Stratford Town reach cup semi-final after penalty shoot-out victory

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Nabil Shariff taps home into an empty net. Photo: Steve Wood

FOOTBALL

Evo-Stik CSS League Cup
Stratford Town 3-3 Kettering Town (Stratford won 4-1 on penalties)
Report by Bryan Hale

STRATFORD Town are through to the last four of the CSS League Cup after sharing six goals with a powerful Kettering Town side before coming out on top in their fourth penalty shoot-out of the season.

As is usual for this competition, both teams made changes with Town only fielding six and Kettering five from their weekend starting line-ups.

Coming in for Town were Dan Summerfield, Kieren Westwood, Dan Preston and the fit again Wilson Carvalho while there was debut for midfielder Muhammed Sebbeh-Njie from Redditch United.

But it was the Poppies who made the perfect start, going ahead with less than 60 seconds on the clock as Rhys Hoeness latching on to a long ball down the middle and running through the Town defence to jink round Matija Sarkic for a simple finish.

Gradually, though, Stratford settled down and the lively Kynan Isaac forced Kettering keeper Paul White into two smart saves in quick succession on the 20-minute mark followed immediately by White making an even better stop when Nabil Shariff burst into the left of the penalty area.

And Stratford’s pressure told in the 26th minute when Isaac brushed past Lathaniel Rowe-Turner to be brought down by Luke Graham and Carvalho blasted the spot kick past White to level it all up with the minimum of fuss.

It was now an even game and Stratford went ahead four minutes before the break when Graham attempted to head a long ball down the left back to White, but failed to get enough power behind it and Shariff nipped in to skip past the stranded keeper and walk it into the empty net.

Some typical Carvalho trickery laid on a chance for Shariff early in the second half before the Poppies hit back to equalise in the 59th minute and inevitably it was all down to Hoeness whose fierce cross-shot from the right was turned in by Graham at the far post.

Surprisingly Hoeness was immediately substituted, as was Shariff, on 74 minutes when Stratford introduced new striker Curvin Ellis from Coventry United.

Then with ten minutes to go Stratford regained the lead when Sarkic’s huge punt downfield was collected by Isaac to fire past White, but within a minute the Poppies were back on terms when Ben Milnes swung in a corner from the left which was headed in by Graham.

Ellis had a final chance for Stratford deep into added time but it was another penalty shoot-out which was to decide it all.

Successful kicks from Grocott, Fry and Kian Williams fired Stratford into a 3-0 lead after Solkhon had shot over and Milnes hit the post.

Kelly-Evans kept the tie alive but Lewis Wilson settled it with Stratford’s fourth and the semi finals now await.

For match reaction, read Thursday’s Herald.