Antonio Gerrish, Lewis Waldon
Having to play for the best part of an hour with nine men, Royal Wootton Bassett Town fought bravely in their FA Vase second round tie at Horndean, narrowly losing 3-2.
Adversity brought the best out of Royal Wootton Bassett Town in their FA Vase second round clash with Horndean. Yet that didn't prove to be enough as they fell to a 3-2 defeat, running their hosts close despite having to play for the best part of an hour with nine men.
The outcome of the tie hinged on a controversial penalty awarded to Horndean in the game's 36th minute.
Chris Jackson was adjudged to have deliberately handled Harry Jackson's fiercely struck shot, resulting in the awarding of a spot kick and a red card for the defender, with Sam Collier joining his teammate for an early bath for expressing his outrage at the decision.
Having been dealt such a bad hand, the expectation was that Horndean would canter to victory in the second half. However, summoning all the spare reserves of energy they had, the nine Bassett men who remained on the pitch put up a fierce fight.
They were diligent and disciplined in their defending, frustrating the home team, who more often than not were forced to try their luck from range. They were dogged going forward too, knowing that the only hope they had of taking anything from the game was to go for broke. And that led to an equaliser from the tireless Lewis Waldon, only for Horndean to break Bassett's resistance with quarter of an hour to go, capitalising on a defensive lapse.
Horndean, flying high as they are in the consistently strong Wessex League Premier Division, were there for the taking. Had they preserved a full complement of players, or even only been reduced to ten men, then Bassett would have been confident of taking victory.
There was nothing overly special about the Hampshire outfit.
From the off their approach was direct. Bypassing the midfield, they sought to take advantage of the significant slope at Five Heads Park by directing countless diagonal balls in the direction of their dangerous left winger Jackson. He though was stymied by a rock-solid display from full back Kieran Diaz-Benitez, whose night would eventually be cut short after he took a blow head when trying to prevent Horndean's second goal.
Bassett's defence, playing uphill for the opening period, did expectedly come under pressure early on. Yet they coped with it brilliantly, limiting the number of opportunities allowed.
Dan Lawrence was brought into action on three occasions in the opening half hour. He batted away a Jackson strike from the edge of the area, while getting a fingertip to Danny Boyle's long-range effort, which did appear as though it was headed wide anyway. His best stop then denied Mike Everett, turning the ball around the near post after the sneaky forward had evaded the offside trap to latch onto a through ball and fired a snap half volley towards goal.
That provided a platform on which Bassett were able to build, and they took the lead on the half hour mark in stunning fashion. Antonio Gerrish gained possession just inside the hosts' half and, after advancing into the space ahead of him, unleashed a thirty-yard rocket that flew beyond Aaron Holt into the bottom right corner.
The lead would last all of seven minutes though, with Bassett being dealt a terrible blow in the process. A cross from the left was half cleared as far as Harry Jackson who, from close range, fired a fierce shot towards goal. At point blank range, the ball struck Chris Jackson, with the referee determining that the defender had knowingly blocked it with his hand.
It was an absolutely disgraceful decision. How on earth the referee could think that any player would deliberately do such a thing in that particular game situation - with your side a goal up with a good deal of time still to play in the opening period – is beyond belief. To compound matters, the shot was blasted at Jackson from a matter of yards away.
The damage was done, with Collier being sent off as well. And Jack Maloney confidently sent Lawrence the wrong way to even up the scores.
Horndean then went ahead seven minutes after the restart. Everett saw Lawrence block his shot at his feet, but the danger wasn't averted and, at the second time of asking, Ash Howes bundled in from close range.
Having gone ahead, the hosts may have been sensing a capitulation from their opponents. But Bassett never quit.
Within ten minutes they were on level terms. Kai Robinson, whose industrious performance in the heart of midfield was phenomenal, stole possession and delivered a perfect ball over the home right back for Waldon to run onto. On his weaker left foot and from a tight angle, the forward steered a delicate clip over Holt and into the opposite bottom corner.
Horndean were flustered, seemingly unclear what to do as all the possession they were having was getting them nowhere.
Jackson wasted a rare chance from inside the box when he struck wide after being played in by Everett's through ball. Otherwise, they were being limited to hopeful shots from range.
They were to be gifted the crucial third goal, however. Rather than clearing his lines, Harvey Scholes was caught out when trying to play a square pass deep inside the Bassett half, and substitute Josh Maloney pounced, winding his way into the box before stabbing the ball beyond Lawrence.
To that the visitors, still giving their all despite being spent, had no reply.
It was to their immense credit that they ensured Horndean were unable to kill the game off for good though. Lawrence was forced to make one more save, tipping Jack Maloney's powerful drive around the post, but otherwise he was untroubled the rest of the way.
Come full time, Rich Hunter's team were therefore left with nothing but an immense amount of credit to take from the game.
And that's the most disappointing aspect of an evening when you're left asking yourself what could have been.
Man of the Match: Kai Robinson – Bassett's display with nine men was exemplary, and Robinson was the pick of the bunch. There was no blade of grass he left uncovered as he tirelessly chased down ball after ball across the entire length and width of the pitch. His assist for Lewis Waldon's goal was superb too.
Credit: Stuart Smedley
Last modified on Wednesday 15th November 2017 at 00:20
Antonio Gerrish, Lewis Waldon