Stratford Town 2-1 South Shields
FA Trophy, Third Qualifying Round
Report by Colin Stoner
MIKE Taylor bagged a stoppage-time winner to earn Stratford a place in the FA Trophy first round for the first time in their history.
Having been presented pre-match with a memento to mark 100 appearances for Stratford, top scorer Taylor rounded off the day in style by settling a nip-and-tuck tie in the fourth minute of added time to defeat ten-man South Shields.
The north-east visitors had withstood a bright start from Town to take the lead on 18 minutes through Carl Finnigan.
But Stratford levelled matters through a Wilson Carvalho penalty on 58 minutes, with the visitors having Nathan Lowe also sent off for handball.
Stratford found the visitors’ well-drilled five-man defence a tough nut to break and the north-east side, even with ten men, and a replay seemed inevitable until Taylor’s late strike.
Town boss Thomas Baillie made four changes to the line-up which had faced Aston Villa in midweek, with Chris Cox, Will Grocott, Carvalho and Jimmy Fry returning to the XI. Kieren Westwood, Claudio Dias, Shawn Richards dropped to the bench with Cody Fisher not included. The ever-versatile Kynan Isaac took over as left-back, his third different position in three games.
In front of the second biggest home crowd of the season of 378, Town needed to get an early foothold in the game and for the opening 15 minutes they edged the contest.
An angled 22-yard free-kick from Will Grocott dipped just over the South Shields goal before Mike Taylor galloped forward down the inside right channel and forced keeper Liam Connell into a sprawling near-post save.
From a Grocott corner, Jamie McAteer sent his header a couple of feet over.
But South Shield were looking a confident, passing team and they grabbed the lead from their first real attempt on goal.
Nathan Lowe’s first instinct when the ball rolled into his path 22 yards from goal was to smack it goalwards. Though keeper Richard Walton parried his shot, Finnigan was sharpest to react and drilled the loose ball into the bottom corner.
Winning has been a habit for South Shields who have won three titles in a row in climbing the leagues, and they sensed they could put the tie to bed.
Home skipper Fry booted clear a header from Robert Briggs following a corner before Dillon Morse was inches away from converting Lowe’s drilled cross.
Another Briggs header flashed wide and Walton gathered a rasping shot from Lowe.
With Taylor finding himself increasingly isolated, Town needed to find a way through from midfield and Skendi almost provided it, collecting Grocott’s lay-off and firing straight at keeper Connell just before half-time.
Straight after the break, Taylor was just crowded out as Skendi slipped in a pass.
But Town were in the ascendancy and they were level on 58 minutes.
Jamie McAteer soared to head Grocott’s corner goalwards and as Taylor flicked it on the assistant referee spotted a handball on the line by Lowe. Referee Andy Genders duly showed Lowe a red card and Carvalho increased the punishment by slamming the penalty past Connell.
Stratford continued to press but South Shields covered and harried to prevent any clear chances. Taylor tried to bustle his way through but couldn’t get his shot off, and Skendi wasted a cross after a teasing run.
At the other end, South Shields could have snatched victory when Finnigan fired a low shot a couple of feet wide of the right-hand post and then Walton pushed away a free-kick from Briggs as it arrowed towards the bottom corner.
There was still time for another twist. Four minutes into stoppage time, Taylor collected Carvalho’s deep cross from the right, held off his marker and then thumped his right-footed shot into the roof of the net from six yards. Not a bad way to bag your 13th goal of the season.
STRATFORD: Richard Walton; Chris Cox, Kynan Isaac, James Fry ©, Jamie McAteer, Jordan Williams, Lewis Wilson, Albi Skendi, Mike Taylor, Will Grocott (Andre Olunkanmi, 82), Wilson Carvalho. Subs: Kieren Westwood, Claudio Dias, Josh Cooke, Shawn Richards.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Liam Connell, Craig Baxter, Blair Adams, Jon Shaw ©, Dillon Morse, Philip Turnbull, Gavin Cogdon (Harmison, 59), Robert Briggs, Carl Finnigan, Nathan Lowe, David Foley (Joshua Gillies, 59). Subs: Gary Brown, Darren Lough, Joachim Urseme Mouandas.
Referee: Andy Genders.