Having edged past Taunton Town in the 2015 Play Off Semi Final Town fully expected to face a daunting trip to local rivals Evesham United in the Final. The Robins had completed the double over Town in the League season and had leapfrogged them into the runners up sot on the last day of the campaign which would have given them home advantage if everything had gone to form.
But amazingly Evesham were swept away by Larkhall Athletic – who had only finished fifth in the table – in the other Semi Final which meant that Carl Adams’ side would face the Larks and not the Robins in the Final on May Bank Holiday Monday with the added bonus of the game being played at the DCS.
And no-one who was there will surely ever forget it. The official attendance was 1054 but in reality it was significantly more than that and it was a real roller coaster of an afternoon.
After an hour Town were three up and cruising but twenty minutes later Larkhall had pulled two back and the last ten minutes witnessed plenty of chewed nails before the final whistle signalled that Carl Adams’ midas touch had worked once again and Town had reached the Premier Division.
It had been arguably the biggest ever game in their history, and certainly the biggest ever result.
TOWN SURGE TO PLAY OFF TRIUMPH ON A DRAMATIC AFTERNOON AT THE DCS
Stratford Town – 3 – Moses-Garvey 3 Halsall 39 Fagan 61 Larkhall Athletic – 1 – Tumelty 78 Sibbick 81
On a tense and emotional afternoon in front of another record breaking DCS crowd of 1054 Town eventually came out on top in an enthralling Play Off Final to claim a place in the Premier Division of the Evo-Stik League Southern next season.
Aaron Moses-Garvey fired Town ahead inside three minutes and Joe Halsall doubled their lead six minutes before the break before Tyrone Fagan made it 3-0 on 61 minutes.
It looked all over for Larkhall, but Joe Tumelty pulled one back direct from a corner with twelve minutes to go and when Tyler Sibbick’s header brought it back to 3-2 soon after it made for a distinctly nervy closing ten or so minutes until referee Wade Norcott’s final whistle signalled that Town had secured a scarcely believable second promotion in three years under the midas-touch management of Carl Adams.
Unsurprisingly both sides opted for unchanged starting line-ups after their semi final wins last Tuesday, and Town made a dream start as they stunned the Larks by taking a third minute lead.
Rob Thompson-Brown began the move with a sweeping crossfield pass which sent Moses-Garvey speeding down the right before cutting in and drilling his shot past Larks keeper Josh Barrington with the ball clipping the inside of the far post on its way into the net.
Larkhall’s dangerman Sibbick – whose 30 League goals put him second only to Didcot’s John Mills in the Division 1 South and West Golden Boot standings – soon began to make his presence felt with his first chance on ten minutes being blocked by Guy Clark while the offside flag halted a couple of other promising moves.
Clark was then booked for a clumsy challenge on Sibbick as Larkhall moved up a gear, but Halsall and Scott Hadland were putting in their usual inspirational shifts in midfield and Town seemed to carry the greater threat going forward with Thompson-Brown trying a speculative effort from distance which was comfortably held by Barrington and Fagan heading narrowly wide from a Simon Forsdick cross.
But Town had to reorganise on 28 minutes when Forsdick limped off after pulling up sharply with Aaron Stringfellow coming on to take the right back slot and skipper Gary Moran switching to the left.
Tumelty was coming more and more into the game for Larkhall and Andy Kemp did well to cut out his whipped-in cross from the left while soon after only a perfectly timed covering tackle by Thompson-Brown prevented Dean Griffiths from having a clear shot on goal.
But in the 39th minute Town went two up after a delightful move starting with Thompson-Brown and involving Moses-Garvey and Kevin Charley with the ball being eventually being threaded through to Halsall who slipped it under Barrington from six yards out.
Town now needed to reach half time with their two goal lead intact, but they only did so thanks to Kemp’s fantastic reaction save two minutes before the break. Town struggled to deal properly with a corner from the left and the loose ball fell to the Larks skipper Ollie Price who let fly with a fiercely struck volley which was somehow turned away by Kemp at point blank range.
Three minutes into the second half Town had to make another enforced change when Hadland sustained a facial injury and was replaced by Alex Price.
The increasingly influential Tumelty then had the first opportunity of the half with his rasping effort being shovelled away by Kemp followed shortly after by Rob Hobbs firing wide from the edge of the penalty area.
Town responded with Thompson-Brown skipping past Barrington as the keeper came out to challenge and squaring the ball across the open goal tantalisingly just out of the reach of Charley as the striker slid in to try to make contact.
But in the 61st minute Town looked to have made the game safe. Stringfellow fed Charley on the edge of the penalty area and although Town’s ace marksman didn’t appear to hit his shot particularly cleanly it beat Barrrington and bobbled against the keeper’s right hand post before rebounding across goal where Fagan reacted quicker than anyone else to thump it into the roof of the net.
