Midland Floodlit Youth League, Premier South
Stratford Town 3-2 Rugby Borough Juniors
Report by Bryan Hale
STRATFORD Town took a massive step towards the MFYL Premier Division South title when Dan Atkins fired in a dramatic 87th minute winner to edge out Rugby Borough Juniors in a pulsating top-of-the-table clash at the Arden Garages Stadium on Thursday evening.
Coming on from the substitutes bench during the second half, Atkins was making his return after a three-month injury lay-off and he could hardly have done so in more spectacular style as he hit a sweetly struck shot from 25 yards out into the bottom corner to secure the points.
Borough were the only team to have got the better of Town in the league this season, winning by the same 3-2 scoreline in the reverse fixture back in September, and in a game played at a searching pace throughout, they were first to threaten when Hussama Noma shot narrowly wide in only the fifth minute.
Soon after Town keeper Ryan Woodward did well to claim a looping right-wing cross from Andrew Kear under pressure from Reece Hadlum before Town responded with Harry Hartin being crowded out as he tried to make room for a shot, followed by James Pomeroy going close from the edge of the penalty area.
Borough skipper Zidane Mistry then made a surging run from halfway which was only halted by a perfectly timed tackle by Josh Aspinall-Smyth.
But it was Town who took the lead in the 22nd minute. Pomeroy’s herder was turned behind by Juniors keeper Noah Murray and when Bradley West delivered the resulting corner low into the Juniors’ six-yard box, it caught Murray and his defenders by surprise as it squeezed past them into the far corner of the net.
Tommy Harrington then shot inches over as Town looked for a second, but they were pegged back in the 36th minute when Noma’s long range effort swerved past Woodward.
Town then had a final chance to regain the lead right on half-time when from another West corner Aspinall-Smyth headed tantalisingly over from a couple of yards out.
Borough began to put Town under pressure after the restart, but when they went ahead on the hour mark it was all down to a Town mistake.
Michael O’Regan had a header saved by Murray and when the clearance was launched upfield there was a calamitous mix up between Woodward and Aspinall-Smyth over who should deal with it as it bounced towards the penalty area, allowing Hadlum to nip in and walk the ball into the empty net.
Soon after the visitors missed a great chance to extend their lead when Noma put a free header wastefully over from a pin-point Hadlum cross and Town took full advantage of their let-off to level it all up again in the 67th minute.
Again West was involved, with his persistence in a tight situation on the right leading to him whipping in a low cross which was finished off by Rob Lord lurking at the far post.
From then on it was end-to-end stuff as both sides went all out for what would surely be the decider, with Caine Elliot’s rasping shot flashing inches past the wrong side of the post and Harrington having a his shot deflected behind.
Then with three minutes to go Atkins pounced to seal the win and spark unrestrained Town celebrations both on and off the pitch.