ASM Stadium, 24th January 2015
It's around this time of year that talk about whether English football should, in line with countries on the continent, introduce a winter break surfaces. Supporters of such a proposition won't be using Wootton Bassett Town's return to action following a four week layoff as evidence to boost their case however, as they fell to a heavy 4-1 away defeat at Thame United.
Hosts Thame had enjoyed the benefit of playing two games since the turn of the year. Although they saw a 12 game league winning streak curtailed last week at Thatcham Town, there was a spring in their step and sharpness in decision making that their opponents, whose feet had been up since December 27th, were demonstrably lacking.
And that told, with Thame bursting into a three goal half time lead that they quickly extended after the game's restart.
Bassett's performance was a vapid one. Paul Braithwaite's side gifted Thame three of their goals, and while there were good enough chances created at the other end, there was not enough cutting edge to cut into the deficit they faced.
Thame got rolling in the eighth minute when a Bassett attack stalled and one long ball caught out the defence. Conor McDonagh charged forward to collect possession, shrugged off the challenge of a trailing George Drewitt and coolly dispatched beyond debutant Wes Clarke.
Ten minutes later it was two. Attempting to pass out from the back, Nathan Hawkins played a wayward pass that failed to find its intended target Dale Richards. This allowed Ben Gray to steal possession and he breezed by the left back, who took a bad angle when trying to close Gray down. The winger then continued forward before delivering a low cross which McDonagh slammed beyond Clarke with an emphatic first time finish.
In a hole, Bassett did come close to pulling at least one back as they enjoyed a brief spell of good play midway through the period.
On 26 minutes, a clipped pass was flicked onto Nathan Gambling, retreating from what would have been an offside position, via a home head. Taking advantage of this fortuitous flick, Gambling drove towards the byline before squaring across the six yard box only to find no teammate had made a bursting run into the box.
Moments later a flowing move initiated by Henry Traas culminated in an unmarked Steve Yeardley seeing a shot on the stretch from close range foiled by home stopper Matt Tapping. Receiving the ball on the halfway line, Traas squared to right back Callum Wright who played a perfectly weighted pass in over the Thame defence for Steve Robertson to run onto. The forward fended off a tackle before delicately delivering a cross from the right into the danger area which the onrushing Yeardley almost steered in.
It didn't take long for Bassett to punish for this profligacy. Luke Ricketts crossed from deep on the left to the far post where Gray, jumping off his back foot, was able to connect with a looping header that sailed over Clarke, who had got his starting position all wrong, and make it three.
Compounding that misery, Dan Bailey passed up a great opportunity at the other end. Capitalising on a defensive slip that left Tapping stranded off his line, Bailey sought to chip into the far corner only to find his effort clip the inside of the post. There was still work to do for Tapping with the ball still having a chance of crossing the line and the â€˜keeper did his best to get Bassett on the board as he dived on the loose ball only to fumble onto the right post before finally recovering.
While the odds of salvaging something from the game were extremely long, Braithwaite took a gamble at the break by making a double substitution and shifting from a 4-5-1 to a 3-5-2 formation.
With less than two minutes of the second period gone though, the move had not paid off.
Thame's pressing forced Bassett to again concede possession deep in their own half. Making matters, two weak challenges allowed Gray to dance free on the right edge of the box, and he squared to McDonagh, who put away another composed side foot finish for his hat-trick.
Almost immediately after conceding Bassett came close as Robertson shot on the turn after received a pass from Tyler Sheppard, but saw his effort crash off the left upright.
On the hour they were spared from letting in a fifth when another underhit pass, this time from Drewitt, was seized upon by Alex Kedzierski, creating a two-on-one for the hosts. The midfielder slipped in Gray, but Clarke ensured Thame did not make it a handful, parrying a firmly shot struck around the post.
Bassett did have the final say as Steve Yeardley sent Tapping the wrong way from the spot for his tenth of the season after Joe Hiscock had been bundled over in the box.
But the muted response to that late consolation was reflective of their vastly underwhelming return to action.
Well rested they may have been. Yet the lack of action over the last four weeks surely played a part in them ending up well beaten.
Man of the Match: Callum Wright – the best of a poor bunch. Wright, from his right back position, was the source of the few good attacks Bassett had in the opening period before shifting seamlessly into the centre of midfield after the half time reshuffle.
Last modified on Monday 22nd June 2015 at 23:38