Evo-Stik Southern Premier Central
Stratford Town 1-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Report by Craig Gibbons
JAMES Fry’s stunning strike with 15 minutes to go fired Stratford Town to a much-needed 1-0 victory over fellow Evo-Stik Southern Premier Central play-off hopefuls AFC Rushden & Diamonds.
After a goalless opening half, the game’s defining moment came when usual skipper Fry, who came on in the first half after Ross Oulton was forced off due to injury, ran onto a loose ball from all of 25 yards out and expertly found the bottom corner with aplomb.
The win moved Town back into the play-off places ahead of next Saturday’s trip to Coalville Town.
Thomas Baillie made four changes to the team which were held to a 0-0 draw away at lowly Barwell last Saturday, with Cody Fisher, Jamie McAteer, Mike Taylor and Will Grocott drafted into the starting XI.
Kynan Isaac missed out through suspension, Kian Williams wasn’t even in the squad while Dan Creaney and James Fry dropped to the bench.
And Town started brightly in front of the 449-strong crowd at the Arden Garages Stadium, with Lewis Wilson’s glancing touch from Grocott’s corner blocked on the line.
Three minutes later Diamonds keeper Ben Heath then had to be at his best to push away Wilson Carvalho’s curling effort which looked destined for the bottom corner.
Diamonds slowly began to get into the game, with Sam Johnson’s turn and shot saved by Town keeper Laurence Bilboe, who was then equal to a header from Ben Diamond moments later.
That was as good as it got in the first half for the visitors, who should have been behind in the 34th minute when Taylor was played through on goal by Oulton, but Diamonds keeper Heath did well to tip the effort over the bar.
Grocott was the next to breach the Diamonds defence four minutes before the break, but skipper Liam Dolman did well to get back and stop Town’s No.10 from getting a shot off as the two sides went into the break level, something of a normality at the Arden Garages Stadium.
Eight minutes into the second half the visitors had a huge let-off when Cox’s in-swinging cross caught out Diamonds keeper Heath and hit the underside of the bar without crossing the line.
That moment sparked the game into life, albeit for only a couple of moments, as neither team could get a stranglehold of the game, with both sets of defences remaining in control of the game.
Clear-cut chances continued to be at a premium, with Town’s hopes of breaking the deadlock nearly coming in fortuitous circumstances as Carvalho’s low cross was deflected towards goal by a Diamonds defender, but Heath was quick to react and save at his near post.
As the game entered the final quarter of an hour, a moment of magic from Fry opened the scoring for Town, with his stunning strike from all of 25 yards burying its way into the bottom corner beyond the outstretched left arm of Heath.
With Diamonds pushing for the equaliser, Grocott should have made the game safe seven minutes from time, but a fine save from Heath kept his side in the game going into the dying stages.
Diamonds kept plugging away for an equaliser, but they could not find a way past a resolute Town defence which had stood firm all game.
TOWN: Laurence Bilboe, Chris Cox, Cody Fisher, Ross Oulton (James Fry 36), Jamie McAteer, Jordan Williams, Lewis Wilson, Albi Skendi, Mike Taylor (Nabil Shariff 90+1), Will Grocott (Dan Creaney 87), Wilson Carvalho. Unused subs: Ross Etheridge, Kai Williams.
DIAMONDS: Ben Heath, Zac Reynolds (Ben Farrell 76), Jack Ashton (Sam Brown 82), Jack Westbrook, Liam Dolman, Alex Collard, Sam Johnson, Declan Rogers (Jack Bowen 82), Tom Lorraine, Ben Diamond, Nathan Hicks. Unused subs: Joe Curtis.