Royal Wootton Bassett Town made title hopefuls Bracknell Town work hard for their 3-1 victory in an entertaining Easter encounter in Berkshire.
With Bracknell Town just a week removed from a 10-3 hiding of Fairford Town and having not dropped a point in the league this calendar year, Royal Wootton Bassett Town's youth-infused side would have been forgiven for approaching their latest trip to Berkshire with more than a degree of trepidation.
However, though they did come out of the game on the end of a 3-1 defeat, they can hold their heads up high after forcing the promotion chasing Robins to work hard for their latest triumph.
It was admittedly an afternoon when Bassett spent a large amount of time chasing the ball.
Aided by knowledge of their superb, slick 4G playing surface, the home side's passing and movement was metronomic throughout. Yet, digging in and playing a disciplined game, Bassett were more than able to frustrate their opponents.
In the end though Bracknell made their incessant pressure tell, with the visitors - tired legs all over the pitch as the second period wore on - unable to claw their way back into an entertaining contest.
Unsurprisingly, Bracknell's dominance of possession was evident from the start. Yet it was the visitors who had the first real opening after only five minutes when Dale Richards beat the offside trap to race onto Richie Saunders' through ball. Yet the forward lacked composure when bearing down on Chris Grace's goal and the home shotstopper was able to save at his feet.
Bracknell then did have good chances of their own, but Joe Grant snatched at a near post shot before finding the post from an angle with his next effort. His early range continued to falter when he could direct a free header into territory where Ian Gill was able to comfortably tip around the post.
A fourth opportunity then fell Grant's way on twenty minutes when he beat Harrison Gough for pace, but Gill foiled him by smothering at his feet.
Unscathed from that spell of play, Bassett responded by seizing the next chance that fell their way. Awarded a free kick on halfway, Steve Yeardley fired a testing ball into the box, which caught Joe Gater on the hand following an awkward bounce. Yeardley stepped up to take the spot kick and confidently swept beyond Grace into the bottom left corner.
The lead wouldn't last long though. Within four minutes, Bracknell were level. Bassett failed to take advantage of a corner and the home side broke decisively. Assuming possession at midfield, Grant burst beyond George Staten on the right wing, before coolly slotting beyond Gill low into the opposite corner.
Bracknell soon turned a deficit into a lead, seizing upon slack defending from a set piece. A Seb Bowerman corner was headed only as far as an unmarked Darren Wheeler lurking in the right corner. And before he could be closed down, the winger had recycled the ball into the box, which Gater guided beyond Gill with a close range free header.
Bassett held out for the remainder of the half, the only additional chance falling Bracknell's way coming when Bowerman sent a long-range drive directly at Gill.
That ensured the visitors were still in the game at the break, though no doubt conscious of the fact the Robins are a side who always look to turn the screw with their noses in front.
And, after a slow start following the restart, it was Gio Wrona who was first to come close to troubling the scorers again when he created enough space to strike a fizzing 25-yard drive, which Grace had to tip over.
As fatigue started to set in for Bassett – not helped by only having two substitutes available – Bracknell were able to assert themselves more than they did in the opening 45 minutes. And with the prolific TJ Bohane available to bring off the bench, Bassett's defence was in for a severe test.
They maintained their poise though, limiting Grant to a shot that he blazed over after a give-and-go with strike partner Adam Cornell before right back Elliott Legg forced Gill to save low with a daisycutter from the edge of the area and Bowerman was denied by Gill.
Eventually Bracknell were able to put the game away. Their clinching goal came with eighteen minutes to go and was the result of fine work by Grant. He beat Chris Jackson to a header by a millisecond, and raced onto his own flick. Getting to the byline, he cut back for Bohane, who had checked his run, and the forward made no mistake from twelve yards.
Recent weeks have seen Bassett capitulate with the game beyond them. Not this time, however.
They owed a particular debt to Gill, who made three more fine saves to deny Bohane, Wheeler and Bowerman. The post also came to the visitors' rescue as a tight-angled Wheeler effort clipped the near post before working its way across the face of goal where it was scrambled to safety.
Despite the final score, overall Sam Collier and his troops can be proud of their spirited performance here.
With those around Bassett in the table serving as cannon fodder for Bracknell in recent weeks, the Robins may not have expected their first Easter visitors to have posed as many questions as they did. They'll certainly need to be as alert when title rivals Highworth Town make the trip to Berkshire on Monday.
Man of the Match: Ian Gill – there was little the 'keeper could do to keep out the three goals Bracknell recorded, but Gill produced a number of outstanding saves to frustrate the home side's fearsome attacking options.
Credit: Stuart Smedley
Last modified on Saturday 31st March 2018 at 19:16