FOR the second successive season, Stratford Town exited the Southern League Challenge Cup after coming out second best in a penalty shoot-out, writes Bryan Hale.
Last time it was Hitchin, who proved more clinical from the spot and on Tuesday evening at Kayte Lane it was Bishops Cleeve who followed suit.
This third round tie had ended 1-1 after 90 minutes as Town were unable to make their Premier Division quality count against their spirited Division One South and West opponents.
Kieren Westwood and Ben Stephens were back for this one, taking over from Jean Kalenda and Charlie Faulkner, but the Mitres were the first to threaten with a decent ninth-minute attempt from Jack Watts being turned behind by Town keeper Niall Cooper at the foot of his right-hand post.
Town responded with a cross-cum-shot from Edwin Ahenkorah landing on the roof of the net before the big Town front man had the best chance of the evening so far.
The striker latched onto a Liam Francis headed through ball to be one-on-one with Mitres keeper Mat Wieczorek, only for the keeper to mover smartly off his line to make a brave block at his feet.
But Town were struggling to impose themselves on the game and they had a double let-off on the half-hour mark when Francis cleared off the line from Jacob Davidge followed immediately after by Guy Clark blocking a fiercely-struck Joe Bates effort.
Town were noticeably sharper after the restart, and went ahead in the 52nd minute. Justin Marsden was tripped by Watts as he tried to work his way into the left of the penalty area, and Ahenkorah drilled the spot-kick into the bottom corner.
The Mitres upped their tempo as they tried to get back into the game. Clark made another crucial block from Watts and Cooper made two point blank saves within seconds of each other on 65 minutes as Town struggled to get the ball clear.
And with 12 minutes to go the Mitres’ pressure finally told when Clark missed a through ball down the inside left channel and dangerman Watts ran on to slot the equaliser past the advancing Cooper.
In the time remaining there were alarms at both ends, but neither side could force the decider and it was all down to the dreaded penalty shoot-out.
Town got off to the worst possible start with Ahenkorah seeing his effort saved by Wieczorek and although Cooper kept out Jack Horrell’s attempt, Wieczorek regained the advantage for the Mitres with another save, this time from Faulkner.
It was all over when Aaron Drake slammed the final spot kick past Cooper.
Stratford Town: Niall Cooper, Dan Summerfield, Kieren Westwood, James Fry (c), Liam Francis, Guy Clark (Jean Kalenda 83), Justin Marsden (Dylan Parker 76), Barry Fitzharris, Mike Taylor, Ben Stephens (Charlie Faulkner 46), Edwin Ahenkorah.