Matt Jones, Dale Richards
Royal Wootton Bassett Town's Hellenic League Premier Division season ended with a disappointing 3-2 defeat away against Woodley United as Sam Collier's side let slip a 2-0 half time lead.
It was rather fitting that Royal Wootton Bassett Town ended the 2017-18 season with a defeat that was a microcosm of their ultimately disappointing Hellenic League Premier Division campaign.
A solid start to the visit to Woodley United had seen Bassett stake out a 2-0 half time lead. But, similar to the way in which they have fallen by the wayside since the turn of the year, Bassett surrendered that advantage in the second period, with the home side – desperate for victory that would keep hopes of a third from bottom finish alive – triumphing 3-2 thanks to captain Idris Kamara's late winner.
Proceedings had gotten off to such a promising start. With less than three minutes gone Matt Jones fired the visitors in front with a pinpoint half-volley following Gio Wrona's clever lofted reverse pass.
In a prelude to what would turn out to be a breakneck, end-to-end second half, opportunities arose at both ends of the pitch throughout the first 45 minutes.
Jake Nicholls had three bites at the cherry in quick succession at the hosts, but the best he could was sting Alex Bowers palms with a low drive after his initial free kick had been blocked.
His teammate Sam Guze then forced a fine tip around the post as he raced onto Danny Horscroft's reverse pass and shot from a tight angle.
At the other end, Jones released Dale Richards with a fine defence splitting pass, but the forward took a heavy touch, not helped by the dry, bobbly pitch, when trying to round 'keeper Alex Read and the ball harmlessly ran out of play.
Ben Lodge then tried his luck from outside the area after shrugging off the attentions of a defender, though his effort took a deflection on its way into Read's arms.
Moments later, an intricate one-two with Jones on the edge of the box set Lodge free in the right channel. His cut back was blocked and fell to Jones, who could only drag wide.
Bassett finally made Woodley pay for a second time eight minutes before the break. George Lance delivered a superb ball in behind the home side's high back line, which Richards galloped on to. After lifting over the onrushing 'keeper – no mean feat given the awkward bounce it took – he then steered in from the edge of the area.
That should have meant Bassett came out full of confidence following the restart, particularly after surviving a late scare when Horscroft's cross flashed across the six-yard box.
However, that would not be the case.
Credit must go to Woodley, who came out all guns blazing. They had no option really given that they needed victory against Bassett plus a last day triumph over Longlevens (as well as some help from Brackley Town Saints) in order to climb above Fairford Town and reduce the probability of relegation.
Woodley almost halved the deficit within the opening minute of the game getting back underway, but a last ditch sliding tackle from Bowers prevented Toby Briggs from rounding the 'keeper as the hosts seized on a mishit Wrona pass and broke decisively.
They wouldn't have to wait long to register though. Bassett failed to clear their lines from a corner and the ball fell for substitute Toby Bridges on the edge of area, and he thrashed home a stunning strike that left Bowers no chance.
Panic seemed to set in the Bassett camp after conceding as Woodley ramped up the pressure.
Yet Sam Collier's side still had chance, perhaps none better than that which fell to Josh Coombe when he stole possession and burst past last man Kamara only to blaze wide when through on goal. Then, just after the hour, a Richards free kick was parried onto the bar by Reed.
Unable to take advantage of those opportunities, Bassett conceded the equaliser on 67 minutes. A neat pass was played into Horscroft, who turned his man and produced a precise finish from an acute angle.
Restoring parity ramped up Woodley's sense of belief even further. And they could have gone ahead within minutes, Horscroft being denied by Harrison Gough's header off the line and an unmarked Briggs snatching at a shot from fifteen yards.
Their decision to throw everyone bar Kamara and 'keeper Reed forward did leave them exposed though and they almost fell behind on two further occasions as time wound down. Lodge drilled in a cross from the right which Logan Cassidy came close to steering in at the far post, before Lodge, latching onto Chris Jackson's free kick evaded Reed's challenge on the edge of the area only to see his shot blocked by Kamara, who appeared to grab a handful of the youngster's shirt as he made his way into the box.
One final chance then fell Woodley's way with three minutes remaining. And, much to their delight and Bassett's frustration, they took it. A free kick from halfway was pumped into the box. Again Bassett failed to deal with the set piece, and the ball dropped for Kamara - by this point freed of his defensive duties, and his first time shot on the turn squeezed its way into the bottom corner.
The loss means that Bassett have the ignominious record of having lost to each of the Premier Division's bottom four teams.
What once had the feel of a promising year has petered out into a mediocre season.
The task now is to take the summer to re-group and ensure that Bassett's sixth straight season of Hellenic League Premier Division football – itself a club record – is a successful one.
Man of the Match: George Lance – worked tirelessly at full back, pulling off a fine saving tackle to deny a one-on-one opportunity in the second half while also doing well going forward.
Credit: Stuart Smedley
Last modified on Thursday 26th April 2018 at 23:29
Matt Jones, Dale Richards