S Collier (2), T Dingle
Rylands Way, 5th April 2011
Unbelievable. It's an adjective bandied around football circles far too often. Its use should really be limited to describing the sublime and the ridiculous, but is far too frequently employed to depict something merely above average. However, few would begrudge using it to portray what occurred during the second half of Wootton Bassett Town's relegation six pointer against Witney United.
The remarkable period began with the visitors a goal to the good, and they quickly extended that lead. With their backs against the walls, Bassett valiantly fought back. But as chance after chance went begging, their hopes of salvaging something seemed remote until two corners in the space of three minutes changed the game. With the scores back level, both sides pushed and pushed and pushed. Witney were denied twice by the woodwork, while desperation defending snuffed out other chances at both ends. The pace of the game, the ferocity and abandon with which both teams attacked – it was a dream for the spectator. Then, when all appeared settled and the points destined to be split, came the game's truly unbelievable moment. It was nothing spectacular, instead it was ridiculous.
Chasing a loose ball after a spill, visiting ‘keeper Tim Griffiths and home forward Sam Collier tangled legs. A free kick should really have been awarded in Griffiths' favour, but astonishingly the near-side assistant waved his flag before placing it across his chest. Penalty. For what only he knows. The explanation given to his colleague in the middle was that Griffiths had lashed out at Collier. If so, he was the only person in the ground to have noticed it.
Uproar ensued, Griffiths was dismissed, while – as the storm temporarily calmed – Collier dusted himself off to smash home the spot-kick and give his side a 3-2 win and maximum points. The barrage of disapproval coming from the visitors continued though. Nick Weekes also received his marching orders for going too far with his protests, while the visitors' fans and officials barracked the offending assistant with cries of ‘cheat, cheat!' Their furore was more than understandable given the game's importance – prior to kick off the consensus was that the side who won the contest would, barring a spectacular surge in form from Carterton – the current occupiers of the final relegation spot, be all but safe for another season. But the choice of chant overstepped the mark.
It could have all been different though had Witney not taken a lead from their patron, Prime Minister David Cameron, and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
They controlled the first half, and should have been ahead on seven minutes. Neat interplay between Sean McKeon and Joe Fullerton carved open the Bassett defence and the latter set the ball back to the third member of their vibrant attacking trio, Joe Tustain. His firmly struck effort had Stewart Thompson beat, but Bassett were saved by the inside of the left post, the ball spraying across the face of goal before being hacked clear.
Half chances came and went for the hosts, but it was Witney who were causing the most problems and they were finally rewarded for their persistence four minutes before half time. Continuing with their bad habits, Bassett gave the ball away high up the pitch after a Collier pass fell well short of its intended target, and one long ball over the top was their undoing. McKeon raced onto it, outpacing James Turner, before sweeping the ball expertly into the bottom right corner.
Thirty seconds after the restart he doubled his side's advantage, with Bassett yet again carved open all too easily. A decisive move down the right flank opened up the home defence, and an inside pass to McKeon presented him with an easy chance from twelve yards which he did not waste.
It appeared to be game over. But staring a nail-biting fight from the drop in the face, the hosts fought back with gusto.
A careless throw out from Griffiths created an opening for Ethan Delaney to bear down on goal, but under pressure he struck wide, before a neat one-two between Collier and Tom Dingle led to the former hitting the near post from close range. Just before the hour, a dipping effort from Matty Bown, whose introduction to the game was inspired, was acrobatically tipped over after the visitors' ‘keeper had initially misjudged the ball's flight.
For all their effort, Bassett seemed as though they would go unrewarded. But that changed on 67 minutes. Sam Packer floated in a corner to the far post, which Shaun Carter redirected. On the edge of the six yard box, his defensive partner Liam Edmundson added another flick, and Dingle found himself in the right place at the right time to guide the ball into the back of the net from two yards out.
It was almost level a minute later when a Richie Carter lob with Griffiths stranded was headed off the line. Bassett wouldn't have to wait much longer for the equaliser though. Again it came from a Packer corner, Delaney this time helping it on, and Collier – ever the poacher – swivelled, expertly turning the ball in from ten yards.
Thereafter, all hell broke loose. Cautions, already having being received by Jon Beeden and McKeon, began to be dished out left, right and centre as tempers frayed and tackles flew in. The sides flew up and down the pitch, Witney coming closest to a winner, largely thanks to Tustain's purpose and drive. With ten minutes remaining he shrugged off the attention of Edmundson and fired a powerful toe poke at goal from the edge of the area, which Thompson was equal to. With just two minutes of the allotted 90 left, a 25-yard drive of his, aided by a slight deflection, rattled the woodwork and arrowed out for a corner. Jon Steedman weighted the resulting set piece perfectly and only a sublime fingertip save from Thompson prevented a goalwards bound header from crossing the line.
As the seconds wound down even more, play reverted to the other end where the game's most controversial moment played out before a dumbfounded crowd's eyes.
Unbelievable? Only to see what happened next was to believe it.
Scoop's Man of the Match: Sam Packer – energetic and workmanlike in the centre of midfield, Packer ran his tail off all evening. His two corners would lead to Bassett's first two goals and his clever use of possession and desire to take the game to the visitors caused problems.
Scoop Rating: 7/10 – the performance, especially in the opening 45 minutes and 30 minutes, was very average, and Bassett's mistakes were duly punished. But they fought back with intent and deservedly found themselves on level terms with twenty minutes remaining. From there on a draw would have been fair, although the final quarter of the match saw Dave Turner's side play brilliantly. Three points, however earned, were more than welcome.
Last modified on Monday 22nd June 2015 at 23:38
S Collier (2), T Dingle