Town lose grip on Challenge Cup at very first hurdle

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FOOTBALL

Southern League Challenge Cup, Prelim Round
Stratford Town 0
Halesowen Town 1 (Yates 43)
Report by Craig Gibbons

STRATFORD Town’s defence of the Southern League Challenge Cup ended at the very first hurdle, as Luke Yates’ 43rd-minute strike was enough to condemn them to defeat to an impressive Halesowen Town outfit.

Once again Town’s defence was found wanting, with Yates drilling in a left-footed effort from 20 yards out to seal the Yeltz’s thoroughly deserved place in the first round proper of the Challenge Cup.

There was the question as to why the holders of the cup were drawn to play a preliminary round clash, but the fact remains, Town were simply not good enough to have progressed and their night was made worse after Liam Hughes was given a straight red card with five minutes left to play.

Boss Tommy Wright made five changes to the team which hammered Boldmere St Michaels 6-1 in the FA Cup on Saturday, with Richard Platt, Charley O’Keefe, Thomas Fishwick, Mitchell Glover and Callum Ball coming in for Lewis Wilson, Linden Dovey, Luis Morrison, Ross Oulton and Kurtis Revan.

The preliminary round clash had the added bite that the two sides would be facing off against each other in the FA Cup second qualifying round in a fortnight’s time and the first chance of the game came in the seventh minute when Elliot Taylor’s poor clearance was gathered by James Bowen, but the Halesowen left-back could only send his speculative 40-yard lob harmlessly over the bar.

Taylor then did well to parry Robbie Bunn’s 20-yard free-kick away from danger before Yates screwed an effort inches wide of the far post as the visitors began to crank up the pressure.

Despite starting the game on the back foot, Wright’s men missed a golden opportunity to seize the advantage on the half-hour mark.

Chris Wreh’s beautifully weighted throughball was latched on to by an in-form Nabil Shariff, whose instinctive first time right-footed shot cannoned off the inside of the post and bounced away from goal.

The chance seemed to reinvigorate Town, but they were lucky not to fall behind seven minutes before the break when the excellent Yates got the better of Fishwick and delivered a pin-point cross to the centre of goal where the unmarked James Lucas could only head wide from ten yards out.

Eventually Halesowen’s pressure paid off in the 43rd minute when the ball was sprayed across the pitch to the lively Yates, who cut inside onto his left foot and drilled a fizzing shot into the bottom corner.

The former Alvechurch ace then came within a whisker of doubling the visitors’ lead over an out-of-sorts Town two minutes later, but his powerful drive from a tight angle flashed wide of the mark.

After the break the Town faithful were keen to see a response from their beloved cup winners, but the visitors continued from where they left off, dominating the possession and putting the hosts on the back foot.

Wright brought on Abraham Eze and youngster Dylan Parker in a bid to change the game, but they struggled to change the complexion of proceedings.

And Yates should have doubled the Yeltz’s lead on the hour mark when he latched on to a quickly-taken free-kick that had caught the Town defence napping, but the ever-impressing forward could only poke his effort the wrong side of the far post.

Town tried to force their way back into the game, but their efforts continued to be in vain, as Halesowen mopped up every hoofed ball up the pitch and looked dangerous on the attack through Yates and second-half substitute Montel Gibson.

In fact, the best the second half got for Town was a 25-yard free-kick from Glover that sailed horribly out of the ground.

Furthermore, had it not been for wasteful finishing, Halesowen would have been out of sight going into the final five minutes, with an unmarked Rob Evans heading wide from close range when he had the goal at his mercy.

Town’s miserable night was compounded moments later when Hughes was given a straight red card for a tangle with Joshua Hawker in the centre of the park.

As the clock ticked down, Halesowen continued to create chances, but they could not put the game out of sight, with Bunn seeing a left-footed drive drift harmlessly wide of the mark.

The sound of the full-time whistle came as a saving grace for the Town faithful, who had seen their team relinquish their hold on the Southern League Challenge Cup with a whimper.

TOWN: Elliott Taylor, Richard Platt, Charley O’Keefe, Daniel Vann (Yan Ofosu 21), Thomas Fishwick, Liam Hughes, Mitchell Glover, Ivor Lawton (Dylan Parker 53), Nabil Shariff, Callum Ball, Chris Wreh (Abraham Eze 45). Unused subs: Ross Oulton, Lewis Wilson.

YELTZ: Brendon Bunn, Joab Wheatley (Montel Gibson 65), James Bowen, Robert Evans, Andrew Parsons, Jordan Pigott, Joshua Hawker, Robbie Bunn, Jamie Lucas (Jamie Molyneux 79), Luke Yates, George Forsyth. Unused subs: Jamie Ashmore, Ashley Sammons, Daniel Danks.