The wins kept coming in the 2012/13 season, and following their 9-0 demolition of Continental Star featured last week Town continued to blaze away at the top of the MFA table and by Christmas they had established a 14 point lead.
A Boxing Day defeat at Coventry Sphinx proved to be only a blip as the next five games were all won, and as their rivals fell away Town needed only one point with five games still left to play to clinch the title.
By chance the first of those games was at home against a Stourport Swifts side managed by former Town boss Rod Brown who beaten Town in the reverse fixture back in February – one of only three losses so far suffered by Town during the season.
But in front of a bumper crowd on an inevitably tense afternoon the legendary Tyrone Fagan’s fifth goal in five games secured the point needed and Town were Champions.
Never has a draw seemed more like a win, and never has a point been more valuable. !!
TOWN ARE THE CHAMPIONS !!
Stratford Town – 1 – Fagan 42 Stourport Swifts – 1 – Pountney 48
There may have been the annual celebrations for Shakespeare’s Birthday in Stratford on Saturday but they were surely as nothing compared to the joyous scenes at the DCS at around a quarter to five when the referee blew for time at the end of the game against Stourport Swifts and Town had earned the draw which gave them the point they needed to clinch the Baker Joiner MFA title with four games still to play.
And with the title comes promotion to Step 4 of the Non-League Pyramid, which means that when the new season kicks off in August Town will be playing at the highest level in their history.
No wonder then that there were tears as well as cheers amongst the bumper crowd of 379 when a nervy and emotional 90 minutes were finally all over.
Town went into this game knowing that a single point from a draw was all that was required to make sure of the Championship, but they also knew that this was never going to be a stroll in the pleasant Spring sunshine. The Swifts were lying second in the table – although a massive 19 points behind Town – and they had been one of only three teams to beat Town in the League this season with a narrow 2-1 win back in February.
There was also the Rod Brown factor to take into account but this turned out to be a non-runner as Town’s former manager was apparently away in Dubai.
Yet for Town’s anxious supporters the omens before kick off were hardly encouraging. Although Harry Donaghy was able to return after completing his three match ban the influential Lei Brown’s nagging groin problem ruled him out and their commanding central defender Melvin Gourlay was unavailable. Richard Robinson came in for Gourlay while play-anywhere Mark Faulds having deputised at left back during Donaghy’s suspension now took over from Brown in midfield.
And the early minutes only added to the tension as Swifts were immediately into their stride and thought that they had gone ahead in only the sixth minute when Town struggled to clear a corner. Calvin Dinsley returned the ball into the six yard box and it was bundled in by Lewis Pountney only for the referee to rule it out for a foul on keeper Chris Jay much to Town’s relief.
Town were not making much impact up front although Simeon Tulloch used his pace to make a couple of eyecatching runs down the left, and it was Swifts who continued to be the more threatening of the two sides. Their strike pairing of Pountney and John Griffin had already notched over 50 goals between them this term, and the Swifts gameplan was simply to get the ball up to them as quickly as possible and hope that they would be able to add to that already impressive tally.
Fortunately Loyiso Recci was immense at the heart of Town’s backline with Aaron Stringfellow again putting in another admirably composed display on only his third game back, but even so the Swifts would surely had taken the lead but for the inspired form of Jay in the Town goal.
On 18 minutes he bravely smothered the ball at Pountney’s feet as the striker looked to get on the end of a Dinsley ball into the penalty area, and after a teasing cross from Paul Hurrell had floated beyond Pountney at the far post Jay pulled off a quite brilliant save as the half reached its midway point to keep out a header form ex-Town man Tim Jackson.
Again it was Hurrell who launched the ball over from the right and Jackson had a free header from eight yards out which was destined for the top corner before Jay leapt to his right to push it behind.
Josh O’Grady briefly raised the crowd’s spirits with a useful effort which flew into the side netting, but the Swifts continued to pile on the pressure with Griffin having a shot half stopped by Jay with Richard Robinson hacking the loose ball to safety and then Griffin heading over as Town once more had difficulty in dealing with another corner.
But three minutes before the break Town kept up their record of scoring in every game this season when Tulloch found some space on the left and floated over a teasing cross for Fagan to outjump Mark Benbow and direct a glancing header beyond Swifts keeper Hadyn Whicombe into the far corner of the net.
It was the fifth game running that the hardworking Fagan has been on the scoresheet, and he now has 13 for the season.
Having dominated play up to then the Swifts were stunned at finding themselves behind, and it could have got worse for them in the final minute of the half when O’Grady finished a promising with a well struck shot which was only inches wide of Whitcombe’s right hand post.
Having probably been fortunate to have been leading at the break the last thing Town wanted was for the Swifts could nick an equaliser soon after the restart, but that is exactly what they did. Richard Robinson tangled with Pountney as the Swifts dangerman chased a through ball towards the penalty area and although the subsequent free kick was blasted into the Town wall by Jackson it was not properly cleared.
Eventually it was picked up by Jordan Jones on the right who drilled it back into the congested penalty area where it was turned in by Pountney from close range for his 24th MFA goal of the season.
That really set the nerves jangling for the rest of the afternoon as Pountney continued to keep the Town backline at full stretch shooting narrowly wide from distance and often needing the combined attentions of Richard Robinson and Recci to prevent him from getting a proper sight of goal.
Town survived an awkward moment in the 66th minute when Jay was penalised for time wasting to concede a free kick a yard inside the penalty area but once more the Town wall did its job. Soon after it was an even narrower squeak when Dinsley’s inswinging corner from the left was touched onto the bar and over by the under-pressure Jay as the Swifts continued their high tempo long ball strategy.
Nevertheless the minutes were gradually ticking away, and with a quarter of an hour left a typical Tony Robinson lay-off sent Fagan away down the inside right channel only for him to be crowded out by the advancing Whitcombe with the help of the backpedalling Benbow.
Chris Lait was now on for Donaghy and was not far away with a 20 yard snap shot, and as the game headed into its closing ten minutes it seemed as if some of the fizz had gone out of the Swifts approach play.
Jay comfortably held a Benbow header and was smartly off his line to beat Griffin to another through ball, while a the other end only a perfectly timed tackle from Jamie Willetts denied Lait as he latched onto an O’Grady cross.
Into added time and with the crowd frantically counting down the seconds Lait shot straight at Whitcombe before the longed-for final whistle and at last the celebrations could begin.
The Championship Trophy was presented to skipper Joe Halsall and his ecstatic team-mates while the delirious Town faithful could rejoice at seeing history being made on a day which will be savoured for a long time to come.
TOWN : Jay, Stringfellow, Donaghy (Lait 73), Recci, R Robinson, Faulds, Tulloch, Halsall, A Robinson, Fagan, O’Grady. Unused Subs – Molyneux, Mooney & Hazlett (GK)
STOURPORT : Whitcombe, Jones Willetts, Spencer, Benbow, Walker, Hurrell, Dinsley, Poutney, Griffin, Jackson. Unused Subs – Adams, Evans, Seekings, Williams & Kirby
Attendance – 379
Marston’s Town Man of the Match – Tyrone Fagan
The View From The Dug-Out – a jubilant Carl Adams reflects on a momentous afternoon
“First of all I thought it was an awful game. Their tactics place far too much emphasis on the long ball for me, and unfortunately we found ourselves being sucked into playing the same way.
It also didn’t help being without two of our key players for what was always going to be a challenging encounter, but we came through and I’m chuffed to bits.
And at last we are the Champions. I feel that we effectively won it in December and January when we built up a big lead at the top of the table, and nobody can catch us now.
This is also the right time to remember Morton Titterton. He brought me to the Club last summer and we were a great partnership until he had to stand down. In the midst of all these celebrations his input should not be forgotten.”
Match Stats by Rod Abrahams
Town – GA 5 OT 2 HW 0 CW 2 FC 13 OS 6 YC 1 RC 0
Stourport – GA 8 OT 5 HW 1 CW 8 FC 10 OS 4 YC 1 RC 0
Town Yellow Cards – R Robinson
Stourport Yellow Cards – Hurrell
Match Report by Bryan Hale