Stratford Town 1 Westfields 1

Saturday 6th December 2008
Stratford Town 1 Westfields 1 (after extra time)
FA Carlsberg Vase Third Round
At: Knights Lane
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £5; Programme: £1 (32 pages)
Attendance: 219
Weather: sunny then cold
Duration (90): first half: 48:25; second half: 49:22
Extra time: first half: 15:34; second half: 17:36

I needed a stress-free afternoon on my return to Saturday football travelling and this game gave me just what I wanted. With my current stint for the local press over (my choice), it was back to having a full Football Traveller worth of fixtures to choose from apart, of course, those grounds I’ve already been to. I fancied an FA Vase game, to follow games in the three previous rounds, and opted for the all Midland Alliance clash between two teams with roughly the same record. Stafford took a first-half lead which was cancelled out by Westfields after the intervals and extra time couldn’t produce a winner.

Stratford Town have been based at the new Knights Lane ground since February this year having vacated their old Mason’s Road ground. I’d visited Mason’s Road twice – in January 1993 when Barlestone St Giles were the visitors and again in July 1994 for a Stafford Rangers friendly.

I knew that the new ground would be straight-forward to find and so it proved. Travelling through the village of Tiddington on the B4086 towards Stratford, I passed Alveston’s ground on the right and then the shops before taking a left turn into Knights Lane and the ground was on the right just past the school.

Programmes (£1) were available at the entrance which is adjacent to the stand, a brick structure with four rows of seats in blocks either side of the players’ tunnel. The rest of the ground was uncovered flat standing with the dugouts on the opposite touchline either side of the halfway line. The pitch was orientated roughly east-west

I spotted the refreshments kiosk on the far side of the stand away from the entrance and felt tempted to enquire about the ‘Chips and Curry £1-75’.

“Is the curry vegetarian?” I asked and to my delight a positive response came back so I tucked into a delicious vegy curry on top of a tray of chips.

Getting the line-ups couldn’t have been easier as a whiteboard with them on was hung on the side wall of the stand. There was also a team sheet pinned up next to the refreshments kiosk and they were also read out over the tannoy. I spotted a few chaps who looked like football travellers but none were familiar to me. Perhaps I should have gone over for a chat?

The place had a big match buzz of expectation and Stratford are one of the best supported sides in the Midland Alliance. The home side included two former International players namely Scotland’s Paul Devlin, who I remember playing for Stafford at the start of his career, and Jamaica’s Paul Hall. However, they were lacking four players who injured in a car crash a few days ago on Tuesday. Manager Michael Moore is a former Stafford Rangers player.

This was the third meeting of the season between the sides. Stratford won both of the previous two – an FA Cup tie back in August and a league game five weeks ago.

I took my place in the stand before kick-off and saw the players exchange those fair play handshakes which I think are a good addition to the game. Before kick-off, the name of the Stratford Player of the Month for November was announced and the winner, Micky Love, received a memento from the sponsor.

I presume Westfields (wearing claret shirts with sky blue sleeves, sky blue shorts and socks) won the toss as Stratford, attacking from left to right, kicked off defending into the low sun on the horizon to the west.

Stratford (wearing all blue) were the first side to threaten. Matt Blair got into the area from the right and fired straight at Westfields keeper Gareth Williams. They went even closer in the 6th minute when Micky Lowe’s downward header was cleared off the line by defender Jon Hill at the base of the left-hand post.

The half-time raffle ticket seller came round, and, as a complete coincidence, this coincided with the visitors starting to pose a threat. Jamie Edwards fired into the sidenetting from the left.

Jozsef Jakab missed a great chance to put the home side ahead in the 21st minute but miskicked in front of goal from Paul Devlin’s left-wing cross.

Just after the half hour, the official attendance of 219 was announced over the tannoy.

Stratford survived a scare as they were nearly punished for being caught short of men at the back. Paul Allam got down the right and squared a pass to Mark Davis, in a good position, who fired wide. A mistake by Nigel Niblett gave Jamie Cuss the opportunity to fire across the face of goal.

Having missed a few chances, it was an unfortunate own goal in the 42nd minute that gave Stratford the lead. Under no pressure, Scott Jackson headed Devlin’s cross into the left bottom corner of the net. “If Westfields had been one up you wouldn’t have argued,” commented one home fan sat near me.

