Frank Gray’s Basingstoke Town bounced back from their home reverse last weekend against Hampton and Richmond Borough with a third straight away victory at the expense of a hapless Weymouth side, whose defensive frailties were punished by a ruthless Dragons’ attack, with Mitchell Bryant leaving even the longest-standing visiting fans scratching their collective heads as to the last time that a Basingstoke player scored a double hat-trick in a single game.
The tone for the game was set as early as the third minute. The tireless David Pratt and strike partner Bryant hustled the defence into a hasty back-pass to debutant goalkeeper Tim Sandercombe, starting his first match on loan from Blue Square Premier side Mansfield Town. The Weymouth keeper completely missed his kick and his airshot gifted BRYANT an empty net to sidefoot into. The Basingstoke striker almost seemed too embarrassed to accept the gift, but showed no mercy, setting the Dragons on the way to victory, rolling the ball over the line.
The early setback sparked a reaction from the home side, who still managed to cause the visiting defence some anxious moments in the first half. The main threat was posed by livewire striker Pierre Joseph-Dubois, who had scored in Weymouth’s previous outing (a 1-3 defeat at Staines). He managed to get goal-side of Lewis Christon, but his shot on the turn from ten yards from a cutback by Joshua Llewellyn flashed just over Richard Barnard’s crossbar. Weymouth’s luck was out again shortly afterwards as Barnard, who again impressed for the Dragons in goal, was swiftly off his line to pluck the ball off the feet of Llewellyn.
Although they were far from cohesive in the first half, with many passes from midfield and defence alike going astray, Basingstoke still had the pace and incisiveness of Pratt and Bryant to unsettle still further the nervy Weymouth back four. On 25 minutes, Pratt’s run behind the home defence was perfectly picked out and he squared unselfishly to the far post where the unmarked BRYANT slid home his second of the afternoon. Things went from bad to worse three minutes before the interval when Gary Frewen found himself in acres of space at the far post. Sandercombe was only able to divert his sharp volley onto the crossbar, and BRYANT duly completed his first hat-trick from the rebound slotting between two defenders on the line.
As the half-time whistle sounded, boos rang out amongst the home support, clearly disgruntled by what they had witnessed. The atmosphere amongst the jubilant and vocal Dragons’ fans was in stark contrast to those of their Weymouth counterparts, and they kept the noise going from start to finish, whilst having to pinch themselves to believe that they were really three goals to the good at the interval.
Despite the best efforts of Joseph-Dubois, who forced a sharp save from Barnard low to his left at the start of the second period, the young striker was clean out of luck. Even when he found a way past Barnard from point-blank range, Miles Mitchell-Coop was on hand to clear off the line. Other than those two chances, it was business as usual for Basingstoke and they were quick to press home their advantage after the interval. On 51 minutes, “The BRYANT Show” continued. This time he bustled his way past his marker on to a ball over the top and slipped the ball past the advancing ‘keeper to make it four. There was to be no let-up either. Jahson Downes, who replaced the injured Steve Laidler at the break, clipped the ball towards the far post, where Frewen volleyed back across the face of goal for BRYANT to bundle home from close range with 61 minutes on the clock for his, and Basingstoke’s fifth goal of the afternoon.
Frewen was unlucky not to get his name on the scoresheet with two efforts from distance, the first dipped just too late from fully 25 yards, the second a rasping volley from the corner of the box which Sandercombe tipped over the crossbar. In keeping with the wayward fortunes of the Terra’s goalie, even his only save of note was not acknowledged by the ref Ben Knight, who awarded a goal-kick instead of a corner.
Fourteen minutes from time, the rout was completed by BRYANT, who yet again found himself in the right place at the right time to turn another Downes cutback home at the near post, thus completing his double hat-trick. That was to be his last action as Frank Gray promptly substituted him to a standing ovation by the Basingstoke faithful, giving Ryan Stephens a run-out in the closing minutes.
The fans marked the occasion by paying tribute to the sadly departed Ian Dickens who passed away earlier this week after losing his battle against cancer. His name was chanted at regular intervals throughout the afternoon, and at the final whistle Matt Warner also dedicated the win and performance in an emotional homage to his pal. “Tizer” – as he was known to everyone at the club – was a cult hero for the Basingstoke fans, having progressed through the Youth Team and Reserve Team set-ups at the Camrose Ground to become a first team regular under Ernie Howe in one of the most successful Basingstoke teams of the past 20 years.
Despite Weymouth’s on-field and off-field woes, there were still 588 hardy souls who braved the cold to turn out and watch this clash – which for Basingstoke’s fans, players and Mitchell Bryant in particular will live in the memory, for all the right reasons, for many years to come.
Weymouth: Sandercombe, McGuinness, Slocombe, Mawer, Brice, Farrell (Radcliffe 38mins), Davies, Reed, Joseph-Dubois (Benbow 61mins), Llewellyn, Smith. Subs (not used) Harris, Reid, Frampton
Basingstoke: Barnard, Mitchell-Coop, Finlay, Laidler (Downes 45mins), Christon, Hankin, Rice, Ogunbote (Warner 72mins), Pratt, Bryant (Stephens 74mins), Frewen. Subs (not used): Mitchell, Kitteridge