Basingstoke Town Academy 2 : 1 Hawks Academy
The Hawks lost only their second league game of the season to a well organised Basingstoke at the Camrose last night. In an almost identical game to the U18 FA Cup match earlier in the season, which saw Stoke win 2-1, the Hawks let an early goal lead slip away and despite dominating the second half just couldn’t break down a solid Stoke defence.
The first half got off to a blistering pace from both sides, however it was the Hawks that saw early advantage with just 3 minutes on the clock when Ralph latched onto a long ball over the top and rifled home from 15 yards. From the restart Stoke should have equalised as they saw a shot fly inches wide after some terrific one touch passing and build up play. Failing to capitalise on the one goal advantage, it was a mixture of sloppy passing, lack of ball retention and generally poor support play that were to be the Hawks undoing as Stoke raised their game with some good quality free flowing football. Stoke levelled the game on 18 minutes with a classic set piece free-kick that caught the Hawks defence napping and failing to pick up loose runners from deep. The kick was neatly flicked on to an unmarked runner to loop a header over the advancing Scott in the Hawks goal. Sewell had perhaps the best opportunity for the Hawks on 28 minutes as he stole in behind the Stoke defence only to be upended by Stoke’s No 5. From then on both sides displayed some excellent one and two touch play which could have seen a larger score line at half time but as it was the half ended one apiece.
Again, as witnessed in the FA Cup game, it was the Hawks that came out second half the brighter. Across the park the Hawks appeared to be stronger and certainly the more likely to score the next goal. Robson reverted to right back alongside a returning Conor Geoghegan with Harry Gilbert and Danny Mackney shoring up the midfield. Up front Ralph and Baldacchino began to cause more problems for Stoke and again their No 5 (centre half) might have left the match feeling lucky not to have been carded as he more than once was penalised for some ‘clever’ defending. However this was not a ‘dirty’ game by any means as both sides tried to play good quality pass and move football on a good surface given recent weather conditions.
As the Hawks continued to dominate it could be argued that two important refereeing decisions changed the game. The first on 23 minutes when a floated 40 yard + diagonal ball from Robson found Alex Lowley sneaking in on the left wing. Lowley’s first touch was superb and as he drew the keeper out he calmly passed across the 6 yard line for Baldacchino to find the net. However play was brought back for an offside against Baldacchino on the original Robson pass to Lowley. Whilst it could be argued that Baldacchino probably was in an offside position this was clearly a case of the flag being raised too early and without waiting to see if any active interference was involved.
The second saw Stoke mount a classic counter attack to score their second and, what was to be the decisive, goal on 28 minutes but which enraged the Hawks players. As the Hawks mounted another attack, Gilbert appeared to be dragged back and whilst Hawks players waited for the whistle which never came, Stoke played a series of crisp passes wide and scored with a low well placed drive from the resulting cross. In total contrast to his normal character, Hawks skipper Danny Mackney found himself in the refs book for descent. This spurred the Hawks on but as they pressed and pressed for an equaliser, Stoke very professionally sat deep and compact, often with 10 men behind the ball and just a single forward outlet. This proved to be a winning strategy for Stoke as the Hawks were time and again frustrated, unable to break through the Stoke defensive lines. Hawks had plenty of near misses the best of which falling on 79 minutes to Ralph 6 yards only to see his bullet of a header superbly saved by the young Stoke keeper. All credit should go to Stoke for weathering such a storm and for protecting the precious one goal advantage to run out well deserved 2-1 victors.
This result still leaves the Hawks a strong place to win the title as all other clubs have dropped plenty of points. However, it is fair to say that we must win games not draw if we are to retain our title. Next outing is away at Weston-super-Mare next Wednesday 6.00pm kick off at Woodspring Park.
Hawks Squad: Scott, Al-Shantir, Crosswell, Robson, Geoghegan, Mackney, Bremford, (Whyte), Baldacchino, Ralph, Sewell (Edwards), Lowley (Gilbert). Subs Not Used: Gadd, Shepherd, Levy, King
Hawks Scorer: Craig Ralph
Hawks Man of the Match: Alex Baldacchino