Saturday 19th December 2009

Stratford Town ‘A’ 1 Blackwood 5
Midland Combination Division 3
Stratford Town FC 3G pitch, Knights Lane
Kick-off: 2-00 pm
Admission: none; Teamsheet: free
Attendance: 41 (headcount)
Weather: very cold, dry
Duration: first half: 46:40; second half: 48:56

The 3G pitch used by Stratford Town ‘A’ proved the saviour of many a football traveller’s afternoon, including my own.

The weather forecast earlier in the week suggested problems for football today, especially after Thursday’s snow. I hadn’t anticipated that the ice and freezing temperatures would totally wipeout the entire Midlands non-league programme – apart from an artificial oasis in the heart of Shakespeare country.

I can’t, however, give myself credit for spotting this game and I must show my appreciation to ‘acmold’ for flagging it up on the nonleaguematters website forum. I must also thank Secretary Mr Stephens for replying to my email late last night.

When I left home not long before noon, the temperature on the car thermometer was a chilly –2.5°C. I travelled via Henley-in-Arden to check if Henley Forest’s game had survived the weather, which it hadn’t, and made my way through busy Stratford-on-Avon and out on the B4086 (signed Wellesbourne) to Tiddington. Knights Lane (signed Loxley 3) was on the right on the Stratford side of the village and the drive up to the Stratford Town ground around 1/2 mile down Knights Lane on the right just past the school.

I parked up and spotted ‘Tim’ sat in his car reading his Football Traveller. Into the bar and there were a host of travellers including ‘Leatherhead Pete’, ‘acmold’ and ‘Traveller Bill’.

The 3G pitch (orientated south-east–north-west) was enclosed by a tall green wire mesh cage. The entrance was adjacent to the club building and car park, and the pitch ran lengthways. The right-hand touchline was roped off as was a portion of the near byeline next to the entrance. Dugouts straddled the halfway line down the left with three floodlight pylons down each side. There was no spectator access behind either goal. Incidentally, the main first-team stadium was on the other side of the club building.

‘acmold’ produced a sheet giving the match officials, league table and Stratford’s results this season which was supplemented by two teamsheets kindly produced by Stratford. I said two because they produced a second one following a change in the home starting line-up. The Stratford officials couldn’t have been more helpful and welcoming to their unexpected invasion of spectators.

Stratford (14 points from 10 games) went into the fixture in eighth position in the 16-team division. Last Saturday they drew 2-2 at Shipston Excelsior.

Visitors Blackwood (22 points from eight games) were in fourth position, ten points behind leaders Dosthill Colts Reserves with six games in hand. The only league points dropped so far this season were on August Bank Holiday Monday in a goalless draw at Clements ’83. Blackwood would be comfortably top of an American-style sorted by points per game.

Blackwood’s starting line-up including one name immediately familiar to me. Chris Milliard impressed a few years ago as a Stafford Rangers squad player without breaking into the first team. Chatting to the father of one of the Blackwood players during the second half, he reminded me that goalkeeper Richard Mills and substitute Ross Clarke (not Russ Clark as printed on the teamsheet) also played for Stafford’s Reserves and County League sides as well.

Once the fairplay formalities were concluded, Stratford (wearing blue shirts, blue shorts and white socks) got the game underway defending the near clubhouse end in the first half.

“C’mon Town, straight in!” while Blackwood were encouraged to have “plenty of chat on the ball”.

Blackwood (wearing black and red striped shirts, white shorts and red socks) took the lead in the 7th minute. Ashley Griffiths received a pass from David Johnson and fired towards goal. A defender attempting a clearance succeeded only in hitting his own keeper Duncan Thorpe with the ball which flew into the net.

After Stratford won the game’s first corner, Thorpe was forced into action at the other end to turn round a close range shot from Chris Milliard wearing a pair of distinctive yellow boots.

The visitors continued to create chances and Milliard saw another shot cleared from in front of goal by Tom Dyke. Blackwood, however, didn’t have to wait long for a second goal which came in the 24th minute. Adam Tilsley played the ball into the path of Johnson on the right who fired a rising shot across the face of goal and into the far side of the net off the hands of Thorpe.

