FA Trophy, First Qualifying Round
Stratford Town 1 (Shamsi 16)
Hednesford Town 2 (King 24, Elliott 57)
Report by Craig Gibbons
STRATFORD Town’s interest in cup competitions has ended for another year after bowing out of the FA Trophy at the hands of fellow league rivals Hednesford Town on Tuesday night.
Having already been knocked out of the Southern League Challenge Cup, FA Cup and Birmingham Senior Cup, Town’s last hopes of a decent cup run looked to be on the cards after Ravi Shamsi’s stunning 40-yard lob put the hosts ahead in the 16th minute.
That lead lasted all of eight minutes, though, with Reece King heading home the equaliser before the Pitmen completed the comeback and subsequently booked their place in the second qualifying round when Tom Elliott capitalised on some confusion in the Town defence to tap home the decisive goal of the evening prior to the hour mark.
With goalkeeper Harvey White and full-back Kyle Ambris suspended following their sendings off in last Tuesday’s league defeat to Tamworth, there were places in the starting XI for shot-stopper Jack Bennett, a new recruit from Bradford Park Avenue, and Queens Park Rangers work experience loanee Jai Woollard-Innocent.
Another new signing in Matthew Campbell-Mhlope, who joined from Kings Langley, was also handed his Town debut by caretaker boss Paul Davis.
Straight from kick-off, for the second game running Shamsi attempted to go for goal from the centre circle, but his effort was comfortably saved by Andrew Wycherley.
With possession given to the Pitmen straight away, the visitors came agonisingly close to taking the lead immediately up the other end, but James Hurst’s shot from the edge area deflected just over the bar.
While Hednesford always looked a threat, Town eventually settled into the game and a moment of magic from the lively Shamsi gave the hosts the lead in the 16th minute.
From a nothing ball in the centre of the park, Shamsi, who was some 40 yards out on the left-hand side, spotted Andrew Wycherley off his line and struck an audacious lobbed effort which sailed over the Pitmen’s goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
Town’s lead lasted all of eight minutes, though, with the Pitmen winning a corner after Danny Glover’s shot deflected behind off Woollard-Innocent and from the ensuing Elliott delivery, King rose highest to powerfully head home into the top corner beyond a rooted Bennett.
The first half petered out somewhat following the equaliser, with the Pitmen persisting with long ball tactics, but found it hard to get past Town’s solid backline, with Matt Bower in particular the stand-out figure.
But it wasn’t only Town’s defence that proved to be frustrating for the visitors, with the regular offside flag going up also proving to be a nuisance for the Pitmen.
Four minutes into the second period Dan Vann had a lucky escape when he misjudged a header inside his own penalty area, but luckily for him Bennett was out quick enough to prevent Andre Brown from nipping in and putting the Pitmen ahead.
But it was another mistake which eventually led to the visitors taking the lead for the first time three minutes before the hour mark.
A simple long ball over the top was allowed to bounce in the penalty area and with Bennett missing his attempted punch, Elliott had the simple task of tapping into an empty net from a couple of yards out.
Town looked too narrow as the half progressed, but they missed a golden opportunity to draw level with 19 minutes remaining.
Some neat play on the left-hand side saw Woollard-Innocent’s deep cross reach Kairo Edwards-John, whose cushioned header back to Shamsi was blazed horribly wide of the mark from just inside the area.
Town continued to be on the back foot for the majority of the half and Davis called on Chris Wreh in a bid to get back into the game.
The hosts then thought they had a penalty in the 81st minute when Nabil Shariff took a tumble in the area, but referee Richard Walker thought otherwise and brandished the yellow card for simulation.
The Pitmen had the chance to add a third six minutes later, but Kieran Wells could only volley wide after connecting with Danny Glover’s deep cross towards the back post.
Wells then had another opportunity to kill the game off in the first minute of stoppage time, but his angled drive flashed past Bennett’s far post.
TOWN: Jack Bennett, Lewis Wilson, Jai Woollard-Innocent, Courtney Richards, Daniel Vann, Matt Bower, Matthew Campbell-Mhlope (Foday Nabay 46), Ross Oulton (Chris Wreh 81), Nabil Shariff, Ravi Shamsi, Kairo Edwards-John. Unused subs: Elliott Taylor, Luke Rowe, Tom Fishwick, Boubakar Traore.
PITMEN: Andrew Wycherley, Izaac Reid, Matthias Curley, Ben Bailey, Kieran Morris, James Hurst, Jack Hallahan, Reece King, Danny Glover, Tom Elliott, Andre Brown (Kieran Wells 65). Unused subs: Elliott Hodge, Tom Fry, Billy Daniels, Jose Veiga, Kristian Scott, Osebi Abadaki.