BetVictor Southern Premier Central
Stratford Town 3 (Edwards-John 33, Wreh 53, Eze 84)
Leiston 1 (Hughes 5)
Report by Craig Gibbons
STRATFORD Town had to do it the hard way to get past plucky Leiston, recovering from an early setback to claim a 3-1 victory over the league’s basement boys.
After a tempestuous couple of weeks where Town had been knocked out of two competitions by the same team, five players leaving and the budget cut, things seemed to be on course to get worse after Thomas Hughes put Leiston ahead after just five minutes.
Man-of-the-match Kairo Edwards-John restored parity just past the half-hour mark with a fine curling finish and then Chris Wreh made it 2-1 eight minutes after the half-time interval.
Second-half substitute Abraham Eze then rounded off the scoring six minutes from time to secure the three points for Town.
Boss Tommy Wright made three changes to the team which suffered a 2-0 reverse at Hitchin Town the previous weekend, with goalkeeper Mitchell Allen and defender Kyle Rowley handed their debuts in place of Elliott Taylor and Kurtis Revan, while Liam Hughes’ return from suspension meant there was no place for Joe Curtis.
Rowley, who was released by League Two side Walsall in 2016, has had stints with Alvechurch, Walsall Wood and Cheltenham Town while Allen, who once had a work experience spell at Market Drayton Town, made the move to the Arden Garages Stadium from Stoke City.
Both are the 30th and 31st players respectively to have been used by Wright at this very early stage season – now Tamworth boss Thomas Baillie used 54 players during Town’s history-making 2018/19 campaign.
Leiston came into this game having failed to register a win after nine games and conceded 36 times, but they took the lead after just five minutes.
Jerry Kamanzi’s deep cross from the right-hand side was collected by Hughes, whose effort was blocked by Daniel Vann, but the rebound cannoned off the Leiston No.11 and curled into the bottom corner.
Four minutes later Town came close to getting back on level terms when James Hancocks’ in-swinging corner was flapped at by Leiston goalkeeper Charlie Beckwith, but Kyle Hammond was there to hack the loose ball off the line.
Things went from bad to worse for Town in the 27th minute when centre-back George Heaven, making just his second appearance, was forced off with a knee injury after an earlier collision with team-mate Luke Rowe.
Mitchell Glover was called into action, with Hughes dropping back into the back four as part of the reshuffle.
Having struggled through the half, Town drew level 12 minutes before the break after a moment of magic from the lively Edwards-John
A quick throw-in by Hancocks was picked up by Edwards-John, who had one look up at goal before curling the ball right into the far corner of the net from 20 yards out, giving Beckwith no chance.
Edwards-John was certainly the stand-out player for Town and he should have doubled the lead six minutes before the break, but only the woodwork prevented him from bagging his second of the game.
A superb raking pass from Rowe found Edwards-John in acres of space on the far side. He then evaded two challenges inside the area before smashing an effort off the crossbar from 12 yards out.
Town, who had eventually settled after their terribly slow start, had another chance to nose themselves ahead right on half-time when a huge clearance from Vann saw Wreh race through on goal, but his shot was blocked by Harry Knights.
Leiston wasted a huge opportunity to take the lead immediately up the other end when a lucky deflection landed kindly at the feet of Rhys Henry, but his stabbed effort from close range was saved by Allen.
Town started the second half brightly and it took just eight minutes for them to take the lead.
A superbly weighted throughball from Lewis Wilson saw Wreh beat the offside trap and race through one-on-one before coolly slotting past the onrushing Beckwith.
Town continued to probe for the third goal and their next meaningful chance came in the 70th minute, but Wreh’s left-footed shot from the edge of the area was parried away by Beckwith.
A plucky Leiston continued to play their way and they signalled their intent that they were not going to give up without a fight when George Keys headed straight at Allen from a corner.
Twelve minutes before the end Town were given an indirect free-kick in the Leiston penalty area after Beckwith picked up a clear back pass, but the hosts could not make the most of the opportunity, with Hughes curling over from Ross Oulton’s lay off.
However, Town eventually put the game to bed six minutes from time and it was that man Edwards-John at the centre of things once again.
The tricky winger danced into the box and after surviving the initial tackle, he squared the ball to Eze who had the simple task of tapping in from a couple of yards out.
Leiston were not quite done, though, and they came within a whisker of bagging a consolation in the third minute of stoppage time, but an unmarked William Davies could only glance wide at the far post.
TOWN: Mitchell Allen, Daniel Vann, James Hancocks, Kyle Rowley, George Heaven (Mitchell Glover 27 (Abraham Eze 74)), Ross Oulton, Liam Hughes, Luke Rowe, Lewis Wilson, Christopher Wreh (O’Keefe 90), Kairo Edwards-John. Unused subs: Elliott Taylor, Thomas Fishwick.
LEISTON: Charlie Beckwith, Kyle Hammond, Thomas Woerndl, Siju Odelusi, Harry Knights (Mason Sinclair 83), George Keys, Jerry Kamanzi (Joshua Cheetham 58), Robert Eagle, William Davies, Rhys Henry (Jourdan Kiwomya 58), Thomas Hughes. Unused subs: Joshua Cheetham, Iuri Fernandes, Jake Jessup.