Royal Wootton Bassett Town bowed out of the Emirates FA Cup with their heads held high after they pushed National League South Oxford City all the way in a nail-biting Second Qualifying Round tie.
Sam Ockwell had Bassett dreaming of a third upset win in a row in the competition. But Dan Matzusaka's headed equaliser and Jacob Bancroft's fortuitous winning goal with five minutes remaining saw City progress with a hard-earned 2-1 victory.
It was a cruel, cruel way for Bassett to exit the competition, particularly given the nature of the decisive goal. But Sam Collier's side can be immensely proud of the run they have been on, which has seen them eliminate two Southern League sides and run an Oxford City team three leagues above them immensely close.
Bassett certainly made Oxford sweat for their victory. A professional performance saw Collier's side slow the pace of the game down to an extent that the visitors were unable to establish any sort of rhythm. Their solidity at the back ensured City struggled to create chances from open play. And, until the final minute of the contest, Bassett asked questions of their visitors.
With it being Oxford's first competitive fixture of the campaign, it was certain that they would be a little ring rusty. But, playing against Hellenic League Premier Division opposition, they surely weren't expecting the type of test that they ultimately endured. Indeed, the neutral fan would have been hard pressed to ascertain the difference in level between the two sides.
City dominated possession in the opening period. But that failed to translate into any real clear cut chances on goal.
On 12 minutes, James Roberts flashed wide from 25 yards while, four minutes later, Lewis Coyle forced a parry from Harrison Ellis with a tight angled shot.
But in the opening quarter of the game, it was Bassett who had arguably the best opportunity, Ockwell firing a low free kick in from thirty yards which visiting shotstopper Ben Dudzinski had to ensure he paid close attention to.
Bassett, unsurprisingly, did find themselves living a little dangerously. AAnd they had Roberts' trigger-happy nature to thank that they weren't behind on 24 minutes as he curled wide after a quick break. Meanwhile, Elliot Benyon's deflected cross struck the bar.
But when the teams went in level at the interval, it was everything Bassett deserved for a determined, disciplined display during the opening half.
Then following the restart Harvey Bradbury headed narrowly over from a Josh Ashby corner. But soon enough the hosts were ahead.
Having been tripped by Matsuzaka, Mark Francis earned a free kick just outside the area. And Ockwell confidently stepped, fizzing a low drive beneath the wall that skidded off the slick surface and beneath Dudzinski.
Bassett had their lead – and were now half an hour away from the most improbable of upsets.
Oxford, however, had other ideas.
Almost immediately they got back on terms. Ashby floated in another corner and, rising inches above TJ Bohane, Matzusaka powered a header towards the top right corner which Chris Taylor was just unable to head off the line.
With his first touch of the game, substitute Bancroft then came close to giving the visitors the lead, but his first time shot from an Aaron Drewe cross went narrowly over.
Bassett kept asking questions of their opponents, and neither side appeared to take firm control of the game.
But with six minutes to go, Roberts crossed in from the right and as Matt Berry-Hargreaves sought to clear the ball bounced immediately off Bancroft and squirmed into the bottom left corner.
It was a cruel blow for Bassett – and would ultimately prove the difference between the teams.
However, it was not the final action of the game and Bassett pushed for an equaliser late on.
Ockwell flashed a 20-yard free kick narrowly wide of the right post. Then, in injury time, Berry-Hargreaves' hanging cross was flapped at by Dudzinski. Jack Baker and Gio Wrona both had bites at the cherry but, much to the visitors' relief, the ball bounced around the box before settling gratefully into the arms of the Oxford 'keeper.
The full time whistle blew not long thereafter. For Oxford, it was greeted with a sense of relief. For Bassett, its arrival was gut-wrenching, the gutting nature of the result – so close, yet so far – hard to take.
However painful it is though, Collier and his coaching team as well as each and every player who has been part of this fabulous run in the competition can be proud of what they have achieved.
Defeat in the circumstances is hard to take. But what a performance and what effort they put in against a side who, at least on paper, were massive favourites.
Oxford – who have made it to the first round three years in a row – knew they had a battle on their hands. And to run a side of that quality so close was an immense achievement.
Man of the Match: Matt Berry-Hargreaves – all of Bassett's players deserve huge praise for their contributions, but it was Berry-Hargreaves' display that was the pick of the bunch. It was immensely unfortunate that his clearance was deflected in for the winner. But Berry-Hargreaves was superb at centre-half all afternoon – and showed why he is a defender of National League South quality.
Video footage is courtesy of YourSport Swindon.
Credit: Stuart Smedley
Last modified on Saturday 10th April 2021 at 14:37