BY LEWIS BLAIN
Christmas has come early for Basingstoke as new boss Martin Kuhl maintained his 100% winning record. Two goals in each half from strike duo Ben Wright and Sam Argent wrapped up a 2-1 victory over Walton Casuals.
It was Wright who was given the nod to start in a lone striker role, joined by Zidan Akers and Sam Smart on either side of him. Charlie Kennedy slotted into an unfamiliar central defensive role with set-piece specialist Dean Stow deployed from midfield.
There was a passive opening to the game as both sides settled on the ball early on. The visitors then had a few half chances from two successive corners, one of which caused pinball and commotion in the box though Basingstoke cleared adeptly.
Town then sparked into life, finding plenty of space along the right flank. Sam Smart beat his man on more than one occasion but his crosses could not find the awaiting Wright. Again, Smart was found in acres down the wing. His in-swinging ball met a late-arriving Sam Deadfield but the effort was all too simple for the visiting keeper.
Calamity at the back for Walton allowed Basingstoke to take the lead just after 30 minutes. A skewed backpass was fumbled by the goalkeeper straight into the path of Wright who only had to tap home, and did so softly with his head.
The visitors looked to respond instantly with Tauream Roberts threatening on both wings. He whipped in an inch-perfect cross but there was no one in the box to meet it. They again looked primed to equalise, launching a scathing counter attack but the final pass was too heavy allowing Colm McAdden to swiftly avert the danger.
It was Roberts again for Walton looking ever so dangerous out wide. They hit Basingstoke again with another counter attack, this time 3-on-3 but James Ewington’s eventual shot was struck straight into the arms of McAdden.
A second defensive lapse allowed Akers to charge into the box, one-on-one with the goalkeeper, though the winger’s effort was a tame one and all too easy for Walton’s number one. The chance of the half fell to Ewington right before half-time, outpacing and beating Rob Gerrard before opening up and shooting, forcing McAdden into a top class save.
HALF TIME: Basingstoke 1-0 Walton Casuals.
Martin Kuhl made a premeditated change at half-time as Sam Argent appeared for the second-half, replacing Wright up top.
5 minutes into the half, a golden chance for the visitors. Fullback Harry Mills slotted a delightfully timed ball in past Basingstoke’s defence for the tricky Ewington. He only had McAdden to beat but his side-footed effort flew wide.
In almost a mirror image at the other end, Smart played in sub Argent but instead of coolly trying to finish, the 27-year-old blasted over the crossbar.
Walton’s equaliser then came six minutes later. Gerrard was clattered down but the referee played on and let the visitors counter quickly. They passed their way into the box before Mills was there to fire home.
McAdden would then be at hand to deny Walton a couple of long-range chances. One of which was parried, but cleared, before a visiting player could get to it.
With just over 20 minutes remaining, Harry Philby was introduced for Akers, allowing Kennedy to push up back into midfield. The midfield enforcer was lucky to not come away with a serious injury after a rash challenge by captain Joe Hicks near the half way line. The referee deemed a yellow was enough but it could easily have been a different colour on another day.
A frantic few minutes then followed with Smart clattering the post with an effort from a difficult angle. The Casuals then had another counter attack which allowed Ewington one-on-one with McAdden again. The keeper left his lines too early but that was enough to put the striker off as he drilled it wide.
Smart took the ball in his stride shortly after, weaving his way into the Walton box. He cut in on his right, forcing a save from the visiting keeper but Argent was there to bury it. The striker made no mistake and gave the home side the lead once again.
Walton were finally brought up on their persistent fouling after Gerrard went down under another challenge. A long-shot from Kyron Farrell was the last chance either side really had as the game petered into additional time. Town looked resilient in their aim to see the game out.
FULL TIME: Basingstoke Town 2-1 Walton Casuals
It’s a third win in as many games for Martin Kuhl as Basingstoke progress to the 3rd round of the CSS League Cup, where they will face Hartley Wintney yet again!