Stafford Town saw their first competitive home match of 2022 end in a 1-1 stalemate following a scrappy affair against Staffordshire rivals Eccleshall at Evans Park. Stafford took an early lead but ultimately did not produce enough quality to win the game as Eccleshall, scrapping for every point they can at the wrong end of the table, battled hard throughout and equalised just before halftime. It was a perfect start to the game for Stafford, Josh Wilson making some space for himself on the right flank and curling a delicious ball into the box with his left foot onto the head of Declan Arber to give Stafford the lead after only two minutes. The game soon became scrappy and disjointed as both sides struggled for any attacking fluency. Morgan Payne dragged an effort wide from the edge of the box in the 17th minute, before a clever flick on by Arber minutes later released Payne in behind the Eccleshall defence drawing two defenders, a square ball inside found Arber again in the box but his shot was blocked just in time. Just before the half hour mark, Chris Anderson hit the bar with a looping header back across goal from a Wilson corner. The best bet for an Eccleshall goal looked likely to be from a mistake or a set piece into the box, but they were defending stoutly and Stafford were becoming frustrated. The final five minutes saw Eccleshall enjoy their best spell of the game, Stafford forced to defend a dangerous low cross from the right and thankful to see another shot from distance go just wide. Eccleshall equalised with a minute remaining in the half, a free kick from wide on the right delivered into the box was headed back across goal and finished at close range. To compound matters, Charlie Swingwood was sent to the sin bin in injury time for his reaction to what looked a soft free kick awarded by the referee, which would see Stafford play the opening ten minutes of the second period a man down. HT 1-1. After an early shot over the bar by Nathan Scott, Eccleshall looked to capitalise on their extra man advantage, seeing a shot and two headers put wide. Swingwood returned to the action but both sides continued to lack the attacking quality required to create clear chances. In the 62nd minute a Ryan Taylor cross from the left was only partially cleared, the ball eventually reaching Ben Wood on the edge of the box but he failed to get his head over the ball and his shot rose over the bar. An excellent diagonal pass by Wilson in the 68th minute found substitute ‘Kaz’ Danilian in some space, but his eventual shot was wide of the target. Wilson then saw a shot of his own from distance saved by the Eccleshall ‘keeper as the game entered the final twenty minutes. Stafford looked for what would surely be a decisive second goal; perhaps guilty of desperately forcing the ball forward instead of working a proper opening. Eccleshall almost snatched all three points with an excellent break in the 85th minute, Henry Smith saving well in the end. There was just enough time left for Wilson to put a well-placed free kick over the bar before the match ended honours even, although the sides will meet again soon in the Macron Cup First Round. FT 1-1. Stafford’s next match is a long away trip to Birkenhead to face Cammell Laird on Saturday 22nd January followed by another tough match as fifth-placed Wythenshawe Amateurs visit Evans Park on Saturday 29th January.
Highlights of the game can be found here at Stafford Town TV: https://youtu.be/wBGc-rw0t_8