After finishing 10th in their first Southern League campaign Town were able to approach the 2014/15 season knowing that they were capable of doing even better second time round, although no-one could surely have anticipated just what heights would be ultimately achieved.
It all started reasonably enough with 11 points from their opening six games before a demoralising F A Cup defeat at Blaby and Whetsone.
But whatever Carl Adams did after that dismal effort certainly worked as his side won their next ten League games to surge to the top of the table as the whispers of promotion and play offs began to be heard more often. Five of those wins were by the minimum 1-0 scoreline emphasising just how tight a unit Town had become after their experiences in the previous season.
But as winter set in and the grounds became heavier Town’s form tapered off and between mid-November and mid-January eight League games produced only one win and two draws.
A much needed revival then saw five wins from seven matches to hoist them back into play off contention, but after a goal-less draw at Bridgwater on March 7th Town had only ten League games left to play and couldn’t afford any more slip-ups.
But as the weather and the pitches improved Town’s Autumn form returned as incredibly they won the next nine to move up to second in the table and be sure of home advantage in at least the first play off game.
The final League match was away at Merthyr who had already clinched the Championship, and in order to avoid any injuries or worse Carl Adams named a team of mainly fringe players for the trip to South Wales
A narrow defeat there meant that Evesham leapfrogged them to take the runners-up spot with Town finishing third and facing fourth placed Taunton Town the following Tuesday evening ,
The Somerset side had won both of their League meetings with Town during the season, but this time it was Town’s turn to come out on top
Read all about it below.
ANOTHER CHARLEY “SPECIAL” PROPELS TOWN INTO THE PLAY OFF FINAL
Stratford Town – 2 – Thompson-Brown 19 Charley 69 Taunton Town – 1 – Price 10
On a dramatic evening at the DCS in front of a record attendance of 617 Town came from behind to edge out a spirited Taunton side and set themselves up for a Play Off Final against Larkhall Athletic on Bank Holiday Monday with a place in the Premier Division of the Evo-Stik League Southern awaiting the winners.
Taunton stunned the home supporters by taking an early lead, but Rob Thompson-Brown soon levelled for Carl Adams’ side and a closely fought game could have gone either way until a typical moment of finishing magic from ace marksman Kevin Charley decided the tie halfway through the second half.
Taunton had completed the double over Town in the regular league season but were without their midfield playmaker Aaron Ward-Baptiste as the Bristol Rovers loanee was completing a three match suspension, while Town’s Joe Halsall had finished his ban and, apart from Simeon Tulloch who is still recovering from injury, Carl Adams had a full squad available for selection.
And so all the familiar faces who were rested for the Merthyr game were back, and it was Town who made the brighter start. In only the sixth minute Aaron Moses-Garvey released Tyrone Fagan down the left with his shot from the edge of the penalty area being scrambled behind by Taunton keeper Lloyd Irish.
Shortly after Moses-Garvey was in the action again as he latched onto a long pass down the inside right channel ball to lift the ball over the advancing Irish only for it to drop tantalisingly the wrong side of the post.
But Taunton then went down the other end and went ahead on ten minutes with their first serious attack of the evening.
The two Jamies Price and Short combined to exchange passes in a patient build-up on the right, and as the Town defence stood off Price seized the opportunity to surge forward and drill the ball past Andy Kemp from the edge of the six yard box.
That was obviously not what Town wanted, but they quickly regrouped and nine minutes later it was all square again. The Taunton defence struggled to get the ball clear as Fagan and Charley indulged in a spot of head tennis in the penalty area, and it eventually reached the unmarked Thompson-Brown who lashed it past Irish from close in.
Both sides now settled down with the game already being played at a searching pace. Fagan up front for Town was giving the Taunton backline plenty to think about with his tireless running while Halsall was clearly glad to be back as he put in his trademark inspirational shift in midfield.
Thompson-Brown went close on the half hour mark when his jinking run down the right ended with a fiercely struck effort which was deflected behind, and when Fagan was tripped almost on the line of the penalty area Moses-Garvey’s free kick fizzed narrowly wide.
But it was Taunton who dominated the closing minutes of the first half with the Town defence having to deal with a couple of threatening corners and Steve Murray hitting a swerving drive from 20 yards out which flashed inches over.