Within a couple of minutes it could have been 4-0 as Charley turned onto Fagan’s flick-on to hit one of his trademark volleys which was brilliantly palmed away one handed by Barrington at full stretch to his right.
That prompted a double substitution from Larkhall but Tumelty blasted a 25 yard free kick well over and with Chris Sterling coming on for Thompson-Brown Town seemed to be coping in relative comfort until the 78th minute when Larkhall suddenly gave themselves a glimmer of hope with a goal out of nothing.
They were already into double figures in corners when Tumelty floated another one over from the left. All season long Kemp has gobbled up high balls launched into his six yard box, but this time he fatally got too far underneath it and it dropped behind him into the net at the far post.
And three minutes later the Larks were right back in the game when in their best move of the match Jake Gardner played the ball in to Hobbs and his chip towards the six yard box was met by Sibbick who coolly glided his header past Kemp.
It now really was nerve jangling and nail biting time as the remaining minutes saw desperate attacking, desperate defending and misses and mayhem at both ends. Charley had an on-target effort blocked and Moses-Garvey shot straight at Barrington while another decent try from Tumelty was well held by Kemp low down to his right.
Then Fagan set up an opening for Sterling and as his shot flew past Barrington the Town supporters rose to acclaim his 19th goal of the season until Gardner appeared from nowhere to block the ball right on the line.
The fourth official then ratcheted the stress levels up a further notch by indicating four added minutes, and with the Larks forcing yet another corner Barrington took off into Town’s penalty area, but this time the corner was overhit and was collected by Fagan out by the left touchline.
And although virtually running on empty after 90 minutes of his typical 100% plus effort he somehow found the energy to charge near enough the full length of the pitch before slipping it across to Sterling.
With Barrington still upfield Sterling took it round one defender and steadied himself to steer the ball into the net but as the by now frantic Town faithful looked on disbelievingly his shot was kept out by a combination of Gardner and the post.
Still those four minutes were not up but a final Larkhall shot was deflected away off Loyiso Recci before it was at last all over and Town had achieved what is arguably the most significant result in their history.
Certainly it has propelled them to their highest ever place in the Non-League pyramid and when the new season begins in August it is the likes of Poole Town and Weymouth who will be coming to the DCS.
And that will really show how far Town have come under assured and astute guidance of Carl Adams whose legendary status at the DCS must surely now be beyond doubt.
TOWN : Andy Kemp, Gary Moran (c), Simon Forsdick (Aaron Stringfellow 28), Guy Clark, Loyiso Recci, Scott Hadland (Alex Price 48), Aaron Moses-Garvey, Joe Halsall, Tyrone Fagan, Kevin Charley, Rob Thompson-Brown (Chris Sterling 73). Unused Subs – Luke Barlone & James Cutts (GK)
LARKHALL : Josh Barrington, Jake Gardner, Jamie Lyons (Ben Horan 64), Rob Hobbs, Ollie Price (c), Dan Jones, Joe Tumelty, Matt Thorne (Matt Morris 77), Tyler Sibbick, Dean Griffiths (Bradley Norris 64), Ross Lye. Unused Subs – Giorgio Wrona & Chris Pile
Referee – Wade Norcott
Assistant Referees – Val Anekwe & Tom Hall
Fourth Official – Mark Howes
Attendance – 1054
Marstons Town Man of the Match – Guy Clark
The View From The Dug-Out – Carl Adams is understandably euphoric after a tremendous climax to a terrific season
“It’s fantastic – I’m absolutely delighted – it’s my greatest achievement and I’m so pleased for all the lads in the team and everyone at this wonderful club.
The team we’ve got here has plenty of experience and that helped us today against a very good Larkhall side. We took our chances with some great finishing to go 3-0 up and although Larkhall had a lot of the possession I didn’t think they were really capable of hurting us until that goal straight from a corner.
But the lads dug deep in the last ten minutes to see it through. They’ve got a great togetherness in the squad and with the quality we’ve added since the turn of the year in Kevin Charley, Rob Thompson-Brown and Aaron Moses-Garvey we’ve been able to finish the season strong.
That’s what has ultimately got us over the line this afternoon.”
Match Stats by Rod Abrahams
Town – GA 16 OT 9 BS 0 HW 2 CW 2 FC 12 OS 0 YC 3 RC 0
Larkhall – GA 10 OT 6 BS 0 HW 0 CW 15 FC 10 OS 5 YC 1 RC 0
Town Yellow Cards – Clark, Hadland & Price
Larkhall Yellow Cards – Lyons
Match Report by Bryan Hale