Stratford Town v St Ives Town
Pitching In Southern League Premier Division Central 16-04-2022
Ives virtually assured themselves of a seventh successive season at step three in the non-league pyramid with arguably their best all round performance of the season at the home of the Bards. Shakespeare himself would have been hard pressed to write better opening lines than the visitors managed in the sunshine at the Arden Garages Stadium. Two up inside the first fifteen minutes courtesy of a Dylan Williams spot kick and an excellent finish from Liam Cross. A third from leading scorer Nabil Shariff early in the second period ensured that the lack lustre hosts were never given a sniff of a route back into the game.
Management team of Ricky Marheineke and Mike Ford had clearly done some impressive homework ahead of this must win fixture. The line up that surprised quite a few of the travelling contingent pre-game proved to be spot on. The back four provided an unlikely looking combination with Josh Flanagan recall onto the right side, Ben Toseland returning to the centre alongside skipper Brett Solkhon and a very unexpected Luke Fairlamb at left back. Midfield saw the ever reliable central pairing of Michael Richens and Ed Hottor with Liam Cross recalled wide right and Dylan Williams reverting to his early season wide left roll. Nabil Shariff was joined as a central striker by another with an eye for goal Ethan Johnston.
Ives were quick out the block and an early corner brought reward. Fairlamb went across to the right to deliver an in-swinger which arced into the six yard box. The initial defensive header from Dan Vann only succeeded in knocking the ball towards the edge of the box where Williams challenged Dan Lafferty for it in the air. The Bards number seven raised his arm as if to get more elevation in his jump to clear the dropping ball but it struck that upraised arm and referee Tom Hales was in the perfect position to see the contact. Without a moments hesitation the whistle blew and he pointed to the spot. Williams took the responsibility and thumped home his spot kick to give Ives a fifth minute lead.
Nine minutes later the rampant visitors doubled their lead and again the off colour Bards brought about their own downfall. A poor clearance from keeper Liam O’Brien arrowed straight to the midriff of Hottor inside the centre circle. The midfielder had time to bring the ball down, size up his options, and deliver the perfect ball into the well timed run of Cross galloping down the right. Completely clear the young winger cleverly drew O’Brien to him before slotting the ball through the legs of the exposed custodian.
The stunned hosts tried their best to find a route back into the game and their first attempt on goal arrived from their first corner of the game in 17th minute. The initial flag kick was headed away by Solkhon to the back of the box where Lewis Wilson kept it alive and his low cross to the near post was diverted inches wide by Vann.
That effort on goal from the hosts was very much against the run of play as the visitors continued to rule the roost. It took an excellent save from O’Brien to the prevent the lead increasing further in 21st minute as a perfectly weighted clip over the top from Richens found the feet of Shariff who cleverly turned inside Jordan Williams before getting his shot away. But O’Brien was alert to the danger and spread himself to bravely block the attempt at close range.
Turning the rather pedestrian Bards back line was clearly a planned tactic for Ives and it continued to work well for them. In 34th minute Toseland delivered the telling clip, Johnston rose above J. Williams to knock the ball down to Shariff who fired his first time effort inches over from the edge of the box.
An early substitution by the hosts saw Brennan Denness-Barrett replace a struggling Jack Storer and it was the substitute who created the Bards next opportunity only moments after Shariff’s near miss. Toseland was caught in possession just inside Ives half, the ball was fed inside to Will Dawes who curled his effort inches wide of Eddie Brearey’s right hand post from the corner of the box.
Opportunities came at both ends in the closing stages of the first half. Dawes cleverly turned Solkhon inside Ives territory to set up the Bards next chance in 38th minute. He fed the ball into the run of Ashley Sammons on the left and then continued his run to get on the end of Sammons cross at the back post but he was always stretching and only succeeded in directing his header wide.
At the other end the lively Williams was allowed to run diagonally across the face of the hosts goal 25 yards out. With Ives supporters screaming for him to shoot as it opened up for him he let fly with a low shot that beat the dive of keeper O’Brien but thudded the boards just outside his left hand post. There was still time the hard working Shariff to almost put Cross in again but this time covering defender Harry Higginson did just enough to deflect his effort into the side netting.