The pace ratcheted up another notch from the restart as both sides realised that in such a tight game the next goal was going to be crucial, and the first chance after the interval fell to Scott Hadland who connected with a cross from Thompson-Brown only for his shot to be blocked at point blank range by Ben Mammola.
Moses-Garvey was then not far away with an audacious effort from all of 35 yards out which didn’t miss by much followed by Loyiso Recci heading over from a corner, but Taunton were impressively quick to break forward in numbers and Graham Mercieca had a chance with a free kick in a promising position 25 yards out which he blazed over.
Fagan was continuing to chase everything at one end while at the other Guy Clark and Recci were once more in the same immense form as they have been all season, and with the tie so evenly poised it was beginning to look as if it would be settled by a piece of individual brilliance or a calamitous mistake.
And on 69 minutes Charley came up with the former. Kemp’s goal kick was headed on by Fagan and helped into Charley’s path by Moses-Garvey’s first time flick. Up to now Charley had been well policed by the Taunton defence, but now without breaking his stride he swivelled to hit a sumptuous right foot volley which rocketed past the helpless Lloyd Irish into the top corner.
It was a spectacular strike with echoes of his goal at Clevedon ten days earlier, but it would have counted for nothing if Kemp had not then followed up with two breathtaking saves in the next few minutes as Taunton sought an immediate response.
When Short launched a free kick into the congested Town penalty area he did wonders to arch backwards and downwards to get his right hand to header from Owen Irish which had the Taunton defender turning away in disbelief, and after Lamar Powell had replaced Murray he prevented the substitute equalising with virtually his first touch.
The ball had rebounded off a Town defender towards the penalty area and Powell looked a certainty to reach it first for a straightforward finish, but Kemp had read the situation perfectly and was off his line at Linford Christie pace to spread himself and block Powell’s goalbound shot.
From then on the tension increased by the second as Taunton – with no option but to attack – piled on the pressure. Owen Irish was not far away with another header, skipper Steve Kingdon fired wide from the edge of the penalty area and Ben Carter was off target with a free kick.
But Clark and Co held on even if there were one or two close calls as the game headed into added time. The six extra minutes seemed like sixty as the Town supporters nerves jangled furiously, but at last the final whistle from referee David Avent signalled that Town had made it through to the Bank Holiday Monday Final which will determine whether the season has not only been a tremendous one but a triumphant one as well.
TOWN : Andy Kemp, Gary Moran (c), Simon Forsdick, Guy Clark, Loyiso Recci, Scott Hadland, Aaron Moses-Garvey, Joe Halsall, Tyrone Fagan, Kevin Charley, Rob Thompson-Brown (Alex Price 81). Unused Subs – Chris Sterling, Aaron Stringfellow, Luke Barlone & James Cutts (GK)
TAUNTON : Lloyd Irish, Jamie Price, Steve Kingdon (c), Owen Irish, Ben Mammola, Brett Trowbridge, Jamie Short, Ben Carter, Steve Murray (Lamar Powell 73), Rodney Marsh. Graham Mercieca (Craig Herrod 81). Unused Subs – Tom Hopkins, Lewis Waldy & Max Dyer
Referee – David Avent
Assistant Referees – Karl Tribe & Luke Scott
Fourth Official – Sam Lewis
Attendance – 617
Marstons Town Man of the Match – Guy Clark
The View From The Dug-Out – an ecstatic Carl Adams reflects on a tense evening
“What a tremendous result which totally justifies the team selection at Merthyr. It was probably not the greatest game as there was a lot of tension out there for both sides, but in play off games it is only the result that matters.
I felt that our lads showed great character to come back from going behind. As I’ve said before with Kevin on the field you’ve always got a chance, and once more he’s produced when it matters.
But the job’s only half done, and we now need to focus on Monday’s clash with Larkhall when hopefully there will be another 600 plus crowd.”
Match Stats by Rod Abrahams
Town – GA 11 OT 5 BS 1 HW 0 CW 4 FC 13 OS 4 YC 2 RC 0
Taunton – GA 14 OT 4 BS 0 HW 0 CW 9 FC 8 OS 2 YC 1 RC 0
Town Yellow Cards – Recci & Moran
Taunton Yellow Cards – Price
Match Report by Bryan Hale