2020 at 09:25