Total Motion Midland League, Division Two
FC Stratford 3-4 Feckenham
Report by Craig Gibbons
A SPIRITED and youthful FC Stratford almost pulled off a remarkable comeback from 4-1 down – but eventually went down 4-3 to Feckenham in an entertaining game at the Arden Garages Stadium.
The visitors enjoyed a 3-0 victory in the reverse Midland League Division Two encounter last Saturday, but it was Stratford who got off to a flying start when Caine Elliott put the hosts ahead in the 14th minute.
A quick-fire Dan Murphy brace then turned the game on its head before Dan Sutton’s goal on the stroke of half-time gave the visitors some breathing space.
Murphy then completed his hat-trick with 21 minutes to go with an easy close-range finish before Tom Fishwick pulled one back eight minutes later.
Elliott then set up a nervous finish with five minutes to go when his left-footed shot found the bottom corner, but the Millers held on to claim the three points and secure the league double over Stratford.
The hosts, who narrowly lost 3-2 to GNP Sports in the Presidents Cup final on Wednesday night, came into their penultimate game of the season knowing their status at Step Seven was already secured.
Boss Nick Ballinger was missing ten regulars from his matchday squad for the clash against the Millers and called on five youngsters from its Home Guard Club team which plays in the Stratford Alliance.
Despite all the changes, Stratford had the better of the early chances as George Thunder and Harry Hartin tested Millers keeper Aaron Collins before Caine Elliott broke the deadlock in the 14th minute with a near-post finish after the visitors failed to clear Harry Cook’s cross.
Feckenham were behind for just four minutes as Daniel Murphy rifled home from the edge of the area before he put his side ahead midway through the half after latching on to a lofted ball over the Stratford defence and finishing at the near post.
A youthful Stratford outfit always looked lively on the break and a lapse in concentration among the Feckenham defence allowed Elliott to get in behind, but he could only lash wide of the far post from an acute angle.
After that scare, the Millers regrouped and doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time when Dan Sutton tapped home from two yards out after reacting quickest to the rebound from Murphy’s initial blocked shot.
Stratford came within a whisker of pulling a goal back 11 minutes into the second half when Harry Hartin played in Elliott, but the No.10’s powerful effort flashed just wide of Collins’ far post.
Immediately up the other end Archie Donaldson had to be at his best to deny Murphy from bagging his hat-trick and killing the game off.
Murphy would be celebrating his hat-trick, though, in the 69th minute when Kieran Donnelly’s shot deflected kindly into his path and he had the easiest of finishes from a couple of yards out.
A spirited Stratford continued with their impressive style of football and their efforts were rewarded 13 minutes from time when Fishwick volleyed home from close range after the Millers failed to deal with Hartin’s in-swinging cross.
Feckenham were still in cruise control and they were in for a tense final with five minutes to go when Elliott bagged his second of the game after cutting inside and finding the bottom corner with aplomb.
STRATFORD: Archie Donaldson, Harry Cook (Louis MacDonald 46), Ben Cook (Matthew Steadman 54), Jono Stephens, Tom Fishwick, Cody Mullan, Carl Taylor, Dean Poulson, Harry Hartin, Caine Elliott, George Thunder. Unused subs: Mitchell Luckman.
FECKENHAM: Aaron Collins, Kieran Donnelly, Jake Donnelly, Dave Phelan, Ben Welsh, Jordan Adams, Ben Cox (Sam Power 58), George Lutwyche, Daniel Murphy, Matt Green, Dan Sutton. Unused subs: Ryan Faulkner, Max Tibbins.