FC Stratford, originally known as Stratford town 'A', were only formed back in 2007. They changed their name to FC Stratford for the 2010-11 season whilst still playing at Stratford Town's ground in Knights lane. At the end of last season, following the league re-structures, they were promoted from Step 7 (Midland League Division 2) into the Hellenic League Division 1 Step 6) and moved home to The Home Guard Club in the village of Tiddington on the North-Eastern side of Stratford-Upon-Avon, not too far away from their previous home. There is a reasonable sized car park just off Main Street which is just a very short walk to the the ground entrance which is through a portable turnstile system, placed across the entrance driveway, which can be taken down later. I've never seen one of these before, it's possibly even unique in non-league (I guess someone may tell me differently). There is a fairly large two storey clubhouse to the right of the pitch as you enter. This houses all of the facilities, bar, snack bar, toilets and changing areas for players and officials. The pitch itself is surrounded by an asphalt road or running track. The dugouts are on the same side as the club house and, as yet, there are no covered spectator areas aside from the clubhouse and the patio in front of the clubhouse.
The teams were coming into the game in third and fourth places respectively, although it came on the back of a fairly torrid period for Stratford which had see their Manager Danny Janes, his assistant Tom Milward and a few players all leave the club in the last couple of weeks. Despite all of this, the club were still in a good position, just three points behind leaders Worcester Raiders going into this game and having won 4-2 at Stonehouse Town last time out. Clanny's run of three league games without defeat had come to an end last Saturday when they went down 2-1 against Worcester Raiders at The Sixways Stadium. The clubs had already met once this season, an early September league fixture at Radcot Road that saw Stratford beat their hosts 2-0 with goals from Tom Daccus and Dean Poulson. This, as far as I can see, is the only previous meeting between the teams.
Clanfield were very quick out of the blocks on a blustery afternoon. They were immediately on the front foot, penning Stratford inside their own half. They got their reward for their efforts as early as the 3rd minute when Craig Connor struck a rasping drive from just outside the penalty area, arrowing the ball beyond the reach of Louis Sone into the far corner. 0-1
Maybe the goal was required to wake the home side up because within seven minutes they were back on level terms when a low cross from the left-wing was turned in at the near post by Jensen Gaye. 1-1.
There was plenty of endeavour from both sides in the ensuing 15 minutes or so. Maybe the high work rate was down to the biting cold wind that was gusting across the pitch, something I can attest to because I certainly chose the wrong day to forget my gloves. Tweeting had to be kept to a minimum.
Just before the half hour mark the home side got their noses in front. This time the danger came from the opposite flank when Robbie Sone produced some good wing play on the right before putting across a nice cross that was gratefully despatched by Tom Daccus. 2-1
Once again, both sides continued to push for goals in what was a very evenly balanced game. Stratford had the goal advantage now but were far from comfortable with Clanfield causing plenty of problems, particularly down the left through Jack Belenger and the overlapping full-back runs of Josh Grant. However, neither side could muster another goal in the first half and we all headed off the get a bit of warmth back in our bones before the second period.
HT FC Stratford 2 Clanfield 1. A great start from the away side, deservedly taking the lead. Credit to Stratford for fighting back. Overall a pretty even half. The game could go either way.
However, no goals transpired for either side and, as we approached the final minute of normal time, a lot of the supporters on the clubhouse side were looking forward getting back into the bar or their cars for some much needed warmth. Little did any of us know that so much action was going to be packed into so few minutes.
It all started in the 90th minute. Clanfield had been pushing for a winner when Stratford managed to break up an attack and launch a rare foray of their own. The ball was played in from the right wing and met by the head of Robbie Sone. It looked destined for the top corner but somehow Luke Haley got a fingertip to it, diverting the ball against the bar and away to safety. Two minutes later that save looked to have been even more important when Clanfield launched another attack of their own. Louis Sone was forced into an excellent save, parrying a vicious strike from the right. The keeper was unfortunate to see the ball fall into the path of Clanny substitute Callum Crook, who rifled the rebound back past him to set off wild scenes amongst the players and staff of Clanfield. 2-3
As it happens though, this celebration was much ado about nothing as Stratford went straight back down the other end and forced a very late equaliser through Tom Daccus. 3-3. I'll be honest, the goal came so quickly that I was still trying to Tweet what I thought had been a Clanfield winner, with my frozen fingers, and only looked up in time to see the ball hit the net. Suh drama, so late on. There was barely time for a restart before the referee brought proceedings to an end.
FT FC Stratford 3 Clanfield 3. A decent game all round but an amazing last few minutes. Two very evenly matched teams who provided great entertainment in quite testing conditions.
Next weekend Stratford travel to 11th placed Shortwood United. Clanfield face a tough trip to Studley who leapfrogged them this weekend on the back of a 7-1 demolition of Moreton Rangers.
Best of luck to both sides for the remainder of the season.
FC Startford: L.Sone, B.Cox, Wilkes, N.Cox, Robbins(c), Smith, Poulson, Adkins, Gaye, Daccus, Sone. Subs: Dunn, Kilbride, Holton
Clanfield 85: Haley, Weller, Grant, Shepperd, Gibbens(c), Pirie, Wyatt, Connor, Seacole, Fullerton, Bellenger. Subs: Tinsley, Crook, Marcucci, Mulvany, Blakeley
Ground Number: 292