STRATFORD Town’s last home game of the season ended in the most disappointing fashion possible as substitute Kaine McAuley stole the points for Basingstoke with a last-minute winner, writes Bryan Hale.
For the first time this campaign there was a different face in the Town goal with last season’s youth team keeper Scott Martin deputising for Louis Connor, who was serving a one-match ban after his indiscretion at Banbury.
Lee Thomas was also missing through suspension, so Charlie Evans switched to left-back with Justin Marsden and Jazz Luckie coming into midfield while James Hancocks dropped to the substitutes’ bench.
On a sunny afternoon, Stratford were first to threaten when Jazz Luckie surged into the left of the penalty area after five minutes only to scuff his shot harmlessly wide.
Shortly after, Ben Stephens slid the ball across to Will Grocott, whose fierce right footer from 20 yards out was comfortably held by Basingstoke keeper Colin McAdden.
But in a first half of few clearcut chances, it was Basingstoke who came closest to opening the scoring in the 41st minute when a clever free-kick move on the left led to Jack McKnight having his shot cleared off the line by Charlie Evans and Harry Long’s follow-up from the rebound being beaten away by Martin, who was putting in an impressive debut performance which saw him ultimately being nominated as man-of-the-match.
Stephens twice went close for Stratford in the opening 15 minutes of the second half, but McAdden plunged to his right to turn a well struck low drive behind and then took off acrobatically to his left to push away a spectacular strike from all of 30 yards out.
At the other end, Martin pulled off a smart save from Sam Smart with 20 minutes to go, but the game was drifting to a close until McAuley popped up to drill the ball beyond Martin into the bottom corner from 12 yards out.