Get involved: send your pictures, video, news and views by texting ECHONEWS to 80360, or email us »
Concord Rangers are taught an early lesson by Basingstoke Town
Concord Rangers 1, Basingstoke Town 2
CONCORD’S momentous first game in non-league football’s second tier ended in cruel fashion.
Visitors Basingstoke spoilt the occasion by netting a last-gasp equaliser just minutes after Beachboys substitute John Easterford thought he had earned a point for his side on their Conference South debut.
“It was our first hard lesson about life in this league and I don’t suppose it will be the last,” said Concord boss Danny Cowley.
“We conceded from two set pieces and I don’t care what level of football you are playing at, if you do that you are not likely to win.”
Despite the defeat, there were plenty of positives for Concord.
For the first half an hour, they looked the dominant team.
Indeed, had Sam Higgins converted one of two good early chances then the result may have been very different.
Instead, the new arrival from East Thurrock blasted just over after collecting a wonderful pass from James White and then headed over a sweet Danny Glozier cross.
The only real threat offered by the visitors was coming from the trickery of Jordace Holder-Spooner and so it was something of a relief when he had to be replaced shortly before the interval after appearing to have broken his collarbone.
But from the ensuing free kick, Holder-Spooner’s replacement and ex-Canvey frontman Kezie Ibe latched on to Jay Gasson’s header to blast home.
The lead was hardly deserved and it switched the momentum of the game as Basingstoke started to dominate.
Concord’s cause wasn’t helped when skipper Steve King couldn’t come out for the second half after picking up a groin injury.
And in truth, Basingstoke looked to be easing to a win with Concord keeper Jamie Butler having to make good stops to deny Adam Green and then Ibe from doubling the visitors’ advantage.
But Cowley’s decision to replace widemen Leon Gordon and Gary Ogilvie with Danny Spendlove and Reece Harris lifted the hosts with Harris in particular providing that spark they had been looking for.
Minutes after coming on Harris rippled the side-netting with a fierce shot and then he saw his dipping half-volley deflected just over.
It was the other substitute Spendlove who was the provider of the equaliser when his free-kick was spilled by keeper Louis Wells and in the ensuing melee, John Easterford – who had come on at half time for King – was on hand to turn the ball in.
With the pendulum having swung back in Concord’s favour, as Cowley noted afterwards “there looked like there was only going to be one winner”.
But Glozier was penalised for giving away a foul on the left and the ensuing free kick was not dealt with properly by the Beachboys defence and there was Gasson at the back post to thunder the winner past Butler.
It was not the perfect end to a landmark day for Concord.
Just six years ago, they were kicking off a season in the Essex Senior League and here they are a step away from non-league football’s top flight.
But if there was any trepidation that the rise had been too swift and that they would find the gulf in class in the Conference South too big then they needn’t worry on the evidence of this game as they gave a good team a real run for their money.
“We have come a long way,” said Cowley. “And that has been down to a lot of hard work from a lot of people, but I’m a winner and not a sentimentalist and I wanted to win this game.”