A LATE strike from substitute Leam Howards earned Banbury United a 3-2 win over Stratford Town in their New Year’s Day clash at the MoodChimp Stadium, writes Bryan Hale.
Both sides had led before being pegged back in a game which could really have gone either way at the end.
Earlier, Ben Stephens had fired Town ahead only for Tom Winters to level it all up at the break.
Banbury then took an early second half lead through skipper Ricky Johnson followed by Mike Taylor equalising for Town and from then on it was end-to-end stuff, with only the woodwork preventing Town grabbing a dramatic leveller as the match headed into added time.
Town were without the suspended Lee Thomas while Dan Summerfield was ruled out after limping off at Redditch on Boxing Day, and they were replaced in the starting line-up by Eli Bako and Charlie Evans.
Stephens was first to threaten when he cut in from the right in the fifth minute to shoot against Charlie Wise, while at the other end Johnson turned to hit a decent left foot effort which was deflected behind off Liam Francis.
Town then went ahead on 18 minutes after an intricate build-up down the right involving Bako and Justin Marsden with the ball eventually finding its way to Stephens, who thumped it past Banbury keeper Jack Harding for his 16th goal of an increasingly prolific season.
The dangerous Johnson went close with a header soon after and Town did well to survive a free-kick on the edge of their penalty area which Tom Winters blasted straight into the Town wall.
Another Johnson header was smartly pushed behind by Louis Connor as Banbury cranked up the pressure, and they equalised on 32 minutes.
Connor did well to beat away a fierce shot from Elliot Sandy only for Winters to seize onto the loose ball and lash an unstoppable volley into the top corner.
And it only took Banbury six minutes into the second half to take the lead when Jordy Ngathe’s cross from the right was nodded back across the six-yard box by Winters and neatly headed in by Johnson.
But ten minutes later it was all square again when Taylor met a Will Grocott free-kick with a volley which rocketed past Harding.
Both sides then battled for the winner, which arrived on 82 minutes when Howards ran on to a long free-kick to slot past Connor.
But even then it wasn’t all over as in added time a Taylor piledriver came back off the post and Evans’ effort from the rebound was deflected behind as the Puritans somehow held on for the win.
Stratford Town: Louis Connor, James Fry (c), Charlie Evans, James Hancocks, Loyiso Recci, Liam Francis, Justin Marsden (Edwin Ahenkorah 61), Eli Bako, Mike Taylor, Will Grocott, Ben Stephens.