Mark Barnes, Matt Bown, Steve Yeardley
Rylands Way, 7th September 2012
It was bold. It was brave. Much more than that, in a game of such magnitude, it was a risk. But Dave Turner's decision to select an extremely attack-minded side ultimately paid off and helped write Wootton Bassett Town history as they booked a place in the FA Cup Second Qualifying round following a 3-1, come from behind victory against near neighbours Highworth Town.
Going with three at the back was something the Bassett boss has done – to both good and bad effect – this season. When doing so, there was always a balance struck between defence and attack. Against the Worthians, however, an attacking intent was signalled with Josh Morse and Ethan Delaney coming in to start out wide in place of Jack Ellis and Craig Bowden, thus adding further firepower to complement the forward trio of Shaun Terry, Matt Bennett and Mark Barnes.
Initially the gamble appeared as though it would not work as Highworth took the lead after just four minutes. Bassett appeared not to have heeded the lessons from last week's FA Vase defeat to GE Hamble, who exploited the wide open expanses on both flanks to great effect. From just inside the home side's half, Jonny Aitkenhead sprayed an inch perfect cross-field ball that picked out Bradley Clarke, who had drifted out to the left hand side. Having also drawn a defender, the tricky forward fashioned a yard of space, curling a cross into the box which an unmarked Aaron Maximen easily headed past Stewart Thompson.
Minutes later Bassett could have been faced with a mountain to climb when Liam Williams rose at the far post to meet Craig Whitbread's corner with a firm header, but luckily the defender guided his effort narrowly wide.
Having finally found their feet, the home side began to threaten Highworth and just after the quarter hour mark Shaun Terry forced an awkward save from Ryan Griggs with a curling free kick. Three minutes later they looked certain to equalise. Ethan Delaney initiated a counter attack, racing almost the length of the field down the right wing before teasing a low cross from near the byline into a packed penalty area. However, Darren Smart's diving header at the near post ensured the visitors conceded only a corner.
The leveller appeared imminent and finally arrived with fifteen minutes to go until the break. And it was a truly well worked goal. Barnes released the supremely impressive Morse in the left channel, and after turning his marker inside out the former England Colleges FA international whipped a sublime left-footed cross to Terry at the far post. Shaping to shoot, the veteran forward instead cleverly squared to the onrushing Steve Yeardley, who had read his teammate's intentions correctly, and the Bassett skipper swept the ball home from close range.
By now the game had opened up completely and the teams traded chances before the interval. For Bassett, Delaney's firm, low drive forced a parry from Griggs before the visitors again threatened from a set piece, which was headed across goal and agonisingly wide.
Bennett then found himself one-on-one with the Highworth stopper following a Barnes flick-on, but he skewed his attempted lob, leading to a quick counter. The ball was worked up to Clark, who cut back for Maximen and his snap shot was batted away by Thompson.
The tie was on a knife edge. There was no other way to describe the game: both teams were determined to get forward, Highworth in a more direct fashion, while both back threes were having their defensive discipline tested by clever forward play.
Neither team was able to gain the upper hand early on following the restart, although Highworth did have two reasonable chances that ended up with the ball in the side netting. The effervescent Rich Saunders guided a near post header just wide from a corner before Clark was afforded enough room by Shaun Carter to allow him a sight at goal, but he too placed his drive the wrong side of the upright.
The game's turning point finally arrived on 64 minutes when Bassett were awarded a penalty. With Highworth's defence standing off, Bennett took the opportunity to drive towards goal. When he finally attracted some meaningful attention, he slipped a deft through ball to Barnes who was unable to take advantage of a one-on-one chance after being nudged from behind by Aitkenhead. The visitors were fortunate not to be reduced to ten men, but they were forced to chase a deficit as Matt Bown – the Iceman from twelve yards - coolly sent Griggs the wrong way.
Trailing, Highworth were clearly rattled, and Clark was quickly booked for a rash challenge on Liam Edmondson.
Bassett then wrapped up victory with quarter of an hour to go, scoring another well worked goal. Bown, impressive in the midfield engine room, dribbled into space, and once the defender was drawn he slipped through Terry, who had timed his run from the left side of the area perfectly. At the byline, he squared expertly for Barnes and the prolific forward bundled the ball in from close range.
Highworth had no answer as Turner immediately tightened things up at the back, switching to an orthodox four man defensive line by replacing Terry – on a booking after needlessly poleaxing Aitkenhead in the opening period – with Craig Bowden.
Saunders tried from range for Highworth but his effort was in vain, dragging the ball well wide. The closest the visitors came to inflicting any nervousness for the hosts was in injury time when substitute Paul Cooper flicked a floating Clark free kick towards goal. Thompson punched acrobatically wide, though the save appeared more dramatic than was necessary.
In the end Highworth were well beaten, giving Bassett their third victory as underdogs in this year's FA Cup.
The team who dared had triumphed. The team who dared made history.
Scoop's Man of the Match: Josh Morse – there were many candidates for this award, but in his first start Morse was immense. The turn and cross which helped set up Bassett's first was sublime, while his turn of pace and trickery helped constantly force Highworth onto the back foot.
Scoop Rating: 10/10 – the first ten minutes of the match aside, this was one of the most complete performances Bassett have put together in the last decade. And it will be a night few of the near-300 strong crowd will forget.
Last modified on Monday 22nd June 2015 at 23:38
Mark Barnes, Matt Bown, Steve Yeardley