Adam Corcoran, Alan Griffin
In each of the last three seasons Royal Wootton Bassett Town have enjoyed record-setting (and subsequently record-equalling) runs to the FA Vase third round. Alas, in each of those years, Bassett have gone no further.
After heartbreak against Hamworthy United and penalties pain against Corsham Town, Bassett can add to that list a gut wrenching 6-5 sudden death shootout defeat against Bridgwater United, the Somerset side triumphing on a misty December afternoon at the Sustain Stadium after a dramatic game ended 2-2 after 90 minutes.
In fairness, to Bassett the draw at this stage of the competition for three consecutive years has not been especially kind. While having home advantage for each game, Sam Collier and his team have encountered - and ultimately come up short - against three of the best step five sides the south west has to offer. Hamworthy and Corsham both went on to reach the Vase semi finals, with the Hammers also claiming the Wessex League title and Corsham narrowly missing out on a promotion playoff appearance.
Bridgwater, despite the recent turmoil surrounding the controversial sacking of long-serving manager Dave Pearse, were of the same mould. The Robins - flying high in the Western League Premier Division - had reached at least the Vase fourth round three seasons running, with a fifth round appearance last year.
The tie was therefore never going to be easy.
Again Bassett were resolute. They gave everything they had and showed they can compete with the best teams this level of football has to offer. Again, however, Bassett narrowly lacked the formula - or the slice of luck - needed to get past their opponents.
The better team on this day, Bridgwater therefore extended their fourth round streak to four years - albeit after an almighty battle.
Bassett had led after just ten minutes. Captain Adam Corcoran delivered the goods, wrong-footing Isaac Finch in the Bridgwater goal by deflecting Louis Spalding's right-footed shot into the net after the visitors had only half cleared from a corner.
After going behind Bridgwater quickly got on top. But despite having lots of possession, they failed to eke out many real opportunities as Bassett's defence held firm.
They did come awfully close to an equaliser when Harry Horton's header rattled the post, with Rob Brown pulling off a fine reaction save to prevent the ball diverting in.
George King also fired narrowly over with a firm drive from outside the area, while the impressive Jay Murray shot just over from an acute angle.
Bridgwater's pressure eventually paid off though as Bassett's resistance was broken on the stroke of half time when Horton's powerful effort from the edge of the box flew past Brown.
Having scored just before the break, Bridgwater then went ahead immediately after the restart as King thumped in from similar range to Horton.
Bassett almost generated a quick reply though Finch was equal to a Sam Packer header after he rose to meet Bailey Gallagher's cross.
Forced to chase an equaliser, the game opened up and the teams exchanged chances as the second half progressed.
Tom Llewellyn struck just wide of the post from range for the visitors before Bridgwater were fortunate an Alfie Presley drive struck the back of a defender, veering out of harm's way. Jason Quick then headed over, while Connor Waldon placed wide.
Time appeared as it was not going to be on Bassett's side. But in injury time salvation arrived, the hosts' efforts to get back on terms rewarded when substitute Alan Griffin bundled in a header from a corner.
That meant spot kicks - and, if the crowd thought the drama was done for the day they were mistaken.
Penalties started in a relatively routine manner as Scott Chilcott and Ben Griffiths both converted.
But Finch then saved from Griffin and Tom Llewellyn scored to give Bridgwater an early break.
Bailey Gallagher and Jack Thorne put away their teams' third round of kicks before Jack Hobson-McVeigh scored to open up the fourth.
With time running out though, Bassett still needed a stop to get back on terms - and they got it as Brown denied Jake Llewellyn.
Alfie Presley and Murray then kept their nerve, forcing sudden death.
It didn't start well for Bassett though as Tommy Ouldridge ballooned his kick over the bar - but Brown bailed his team out, saving from Morgan Williams.
After Connor Waldon and Horton were successful it was then Finch's turn to play hero, keeping out Jowan Partridge's effort.
Quick then stepped up for his team's second match point and - breaking Bassett's hearts - he found the net.
Another year, another successful Vase run. But, once more, the third round proves Bassett's stumbling block.
Credit: Stuart Smedley
Last modified on Saturday 2nd December 2023 at 19:40
Adam Corcoran, Alan Griffin