Stratford Town 1 v St Ives Town 0
Pitching-In Southern League Premier Central 21-10-2023
Nigel Howlett reports from the Arden Garages Stadium
Ives run of bad form, and it must be said bad luck, continues as the Bards scrambled goal from a corner seven minutes from time ensured that the hosts moved up to a comfortable mid table position whilst their visitors from Cambridgeshire stay firmly rooted in the relegation zone.
The initial praise though must go to the ground staff at the Arden Garages Stadium who provided an immaculate looking pitch for this fixture despite over two inches of rain falling onto the surface only 24 hours earlier. That deluge had put paid to a number of fixtures in the Midlands but this game never looked in doubt.
The game started in an open fashion with both sides creating good early opportunities. It looked like Riley O’Sullivan’s sixth minute pass through Ives back line was perfectly weighted to put Callum Ebanks away but a heavy touch from the young striker allowed Eddie Brearey to come smartly off his line to claim the ball.
Ives went even closer to going in front in 12th minute. Myles Cowling was clattered by a late tackle from Lewis Ludford-Ison in the centre of the park but referee Dale Wooton played an excellent advantage as Tiago Nassunculo surged forward onto the loose ball his low shot from the edge of the box looked like it was going to find the bottom corner until keeper Liam O’Brien plunging to his right just got enough of a touch to divert it onto the post from where it rebounded to safety.
The end to end game continued with the next chance falling to the Bards in 16th minute as a good move down the left involving Alex Worley and Charlie Williams ended with the former delivering a low cross along the 18 yard line that was knocked on to the back of the box by Ebanks. O’Sullivan arriving at pace fired a fierce low drive from the corner of the box that a well positioned Brearey did well to hang on to.
Four minutes later, back up the other end, we got a flash of what we know a fully fit Jonny Edwards can provide as picked up the ball 25 yards out on the left, cut inside a couple of defenders and unleashed a powerful low drive that skipped off the wet turf, beat the diving O’Brien but flashed just the wrong side of the post.
The left hand side of their attack was proving a fruitful area for the visitors with wing back Aaron Smith enjoying a lot of space and seeing a fair bit of the ball. An excellent through ball from Paddy Casey set Smith away again in 22nd minute and it took an excellent defensive block at the near post by Paul McCone to prevent Edwards turning home his dangerous low cross.
Airial balls to the back post were proving something of a problem for Ives and the Bards went close twice in three minutes just after the half hour. O’Sullivan should really have scored from the first of them as Williams cross from the left arced over the stretching Brearey who was on the deck by his back post. O’Sullivan out jumped Casey to win the ball but only succeeded in directing his header straight into the grateful hands of the prone keeper. The game’s first corner provided the second opportunity as Chris Hussey delivered the ball with pinpoint accuracy to the back post where Ebanks rose highest but directed his close range header wide of the post.
The last five minutes of the first period saw the game swing more back into the Ives favour and it was their turn to create a couple more chances. Peter Abimbola got forward down the right and delivered a powerful low cross that took a deflection off a defender and fell to Nassunculo on the edge of the box. His well struck drive looked like it was heading for the corner of the net until it struck the backside of Cowling and was scrambled away. Dan Barton was also looking his usual busy self in the centre of the park and he carved out and missed the final chance of the first half three minutes before the break. Picking up the ball 25 yards out on the right jinking inside and running across the edge of the box before trying to find the bottom corner with a left footed effort that left everyone rooted as it thudded the boards inches wide of keeper O’Brien’s right hand upright.
After the long, overcast and very wet spell of weather it was lovely to see the early period of the second half played out in bright autumn sunshine. The first fifteen minutes after the re-start were played out in the centre of the park with neither side able to create a noteworthy opportunity. But as the clock ticked past the hour mark Ives seemed to begin to struggle to keep up their early pace with those that have missed large parts of the season with injury beginning to suffer. This allowed the Bards to start to get on top and from this point they always looked the most likely ones to find an elusive goal.
Defending Hussey’s well delivered corners was still proving to be a problem for Ives with Brearey being effectively boxed in in the crowded six yard box by friend and foe alike he had to rely on his defenders to help him out. They lost Ebanks in 60th minute and the Bards centre forward should have scored as he rose unchallenged eight yards out but directed his header wide of the post.
Ebanks did finally get the ball in the net in 63rd minute as he picked up a shot from Ludford-Ison that deflected into his path inside the box but he had strayed forward a little to early and the effort was ruled out by an assistant’s upraised flag.
Not helping themselves Ives began to concede a series of free kicks inside their own half. When Jordan Williams fouled Ebanks 25 yards out it gave Hussey chance to go for goal and the skilful dead ball man got his effort up and down over the visitor’s four man wall but it flashed just wide of Brearey’s left hand post as the scrambling keeper hurled himself across to cover it.
The goal which had been threatening for most of the second half did finally arrive seven minutes from time courtesy of another of Hussey’s pinpoint corners. With Brearey completely crowded out the ball delivered to the back post was again won by Ebanks. His goal bound effort seemed to be blocked on the line by an Ives defender and an almighty scrambled followed leaving much debate of how the ball ended up in the net. The official verdict appeared to be that the attempted clearance had hit Ebanks and rebounded into the net to give the striker what may well be his most fortunate goal of the season. Just the sort of luck that Ives are having this season.
To give them their due the visitors did push forward in what turned out to be a vain search for an equaliser. Williams was thrown up front as an extra attacker for the closing stages. A move which unfortunately gave him an opportunity to pick up his fifth yellow card of the season as the referee adjudged that he had dived to try and win a spot kick as he went down under pressure trying to get on the end of a Michael Richens ball into the box in the last minute of the ninety.
Barton was still going well right into the closing stages and keeper O’Brien needed all of his agility to cling onto the young winger’s dangerous low cross from the left in the second added minute. But that proved to be Ives last effort at the end of another frustrating day. The small Ives travelling contingent applauded their heroes off at the end but they and everyone involved in the club will be looking for a stroke of good fortune to go their way in the near future to get things back on track as a run of results is needed sooner rather than later to move them out of the bottom four.
Final Score: Stratford Town 1 St Ives Town 0
STRATFORD: Ebanks 83,
Team Line Ups:
STRATFORD: O’Brien, Vann, Worley, Hussey, McCone (capt), Solanke, C.Williams, Ludford-Ison, Ebanks, Lafferty (Barkers 71), R. O’Sullivan (Wildbore 90+3), Unused subs: Beresford, D. O’Sullivan, Harvey
ST IVES: Brearey, Abimbola, Smith, Richens (capt), J.Williams, Casey (Johnson 82), Barton, Cowling (Bell-Toxtle 79), Edwards, Nassunculo (Njoku 79), Tomlinson, Unused subs: Hottor, Kaziboni,
Cards: Yellow: STRATFORD: Ludford-Ison (12) ST IVES: Cowling (52), Casey (62), Williams (90)
IVES SUPPORTERS MAN OF THE MATCH: Aaron Smith