Evo-Stik South Premier Central
Stratford Town 2-1 Banbury United
Report by Craig Gibbons
STRATFORD Town brought an end to Banbury United’s eight-game unbeaten league run with a narrow 2-1 victory in front of a 406-strong crowd at the Arden Garages Stadium.
Town boss Thomas Baillie stuck with the same starting line-up which beat St Neots Town 2-1 last weekend and it took just three minutes for his side to seize the advantage.
A free-kick on the right-hand side was awarded after Lewis Wilson was fouled and Will Grocott’s pin-point delivery was met by the head of an unmarked Chris Cox, who guided the ball home from a couple of yards out to open the scoring.
Banbury went in search of an immediate equaliser and came close to getting back on level terms in the ninth minute but captain Ricky Johnson could only head over from a couple of yards out after getting on the end of Matthew Taylor’s deep cross.
The Puritans continued to crank up the pressure as the half progressed but were left frustrated by Aston Villa loanee Matija Sarkic in the Town goal, who firstly denied Giorgio Rasulo before expertly tipping over Ravi Shamsi’s free-kick just past the half-hour mark.
Town perhaps could have gone 2-0 ahead prior to then but new recruit Shane Benjamin could only lash a left-footed shot wide of the near post after getting in behind the Banbury defence.
The visitors had a great chance to get back on level terms just before the interval when Ross Oulton brought down Shamsi on the edge of the area, but Rasulo could only curl over the resulting free-kick.
After the break, it took just five minutes for the visitors to equalise when the lively Shamsi, on loan from Maidenhead United, scored the goal of the game with a stunning free-kick from about 20 yards out that left Sarkic rooted to his spot.
Despite Banbury’s dominance for the majority of the game, they found themselves behind in the 66th minute when Wilson Carvalho was on hand to volley home from a couple of yards out for his eighth goal of the season after Emmanuel Agboola failed to keep two hands on Benjamin’s powerful drive from the edge of the area.
Just moments later the visitors should have restored parity but Shamsi could only blaze wide from a couple of yards out after picking the pockets of Jordan Williams inside his own penalty area.
Town came close to doubling their advantage with 15 minutes to go but James Fry’s low shot was less than convincingly saved by Agboola while Sarkic had to be at his best to deny Gregory Kaziboni’s shot from the edge of the area three minutes later.
Banbury brought on John Mills to bring some extra firepower to their attack and the Hereford loanee should have made it 2-2 in the 81st minute but he somehow skewed the ball over the bar from a couple of yards out after latching on to Kaziboni’s low cross from the right-hand side.
In the second minute of stoppage time Mills got in behind the Town defence but did not have the pace to escape Wilson, who managed to pressure the predatory striker into toe-poking the ball straight into the grateful hands of Sarkic.
Town had to survive five minutes of stoppage time before they could come away with a crucial three points and chalk up their sixth straight home win in the league.
STRATFORD: Matija Sarkic, Chris Cox (Claudio Dias 45), Cody Fisher, James Fry (C), Jamie McAteer, Jordan Williams, Lewis Wilson, Ross Oulton (Jarrell Hylton 89), Shane Benjamin, Will Grocott, Wilson Carvalho (Shawn Richards 82). Subs: Ross Etheridge.
BANBURY: Emmanuel Agboola, Matthew Taylor, George Nash, Charlie Wise, Ravi Shamsi (Edmund Hottor 82), Ricky Johnson (C), Steve Diggin, Amer Awadh (Mark Bell 71), Eddie Odhiambo, Gregory Kaziboni, Giorgio Rasulo (John Mills 72). Subs: Harry Whitehead, Matthew Timms.
For the full report and match reaction, read Friday’s Herald.