Stafford Town’s run in the Macron Cup is over following a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Congleton Town in the Third Round, the first time the sides have met in a competitive fixture. Despite the apparently heavy scoreline there were many positives for Stafford to take from the game, including producing some tidy, attractive football in spells, although perhaps without hurting their opponents once in the final third. In addition, it was a chance for Stafford’s younger contingent to experience playing against higher level opposition and gives the club a benchmark for the level they wish to aspire to in the coming seasons. After an immediate ball forward by Congleton was eventually dealt with by the Stafford defence, a counter attack saw the ball worked quickly forward, ending with a shot scuffed wide by Will Bates. Congleton were perhaps guilty of forcing the ball forward early on, especially on the edge of the box, the ball often running out of play or straight through to Beau Hudd in the Stafford goal. Stafford began to pass the ball nicely; amongst the best they have done so away from Evans Park this season, albeit in front of the Congleton backline without penetration. Congleton took the lead in the 13th minute in fortuitous circumstances, a diagonal ball out to the right resulted in a shot that was deflected off Jack Stafford as he attempted to block the effort, the ball looping up over Hudd into the far corner. The pattern of the match continued thereafter with Stafford looking tidy in possession but Congleton the more likely to score, as an injury to Ravel Wallace forced the introduction of Dominic Heath. Following successive shots by Congleton that were both off target, Declan Arber had an effort from distance that was easily saved in the 24th minute. Congleton then shot wide again from a cut back from the right before extending the lead in the 28th minute; Stafford felt they should have been awarded a free kick but when the referee allowed play to continue the ball was worked forward to the edge of the Stafford box for Jordan Johnson to unleash a superb strike that hit the bar and bounced down over the goal line. The second goal heralded an extended period of pressure for Congleton and Stafford had to hang in the game, stand-in central defenders Harry Bowers and Jamie Weldon contending with former Port Vale frontman Tom Pope, who was understandably causing problems with flick-ons and nod-downs. Hudd did well again to save another shot by the hosts in the 32nd minute, before ‘Kaz’ Danilian saw his centrally placed free kick saved by the ‘keeper a few minutes later. Congleton got their third goal of the game in the 37th minute when a softly-awarded free kick delivered into the box was nodded down by Pope for Johnson to tap home from close range for his second of the match. Going into halftime Stafford knew that to avoid the scoreline getting out of hand they would need to continue to battle until the end. HT 3-0 Congleton Town. Just two minutes into the second half a cut back from the right by Bates found Danilian in the box but he mishit his shot and the ball was cleared. Hudd then flicked a header over the bar at close range, Congleton shooting wide at the back post from the resulting corner. Stafford continued to pass the ball well without threatening the Congleton goal, the calming influence of the experienced Heath perhaps preventing Stafford from merely clearing their lines and facing a constant barrage for the entire half. In the 55th minute Congleton hit the bar after a cross from the left and Hudd had to be off his line sharply ten minutes later to deny Pope when he found himself through on goal, much to the dismay of the Congleton frontman. As Stafford introduced youngsters Ruben Cooner and Olly Wilson-Hiscox, Congleton had another header wide before extending the lead in the 75th minute; Johnson getting his hat-trick as he scrambled the ball home at close range after Hudd saved an initial effort following a cross from the right. Stafford continued to battle hard as Congleton looked to see out the remainder of the game. Congleton appealed for a penalty in the final five minutes, Heath getting the slightest toe on the ball in the box whilst the referee awarded a goal kick to the bemusement of all concerned. Congleton had two more shots in anger before the final whistle, deserving of their win and we wish ‘The Bears’ the best of luck in the Quarter Finals. FT 4-0 Congleton Town. Stafford now face a trip to Cammell Laird to contest the Third Round of the First Division Challenge Cup (Edward Case Cup) on Saturday 16th April in what could be the final match of the season should they lose out to the men from Birkenhead. Should Stafford win however, the season will continue with the Quarter Final draw yet to take place.
Some great action is available here at Stafford Town TV: https://youtu.be/RG1gkFCesbQ