As the pundits always say with a two goal lead at the break “the next goal is vital” and Ives had to thank keeper Brearey from ensuring that goal did not go the way of the hosts. Three minutes after the re-start Denness-Barrett got across in front of Toseland at the near post to divert a low Dawes cross on target but the ever alert Brearey made an excellent reaction save low to his right to smother the effort.
Johnston came within a couple of feet of ensuring that vital third goal went to Ives in 51st minute as he beat keeper O’Brien to a Toseland ball over the top and steered the ball goalwards past the out of position stopper. Fortunately for the Bards centre back Vann had not given up the cause and covering around behind his keeper he managed to divert the bobbling ball away from goal. The hosts had a lucky escape there but their good fortune ran out only seconds later. Fairlamb seized an opportunity to burst forward down the left and showing a flash of the brilliance that we know that he has he danced past three Bards defenders, including surviving a clip from the last one, to deliver a low cross along the six yard line that Shariff side footed home at the back post.
Even with that all important third goal in their pockets Ives spurred on by their management team showed no signs of dropping their intensity level and as the host’s heads went down further opportunities started to appear. An excellent break at pace in 64th minute should have seen Johnston claim the fourth. The engine driver Richens threaded yet another inch perfect pass from the midfield to put Cross clear on the right. He got to the bye line before pulling the ball back to an unmarked Johnston on the edge of the box. Even with Richens screaming at him that he had time to take a touch the striker went for goal first time and fired his powerful strike just over the top.
Another chance to claim the fourth came and went in 72nd minute. Williams robbed a dallying Paul Field wide on the left and fed the ball infield to debutant striker Nehemiah Richard-Noel who pulled the best out of keeper O’Brien as the big stopper leapt high to his left to spectacularly claw away Richard-Noel’s attempted lob from the edge of the box with a big left paw.
The clock was now ticking down and Ives back line continued to cope well with everything that the Bards could throw at them. In fact they were so effective in preventing any real penetration into their box that Brearey had his quietest game to date since arriving at quattro-tech Westwood Road. At the other end there were still a couple more opportunities for the visitors to put a cherry on the cake. Richens picked up a half cleared 88th minute corner and found space to get around the hosts defence before cutting in from the left and getting away a shot from a narrow angle the O’Brien did well to block.
The emotion and desire to win this game for Ives was still showing through two minutes into added time, even with them three in front, when joint manager Marheineke picked up a yellow card for his objections when referee Hales failed to award a second penalty to the visitors even though Richard-Noel appeared to be blatantly pulled back by the struggling J. Williams as he was bursting clean through onto Johnston’s flick.
A fantastic performance and a fantastic result helped by all of the others around Ives in the bottom half of the table dropping points. Now only a mathematician would believe that there was even a remote risk that Ives are not safe for another year. On a day when everyone did more that their bit Ives travelling contingent found a host of different options for their man of the match, those getting a mention include Flanagan, Fairlamb, Richens, Hottor, Shariff and Williams. The man who received the deciding vote did a fantastic job in an unfamiliar role and still managed to have a hand in one of the goals, Luke Fairlamb.
Final Score : Stratford Town 0 St Ives Town 3
ST IVES: Williams 5 (pen), Cross 14, Shariff 52
STRATFORD: O’Brien, Wilson, Higginson, Fry, Vann, J. Williams, Lafferty (Field 55), Sammons (Oulton 55), Storer (Denness-Barrett 25), Grocott, Dawes Unused subs: Aisthorpe, James
ST IVES: Brearey, Flanagan, Fairlamb, Solkhon (capt) (Milne 55), Toseland, Richens, Cross (Baker 82), Hottor, Shariff (Richard-Noel 63), Johnston, Williams, Unused subs: Jackson, Osei-Bonsu
Supporters man of the match: Luke Fairlamb
Report by Nigel Howlett. Video by Dave Hook.
|April 16, 2022||15:00||Southern Premier Central||2021-22||90'|
|Club||1st Half||Final Score|
|St Ives Town||2||3|