This week’s matches were a tale of two halves as ‘Stoke chalked up a win and a loss.
On Saturday, the home side, still euphoric from their ruthless 10-3 destruction of rock-bottom Staines, were back at the Camrose against Kings Langley, Basingstoke winning the match 3-0.
The recent stream of new signings continued with QPR loanee Kraig Noel-McLeod impressing on his Basingstoke debut in the centre of a depleted defence while Mike Atkinson made his return in midfield. Tom McGill continued in goal and Harry Pearse was back in the line-up. Revenge was exacted in style as the home side kept a clean sheet for the first time in eight league games against their high-flying opponents.
A poor run since Christmas had left Basingstoke teetering on the brink of the relegation zone after picking up just five points from the last eight matches and heading into February were facing a daunting four game stretch that included fixtures against three sides around the playoffs. However, Saturday brought ‘Stoke’s total to nine points from those four games, a return to form that has lifted the team away from danger and back to mid-table safety.
Sam Argent had the first chance during a quiet opening, bending a half-volley wide of the far post inside five minutes but just short of the 20-minute mark he did find the net. Harry Pearse collected a short corner from Sam Deadfield and turned his man to get free close to the dead ball line. He fizzed the ball through the six-yard box where a deflection popped the ball in the air, leaving Argent free to head home from close range taking his tally to fifteen for the season. McGill saved well from Mitchell Weiss at his near post before coming up with a big save in a pivotal 45-second spell late in the half. A mistake allowed Andronicos Georgiou to race clear towards goal. McGill advanced from his line and spread himself brilliantly to deny the winger an equaliser with his boot.
The second half was more open from the beginning, Dylan Switters’ run got him free in the box, only for a poor finish to drop comfortably wide. At the other end both Sam Deadfield and Dean Stow were denied by the frame of the goal and Pearse ended a rapid counter-attack by lashing a 20-yard strike just wide as the hosts looked to settle the game once and for all. The third goal arrived late on as Sam Smart scored for the third time in four matches, cutting inside and slotting low inside the near post with his left foot for his tenth goal of the campaign. The winger was unfortunate not to get a second as well as a carefully placed shot hit the foot of the post before the referee called time on the match, Basingstoke achieving back-to-back wins for the first time in the league since September.
After a run of three consecutive home matches, Basingstoke hit the road for the first of three away games on Tuesday night but were unable to retain their winning form, being beaten 2 -1 by the on form Chesham who now remain unbeaten for ten matches in a row.
‘Stoke started slowly and a rehearsed corner routine allowed Luke Heneghan to test Tom McGill but the Dragons’ keeper was given no chance on ten minutes as the hosts took the lead. A long free kick was pumped into the box from deep and Dave Pearce latched onto a header to power a shot from close range across McGill and into the roof of the net.
Basingstoke responded with a shot from Kian Duncan that rebounded off the post and soon had Generals goalkeeper Ben Goode scrambling to tip the ball round the post as it was almost turned in for an own goal. Dave Pearce had one more great chance and should have doubled the lead as he raced onto a pass back to McGill that was left too short, cut onto his left foot and aimed a curling shot at the far corner, only for McGill to produce a wonderful save to keep Basingstoke in the game.
Chesham were reinvigorated at the start of the second half. Heneghan’s free kick from out wide drifted beyond the group of players waiting to attack it and dipped against McGill’s crossbar before Pearce tried his luck from a long way out, again finding McGill equal to it as the stopper tipped it over. The visitors managed to drag themselves back onto level terms with their first real attack of the second half. Rob Gerrard advanced down the left-hand side and delivered a cross for Argent to glance home at the near post to the delight of the travelling fans.
The good work was undone fifteen minutes from time though as some poor defending allowed Chesham back in front. Ben Goode punted a ball high upfield leaving the ‘Stoke defence retreating underneath it. Nobody took charge as it bounced towards the box until Dean Stow attempted to head the ball back to his keeper. His header sold McGill short and as he sprinted out to try to claim it, Eoin Casey poked it out of his hands and walked the ball into an empty net to secure all three points.