BetVictor Southern Premier Central
Rushall Olympic 4 (Smith 10, Letford 28 67, Leachman-Whittingham 90)
Stratford Town 1 (Glover 19)
Report Bryan Hale
THE August Bank Holiday weekend could hardly have presented Town with two tougher fixtures.
After ending AFC Rushden and Diamonds’ 100 per cent winning record on Saturday, their Monday fixture saw them travel to Rushall Olympic.
The Pics had replaced the Diamonds as the league leaders and were also the division’s leading scorers with 12 goals from their four games.
And the hosts showed that they are leading the table on merit with some clinical finishing on a blistering hot afternoon.
On their first visit to Dales Lane’s spanking new 3G pitch, Town’s starting line-up showed three changes from Saturday.
Callum Ball and Tom Fishwick were ruled out through injury while Linden Dovey was unavailable so in came debutant Yan Ofosu, Joel Gyasi and Nabil Shariff, with Liam Hughes having to take over from Fishwick in the backline while Shariff partnered Chris Wreh up front.
And it was Shariff who was involved in the first serious action of the game after only five minutes when Mitchell Glover swung in a corner from the right which was met by Sharrif with a bullet header which bounced down off the underside of the bar.
Town appealed frantically that it was over the line, but referee Ruebyn Ricardo waved play on and with no VAR to help Town out the Pics may well have had a lucky escape.
And they made the most of their reprieve five minutes later ironically with a right wing corner of their own.
Taken by Reece Mitchell, it reached Lee Smith at the far post who climbed above everyone else to power a header past Town keeper Elliott Taylor.
That gave the Pics all the momentum they needed and Taylor soon had to make a smart low save from Shaquille Leachman-Whittingham followed by Sam Whittall shooting over from the edge of the penalty area.
But on 19 minutes Town were level when Glover produced another of his trademark long-range “specials”, giving Pics keeper Jonathan Platt no chance as he hit a stunning right footer from 20 yards out into the top corner.
And as the Pics struggled to regain their composure a speculative effort from the right touchline by Lewis Wilson landed on the roof of the net much to the relief of the back-pedalling Platt.
But after a welcome drinks break the Pics were soon back on the attack and regained the lead in the 28th minute.
Taylor could only parry a sharp Leachman-Whittingham effort low to his left with Levi Rowley seizing on the loose ball to slide it across for Jonathan Letford to cheekily backheel it into the net.
A mazy run down the left from his own penalty area by the speedy Ben Lund briefly threatened a third Pics goal ten minutes before the break, but he badly misplaced his attempted pass to Letford and there was still only one goal in it at half-time.
Town made a lively start to the second half, with both Chris Wreh and Lewis Wilson having shots deflected behind and when the Pics responded Taylor did well to hold a low drive from Smith at the foot of his left hand post.
A Smith cross on the hour mark set up a shooting chance for Rowley, but Cody Fisher was in the right place to make a vital bock followed soon after by Lund’s surge inside being halted by a perfectly timed tackle from Ofosu.
Letford then wasted a great chance on 63 minutes when he got through down the inside right channel but then over-ran the ball, allowing Dan Vann to get back and snuff out the danger.
But Letford put that behind him four minutes later when he put the Pics two up as he controlled a throw-in in the penalty area and swivelled to hit a low right-footed drive beyond Taylor and into the far corner.
Tommy Wright looked to boost Town’s attacking options by moving Wilson into the backline and switching Hughes up front and it almost paid divideds with the big man having a shot cleared off the line while substitute Kurtis Revan worked his way into a shooting position only to then pass instead.
But the Pics were looking comfortable and with ten minutes to go only a brave save by Taylor prevented them going further ahead as he was smartly off his line to block as Lund again used his speed to gallop down the middle.
The hosts weren’t to be denied, though, and as the game headed into added time they took their total to four for the afternoon and 16 for the season with an assured finish from Leachman-Whittigham to maintain their grip on top spot in the fledging league table.
TOWN: Elliott Taylor, Yan Ofosu, Liam Hughes, Dan Vann, Cody Fisher, Lewis Wilson, Mitchell Glover (James Hancocks 85), Ivor Lawton, Joel Gyasi (Kurtis Revan 61), Nabil Shariff, Chris Wreh. Unused subs: Ross Oulton, Dylan Parker, Sam Lomax.
RUSHALL: Jonathan Platt, Chekaine Steele, Reece Mitchell, Lee Smith, Asa Charlton, Sam Whittall, Shaquille Leachman-Whittingham, Alex Moore (Dan O’Callaghan 68), Levi Rowley (Mitchel Clarke 78), Jonathan Letford, Ben Lund (Keiron Berry 85). Unused subs: Jakob Burroughs, Joe Fryatt.