Sam Packer, Callum Wright
Royal Wootton Bassett Town saw a half time lead slip and two men sent off as they fell to a 3-2 defeat against local rivals Highworth Town.
Meetings with Highworth Town are rarely uneventful. And the latest instalment of Royal Wootton Bassett Town's derby series with their north Wiltshire rivals was no exception, with five goals, two red cards and, ultimately, a somewhat flattering 3-2 home victory for the Worthians.
It helped the hosts no end that both dismissals went to Bassett players, with Kai Robinson and Steve Yeardley being shown second yellow cards within five second half minutes.
And that period of play proved to be the game's turning point as Bassett, having deservedly been 1-0 up at half time thanks to Callum Wright's coolly taken 34th minute finish, were unsurprisingly unable to hold out with nine men.
Aysa Corrick's penalty, which immediately followed Yeardley's red, levelled things up before Highworth's leading marksman from last season headed a second shortly after. Jake Slocombe's breakaway goal then put the game's outcome beyond doubt, with Sam Packer able to add only a consolation with the last kick of the game for the visitors.
The defeat was another frustrating one for Bassett. For the third time against one of the Hellenic League Premier Division's pre-season favourites, Rich Hunter's team found themselves in a strong position at the break. Yet, as occurred against Bracknell Town and Thatcham Town, Bassett suffered a second half collapse, the difference this time being that it was a loss of discipline that proved fatal to their chances of taking something from the game.
They hadn't been helped by the rather questionable refereeing that permeated a contest which was largely played in a competitive but fair spirit with no rough tackles to report on throughout its entire duration.
Twice in the opening ten minutes, Bassett were victims of an injustice.
With only five minutes gone, Sam Packer got the better of home centre half Wayne Turk and was tripped to the floor a good foot inside the area, only for a free kick to be awarded after lengthy deliberation between referee and assistant.
Moments later, Rory Sproule found himself in the book after protesting a mind-boggling offside decision. With Highworth 'keeper Garry Aulsberry nursing a knock, centre half Tom Cole was tasked with taking goal kicks. One such kick came was re-directed by Bassett, with Sproule on the end of the pass. At this point Cole was still to leave his own penalty area, yet still the assistant raised his flag.
Highworth then had a spell of pressure. A fast counter saw Corrick streak free as he took advantage of Jonny Aitkenhead going down with a knee injury. The forward then square for Callum Parsons, whose low drive from inside the box was held by Dan Lawrence. Dan Drewett then struck straight at the 'keeper from a Ryan O'Hara corner before Chris Taylor flashed a 25-yard strike across the face of goal and narrowly off target.
For the remainder of the half though, it was Bassett who were in control.
Sproule and Packer were linking up effectively up front as Highworth's defence – studded with Southern League experience – failed to corral them. Just before the half hour a give-and-go opened up their backline, with Packer squaring into the six-yard box for Sproule, who somehow struck over from close range.
Seven minutes later Bassett were ahead. Lawrence struck forward a free kick, which Robinson brilliantly flicked on. The ball fell for Turk, but he was robbed on the edge of the box by Gio Wrona, whose through ball set Wright free to slot into the bottom corner.
While that should have been the visitors' second, they came close to doubling their advantage as half time loomed. Wrona's raking diagonal ball picked out Sproule, who – after holding up play – rolled in Packer. Bassett's playmaker, who always seems to step up to the occasion in these fixtures, shot low from an angle, forcing an alert Aulsberry to tip around the post.
Bassett therefore had to make do with their narrow lead, though they were certainly worth it. And that appeared as though it would continue in the second half.
Two Parsons free kicks from dangerous positions just outside the area were survived when he struck weakly into the wall, while a dangerous Cole header from O'Hara's corner was batted away by Lawrence before two follow-ups were blocked on the line.
But Bassett themselves continued to probe, with Sproule winning every aerial duel and Packer, Wrona and Harvey Scholes ensuring their playmaking presence had to be respected.
Yet, that was quickly to change. Robinson, whose positive performance had again stood out, had picked up a caution for delaying the restart of play early in the second period. It didn't take long for him to receive a second as he pushed out at Taylor, having been frustrated by the referee's failure to stop play as the Worthians' midfielder tugged at his shirt.
Highworth were soon awarded a penalty as Scholes was penalised for catching wideman Josh Jones while stretching for the ball. The hosts spurned the chance to get on level terms though as Jones' spot kick was well saved by Lawrence low to his left.
That allowed Bassett to breathe a brief sigh of relief, which was ended by a moment of madness from veteran Yeardley. As Highworth prepared to take a throw in the right corner, the Bassett skipped felled Jones off the ball, resulting in his second yellow and another penalty for the hosts, which Corrick emphatically put away.
Having to battle on with nine men, Bassett's hopes of taking something from the match appeared shot.
And three minutes after netting their equaliser, Highworth were ahead. Drewett delivered a towering cross from the right, which Corrick, jumping off his back foot, met with a looping header that sailed into the nearside top corner.
With their lead, Highworth were in control and dominated possession for the remainder of the game. However, a combination of tireless work from their opponents and a desire to pass the ball into goal meant they struggled to extent their advantage.
They still had to contend with Bassett at the other end too as balls pumped forward for Sproule led to a pair of half chances, the first of which was fired narrowly over and the second blasted at Aulsberry, who needed two attempts to get a complete grasp on the ball.
Highworth came close to a third when Jones stepped inside Cheetham and saw his powerful shot deflected wide courtesy of Sam Collier's well timed block.
They finally did find the net again when Bassett were caught on the break and Slocombe raced onto Corrick's pass in behind the visiting defence, knocked it pass an onrushing Lawrence and tapped into an empty net.
Bassett did have the final say, but it was mere consolation. A pass into Ben Lodge on the edge of the area and the youngster's backheel set Packer free, and he produced a fine finish to cap off a well-worked move.
Were it not for his team's earlier discipline issues, perhaps that goal could have meant more.
Man of the Match: Rory Sproule – a brilliant performance from the Bassett frontman. He was a tireless worker, won everything in the air, and linked up well with Bassett's trio of attacking midfielders – Sam Packer in particular – as they made life difficult for the home defence.
Credit: Stuart Smedley
Last modified on Monday 28th August 2017 at 20:47
Sam Packer, Callum Wright