MIDFIELDER Ross Oulton believes Stratford Town’s strong defence will play a huge part in securing a place in the Evo-Stik Southern Premier Central play-offs at the end of the season.
Fourth-placed Town have conceded just 27 goals from 26 games this season, the joint-best defensive record in the league and they have kept ten clean sheets so far, with their latest coming on Saturday in a 1-0 victory over Redditch United.
While goals always win games, Oulton stressed the importance of having a good defensive line to build from. “We’re really solid at the back and if you have a solid backline, you’re nearly there,” he told the Herald.
“Defensively we were not at our best on Saturday but at the end of the day it was another clean sheet.
“Every week our back four or five is consistent and it just helps the team as a whole.
“If you’re keeping clean sheets all the time, all you have got to do is score and you’ll win the game.”
Up next for Town is a home clash against St Ives Town which could be another tough battle as the 12th-placed visitors have conceded just one more goal than the Blues at this stage of the season.
While St Ives are defensively sound, going forward is where they are lacking as they have only scored 24 goals this season, with only St Neots Town (21), Lowestoft Town (23) and Halesowen Town (18) being less efficient in front of goal.
That aside, Oulton is confident Town can come away with the points at the Arden Garages Stadium on Saturday.
“Everyone is confident we can reach the play-offs,” he added.
“We’re strong in every department and we have just go to do the same as we did against Redditch.
“St Ives are going well at the moment but we’re strong at home and confident we can get the three points.”
With Kettering Town getting the better of Stourbridge 2-1 on Saturday, it means Town now sit ten points off second-placed Glassboys, but crucially have three games in hand.
And head of football Thomas Baillie feels his side are well in with a chance of finishing as runners-up.
“After Saturday’s results we are now better placed than we were before kick-off and gaps are beginning to appear between the teams below us,” he added.
“I don’t think we have a realistic chance of winning the league but we could possibly get second if results go our way.
“But our aim is simply to be in the play-offs and we are on course to achieve that as long as we keep our concentration right to the end.”
Baillie was also keen to point out that no team in the division has a fear factor.
“I have seen every team in this division barring Coalville and there’s nothing that scares me,” he added.
“On our day we can beat absolutely anybody, some of them even if we’re not playing well because that’s the quality and belief we now have in the changing room.”
While Town were not at their best in the victory over Redditch, Baillie stressed sometimes winning ugly is just as good.
“It’s always about grinding it out,” he said.
“We have done that a few times already and that’s a sign of a very good side.
“I do laugh a little bit at the grinding out results scenario because someone said to me the other day ‘you don’t half grind out results’ but that’s gone on for 33 matches now.”
Town got the better of St Ives 2-0 back in November, thanks to goals from Chris Cox and Mike Taylor, but Baillie is expecting a much tougher encounter this time around.
“Some good friends of mine are the managers of St Ives so it will be an interesting game on Saturday,” he said.
“We played them at their place and to be honest, it was a very easy game for us but they’ve changed a lot since then.
“St Ives have managed to turn things around and are doing really well so we won’t be taking them for granted.
“However. we know we’re in a good position and we’ll build from there.”