ON-SONG Stratford Town continued their charge towards the Southern League Premier Central play-offs following an enthralling 3-2 victory over Leiston at the Arden Garages Stadium on Saturday.
Goalscorers Wilson Carvalho and Albi Skendi spearheaded a brilliant team performance as Town extended their unbeaten run to seven games in all competitions.
A big part of that run has come down to the confidence Thomas Baillie and his coaching staff have instilled into Town’s talented squad in recent weeks.
That new-found belief was clear to see against sixth-placed Leiston, a side with a point to prove after last Tuesday’s bizarre 5-1 defeat to King’s Lynn, a result that led to manager Glenn Driver losing his job.
The game got off to a disastrous start for Baillie’s boys, with the visitors scoring inside just 22 seconds.
From the kick-off, Leiston spreaded the ball wide to Byron Lawrence, who floated a teasing cross into the area for Christy Finch to head past Richard Walton.
Town could well have crumbled from this position eight weeks ago, but Baillie’s boys having showed fantastic resolve of late and they were level within seven minutes.
Carvalho, a constant menace throughout the afternoon, had two shots blocked before firing home with aplomb at the third attempt.
The frantic pace of the game continued and it only seemed a matter of time before a third goal arrived.
It duly did in the 23rd minute, as Leiston failed to deal with Will Grocott’s corner and Skendi pounced on the loose ball before turning and firing home from eight yards.
For as vulnerable as they looked at the back, Leiston were just as dangerous going forward and they were desperately unlucky when Patrick Brothers’ audacious 35-yard effort from out wide had Walton beaten, only for the ball to sail a yard side of his right-hand post.
Chances continued to fall and in the 31st minute some great inter-play between Grocott and Mike Taylor saw Grocott drag his 18-yard effort just wide of the upright.
Leiston were back level on 36 minutes though when Jake Reed’s deflected effort looped over the desperately unlucky Walton.
The game remained at an electric pace in the second half, but it wasn’t until the hour mark that either goalkeeper was tested, when Skendi, who was outstanding again, hit a rasping half-volley from 20 yards that was beaten away by Marcus Garnham.
Town supporters’ hands were on their heads a few minutes later too when Chris Cox’s cross from out wide found Taylor, but the striker screwed his attempt wide from close range.
Stratford kept plugging away and the winner eventually arrived in the 68th minute. Man-of-the-match Carvalho twisted and turned the Leiston defenders, moving onto his right foot before unleashing a low drive past Garnham.
Leiston continued to pose further problems going forward, but they were denied by a determined defensive performance by Town, typified by Jordan Williams, who produced a crucial block and last-ditch tackle to keep it at 3-2.
Town almost put the icing on the cake with two minutes to go, when Kieren Westwood’s fierce cross into the area was almost turned into his own net by Joe Jefford.
While the performances of Carvalho and Skendi will steal the headlines, this was an excellent team performance against a dangerous Leiston side.
Town’s squad has settled quickly since Baillie’s arrival and if they can maintain this level of performance, then the club’s play-off pipe dream could become a reality.
Stratford Town: Richard Walton, Chris Cox, Kieren Westwood, James Fry (c), Jamie McAteer, Jordan Williams, Lewis Wilson (Kynan Isaac 82), Albi Skendi, Michael Taylor, Will Grocott (Claudio Dias (82), Wilson Carvalho. Subs not used: James Behan, Ross Oulton, Cody Fisher.
Leiston: Marcus Garnham, Kyle Hammond, Sebastian Dunbar, Harry Knights (Cemal Ramadan 71), Joe Jefford, Thomas Bullard (c), Byron Lawrence, Dominic Doherty (Joshua Moore 75), Jake Reed, Christy Finch, Patrick Brothers (Noel Atkins 81). Sub not used: Charlie Beckwith.