BetVictor Southern Premier Central
Stratford Town 2 (Curtis 2, Shariff 68)
Report by Craig Gibbons
STRATFORD Town walked away with their first clean sheet of the season after securing a thoroughly deserved 2-0 victory over Alvechurch at the Arden Garages Stadium on Tuesday night.
Town and Church met six times during a successful 2018/19 campaign which saw both sides reach the Southern Premier Central play-offs, but since then respective managers Thomas Baillie and Ian Long have moved on which has brought wholesale changes to both squads.
And in their first meeting of the new campaign, it was Town who seized the early advantage when Joe Curtis stabbed home in only the second minute.
Although the visitors had enough chances to get back on level terms, Town then sealed the three points 22 minutes from the end when the in-form Nabil Shariff headed in form Curtis’ corner to bag his seventh goal in ten appearances.
Boss Tommy Wright made one change to the team which battled to a 1-1 draw at Coalville Town on Saturday, with the suspended Liam Hughes replaced by centre-back Tom Fishwick.
Church boss Darren Byfield had quit Town just six games into the 2018/19 campaign after claiming he was unable to manage, so he would have been particular keen to get one over his former side.
However, it was Town who drew first blood after just 90 seconds.
Kurtis Revan’s thunderous shot from the edge of the area was tipped onto the bar by Church keeper Lloyd Ransome, with the rebound falling to Curtis who had the easiest of finishes from close range.
However, Church should have been back on level terms just moments later, but Javia Roberts could only fire over from right underneath the crossbar when it seemed harder to miss.
Alvechurch continued to grow into the game and after a good spell of pressure, Jordan Goddard flashed a powerful drive from 20 yards out just wide of the mark.
But the visitors were lucky not to fall behind further almost immediately after Ransome cheaply gave the ball away to Shariff, who could only scoop his effort over the bar.
By this point, though, Church were seeing more of the ball and continued to push Town deeper into their own half, but the Blues defence stood firm to keep the visitors at bay.
The lively Roberts did have a chance to equalise in the 36th minute, though, but his left-footed effort from a tight angle was expertly tipped over by Taylor.
Town then came close to doubling their lead just before the break when some free-flowing football saw Curtis pick the ball up just outside the penalty area, but his powerful drive flashed just wide of Ransome’s near post.
Church started the brighter of the two sides after the break and immediately had Town pinned back in their own half, but they did not really threaten Taylor in the home goal.
Town struggled to string two passes together as the half wore on and they were almost pegged back just after the hour mark, but Church captain Jamie Willets could only guide his free header from Joshua Goddard’s free-kick straight down the throat of Taylor from a couple of yards out.
And moments later only the woodwork prevented Church from getting back on level terms, with Roberts’ curling effort flashing past the rooted Taylor and smashing off the far post and away from danger.
Despite being on the back foot for large parts of the second period, Town bagged the decisive second goal in the 68th minute when Shariff bagged his seventh goal of the season after nodding home Curtis’ in-swinging corner.
Curtis should have put Town out of sight with five minutes remaining when he was played in on goal by Shariff, but the effort was fired straight at Ransome.
Church came close to bagging a consolation in the fifth minute of stoppage time, but Willets could only head wide to ensure Town kept their first clean sheet of the season.
TOWN: Elliott Taylor, Linden Dovey, Charle O’Keefe, Luis Morrison, Thomas Fishwick, Ross Oulton, Lewis Wilson, Luke Rowe, Nabil Shariff (Chris Wreh 90+3), Joe Curtis (Abraham Eze 90), Kurtis Revan (Ivor Lawton 71). Unused subs: Daniel Vann, Sam Lomax.
CHURCH: Lloyd Ransome, Joshua Ezewele, Zac Foster, Stuart McNaught (Peter Till 54), Kyle Morrison, Jamie Willets, Ben Usher-Shipway, Jordan Goddard, Danico Johnson, Kevin Monteiro, Javia Roberts (John Atherton 71). Unused subs: Miracle Okafor, Neil Reeves, Kyle Rowley.