Following a weekend without fixtures to mark the passing of The Queen, Stafford Town returned to action by welcoming league newcomers Ashville to Evans Park. It would turn out to be a disastrous afternoon for the hosts as an abysmal first half put any hopes of ending a winless run at home to bed, the match ending 5-2 in favour of the visitors and whilst Stafford did improve after the break they had given themselves too large of a mountain to climb. Ashville had arrived slightly later than expected owing to an accident on the motorway and thus had a shorter warm up, perhaps explaining their sluggish start to the game, as Stafford appeared to be having comfortable possession. Things were to change in the 13th minute however, Charlie Swingwood sweeping up a seemingly harmless forward ball by Ashville and recycling it to ‘keeper Zak Noble as an Ashville attacker attempted to apply pressure. Unfortunately Noble opted to take a touch instead of clearing the ball immediately, meaning his eventual kick was blocked directly into the net. The goal badly affected both Noble and Stafford for the rest of the half and Ashville seized momentum in the game, Swingwood forced into two excellent pieces of defending in the next ten minutes that would otherwise have been certain goals. Stafford were guilty of hiding, merely content to kick the ball hopefully up the field and consequently conceding possession, whilst the defence was left woefully short of cover infront. In the 24th minute Ashville were denied what appeared a stonewall penalty as Noble appeared to bring down an Ashville forward attempting to go round him just inside the penalty area following a through ball, but the referee deemed there had been no contact. Ashville then had consecutive efforts blocked before adding to their lead in the 30th minute; Noble failing to get down quickly enough to keep out a low strike from outside the area. Two minutes later Ashville were awarded a penalty, Swingwood adjudged to have pushed his man in the box when shoulder to shoulder; although the decision looked slightly harsh and the referee was perhaps trying to correct his earlier error. The penalty was duly converted to give the visitors a comfortable lead going into the break. HT 3-0 Ashville. Stafford rang the changes at halftime, bringing on youngsters Remay Porter and Dan Kelly in midfield and veteran frontman Ryan Bradshaw as they made the switch to a 3-5-2. All three made an impact in the second half as Stafford improved, although it must be noted that Ashville perhaps understandably eased off slightly given their lead. Nathan Scott signalled Stafford’s intent to be more positive by firing over in the opening minute before Ashville scored again; a low cross from the left breaking in the box for an attacker to finish into the corner. Declan Arber almost pulled a goal back for Stafford in the 52nd minute, volleying over a Taylor Draper cross at the backpost following more good work by Scott on the right. Scott was seeing more of the ball and causing Ashville major problems, pulling a goal back by again getting down the right and beating a defender in the box before firing a shot across goal that ended up in the net after a deflection off a defender under pressure by Bradshaw. In the 57th minute, Draper had an effort just wide with a shot across goal from the edge of the area. Will Bates then had a shot saved for a corner before two more driving runs by Scott ended with shots that were just wide of the target. In the 87th minute a Draper free kick resulted in a header by Arber that was tipped over for a corner, the ball eventually played into the box for Porter to shoot into the bottom corner for his first goal in senior football. Ashville responded immediately, Noble rooted to his line as a ball was played into the Stafford box and finished. There was still enough time for Bradshaw to have a header from a corner saved before the referee brought an end to a disappointing afternoon for Stafford. FT 5-2 Ashville. Stafford now have two cup matches to distract them from their current league troubles and hopefully build some momentum to take back into future league games. However, both are against strong opponents, meaning Stafford will have to improve quickly lest they face even greater humbling. Tuesday 20th September sees the visit of Walsall Wood in the First Round of the Staffordshire Senior Cup followed by a trip to Leicestershire on Friday 23rd September to take on Hinckley AFC in the FA Vase Second Qualifying Round.
Highlights here on Stafford Town TV: