Midland League, Les James Challenge Cup, Second Round
FC Stratford 3 (Gifford 16, Wilkes 23 65)
Earlswood Town 0
Report by Craig Gibbons
FC STRATFORD eased into the quarter-finals of the Les James Challenge Cup with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Earlswood Town at the Arden Garages Stadium.
James Gifford put the hosts ahead after 16 minutes and then Ashley Wilkes made it 2-0 seven minutes later with a fabulous free-kick from 25 yards out.
Wilkes then struck again midway through the second half to seal FC Stratford’s place in the last eight of the Les James Challenge Cup where they will meet Coventry Alvis or WLV Sport.
Both sides saw plenty of the ball in the opening stages, but it was the hosts who eventually started to settle into a rhythm and they deservedly took the lead just past the quarter-hour mark.
James Robbins broke free down the right wing and his low cross was met by Rob Singer, whose shot pulled a stunning save out of Daniel Farr, but the loose ball was pounced upon by Gifford and he had the simple task of firing home from a couple of yards out.
And seven minutes later it was 2-0.
The hosts were awarded a free-kick 25 yards from goal after Dean Poulson was clipped and Wilkes stepped up to beautifully curl the ball into the top corner, giving Earlswood goalkeeper Farr no chance.
Having not created much in the final third, the visitors came close to reducing the arrears after 28 minutes when Tom Reynolds cleverly chested the ball into the path of Harry Street, but his powerful shot was superbly tipped over by Luis Sone.
But that was as good as it got for the visitors in the first half and they were lucky not to find themselves 3-0 down seven minutes before the break, as Dan Atkins’s thunderous shot from the edge of the box cannoned off the inside of the post and back into play.
Stratford started the brighter of the two teams after the break and Wilkes had two chances to add to his tally, firstly heading over from Singer’s cross in the 49th minute before seeing a 58th-minute free-kick on the edge of the area go just wide.
Wilkes would not be denied for much longer, though, as he netted his second and Stratford’s third with 25 minutes left to play.
Atkins’s throughball was latched onto by Singer and his low shot was saved down low by Farr, but Wilkes was on hand to latch onto the rebound and he could not miss from a yard out at the back post.
Earlswood offered very little in the second half, but they came close to bagging a consolation with 15 minutes left.
Jon Hamer did well to create some space on the right-hand side before picking out Mason in the centre of goal on the edge of the box, but the Earlswood striker snatched at his shot and the ball drifted off target.
Wilkes then came close to bagging his hat-trick three minutes later, but his acrobatic volley from Robbie Sone’s cross flashed agonisingly wide of the far post.
STRATFORD: Luis Sone, James Robbins, Luke Williams, Nick Cox, Sacha Everard, Danny Janes (Michael O’Regan 74), Rob Singer (Robbie Sone 69), Dean Poulson, James Gifford (Tom Daccus 70), Dan Atkins, Ashley Wilkes. Unused subs: Cameron Bennett, Danny May.
EARLSWOOD: Daniel Farr, Elliott Price, Tom Reynolds, Simon Quigley, Ryan Frogatt, Leaden Dunleavy, Cameron Knight (Matt Pemberton 58), Matthew Green Brad Littlehales 66), Stephen Mason, Jon Hamer, Harry Street (Andy Matthews 87). Unused sub: Fraser Oliver.
ATTENDANCE: 50 (head count)