Evo-Stik Southern Premier Central
Stratford Town 3-1 Needham Market
Report by Craig Gibbons
NABIL Shariff struck twice as Stratford Town recorded their third straight league win with a 3-1 success over fellow play-off hopefuls Needham Market at the Arden Garages Stadium.
Shariff found the net once in each half while Jordan Williams also got in on the act to put Town out of sight.
A Joseph Marsden penalty gave the Marketmen a glimmer of hope in the dying stages but it was too little too late as the Blues came away with the three points.
Town’s head of football Thomas Baillie made two changes to the starting XI which secured a 2-0 victory over Hitchin Town on Tuesday night, with the returning Chris Cox coming in for Dan Summerfield (not in the squad) and Ross Oulton replacing Will Grocott (benched).
The Blues started brightly and had a good chance to take the lead after two minutes but Needham keeper Jake Jessup firstly denied Wilson Carvalho before saving from Lewis Wilson after parrying the initial shot.
Needham slowly grew into the game and should have opened the scoring nine minutes later but Jamie Griffiths could only head over from close range after getting on the end of a deep corner.
Ross Etheridge then saved well with his feet midway through the half to deny Reece Dobson’s left-footed effort from inside the area as Needham cranked up the pressure.
The visitors had shouts for a penalty turned down in the 33rd minute when Luke Ingram was pushed in the box by Kynan Isaac, but the appeals fell on deaf ears.
Ingram had over-run the ball leading up to the push, which might have been the reasoning for not awarding the spot-kick.
Nevertheless, Town then took the lead six minutes later when a poor clearance by Jessup landed at the feet of Albi Skendi, whose well-timed pass allowed Shariff to nip in behind and fire into the bottom corner.
Another Jessup error led to Town’s second on the stroke of half-time when he flapped at Oulton’s corner and there was Jordan Williams to nod home into an empty net.
Just seconds later Needham should have pulled one back but Ingram missed an open goal from a tight angle after rounding Etheridge.
Four minutes into the second period Needham came close to making it 2-1 but a fantastic save from Etheridge to his right denied Marsden’s glancing header finding the far corner.
That missed chance came back to haunt the Marketmen in the 56th minute when Shariff headed home at the back post from Carvalho’s cross to put Town 3-0 up and out of sight.
Brazilian substitute Felipe Barcelos almost made it 4-0 in the 73rd minute after a good passage of one-touch football but his outside-of-the-boot effort was parried away by Jessup at the near post.
Needham were awarded a penalty five minutes later after a foul in the area by Williams and Marsden calmly dispatched from 12 yards to set up a nervy final ten minutes.
The Marketmen almost bagged a second in the fourth minute of stoppage time but James Baker could only head against the crossbar from Gareth Heath’s corner.
TOWN: Ross Etheridge, Chris Cox (Felipe Barcelos 67) James Fry, Jamie McAteer, Jordan Williams, Lewis Wilson, Albi Skendi, Nabil Shariff, Ross Oulton (Will Grocott 62), Wilson Carvalho (Kian Williams 77). Subs: Cody Fisher.
NEEDHAM: Jake Jessup, Jake Dye (Ryan Pelling 72), Callum Sturgess, Jeremiah Kamanzi, Keiran Morphew, James Baker, Luke Ingram, Graham Heath, Jamie Griffiths (Daniel Morphew 69), Reece Dobson (Ethan Abrahams), Joseph Marsden. Subs: Conor McLaughlin, Bradley Cook.