Stratford 2 Stone 3
EDWARDS Estate Agents sponsored Stratord slipped out of Midlands One after being consigned to relegation by defeat in a game which reflected the 2011/2012 season.
Missing the suspended Richard Stokes, Stratford got off to the perfect start when Terrance Malcolm dropped deep to pick up a Stuart Guise pass and combined with Craig McKee on the right hand side.
After McKee and Malcolm played two one-twos at pace, Malcolm outpaced the covering defender to hit the byline. Looking up, five Stratford players were targets for the cross and drawing the keeper to the near post, Malcolm picked out the biggest target and leaving fellow South African Greg Ricketts to sweep the ball into an empty net.
Instead of building on this though, Stratford found Stone beginning to push them back.
Unable to retain possession, Stratford found themselves foregoing their passing game and being forced to defend deeper.
This resulted in conceding a short corner on the 15 minute mark and despite Martyn Helliker’s diving save a visiting forward was on hand to force the ball home.
Minutes later the trick was repeated, with a drag flick beating Helliker. Having been warned of Stone’s main threat, conceding in this way was disappointing for the home team.
For the next 15 minutes, the game ebbed and flowed. Dom Howkins replaced Rew allowing Stratford to reinforce their midfield, with Howkins aerial passes clearing the Stratford lines and providing Leary, Malcolm and Tom Ebbutt with opportunities to counter attack.
A third goal just before half-time left Stratford with a mountain to climb and despite a strong second half fightback, a season long inability to hold onto a lead came back to haunt the home team.
Neil Jones proved a threat on both sides of the pitch, whilst Ralph Newbold was a constant threat with driving runs.
McKee went agonisingly close with a drag flick whilst captain Guise was denied from Stratford’s second penalty corner.
Defensively, Giles Garratt and Jamie Chorley imposed themselves on the Stone forwards, whilst both Matt Hyatt and the returning and Simpson both swept well and added momentum to Stratford’s game.
Rew went close as did Ricketts, before a Malcolm volley from a McKee pass via Hyatt’s through ball set up a tense finale.
Sadly though the equaliser failed to materialise leaving Stone safe in seventh spot and Stratford to lick their wounds over a summer period which will precede a return to West Midlands Premier Division hockey.
The season’s final game is away at already promoted North Staffs, a team which inflicted a six goal defeat on Stratord just before Christmas.
Stratord will be aiming to end the season on a positive note in what will be Stuart Guise’s final game as captain, a position served for nine of the last 12 years.
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