Stratford pulled a goal back on the half-hour mark. Danny Bailey’s shot from the left side of the area took a deflection and flew past Richard Mills into the net.

In the 34th minute, Blackwood restored their two-goal advantage. Johnson found Milliard who thumped a well-struck shot against the bar. Griffiths reacted first and slotted home the loose ball.

The visitors wanted more goals and Thorpe did well to hold onto James Hudson’s curling shot as Griffiths looked to take advantage of any mishandling by the keeper.

It was the impressive Milliard who netted Blackwood’s fourth goal in the 43rd minute. Griffith’s initial shot hit defender Chris Stephens and the visitors’ skipper put away the rebound.

Blackwood looked home and hosed but stil it was a case of “let’s not switch off now”.

It was back into the bar at half-time where hot teas and coffees did a roaring trade – most welcome.

Half-time didn’t put a stop to Blackwood’s chances and Johnson saw a good effort saved just after the restart. Like the first half, I stood down the right-hand side like all the other travellers. Nine minutes into the second half, Johnson from the centre of the Stratford half fed Griffiths who saw a low drive fly past the right-hand post.

Stratford made a double change in the 58th minute, replacing tall forward Steve Hicks and midfielder Sam Allen with Dominic Trinder and Nathan Edgington.

Blackwood defender Warren Grant picked up a booking five minutes later for dissent and he was followed into the book by Dyke and Edgington, both in the 67th minute for separate fouls.

Tom Brown became Straftord’s third and final substitution in the 68th minute, replacing Jono Stephens. Their bench still had hope of getting something out of the game: “one goal and we are back in it”.

Blackwood replaced James Hudson with Joe Busst in the 73rd minute and they looked to “pick it back up”. And they almost responded with a goal. Griffiths played the ball into the path of Tilsley who sent a right-foot shot straight at Thorpe.

In a game that was anything but dirty or bad tempered, Blackwood’s Alyn Rose bcame the fourth and final player to pick up a yellow card, this one produced for a foul.

Just like Stratford, the visitors made all three substitutions; ex-Stafford Rangers man Ross Clarke replaced Griffiths in the 78th minutes and Joe Lynch came on for Wayne Hall two minutes later.

Even though the outcome was not in doubt, Stratford still looked to reduce the deficit and Trinder fired straight at Mills from just outside the area.

Thorpe produced a good block to thwart Johnson at the expense of a corner.

The game looked to be heading for a 4-1 win for the visitors until Milliard rounded out a great personal performance by scoring the spectacular fifth goal in the 90th minute. He hammered home a rising 20-yard left-foot shot that flew into the net past Thorne.

A sixth goal almost came in stoppage time. Clarke saw his initial shot blocked by Thorne’s legs and then had a follow-up shot fly off the keeper for a corner.

Stratford Town ‘A’ (blue/blue/white): 1. Duncan Thorpe, 2. Tom Dyke, 3. Clayton Foster, 4. Jono Stephens, 5. Chris Stephens, 6. James Bailey (capt), 7. Danny Bailey, 8. Sam Allen, 9. Ashley Wilkes, 10. Steve Hicks, 11. Ben Gibson. Subs: 12. Nathan Edgington (for Allen, 58), 14. Tom Brown (for Jono Stephens, 68), 15. Dominic Trinder (for Hicks, 58).

Blackwood (red and black stripes / white / red): 1. Richard Mills, 2. Simon Hudson, 3. Wayne Hall, 4. Chris Fitzgerald, 5. Warren Grant, 6. Adam Tilsley, 7. David Johnson, 8. Alyn Rose, 9. Ashley Griffiths, 10. Chris Milliard (capt), 11. James Hudson. Subs: 12. Joe Busst (for James Hudson, 73), 14. Joe Topham (not used), 15. Joe Lynch (for Hall, 80), 16. Ben Weldon (not used), 17. Ross Clarke (for Griffiths, 78).

Referee: K Cheeseman.
Assistants: K Morgan and N Chester.

0-1 Duncan Thorpe (7 og)
0-2 David Johnson (24)
1-2 Danny Bailey (31)
1-3 Ashley Griffiths (34)
1-4 Chris Milliard (43)
1-5 Chris Milliard (90)