Smithswood Firs travelled to FC Stratford having played only one game in seven weeks due to the weather. With FC Stratford having played seven games in the same period, match fitness was always going to be the biggest problem for them to overcome.
Despite being without Tyrone Borland and Craig Thomas, Paul Ryder was able to name a strong side as The Lions lined up with the following team;
Duffy, Rooke, Clarke, Leek
Richardson, Weeks, Thompson, Curtis Thomas
Subs: Russell, Anderson, Powers, Cottrill
Smithswood started the strongest and went on the attack from the whistle. Danny Charlton almost put the away team in front as he fired wide three minutes in. Shortly after, Curtis Thomas cut inside from the right and drilled a left footed shot which was parried away by the keeper. Liam Williams and Danny Charlton were a constant threat early on as Smithswood put pressure on FC Stratford.
The Lions had the better chances in the first half with Carl Thompson and Danny Charlton again going close but FC Stratford also had their chances bringing a good save out of Harry Gardiner down low to his right. Adam Rooke and Scott Clarke were kept busy at the back along with Jack Duffy and Nathan Leek but were solid throughout the game.
At half time it was pretty even as Paul Ryder called for more of the same as he looked for his team to be a bit more clinical. Their lack of match fitness was a worry but it turned out to be nothing to worry about as his team put in a real shift over the 90 minutes.
FC Stratford responded to the break better and came out firing in the second half. They penned Smithswood in their own half and if it wasn’t for Harry Gardiner pulling off some great saves, Smithswood could have been one or two goals down. They settled after about twenty minutes and the game was end to end with both teams creating chances and playing some great football.
Paul Ryder made three changes to freshen things up bringing on Aaron Anderson, Dan Russell and Craig Powers for his debut. The changes worked well and in the last fifteen minutes Curtis Thomas, Ash Weeks, Dan Russell and Carl Thompson got more of the ball and they attacked well with Danny Charlton and Aaron Anderson causing their back four headaches every time they went forward.
Craig Power’s made his debut as a substitute and settled straight away, looking really calm and showing a great range of passing while Ralph Richardson got some important game time under his belt having not played all season, both will benefit over the coming weeks.
With five minutes left it looked like the game was heading for a draw as both keepers had been on top form and a draw seemed like a fair result. Ashley Weeks picked the ball up in his own half and sprayed a 30-yard ball wide to Dan Russell who had been lively since his introduction. Russell ran at the full back getting to the bye line and whipped the ball into the box. It hit a defender and the quickest player to react was substitute Aaron Anderson who buried the ball past the keeper to give Smithswood Firs the three points and a fantastic win.
The result puts the away team only seven points behind FC Stratford with five games in hand and gives them a great incentive going into next weeks’ home match against Leamington Hibernian as they are only nine points behind Hibs with five games in hand so the pressure will be on Leamington to get a result.
With another 90 minutes under their belt and the way they came through this game against a team that had superior match fitness having had over 540 minutes more football during the past seven weeks, Smithswood will be looking to push on and make a real statement in the league and get their title challenge back on track before the Quarter Final against Knowle in two weeks.
With March's fixtures being out and games that they will believe are all winnable, it will be a big six weeks for the team and will go a long way to seeing what they can achieve as a club this season.