Great effort, yet no derby reward
Tuesday 26 December 2017 - by Stuart Smedley (Updated on 26 December 2017 at 20:09)
A goal after forty seconds determined the outcome of Royal Wootton Bassett Town's home Boxing Day derby against Highworth Town in the visitors' favour.
Gerard Buxton Sports Ground, 26th December 2017
Royal Wootton Bassett Town went toe-to-toe with league leaders Highworth Town in their Boxing Day encounter. Yet, a defensive slip that ultimately led to a goal just forty seconds into the match meant that Bassett ended a tense contest emptyhanded.
It wasn't what Rich Hunter's team deserved after a fine performance that saw them hold the Worthians' attack – led by Callum Parsons, who had stuck five past Bassett in their recent Wiltshire Senior Cup quarter final tie – firmly in check.
But that error, combined with a frustrating lack of cutting edge in the final third, meant that it wasn't to be for them come full time.
The game's decisive goal came after Bassett failed to clear their lines, an awkward backpass from Tony Joyce meaning Dan Lawrence was unable to get much distance on his kick. Joyce then slipped when Highworth recycled the ball into the box, and Kieron Gleed seized on the slip, steering a deft shot from a tight angle beyond the 'keeper.
After a pair of festive thrashings at the hands of their local rivals in the past two seasons, Bassett could have been forgiven for thinking a third would be on the cards with the visitors going in front so soon into the game.
However, Bassett summoned a performance of real quality, giving their high-flying opponents a real run for their money.
Admittedly at times during the opening period, Bassett were guilty of playing a dangerous game, and were fortunate that their visitors were frequently straying offside.
But the hosts successfully limited the openings Highworth's free-scoring frontline managed to create.
Only once more in the opening half were they able to produce a shot on goal from within Bassett's penalty area, a chance which saw Lawrence thwart Parsons from a tight angle after a clever run allowed Gleed to pick out the unmarked forward with a diagonal ball into the box.
Aside from that, they were reduced to Jason Milhench twice trying his luck from range. But he saw a rasping drive held by Lawrence before he dragged wide from distance.
While successful defending their own goal, Bassett were unable to craft much at the other end.
Highworth 'keeper Garry Aulsberry was forced to make one save before the break – and it was a good one at that to keep out Ben Lodge in the 18th minute. A Gio Wrona corner wasn't cleared, and the midfielder recycled the ball into the box, with his cross eventually dropping for Lodge. The youngster, who impressed in a rare start, produced a snap shot from fifteen yards out, which Aulsberry, through a sea of bodies in front of him, only saw late, doing well to push it around the post.
A couple of minutes later Mason Hathaway saw a drive from distance fly narrowly wide of the left post, while on the stroke of half time his pass forward was helped on by a Lodge flick, but Kai Robinson failed to locate the target when shooting from the left edge of the box.
Shots on goal were at even more of a premium following the restart in a game that, though not sparking fully into life, remained intriguing right up until the end.
Ten minutes after the restart, Joyce seized on Nick Stanley's underhit pass and quickly played a through ball for Harvey Scholes in behind the stranded left back. Scholes then attempted a speculative lob from outside the area which a scrambling Aulsberry did well to tip over.
Both 'keepers then had to be alert to keep out free kicks from the deep that were allowed to bounce in the box. First, Lawrence got down well at his near post to parry Chris Taylor's awkward delivery away before his opposite number diverted a Wrona set piece around his right post after the ball had travelled across the face of goal untouched.
The game remained finely poised. And Gleed was unable to kill the game off when presented with a golden chance to do so eleven minutes from time. Jordan Roberts' switch from the right wing evaded Joyce, picking out the wide open Gleed, but he could only thrash over from the edge of the area.
With a point still up for grabs, there was one final opportunity for Bassett in the second minute of injury time. But they were unable to claim it as substitute Sam Collier saw his fierce shot from just outside the box blocked by Steve Yeardley as it appeared destined for the bottom corner.
It was therefore a case of so near, yet so far for Bassett. Though they can take pride from a fine performance, there'll be a lingering sense of frustration that they came away with nothing to show for it.
Man of the Match: Matt Cheetham – the central midfielder was outstanding again, throwing himself into challenges, making a number of key tackles and also helping initiate attacks for his side.