BetVictor Southern Premier Central
Stratford Town 4 (Shamsi 7 63, Bailey og 12, McFarlane 85)
Hednesford Town 1 (Bailey 45+6)
Report by Craig Gibbons
A CLINICAL Stratford Town brought an end to five consecutive Southern Premier Central defeats by delivering one of their best performances of the season to stun title hopefuls Hednesford Town on Tuesday night.
The Blues got off the perfect start on a very cold evening at the Arden Garages Stadium, with Ravi Shamsi opening the scoring after seven minutes before Ben Bailey’s own-goal doubled the hosts’ lead.
Bailey made amends for putting the ball through his own net by reducing the arrears with the very last kick of the first half, stabbing home in the sixth minute of stoppage time after Town failed to clear Tom Elliott’s corner.
Shamsi restored Town’s two-goal margin just past the hour mark and then York City loanee Kyle McFarlane put the icing on the cake five minutes from time when he raced through on goal and slotted past Andrew Wycherley with aplomb.
Caretaker boss Paul Davis made just one change to the team which suffered a 2-0 defeat at play-off hopefuls Nuneaton Borough on Saturday, with Ross Oulton returning from his one-match suspension and taking the place of Kairo Edwards-John, who dropped to the bench.
And although it was the Pitmen who started the brighter of the two teams, it was Town who drew first blood with just seven minutes on the clock.
A huge clearance up field landed at the feet of Chris Wreh on the halfway line and with no options available, he twisted and turned his way to the byline before smashing a low delivery across the face of goal where Shamsi was primed and ready to tap home at the back post.
And just five minutes later it was 2-0. Wreh was once again influential in the build-up and in similar fashion to the first, his low cross was diverted into the back of net off Pitmen captain Bailey.
As they say in football, 2-0 is the most dangerous lead of them all and the Pitmen wasted a huge chance to get a goal back in the 16th minute.
James Hurst beat the Town offside trap to race through on goal, but he could only spoon his effort horribly over the bar.
A fast and frenetic first half continued to see Hednesford piling forward at every opportunity, but a resolute Town defence kept the visitors at bay, with Matt Bower making a stand-out tackle to deny Elliott from pulling a goal back with ten minutes of the half remaining.
The Pitmen kept coming and they eventually broke Town’s resistance in the sixth minute of first-half stoppage time.
Town failed to clear Elliott’s corner and amongst the melee in the penalty area, Bailey was on hand to stab home from close range to make up for his earlier own-goal.
That proved to be the very last kick of the half and the goal seemed very harsh on Town, who had soaked up so much pressure and defended so doggedly up until then.
Davis was forced into one change at the break, with the injured Oulton making way for McFarlane.
And while Town started the second period brightly, the Pitmen came close to getting back on level terms eight minutes after the restart.
Elliott’s fizzed in corner missed everyone before landing at the feet of Hurst at the back post, but he could only blaze over and judging by his reaction he knew it was a wasted opportunity to restore parity.
Despite being on the back foot and having to defend in numbers, Town restored their two-goal lead in the 63rd minute.
A lovely ball over the top set Lewis Wilson free on goal and he unselfishly squared the ball to Shamsi to smash home his second goal of the game from just inside the box.
This did not deter the visitors from detracting from their game plan of pumping the ball forward and looking to keep Town deep in their own half.
The Pitmen continued to press and it need a block from the face of Dan Vann to deny Osebi Abadaki’s goal-bound shot from troubling Sam Lomax between the sticks moments later.
Try as they might to get back into the match, the Pitmen were put to bed with five minutes remaining when McFarlane raced through on goal and the York City loanee finished with aplomb to seal the three points for Town.
The visitors did have two chances late on to bag a consolation, but both Elliott and substitute Andre Brown were thwarted by Town shot-stopper Sam Lomax.
TOWN: Sam Lomax, Daniel Vann, Kai Woollard-Innocent, Courtney Richards, Matthew Bower, Kyle Rowley, Lewis Wilson, Ross Oulton (Kyle McFarlane 46), Chris Wreh (Kyle Ambris 82), Ravi Shamsi (Jarrell Hylton 90), Foday Nabay. Unused subs: Kairo Edwards-John, Jack Bennett.
PITMEN: Andrew Wycherley, Matthias Curley, Ben O’Hanlon (Izak Reid 62), Ben Bailey, Kieran Morris, James Hurst, Elliot Hodge (Andre Brown 63), Reece King, Daniel Glover, Tom Elliott, Osebi Abadaki. Unused subs: Charlie Gatter, Thomas Fry, Jack Hallahan.