Stratford 1-0 Aston Villa
Report by Bryan Hale
AN early Liam Hughes strike settled an entertaining game against Villa’s Under 23 side played in front of a bumper crowd of 873 boosted by director Jed McCrory’s generous gesture of distributing free tickets to a number of local schools.
A similar Villa line-up had beaten Tamworth 4-1 in midweek so although pre-season form is notoriously unreliable there were plenty of positives for new boss Tommy Wright to take from this result at the Arden Garages Stadium.
Stratford were first to threaten in the third minute when Chris Cox went on one of his trademark runs down the right to whip over a cross to be met with a bullet header from Hughes which was acrobatically tipped over by Villa keeper Viljami Sinisalo.
Villa responded with Indiana Vassilev having a well-struck right-footer beaten away by Sam Lomax before Stratford took the lead on eight minutes when the busy Hughes, who had a spell at Darlington under Tommy Wright last season, fired past Sinisalo’s left hand into the bottom corner from the edge of the penalty area.
With Nabil Shariff looking particularly lively up front, Stratford continued to impress but Villa missed a great chance to equalise in the 25th minute when Callum Rowe’s low cross from the left flashed across the face of the goal and the stretching Ben Guy poked it into the side netting.
Both Lewis Wilson and Hughes had half-chances to extend Stratford’s lead and Wilson was inches away on 38 minutes as his header from a James Hancocks corner fizzed past the far post with Sinisola well beaten.
But at the other end Sam Lomax kept Stratford’s lead intact three minutes before the break when he got down at the foot of his left hand post to push way a low drive from Michael Tait.
Hughes wasn’t far away with another header early in the second half followed by Colin Odutayo netting for Villa, only to find the offside flag already up.
One Stratford and two Villa substitutions had been made at half time and others followed from the hour mark including both keepers but Stratford still looked relatively unruffled.
Villa went closest to a leveller with ten minutes to go when Jake Doyle-Hayes’ free kick from 20 yards out looked destined for the top corner until it was pushed away by Shaun Rowley taking off to his left.
But there were no further alarms as Stratford saw the game out in relative comfort.
STRATFORD: Sam Lomax (Shaun Rowley 62), Chris Cox (Joel Gyasi 46), Henri Wilder (Dan Vann 62), Luis Morrison, Tom Fishwick, James Hancocks, Lewis Wilson, Marlon Lukinga (Morgan Brown 73), Nabil Shariff (Dylan Parker 73), Liam Hughes, Kynan Isaac (c).
ASTON VILLA: Viljami Sinisalo (Jamie Seale 66), Jake Walker (Bradley Burton 66), Callum Rowe, Dominic Revan, Mungo Bridge, Jack Birch, Colin Odutayo, Ben Guy (Jake Doyle-Hayes 46), Dimitri Sea, Michael Tait (Jack Clarke 46), Indiana Vassilev.
Referee: Grant Taylor.