BY NICK WILSON
The 2018/19 season finally gets underway on Saturday and Basingstoke will open the campaign away to Walton Casuals look for three points to get off to the perfect start. The hosts are playing in the seventh tier of English football for the first time in their history and will be keen to show they have what it takes to hold their own in the division after finishing sixth in the Isthmian League Division One South and winning promotion through the play-offs. They were transferred across to the Southern League South with the realignment of the seventh tier, along with four other teams.
Basingstoke have so far announced 22 signings this week as the first team squad starts to take shape and this year there’s a familiar look to the side for the first time since relegation into the Southern League. 14 of those signed played a significant role last season, while 5 more made an appearance at some point in 2017/18. After being held back by slow starts before finishing strongly in each of the last two seasons, this continuity should give the club a strong platform to start well right from the off. Basingstoke finished last season with 47 points from 24 games and a squad largely filled with the same players that showed such strong development throughout last season will be aiming to start this season the way they finished the last one.
Despite interest in several players over summer, Basingstoke go into the season with the same attack that plundered so many goals last season, 114 in total. The attacking threat is bolstered by the return of Ben Wright from his loan spell at Gosport, the signing of former Hearts winger Zidan Akers and the fitness of Sam Deadfield through pre-season, after missing so much of last year through injury. They club have also strengthened in defence with the signings of Harry Philby, Dean Stow and Jim Orvis helping to offset the departure of Guri Demuria.
BY NICK WILSON
The season got started with a rollercoaster of a match as Basingstoke headed to Walton-on-Thames on opening day as Walton Casuals began life in the seventh tier of English football.
After a promising pre-season for Basingstoke it took less than 45 seconds for them to fall behind as Ollie Robinson’s long throw wasn’t dealt with, the ball allowed to bounce through the box before Charlie Kennedy’s header fell to home striker Youssef Bamba to clatter a volley past Colm McAdden from close range.
The early blow seemed to shock Basingstoke and they struggled to fully impose themselves on the game in the opening quarter of an hour. Walton threatened with their pace and movement in behind as they looked to undo the visiting backline with quick passing while at the other end Sam Deadfield had a low shot saved and Sam Argent curled over the bar.
It almost got worse for Basingstoke as Walton won the ball high up the field and Nathan Wood squared across the box for an unmarked Bamba. The forward failed to get good contact on the bouncing ball though, slicing underneath it and seeing it loop over the bar with just McAdden to beat. As the half went on Basingstoke gradually took more and more control and began to dominate. Zidan Akers caused Robinson plenty of problems down the Basingstoke left and from his cutback Deadfield slammed a shot against the post with Argent unable to force home the rebound.
Basingstoke were handed a golden opportunity to equalise five minutes before the break as Sam Smart, drifting inside from the right went on a trademark run and was tripped inside the box. The referee pointed to the spot and Argent stepped up, only to see home goalkeeper Denzel Gerrar get across his to make an excellent save. Basingstoke did grab a deserved equaliser just before half time though with Dean Stow opening his account for the club with a trademark free kick. Striking through the ball from 25 yards he lifted it over the wall before dipping the ball down into the bottom corner with Gerrar rooted to the spot.
HALF TIME: 1-1
The away side started the second half quickly and were soon ahead. Sam Argent did well to hold the ball with his back to goal despite close attention from the Walton defence before laying back to the edge of the box. Deadfield was waiting and he picked his spot, bending a precise spot low into the corner of Gerrar’s goal to give Basingstoke their first lead of the game four minutes into the second half.
Walton responded, Sean McCormack lifted a volley over the bar when well positioned but it was all square again just a few minutes later. A right wing corner was floated in to the far post and defender Joe Hicks got up well to plant a firm header inside the post and delight the home fans.
Basingstoke were still the better side, Akers continually beating Ollie Robinson and forcing Gerrar into two fantastic stops when cutting inside and shooting with his right foot. Callum Bunting was introduced as Basingstoke looked for a third goal and he soon provided it, thanks in no small part to a wonderful cross from Sam Smart. Beating Max Hustwick down the left hand side, Smart raced to the byline and curled the ball across with his left foot. Gerrar came flying out to punch clear but Bunting beat him to it, meeting the ball on the run with his head to grab his first of the season before celebrating with the visiting fans.
It was no more than Basingstoke deserved but with eight minutes left, the hosts put everything into snatching a late point. The Basingstoke defence was put under pressure and finally buckled as a free kick launched in from deep wasn’t dealt with and eventually forced over the line by Joe Hicks for his second of the afternoon, sending the majority of the fans into a frenzy.
FULL TIME: 3-3
Walton team: Denzel Gerrar; Ollie Robinson, Max Hustwick, Joe Hicks, Jean-Luc Kinsaba; Alex Kelly, Kyron Farrell; Nathan Wood (Jayden Antwi), Lartey Sarpong, Sean McCormack (Tom Collins); Youssef Bamba (Ronald Sobowale).
Subs not used: Kevin Manuel, Darnell Austin.
Basingstoke team: Colm McAdden; Dean Stow, Shane Hollamby, Dan Bayliss, George Bennett; Dan Collier, Charlie Kennedy; Sam Smart, Sam Deadfield, Zidan Akers (Callum Bunting); Sam Argent.
Subs not used: Jim Orvis, Harry Philby, Jack McKnight, Ben Wright.