Stafford Town 2 Bolehall Swifts 2

Tuesday 7th August 2012
Stafford Town 2 Bolehall Swifts 2
Athium Midland Combination Premier Division
At: Evans Park
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Admission: £4; Programme: £1 (28 pages)
Weather: mild, dry
Attendance: 67
Duration: first-half: 46:42; second-half: 47:30

Following their summer switch from the West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division, Stafford Town played their first home game as a member of the Athium Midland Combination Premier Division. The Reds certainly impressed and came from behind after taking the lead to earn a point against Bolehall Swifts, one of the pre-season title favourites. Steve Bennett netted both of Town’s goals but suffered the agony of seeing a stoppage time penalty superbly saved.

Stafford Town (15th with 0 points from 1 game) opened their 2012/13 Premier Division campaign away at Littleton and suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat. Tonight’s visitors, Bolehall Swifts (19th with 0 points from 1 game), also lost their opening game, going down 3-0 at home to Coventry Copsewood which left them at the foot of a very embryonic table.

Before the kick-off, ‘Motty’ organised a team photo (my version won’t win any awards). The Reds’ starting line-up included just a couple of players from last season and many previously with Stone Old Alleynians, the club which new boss Adam Cunningham managed before moving to Evans Park. Ishmale Reid played for Stafford Rangers in the Blue Square Premier and I remember his goal at Exeter City back in 2008, on which I wrote: ‘Reid picked up [Kevin] Street's throw and sent an unstoppable 35-yard left-foot drive screaming into the top-left corner, giving [goalkeeper] Paul Jones no chance at all’.

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with Evans Park, the ground is located behind Stafford Cricket Club on Riverway, about half a mile south of the town centre. Opened in 2010, it boasts around 220 seats (I don’t take a specific photo of the stand on every visit), tea bar and hard-standing all round the pitch.

To the shout of “Stafford straight in from the off”, Town (in all red with white trim) got the game underway attacking the cricket ground end in the first half. Both sides created chances and inside the first minute Tom Hind drove over from a partially-cleared corner. Darryll Johns also headed over from a cross by Hind.

Stafford took the lead in the 21st minute. Dale Lynch brought down Johns inside the area and Steve Bennett slotted home the resulting penalty.

Bolehall equalised six minutes later. Jordan Brown’s long throw from the right into the area was flicked on at the near post for David Brush to hook home at the far post.

Around the half-hour mark, unused Bolehall substitute Gareth Sheldon picked up a booking while warming up, presumably for comments made to the assistant referee.

Reflecting on the first-half during the interval, I felt both sides were looking to play neat passing football in an entertaining fashion. Just one slip at the back by the Town defence and this was punished by the Swifts.

Bolehall wasted no time at the start of the second half and took a 49th-minute lead. Lynch’s free-kick into the Stafford area wasn’t cleared and William Holyland took full advantage to volley home into the far right corner of the net.

Holyland almost scored again within a minute but, fortunately for Town, his shot past the diving goalkeeper Richard Stone rebounded off the left-hand post.

Stafford levelled things up just after the mid-point of the second half through Bennett. Ishmale Reid delivered a free-kick into the Bolehall area and Bennett fired home his second goal of the game in the ensuing scramble.

Lifted by the equaliser, Stafford set about grabbing the winner. Another free-kick from Reid proved too hot for Bolehall goalkeeper Josh Benton to handle but Francis Dacres couldn’t direct a follow-up shot on target.

Pressure on the Bolehall goal continued and, as stoppage time approached, Ryan Fox’s close-range header from barely two yards out was blocked on the line. The referee pointed to the penalty spot and brandished a straight red card to defender Nick Heath who protested that he was protecting his face from the ball. Bennett stepped up, only to see his spot kick well saved by the diving Benton and Town had to settle for a point.

Stafford Town (red/red/red): 1. Richard Stone, 2. Tom Hind, 3. Neil Brasnell, 4. James Price, 5. David Anderson, 6. Mat Dockerty (capt), 7. Ishmale Reid, 8. Ryan Fox, 9. Darryll Johns, 10. Steve Bennett, 11. Francis Dacres. Subs: 12. Matt Buckham (not used), 14. Jason Cunningham (not used), 15. John Kirby (for Anderson, 57), 16. Liam Evans (for Johns, 63), 17. Wayne Bailey (not used).

Bolehall Swifts (yellow/yellow/yellow): 1. Josh Benton, 2. Nick Heath, 3. Tom Starkey, 3. Danny Haynes, 5. Dale Lynch, 6. Danny Hales, 7. Conor Fulwood, 8. David Brush, 9. Michael Swan (capt), 10. Jordan Brown, 11. William Hoyland. Subs: 12. Lee Millard (not used), 14. Clint McQuade (not used), 15. Gareth Sheldon (for Holyland, 69), 17gk. Thomas McNulty (not used).

Referee: Mark Murfitt.
Assistants: Mark Bloxley and Jon Wildling.

1-0 Steve Bennett (21 pen)
1-1 David Brush (27)
1-2 William Holyland (49)
2-2 Steve Bennett (69)

Stafford: none
Bolehall: William Sheldon (YC, 30), Dale Lynch (YC, 87), Nick Heath (RC, 90+1)