Camrose Stadium, Basingstoke
Three weeks into March and we’ve played ten games within it. The report card thus far is six wins, two draws and two defeats. We started with four wins and two draws and felt indomitable, like General Zod before the old switcheroo knuckle cruncher. It seemed that a game every couple of days was good for us, like a perpetual motion machine made flesh. There was no stopping us. Sod the laws of thermodynamics.
Then last Saturday came the first of those defeats, a rather tired and insipid performance against Staines Town that seemed to suggest someone had gone hard at our machine with a big bat. After battling back at Concord Rangers to steal a 3-3 draw having gone 3-2 down in the 90th minute, it was though unsurprising that the energy levels dipped less than 48 hours later.
However this snatched the cloak of seeming invincibility from our shoulders, the vulnerability and nakedness revealed; our hands scrambling to cover our cold and disappointing genitalia. If we were tired now, what did that mean for the rest of the season, given there was no respite from three games a week until a month from that point? No chance to re-energise, WHAT WOULD BECOME OF US!!!! WAAAAAH!!! WE’RE DOOOOOOMED I TELLS YA!!! Et cetera.
However, just two days after a performance so flat that photos of it were shown at a plasterers’ conference to appreciative nods, we took on Ebbsfleet at home and despite the fact the Fleet are nailed on for a play-off berth, we held on for a one-nil victory. That’s three games against a side of Webbed Feet’s quality this season (see also 0-0 draw away and 1-0 win in Trophy) and they have not once put a goal past us. That is a more than decent boast when we eventually come to look back on the season’s achievements.
However, on seeing the face of that win, we were believers once more. The pwopa big game of the past week though was our home game with Dover Athletic on Thursday, the team most likely to be the one we need to catch if we are to sneak in to that post-season promised land.
Again the energy levels were beyond acceptable in the circumstances, and we fought back from 3-1 down to get back to 3-3 only for them to go straight up the other end and score a fourth. So rapid was it, my correspondent hadn’t even had chance to finish his ‘equaliser: AMAZING SCENES’ text before it came with its self-contained suckerpunch.
However the mood was generally quite buoyant despite the defeat. We can scarcely believe the get-up-and-go our handsome Hawks are showing despite facing the equivalent of a steep mountain run with a wet sheep strapped to their backs whilst having bricks flung at them by Major League Baseball pitchers at a loose-end.
Perry Ryan, once the very model of a modern major bell-end, has in fact been the epitome of all this ridiculously gung-ho endeavour having played all but 15 minutes of the 10 games in the past 22 days. Now either Lee Bradbury is adopting the wearied parenting method of trying to wear Perry out so he sleeps through the entire summer, or he believes that Perry can’t help himself but keep going, like Joan Rivers on Duracell.
Aside from Perry though our squad has gone through more rotations than a carousel nag, with regulars Scott Bevan, Dennis Oli, Ed Harris, Christian Nanetti and Nigel Atangana all off duty here at Basingstoke and with the likes of Nic Ciardini and Pedro Monteiro on the bench. This was not what might have been thought the first XI a few weeks ago but who cares, we have a first XXIII right now, all pulling together in the common cause. Eddie Hutchinson has been a bit-part player this season but in previous years I remember games where he has owned the middle of the pitch, and this was one of those. With Perry alongside him in the heart of it, there was no shortage of beef and grit.
Meanwhile, Aristide Bassele, a recent loan signing from Bournemouth looked lively, dangerous and committed to chasing every ball, even those that had been shanked into the Winchester Road. We’ve had loan players before who’ve looked like they’d rather be anywhere else, anywhere that didn’t require them to wear a Hawk shirt; Stide is clearly not one of those *cough*Ashley Harris*cough*.
Another Bournemouth loanie is keeper Benji Büchel, a Liechtenstein international no less, but who apparently had a nightmare in the 4-3 defeat on Thursday evening. Nonetheless, another run out was his and he seemed fairly settled in the first half, making a vital intervention towards the end of it. There was almost an aberration right at the end of the game, but after spilling the ball near his line he recovered quickly to prevent a sickening equaliser.
What of our winning goal though, well, it came early, after only 19 minutes in fact. A poor pass by ex-Hawk Jay Gasson (scorer of a classic own goal in our home fixture against ‘Stokie last year), was seized on by Scott Donnelly whose first time sliding interception spun the ball over the top of the Basing back-line, where Sahr Kabba was waiting to pounce. Taking a few steadying touches, Sahr attempted a lob over oncoming keeper Louis Wells. It wasn’t quite high enough to beat Wells’ fingertips but the right amount of power to bend those fingers back like a school bully eager for dinner monies.
The ball looped over Wells’ head and bounced slowly, and I mean funeral procession here, towards the goal. We were desperate to celebrate but like a frustrated bus-driver anticipating a change in traffic lights, we merely edged in small, bouncey increments along the terrace until we could be sure the ball was definitely in. We had reason for our caution, given that the home side’s defenders were descending upon their problem like Wildebeest toward a watering hole. About twenty minutes or so later (or so it felt), the net was softly kissed like the balk cushion after a particularly well executed safety, and we could properly jump around, jump up and, indeed, get down.
Scott Jones curled a cheeky one against bar in the second half, while Wells’ had to launch to his left to palm away a crisp shot from Sahr Kabba. However as the second half wore on, the more Basingstoke’s battle for a point gained momentum. As has happened often in the past three weeks, we held on for a tight, but proud victory.
We clearly have the energy of a thousand infants and the power of a thousand lions. Still, a lot to do but last weekend's defeatism has been torn asunder by our lads repeatedly going that extra mile. Then another extra mile. Then fourteen more. If we do miss out, it’ll not be through a lack of heart or desire, that is for sure.