The Glades was once again the venue for Smithswood Firs following the recent electrical issues at the Mackadown which have now been sorted ready for Monday evenings match against Redditch Borough. The team went into Saturday's match against FC Stratford in great form following four straight wins scoring twelve goals in the process and playing some amazing attacking football.
Despite the crazy amount of games the team has played recently the home side had a strong fifteen players to choose from. Daniel Wall was out with a dislocated shoulder while another worry for the Manager was Adam Rooke who pulled up with a hamstring injury two games ago. He got through the Boldmere match and looked good to go Saturday. Smithswood were without both first choice full backs through suspension as Jack Duffy served the last of his two game ban while Harry Donaghey served the first. Goalkeeper Harry Gardiner was still on holiday so Jake Woodward continued in goal.
Smithswood had a very strong side and with confidence and morale high they went onto the pitch in confident mood. They lined up with the following;
Short, Clarke, Rooke, Reece
Thomas (Capt), Weeks, Leek
Anderson, Charlton, Baker
Subs: Cottrill, Powers, Russell, Sayer
Anthony Short and Adam Reece dropped into the full back positions either side of the returning Scott Clarke and Adam Rooke while Nathan Leek moved into the midfield three alongside Curtis Thomas and Ash Weeks. Following a substitute debut appearance in the week, Troy Baker had shown the manager enough to earn himself a start alongside Aaron Anderson and Danny Charlton up top.
In recent matches Smithswood have dominated possession in midfield and they started really well again. It was clear that the pacey and skilful front three were going to cause the Stratford defence problems and that was the case just six minutes in. Adam Reece picked the ball up in his own half and put a clinical pass in behind the defence for Troy Baker who outpaced the full back and calmly passed the ball around the oncoming keeper into the back of the net for his first goal since re-joining The Lions recently. Baker was to have a fantastic game and was a constant threat to the FC Stratford back four.
Smithswood's achilles heel this season has been conceding goals from set pieces and they fell foul again ten minutes in. FC Stratford had a free kick just inside the Smithswood half and it was lofted high towards the goal. It looked simple for Jake Woodward but he misjudged it and in the end adjusted to push it onto the bar but it fell for FC Stratford to tap in. Woodward held his hands up straight away but it is the first mistake he has made since signing. The home side were still confident they had enough to win the game despite the set back and pushed on to regain the lead but FC Stratford stood strong at the back and made it to half-time on level terms and created a few half chances themselves as the game was well balanced for the second half.
The message from Paul Ryder was simple at half time. He was happy with the way his team were playing but his midfield three were getting the ball too deep. He wanted them receiving it further forward where their creative ability on the ball could penetrate the defence quicker for Anderson, Charlton and Baker.
Since the FC Stratford goal the home side had been excellent at the back. Adam Rooke was winning everything in the air while Scott Clarke was just immense reading the game so well and either clearing with his head or stepping in ahead of defenders to clear the danger. They have been an excellent partnership when playing together this season and were putting a message to the manager that they could be the partnership for the promotion challenge run in. Alongside them, Anthony Short and Adam Reece were also having great games. While neither are full backs, you wouldn't have guessed if you didn't know as they both balanced defence and attack excellently.
A minute into the second half Jake Woodward redeemed himself with an unbelievable save down low to his right to deflect the ball clear as FC Stratford got through the defence while they were still settling after the break.
The game lit up 52 minutes in as Smithswood took control with some fantastic football. Curtis Thomas, Ashley Weeks and Nathan Leek were getting the ball further forward and causing all sorts of problems in the middle. They got the ball forward for Danny Charlton who beat the defender to get to the byline. He didn't panic as nobody was in the box and played it back to the edge of the area. Curtis Thomas got a little lucky as the defender missed it but there was no luck involved with his finish as he curled a brilliant shot from outside the area past the keeper.
The work rate from the front three was excellent again as Aaron Anderson, Danny Charlton and Troy Baker ran themselves into the ground All three have pace and trickery and they were constantly switching positions which made it hard for the defence to pick them up. The home side were rampant and made it 3-1 a few minutes later with a goal that would be fit to grace any pitch at any level. Curtis Thomas picked out Troy Baker about five yards outside the box. Baker sent the defender the wrong way coming back inside onto his left and hit a 20 yard shot that curled from about two yards wide of the post back in to nestle in the top corner giving the keeper no chance at all. There were two ground hoppers behind the dug out watching the game and they both said it was the best game they have watched all season and that goal was also the best they have seen as they commended Smithswoods attacking ability.
It was almost 4-1 as the home side pushed on. Ash Weeks played the ball wide to Nathan Leek who hit a bullet cross into the box for Curtis Thomas who met it with a peach of a header which looked to be heading top corner but the FC Stratford keeper got across to make an unbelievable save to deny Smithswood a quality goal and keep his team in the game.
FC Stratford gave themselves a lifeline with twenty minutes to go. They came forward and it looked like Smithswood had stopped them but the ball bounced kindly for them and they were away on the right. Despite the bit of luck with the bounce there was no luck involved with the pin point cross to the back post and finish to make it 3-2 and set up a great finish to the match.
The home side looked to retain possession and be patient with their attacks aso they didn't get caught out and they settled the match two minutes into injury time with another fantastic goal. Nathan Leek hit a 40 yard diagonal bullet pass on the half volley to get substitute Dan Russell in on the left. Russell squared the ball for Troy Baker who this time came inside onto his right and rifled another 20 yard shot over the keeper to secure the three points.
It was a fifth's successive win for Smithswood but they were made to work for it and it was another tough 90 minutes for the lads who now have four games in a week on Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and Monday.
Man of the match was a close run affair. Troy Baker was extremely close with his hat-trick but it was given to defender Scott Clarke who was just edged it ahead of his partner Adam Rooke as neither put a foot wrong all afternoon.
There is no respite as Smithswood Firs now host 2nd place and promotion challengers Redditch Borough at the Mackadown on Monday at 1845.