Stratford Town 0
Brackley Town 2 (Dean 5, Holman 90)
Report by Craig Gibbons
STRATFORD Town’s five-game winning run in pre-season was brought to an end as goals in each half from Gareth Dean and Dan Holman fired National League North outfit Brackley Town to a 2-0 victory at the Arden Garages Stadium.
The 2018 FA Trophy winners showed their class from the off, but it looked as though they had to rely on Gareth Dean’s fifth-minute header to come away with the victory before second-half substitute Holman snatched the crucial second goal in the 90th minute.
Brackley, who came into this game on the back of a bore 0-0 draw with Banbury United, got off to a flying start when an unmarked Dean smashed home from just inside the penalty area from Shane Byrne’s deep corner.
Just two minutes later it should have been 2-0 to the Saints when Matt Lowe’s cross-cum-shot found its way to Lee Ndlovu at the back post, but the striker could not divert the ball home from point-blank range.
The Brackley onslaught continued as the half progressed, with Byrne curling a 20-yard effort straight into the arms of Town keeper Sam Lomax while Jimmy Armson could only stab an effort wide of the post from Carl Baker’s deep cross minutes later.
Town could never really get going given the early dominance of the Northamptonshire visitors, however, they did manage to create some half chances through Lewis Wilson and former Love Island star Luis Morrison, but both failed to find the target.
Brackley continued to find acres of space down the wings, with keeper Daniel Lewis’ raking goal-kick finding former Coventry City man Baker well inside the Town half and his vicious cross was met by Armson who forced a tremendous save from Lomax at his near post.
Baker was certainly the stand-out player of the opening half, but his presence on the ball wasn’t rewarded with a goal as his 30-yard strike seven minutes before the interval flew well over the bar.
Town did manage to get back-to-back corners in the dying embers of the opening half, but neither offered any chance to threaten Lewis in the Brackley goal as the visitors went into the break 1-0 to the good.
Blues boss Tommy Wright made three changes at the break in a bid to get back his side into the game, with Chris Cox, Jamie Hancocks and Callum Ball replacing Joel Gyasi, Kynan Isaac and Marlon Lukinga.
However, it was Brackley who started the brighter once again and they almost added their second just a minute after the restart when Armson could only poke wide from Lowe’s delivery.
Armson was again at the centre of the chances and he should have made it 2-0 in the 54th minute, but he could only skew wide from a couple of yards out following some good work from Baker.
Chances continued to come for the visitors, with second-half substitute Tendai Daire firstly heading wide from close range before flashing an effort off the mark from the edge of the area moments later.
Town never really offered much going forward, but another half-chance came the way of Wilson with 21 minutes to go, but his volley from inside the area was well blocked by a solid Brackley defence.
Brackley always looked dangerous on the counter-attack with the pace of Luke Fairlamb on the left wing and the No.14 almost made it 2-0 with 15 minutes to go, only to be denied by a last-ditch challenge from Tom Fishwick.
Four minutes from the end Fairlamb had another chance to double Brackley’s advantage, but his driven left-footed shot from the edge of the penalty area was expertly pushed away by Lomax.
Lomax then pulled off a stunning double save with a minute to go, firstly diverting Holman’s effort onto the bar before blocking the rebound from Daire at point-blank range,
However, Lomax’s resistance was broken a minute later when Holman slotted home from close range to complete the afternoon’s scoring and condemn Town to their second defeat of pre-season.
TOWN: Sam Lomax, Joel Gyasi (Chris Cox 46), Josh Endall, Luis Morrison (Will Davidson 80), Tom Fishwick (Reece Ford 80), Ivor Lawton (Kurtis Revan 80), Lewis Wilson (Chris Wreh 80), Marlon Lukinga (Callum Ball 46), Nabil Shariff (Dylan Parker 80), Liam Hughes, Kynan Isaac (Jamie Hancocks 46).
BRACKLEY: Daniel Lewis, Ellis Myles, Connor Franklin (Glenn Walker 56), Shane Byrne, Kelvin Langmead, Gareth Dean, Matt Lowe (Luke Fairlamb 56), Jimmy Armson (Thiery Auldel 56), Lee Ndlovu (Dan Holman 30), Carl Baker, Shep Murombedzi (Tendai Daire 56).