Stamford 4 v St Ives Town 2
Pitching-In Southern League Premier Central 01-01-2024
Nigel Howlett Reports from the Zeeco Stadium
Ives opened 2024 by giving the high flying Daniels a scare, but as has been the case a few to many times this season they allowed a good position to slip from their grasp succumbing to a second half comeback from the hosts who eventually claimed all three points to reinforce their play-off ambitions.
Whilst home manager Graham Drury had the luxury of a full squad to pick from Ives manager Ricky Marheinke was forced to make two changes from the side which had thumped Kettering on Boxing Day. With skipper Michael Richens suspended and leading scorer Brandon Njoku recalled from his loan spell by parent club Cambridge United there were starts for Ed Hottor in midfield and Greg Kaziboni up front with Jonny Edwards taking the armband.
Strangely enough with 127 years of history and only 35 miles between these two clubs this appears to be the first recorded fixture between the two teams and it was the visitors buoyed by their Boxing Day win who were first out of the traps and came within a whisker of taking the lead after only ninety seconds. Benji Mensah put Dan Barton away down the right. The speedy winger got to the bye line before picking out Edwards by the penalty spot with his pull back, but Ives centre forward was leaning back when he struck his shot and the effort glanced off the crossbar on its way into the home “kop” behind the goal. But that section of the ground was stunned to silence along with all the rest of the home faithful only two minutes later as Ives showed they had real threat down both flanks. Aaron Smith fed in Kaziboni down the left and he too got to the bye line before threading his pull back through the crowded box to pick out Mensah in space just inside the box. The young wing back kept his cool and thanks to a slight deflection his first time effort found the bottom corner of the net to ensure that for a short while the noisiest part of the ground was the fifty or so Ives supporters in the lower section of the grandstand behind the goal.
The home side were slowly settling into the game and it soon became apparent that their raison d’etre was to get the ball forward into wide areas looking for opportunities to deliver corners, free kicks and long throws into a crowded Ives box. Ives initially dealt well with these deliveries winning the first ball as it arced into the danger zone. However the equaliser, when it arrived, half way through the first period came from a dead ball situation. Connor Bartle hurled in a long throw from the left that evaded the first line of players and seemed to surprise Edwards who perhaps needlessly knocked it away with his upper arm in full view of eagle eyes referee Alistair Wilson. The match official had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Daniels skipper Rob Morgan emphatically beat Eddie Brearey to level things up.
Having got themselves level the home side enjoyed a good spell during which they further tested the resilience of Ives back line by continuing to bombard them with balls into the danger zone at every opportunity. Brearey had to be alert to sprint off his line and bravely claim a quick Bartle free kick just ahead of Lee Shaw in 24th minute. Two minutes later an arcing corner into the box lead to a bout of head tennis inside Ives box that was ended with Brearey spectacularly tipping Ashton Offler’s header over the bar. Brearey did well again on the half hour as he plunged to his right to push away a skimming volley from Joe Burgess after another long throw had been knocked out to him.
Having weathered that storm Ives enjoyed another good spell of their own as the half drew to a close. A deep 38th minute cross from Kaziboni on the right picked out Smith in space beyond the far post. The wing back took on the chance first time and screamed his volley just inches over the top. Moments later and the visitors got themselves back in front with Kaziboni again the provider as Mensah grabbed his third goal in two games. The wide man outsmarted Offler wide left before getting to the bye line and carefully picking out Mensah in space at the back post. Another assured finish took Ives into the break a goal to the good and the travelling supporters into their half time refreshment in optimistic mood.
But Daniels manager Drury was much less satisfied with how the first period had gone and tore into his charges at the break. He was clearly requesting that his players upped their efforts to deliver the ball into Ives box at every opportunity and it was Bartle’s long throw which again proved the visitors undoing eight minutes after the re-start. This time the ball arced into the box where a clean header proved impossible but the ball dropped out of the crowd to Jack Duffy who gleefully prodded it over the line from close range.
The hosts only goal from open play of the afternoon arrived five minutes later and put them in front for the first time. Skipper Morgan was allowed space to run at Ives back line and he in turn fed in Duffy through the right channel. The Daniels centre forward unselfishly rolled the ball across the six yard line to pick out Bartle in space at the back post and the wing back duly obliged by side footing home.
Ives were very much still in the game and enjoyed a purple patch when they should have restored the parity with three good chances going begging from the 70th minute mark. Initially Will Glennon misjudged a Smith cross from the left allowing the ball to float over his head and drop to the feet of Edwards by the penalty spot. But the Ives skipper got the ball stuck in his feet allowing Glennon to recover and take all of the sting out of the shot when it eventually came.
Two minutes later Myles Cowling fed in Kaziboni through the inside left position and it took a brave double save from home keeper Michael Duggan to deny the Ives striker, initially sliding in to block the first shot the big stopper did even better to recover and claim Kaziboni’s attempted clip into the centre from the rebound.
The third and best of Ives opportunities to get level fell to Cowling in 76th minute. Edwards flicked on a long Brearey punt and Barton further helped the ball on its way into the path of the all action midfielder who burst clear into the box and beat Duggan with his fierce left foot drive that looked goal bound but much to the dismay of the Ives faithful flashed just wide of the keepers right hand post.
As time ticked down manager Marheineke threw caution to the wind replacing defender Paddy Casey with striker Khris Oti who joined debutant Torin Ntege, Kaziboni and Edwards in a four man strike force for the closing stages. But the game was eventually decided with three minutes of the ninety to go when Luke Harris pulled back Tendai Chitiza in a wide right position giving the Daniels chance to deliver another dangerous dead ball kick into the box. Bartle delivered the in-swinging free kick and James Blunden ghosted in at the back post, Brearey did brilliantly to keep out the initial header at point blank range but he had no chance as Blunden poked home the loose ball.
Another battling display against one of the contenders for a play-off place where sadly no reward has been forthcoming leaves Ives left sitting only four points above the drop zone. But now with two home games against inconsistent sides in Leiston and Nuneaton Borough coming it is vital to start picking up points ahead of the following three games which are against the top three sides.
Final Score: Stamford 4 St Ives Town 2
STAMFORD: Morgan 21 (pen), Duffy 54, Bartle 58, Blunden 88
ST IVES: Mensah 4 & 40
Team Line Ups:
STAMFORD: Duggan, Burgess (Bennett 79), Bartle, Glennon, Offler, Blunden, Chitiza, Morgan (capt), Duffy, Shaw (Siddons 89), Vince (Challinor 74), Unused subs: Armstrong, Nassunculo
ST IVES: Brearey, Mensah (Harris 65), Smith, Hottor, Williams, Casey (Oti 81), Barton (Ntege 74), Cowling, Edwards (capt), Kaziboni, Tomlinson, Unused subs: Joyce,
Cards: Yellow: STAMFORD: Burgess (45), Duffy (90+3) ST IVES: Hottor (10), Harris (87)
IVES SUPPORTERS MAN OF THE MATCH: Benji Mensah