BY MACAULAY DALEY
Basingstoke U21’s secured passage to the third round of the John Stimpson Memorial Trophy with a hard fought 2-0 win over United Services Portsmouth.
Goals from Luke Richardson and substitute Kaine MacCauley, as well as an inspired display from home goalkeeper Giordano Zabotti, saw ‘Stoke progress.
Zabotti was beaten just once in the match, with the Portsmouth attacker rounding him in the second minute, before somehow putting the ball over from two yards out with the goal at his mercy.
US Portsmouth were dictating proceedings early on and the home stopper was called into action again midway through the first-half, saving well when the away side found themselves through on goal.
Basingstoke took advantage of the visitors’ lacklustre finishing and went ahead in the 24th minute. After being played in down the right by Ross McKernon, Richardson’s cross-shot looped over the away ‘keeper.
Just five minutes later and there was nearly a repeat of the goal, this time from the opposite flank. Darnell Fisher’s wicked cross hit the underside of the bar but with the ‘keeper stranded, Richardson could only head back across goal and wide.
Zabotti was called into action again shortly after and this was his most impressive moment of the night. After blocking the initial effort down low, he recovered quickly to get back up and save the follow up shot from the edge of the area which was destined for the top corner.
As the first-half came to a close, Basingstoke had two good chances, but both Richardson and McKernon’s efforts were straight at the away ‘keeper.
The away side had the first chance of the second-half, with a half-volley from the right-hand side being turned away for a corner by Zabotti.
Kieran Rodgers had a chance to double the lead after capitalising on a slip by the away defence, but his shot was straight at the ‘keeper, before Zabotti was required again, getting down low to his right to turn a fierce shot around the post.
The victory was secured in the 79th minute with a goal on the counter. With US Portsmouth pressing for an equaliser, a long ball forward from ‘Stoke was seized upon by MacCauley who calmly slotted the ball in at the near post to secure qualification.
FULL TIME: 2-0
Manager Neville Roach said: “I thought the performance was magnificent.
“To be honest I wasn’t pleased at half-time with our performance in the first-half I thought it was a little bit flat, the tempo was really low so I had a chat with the boys and tried to liven them up and they responded really well and I was pleased with it.
“He (Zabotti) was superb. Fantastic. That’s what he’s about, he’s such a nice guy, but on the pitch he means business and he takes his job very seriously. He made some fantastic saves to keep us in the game. To be honest it could have been 5-0 at half-time, but he kept us in it and he did really well.
“I’m really pleased with the progress, tonight we gave other people an opportunity to play and they responded really well so as a manager that’s what you want, it makes my life difficult to pick the first eleven for next week.”