BetVictor Southern Premier Central
Stratford Town 3 (Wreh 30 80, Ball 47 pen)
AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1 (Tom Fishwick OG 90+3)
Report by Bryan Hale
AFC RUSHDEN & Diamonds arrived at a sun-drenched Arden Garages Stadium as league leaders with a 100 per cent winning record, but Stratford Town provided them with a comprehensive reality check as they turned in their best performance of the season to run out emphatic winners.
And star of the show was their former striker Chris Wreh, who revelled in his call-up to the starting line-up after his impressive substitute appearances, hitting two goals to take his seasonal tally to four and running the Diamonds defence ragged throughout the searingly hot afternoon.
But for the second week running Kynan Isaac was the centre of attention when Town’s matchday squad was announced.
This time, though, it was because his name was missing from the teamsheet as the prodigal midfielder had once again decided that he preferred life elsewhere and was among the substitutes for North Leigh’s clash at Aylesbury.
Instead Liam Hughes had recovered from tonsillitis to make his competitive Town debut while Linden Dovey took over from the suspended Luis Morrison, with Elliott Taylor replacing Sam Lomax in goal and Dan Vann returning at the expense of Joel Gyasi.
In contrast, the Diamonds were unchanged from their win over Nuneaton Borough last weekend while their subs bench included ex-Town keeper Niall Cooper.
Hughes had made a big impression in the pre-season friendlies and was first to threaten with a shot on the turn in only the fifth minute which flashed narrowly wide of Diamonds keeper Ben Heath’s right-hand post.
At the other end, Jack Bowen wasn’t far away with an attempted lob from wide on the right as both sides made a lively start.
Wreh was looking to make an impact with his pace and on 15 minutes only a perfectly timed tackle from the imposing Diamonds skipper Liam Dolman prevented him breaking through down the left.
Diamonds responded with a low drive from Matt Slinn fizzing wide before both sides enjoyed a well-earned drink break on the 25-minute mark.
When play resumed Town put together a flowing move instigated by Wreh and ending with Lewis Wilson floating over a cross from the right, but Callum Ball’s header was easily gathered by Heath.
And when they took the lead in the 31st minute it was all down to Wreh’s persistence as he dispossessed the dithering Jack Ashton on the left of the penalty area and ran on to steer the ball past Heath via the inside of the far post.
Diamonds looked for an immediate response, but Tom Fishwick did well to get a clearing header to a left-wing cross from Nat Gosnal-Tyler followed by Taylor confidently claiming a Ben Acquaye cross from the opposite flank.
But right on half-time Diamonds wasted their best chance when Acquaye’s pin-point cross from the right reached the unmarked Bowen at the far post and with time and space all he could do was head wide when it seemed easier to score.
The importance of that miss was emphasised three minutes into the second half when Mitchell Glover was bundled over in the penalty area as he tried to latch onto a Wreh pass.
Referee Andrew Ellis immediately pointed to the spot and Ball coolly sent Heath the wrong way to put Town 2-0 up.
Taylor made a smart save at the foot of his right-hand post to keep out a Lorraine effort, but Town could have added a third soon after when the irrepressible Wreh whipped in a low cross from the left which flashed tantalisingly beyond the stretching Ball.
Diamonds promptly made a double substitution followed by their third soon after and they tested the Town defence with some teasing crosses, but Dovey and Fishwick got in the vital headers and Taylor continued to impress with his clean handling.
Town again went close to extending their lead on 74 minutes when Hughes almost caught Heath out with an exquisite curler from 25 yards out which the keeper was relieved to grasp under his bar.
And when they did go 3-0 up with ten minutes to go inevitably it was Wreh yet again as he latched onto a Glover throughball to scamper away and fire past the advancing Heath.
That was effectively game over, but Town were denied a clean sheet deep into added time when Fishwick and Sam Johnson went up to meet a long ball into the penalty area and it glanced off the defender beyond the helpless Taylor.
But it was only a footnote to what had been a thoroughly satisfying afternoon as Tommy Wright’s changes surely brought about so much more than the originally desired effect.
TOWN: Elliott Taylor, Linden Dovey, Tom Fishwick, Dan Vann, Cody Fisher, Lewis Wilson, Mitchell Glover (Ross Oulton 88), Ivor Lawton (c), Liam Hughes, Callum Ball (Nabil Shariff 64), Chris Wreh (Kurtis Revan 81) Unused subs: Joel Gyasi, Sam Lomax.
DIAMONDS: Ben Heath, Zack Reynolds (Sam Johnson 66), Liam Dolman (c), Jack Ashton, Sam Brown, Ben Acquaye, Matt Slinn (Julian McDonald 54), Nathan Hicks, Nat Gosnal-Tyler, Tom Lorraine, Jack Bowen (Ben Farrell 54). Unused subs: Ryan Dove, Niall Cooper.