Kyle Tooze, Gio Wrona
Having failed to register a league win in their seven fixtures prior to lockdown, Royal Wootton Bassett Town made sure to immediately right that wrong as they returned to Hellenic League Premier Division action with a deserved 2-0 victory away against Virginia Water.
Kyle Tooze's early goal and Gio Wrona's simple finish midway through the second period proved enough to earn a most welcome three points for Sam Collier's side, who, after last Saturday's narrow FA Vase defeat, are now free to concentrate on working their way up the table and away from danger in what is shaping up to be a highly competitive division.
It certainly helped Bassett's route to victory that they were able to go ahead as early as the second minute. Brad Pagliaroli snatched possession from a ponderous Louis Sanders deep in the hosts' territory and he squared inside for Tooze, who made no mistake with a clinical swept finish from twelve yards.
While that may have helped settle Bassett into the game, Virginia Water posed numerous questions for the visitors in an open, end-to-end first half that rather surprisingly only produced a single goal.
Indeed, both sides had multiple chances to add to the scoring, but Tooze's strike remained all that would separate the sides at the interval.
On the quarter hour mark, Lorenzo di Felice's drive stung the palms of Bassett 'keeper Harrison Ellis before Alfie Presley should really have doubled the visitors' lead four minutes later when picked out unmarked by Matt Berry-Hargreaves' cross but the forward snatched at his shot.
As play returned to the other end, Paul Burrows' deflected shot fell fortuitously for Adam McNamara in behind the defence, but Ellis kept his composure to force the dangerous forward wide before diverting behind for a corner. Di Felice then seized on a loose ball from a hurried clearance, driving forward but shooting narrowly wide.
A matter of moments later, Bassett had the ball in the net at the other end for a second time when Tooze headed in from a Sam Ockwell, only for an offside flag to disallow his second goal.
And it wasn't long before Bassett had a magnificent Ellis save to thank for preserving their lead. Joe McBride played a neat through ball into the right channel for Burrows, whose cut back across the six yard box was only half cleared. That allowed right back Josh Hill to line up a fiercely struck drive from the edge of the box that Ellis brilliantly parried.
Both sides continued to create dangerous opportunities. Ockwell saw a header from Jack Stirland's corner fumbled by home shotstopper Matt Jones and fall narrowly out of the reach of a lurking Presley while Tooze arrowed across the face of goal and narrowly wide. Meanwhile, at the other end Burrows blazed over after Jack Simmonds' corner was not fully cleared.
It was perhaps little great shock that after such a breathless opening period, things settled down following the restart. Although both sides had been in action last week, players will still be adjusting to the rigours of competitive action after a month off.
There were still moments when Bassett had to be on their guard though. And, just after the hour, Ellis was called into action to produce another outstanding save to turn Enow Ojong's shot around the post after the substitute's superb close control and strength allowed him to brush off the attentions of Berry-Hargreaves and bare down on goal.
However, it was Bassett who were largely on top, and they continually probed away at the Virginia Water defence, Pagliaroli twice seeing efforts blocked.
Eventually, on 72 minutes, a second goal arrived. Berry-Hargreaves' stunning run down the right was crucial to the goal as he weaved his way through traffic before playing an inside pass to Tooze. The powerful forward then shrugged off the attentions of his marker and got to the byline before playing a cutback into the path of Wrona, who steered in from close range.
That seemed to knock the wind out of Virginia Water and Bassett had chances to extend their lead even further.
Wrona struck inches over the bar, before an audacious chipped effort from Tooze had Jones beaten only to rebound off the woodwork. Lively debutant Sam Alderson also fired straight at the 'keeper after fashioning an opening.
There was one more scare Bassett faced when Ellis' pass to Berry-Hargreaves fell well short of its target, but the 'keeper – after putting his man of the match award in jeopardy – recovered to make aa comfortable save from Ojong's snap shot.
Given how late that opportunity, it is unlikely it would have threatened Bassett's first three-pointer of the campaign.
Tough games await ahead of the New Year with a home engagement against current pacesetters Binfield next up in two weeks' time.
But finally, after enjoying much cup success, Bassett are now up and running in the league.
Man of the Match: Harrison Ellis – his pair of outstanding reflex saves from Hill and Ojong helped preserve a clean sheet and a vital three points.
Credit: Stuart Smedley
Last modified on Saturday 12th December 2020 at 18:29
Kyle Tooze, Gio Wrona