Josh Hawker scores deep into stoppage time to rescue point for Stratford Town from their clash with Basford United
Stratford Town 2-2 Basford United
Southern Premier Central
SUBSTITUTE Josh Hawker struck in the ninth minute of second-half stoppage time to rescue an unlikely point for Stratford Town.
A minimum of five minutes had been signalled but with numerous stoppages, referee David Nicholson added time on to added time and with the very last kick of the game Hawker stabbed home from inside the area.
The match had started so well for the visitors who broke the deadlock after just 44 seconds when Anthony Dwyer glanced in from Luther Munakandafa’s cross from the right-hand side. Twelve minutes later the Ambers had doubled their lead with Munakandafa once again using his pace down the right to surge into the box and square to Gregory Smith who stroked home from close range.
The Bards enjoyed the better of proceedings after the break but for all their hard work it looked as though they were not going to get their just rewards. And even when James O’Neill rifled in a stunning volley from Will Grocott’s cross in the 85th minute, it seemed as though it was too little too late.
However, the Bards showed tremendous spirit to keep pinning Basford back and after one last attack, Hawker was there to stab home to ensure the spoils were shared on a cold afternoon at the Arden Garages Stadium. While the Bards have now only won just one of their eight Southern Premier Central fixtures, the point moved them up two places to 16th.
There were four changes to the team which lost at Barwell last time out, with Liam O’Brien returning in goal, Paul McCone coming in for Dan Vann and new recruits Martin Riley and Mikey Taylor – returning to Stratford for a fourth spell – replacing Taylor Morrison and Dexter Walters respectively. There was also a place on the bench for Jesse Akubuine, who arrived from AFC Rushden & Diamonds.
Barely a minute into his first game back O’Brien was picking the ball out of his net. The tricky Munakandafa skipped past Jack Turner with ease and his floated cross was glanced home into the far corner by Dwyer with just 44 seconds on the clock.
The returning Taylor then had a chance to restore parity in the tenth minute when he found himself in plenty of space in the area but Basford goalkeeper Kieran Preston pulled off a brilliant save to keep his side’s lead intact.
Three minutes later that miss was punished. Once again Munakandafa proved too hot to handle and after surging into the box, he pulled the back to the penalty spot where Smith was lying in wait to stroke home Basford’s second goal of the afternoon.
After doubling their advantage it seemed as though Basford had taken their foot off the gas somewhat and failed to trouble O’Brien throughout the rest of the half.
As for the Bards, they started to see more of the ball but lacked that cutting edge in the final third to find a route back into the contest, with Sammons have a couple of shots off-target and McCone heading straight at Preston from a Grocott corner.
After the break it was all the Bards but for all their created chances, they could not find the back of the net. Andre Wright could not quite connect properly with Sam Wilding’s deep cross and could only head straight at Preston, who then needed two bites of the cherry to save Grocott’s 25-yard curler a few minutes later.
Basford, who had rarely ventured out of their own half after the interval, were struggling to get a stranglehold of the game but wingers Munakandafa and Courey Grantham offered width and pace on the counter-attack. However, the Bards gave them very little and once again Preston was called into action to maintain the visitors’ two-goal lead, this time flying to his left-hand side to tip a Sammons pile-driver behind for a corner.
Stratford’s pressure finally reaped its rewards in the 85th minute as O’Neill thumped home a stunning left-footed volley that any striker would have been proud of to offer his side a route back into the game even at this late stage. And when the board signalled a minimum of five minutes added on, the Bards knew they still had some time left to rescue a point.
With Preston going down following a coming together with Taylor and then receiving a yellow card for time wasting, along with a late change for the away side, the referee let play continue beyond the minimum five minutes and with the very last kick, Hawker was there to stab in the equaliser to ensure the spoils were shared.
STRATFORD TOWN: Liam O’Brien, Martin Riley, Jack Turner, Ashley Sammons, Paul McCone, James O’Neill, Dan Lafferty (Josh Hawker 56), Sam Wilding (Jamie Molyneux 75), Mike Taylor, Will Grocott, Andre Wright. Unused subs: Louis Beresford, Jesse Akubuine, Patrick Zito.
BASFORD UNITED: Kieran Preston, Brad McGowan, Joshua Barnes, Adam Chapman, Dominic Roma, Stern Irvine, Luther Munakandafa, Declan Dunn, Gregory Smith, Anthony Dwyer (Riece Bertram 90+7), Courey Grantham (Matt Thornhill 64). Unused subs: Oliver Clark, Gianni Musson, Nathaniel Peters.
REFEREE: David Nicholson
MATCH RATING: 3/5