Westfields had a chance to level in stoppage time. Nicky Mowl was booked for a foul on Allam, 25 yards out, but the free-kick taken by Edwards hit the wall. The visitors still had another opportunity until the flag was raised for offside.

The home side must have had a successful raffle as the winning ticket was 200 more than the number on the one I had bought. It was back for another tea at the interval and I felt the temperature had noticeably dropped since the sun dipped below the horizon. The pitch looked as if it was starting to freeze as well, or was it my eyes deceiving me.

Lights were on for the start of the start of the second half and Westfield missed a good early chance to level things up. Substitute Dan Hill knocked the ball down for the unchallenged Cuss to fire wide from barely eight yards out.

A second goal for Stratford would give the visitors a mountain to climb to simply force extra time and it almost came on the hour. Paul Hall found Mowl who took it forward and saw his 30-yard shot blocked by a defender. Blair picked up the rebound and drove over the bar and out of the ground.

“C’mon Westfield,” cried one fan and Hill forced a save out of Karl Lewis. Stratford quickly broke down the right and Jakab was thwarted in a one-on-one with the keeper. It was certainly an open cup tie and Steve Palmer sent a 30 yarder skimming the top of the Westfields bar.

Westfields got back on level terms in the 78th minute. Substitute Hill was given space on the edge of the area to hit a right-foot shot home at the near right post.

Before the restart, Tony Robinson replaced Devlin – did the substitute have a cunning plan to avoid extra time?

With five minutes to go, an announcement informed those planning their exit before the 90 minutes were up that it would be extra time if the scores remained level. Neither side could find a winner so an extra 30 minutes for my money! Never mind as it was an enjoyable game.

Westfields got extra time underway attacking from right to left and they had the best of few chances during the first period. From Mark Hibbard’s corner, Jackson sent a bullet header straight at Lewis.

On to the final period of extra time and, with no further replacements available, Wayne Brown the limping Stratford defender was forced to stay on the field and play up front on the left. I remember my Dad telling me stories from the days before substitutions were allowed when injured players stayed on the field.

Jakab’s cross from the left was cleared for Lawrence Rawlings to send a 25-yard shot flashing past the left-hand post.

In the 113th minute, a quirk of the new offside rule meant that Westfield’s Hill was flagged offside inside his own half after becoming active from an offside position.

A mistake by Hall, named Man of the Match, let in Jackson who fired straight at Lewis.

Full-time and as the programme said: ‘replay on Tuesday’. Stratford won it 1-0 with an early goal from Jakab.

Stratford Town (blue/blue/blue): 1. Karl Lewis, 2. Paul Hall, 3. Wayne Brown, 4. Nick Mowl, 5. Nigel Niblett, 6. Micky Love (capt), 7. Matt Blair, 8. Steve Palmer, 9. Jozsef Jakab, 10. Paul Devlin, 11. Lawrence Rawlings. Subs: 12. Kevin Brookes, 14. Richard Munday (for Niblett, 83), 15. Jamie Petty (for Mowl, 70), 16. Michael Crawford (not used), 17. Tony Robinson (for Devlin, 79).

Westfields (claret with sky blue sleeves / sky blue / sky blue): 1. Gareth Williams, 2. Sam Harrison, 3. Jon Hill, 4. Gareth Thomas, 5. Scott Jackson (capt), 6. Ashley Day, 7. Paul Allam, 8. Mark Hibbard, 9. Jamie Cuss, 10. Mark Davis, 11. Jamie Edwards. Subs: 12. Terry Green (for Jon Hill, 90+3), 14. James Upcott (for Edwards, 73), 15. Tom Harding (not used), 16. Danny Moon (not used), 17. Dan Hill (for Day, 40).

Referee: J. M. Law (Worcester).
Assistants: A. M. Daniel (Worcester) and R. Thomas (Worcester).

1-0 Scott Jackson (42 og)
1-1 Dan Hill (78)

Stratford: Steve Palmer (YC, 89), Lawrence Rawlings (YC, 90)
Westfields: Mark Hibberd (YC, 82), Paul Allam (YC, 88)