Evo-Stik Southern Premier Central
Stratford Town 3-2 Biggleswade Town
Report by Craig Gibbons
STRATFORD Town booked their place in the Evo-Stik Southern Premier Central play-offs with a 3-2 victory over Biggleswade Town – and they had to do it the hard way.
The tension was clear from the outset in front of a 415-strong crowd at the Arden Garages Stadium and the visitors broke the deadlock four minutes before half-time when Sean Lucian rifled home from Matt Ball’s deep cross.
Mike Taylor got Town back on level terms in the 68th minute when he got on the end of Ross Etheridge’s long kick to head home at the near post.
Town were then awarded a penalty five minutes later when Wilson Carvalho was brought down in the box.
And the lively winger duly converted from 12 yards out to put Town 2-1 up.
Dan Creaney then came off the bench to put Town 3-1 up in the 85th minute when he superbly volleyed home from 20 yards out.
Waders would have the last say, though, when they had a penalty in the sixth minute of stoppage time which was slotted home by Ball.
There were three changes to the Town team from Saturday’s disappointing 3-2 defeat to Lowestoft Town, with Chris Cox, Will Grocott and Taylor coming in for Cody Fisher, Mo Sebbeh-Njie and Dan Creaney who all dropped to the bench.
While the nerves seemed to be evident both on and off the pitch given the nature of the game, Town had the first key chance to break the deadlock in the 14th minute when Cox’s long throw fell to an unmarked Nabil Shariff, but he could only volley over from six yards out.
As the half progressed Biggleswade continued with their long ball approach and their first clear-cut chance fell the way of Peter Clark, whose tame left-footed effort went into the grateful of arms of Town keeper Etheridge.
The visitors had another great opportunity to open the scoring six minutes before the break when Sam Donkin’s punt up the pitch was collected by Ball, but his curling effort was well saved by Etheridge.
But two minutes later the visitors did manage to nose themselves ahead Lucian neatly controlled Ball’s lofted ball before drilling the ball into the bottom corner.
Four minutes into the second half Lewis Wilson had a half chance to get Town back on level terms, but he could only volley over from Cox’s in-swinging cross from the far side.
Moments later Cox fizzed in a delicious ball across the face of goal, but none of his team-mates were alert enough to get on the end of it at the back post.
Town continued to press and they came close to getting back on level terms on the hour mark when Taylor chested the ball into the path of the Grocott from the edge of the area, but the playmaker’s fierce shot was saved down low by Donkin.
However, Town’s pressure was rewarded in the 68th minute when Etheridge’s huge kick up field was missed by Jordan Gent which allowed Taylor to nip in behind and head home at the near post.
That goal shifted the momentum in Town’s favour and five minutes later they were offered the chance to take the lead when they were awarded a penalty after Carvalho was brought down in the area by Kieran Forbes.
Carvalho took the spot-kick himself and duly obliged, sending Donkin the wrong way to put Town ahead at a crucial stage in the match.
Super sub Creaney then sealed Town’s play-off place three minutes from time when he superbly volleyed home from the corner of the penalty area after Biggleswade failed to clear Grocott’s deep corner at the first attempt.
Cox almost rounded off a memorable afternoon in the second minute of stoppage time, but his dipping free-kick from 25 yards out was superbly turned over the bar by Donkin.
As the clock ticked down, the visitors had a penalty of their own in the sixth minute of stoppage time for some pushing in the area and Ball smashed home from 12 yards out to make it 3-2.
However, as soon as the ball hit the net the ref blew the full-time whistle to confirm Town’s victory and place in the Southern League Premier Central play-offs.
TOWN: Ross Etheridge, Chris Cox, Kynan Isaac, James Fry, Lewis Wilson, Jordan Williams, Nabil Shariff, Albi Skendi, Mike Taylor (Dan Creaney 80), Will Grocott (Mo Sebbeh-Njie 87), Wilson Carvalho (Kai Williams 89). Unused subs: Rajan Shergill, Cody Fisher.
WADERS: Sam Donkin, Ben Walster, Lucas Perry, Kieran Forbes (Brett Donnelly 76), Jordan Gent, David Long-Kinge, Sean Lucian, Peter CLark, Harry Draper (Claudio Ofesu), Matt Ball, Soloman Nwaboukei (Brad Bell 74). Unused subs: Luca Allinson, Jack Bradshaw.