Basingstoke produced arguably their best performance of the season to end a four-match winless run in the league and dent Weymouth’s title hopes, despite a late consolation goal from Calvin Brooks.
Manager Martin Kuhl has talked about his side’s struggles at either end of the field in recent weeks, pleased with the play between both boxes but frustrated that his players have been neither clinical enough in attack, nor strong enough defensively but Saturday’s victory was an emphatic response to that.
Heading into the match Weymouth lay second in the league, four points off leaders Taunton but with 3 games in hand while the previous weekend’s draw at home to Harrow had lifted Basingstoke out of the relegation zone into 19th. A recent influx of new players has been a big boost to the club – Chelsea loanee Jack Wakely was superb at the back on Saturday – and the return of top scorer Sam Argent from a dubious suspension and playmaker Harry Pearse are crucial to the Dragons’ hopes for the rest of the season. Pearse himself scored one and set up the other, taking him to three goals and an assist in just seven starts this season from midfield.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though and ‘Stoke were fortunate that Terras forward Brandon Goodship wasn’t at his destructive best. The league’s top goalscorer last season with a superb 38 goals, the former AFC Bournemouth man has already plundered 21 this season and it should have been 22 as on-loan Brighton stopper Tom McGill parried a fierce volley, only to see Goodship slot the rebound wide from six yards out.
The early scare aside, Basingstoke grew into the game comfortably, probing the Weymouth defence and making the central defenders look vulnerable against the press. It paid dividends, with Pearse marking his return to the team with a goal just short of 20 minutes. A cross was half cleared to Sam Deadfield 30 yards out and he scanned the field ahead of him before picking out Pearse on the edge of the box who promptly slammed a shot with his weaker right foot under home keeper Tom McHale.
Goodship rolled efforts wide of each post late in the first half but Basingstoke had looked the more likely, McHale blocking Sam Smart’s volley from a tight angle while Weymouth had struggled against a flurry of threatening corners midway through the half.
Weymouth were expected to respond in the second half but Pearse provided some magic to put the game beyond them on the hour. Having just played and exquisite long pass from the left to set Argent running free he repeated the trick just a couple of minutes later, dropping the left footed ball in behind the home defence for Smart to race onto and clinically roll beyond McHale just inside the post to double the lead. It was a cool finish from a player who has consistently been ‘Stoke’s most dangerous, 8 goals and 7 assists for the winger this season, in addition to the 8 penalties he’s won.
For the final half an hour the game changed as Basingstoke were pinned back inside their own half as Weymouth attacked yet despite the onslaught, McGill was rarely forced into a save as his defence protected him superbly despite the loss of Shane Hollamby in the first half hour to an ankle injury. Defending deep and narrow they kept the Terras at bay although Goodship again went close, teeing himself up from 20 yards and sending the shot just beyond the post with McGill beaten. Stephane Zubar played as an additional forward, the giant defender looking to cause havoc in the Dragons’ box but it took until the third minute of stoppage time for any cracks to appear. Calvin Brook found a pocket of space and drilled a low shot into the bottom corner from 25 yards but it was mere consolation as Basingstoke celebrated their best win of the season to date.