FROM ADAMS TO BAILLIE VIA BYFIELD AS TROPHY WINNING TOWN ENJOY A RECORD BREAKING CAMPAIGN
THE STORY OF THE 2018/19 SEASON
Heading into the 2017/18 season the target for Carl Adams was to better the previous campaign’s finishing place of 14th in the table with 56 points so that his side would then have shown improvement in each of his six years in charge.
And that achievement was bang on schedule with Adams reaching the landmark of 300 matches as Town boss in the final match of the season until Bishops Stortford grabbed a 93rd minute equaliser which meant that Town instead finished one place lower with one point less than twelve months earlier.
If it hadn’t been for that late Stortford goal it would indeed have been six consecutive seasons of upward progress and few managers anywhere could match that, but bizarrely Adams had finished the campaign with a strange feeling of insecurity.
For the last few weeks of the season there had been rumours of changes at Boardroom level and Adams had expressed his reservations about what might develop.
Even so it came as a bolt from the blue when it was announced that Adams had submitted his resignation ten days after the Bishops Stortford game and had moved to Rugby Town.
The brief statement on the STFC site shed little light on why Adams had decided to go, but speaking to the Stratford Herald he said that he had been left in the dark over his future due to the club’s ongoing discussions with a number of potential investors adding that “the club seem to be going one way and I want to go in another. The club couldn’t give me any guarantee over the past few months and I wasn’t prepared to just sit and wait.”
So it was ultimately a sad and disappointing end to what had been an exciting and eventful journey for Town supporters since he took over from Morton Titterton in October 2012.
And just over a fortnight later Darren Byfield was named as his successor. Byfield had enjoyed a distinguished playing career at Aston Villa but his only previous managerial experience had been a season and a half at Redditch United which had ended the previous December shortly before Town had won 2-0 there on Boxing Day.
At the same time it was emerging that a consortium headed by the former Solihull Moors director Steve Shipway was in talks with the existing Board although there was to be no immediate formal announcement and the suggestion of an open meeting with supporters also failed to materialise.
But it eventually transpired that Russell Martin, Jed McCrory and Steve Shipway had been appointed to the Board joining the existing Directors Mark Bickley, Andy Chilton and Simon Newbold.
While all this was going on the make-up of the new Southern League Premier Division Central was announced with Town being reunited with old rivals from days gone by such as Halesowen, Stourbridge and Tamworth while also facing for the first time ever three Suffolk based clubs in Leiston, Lowestoft and Needham Market which had been moved from the Bostik (Isthmian) League.
Meanwhile Byfield was busy assembling a squad for the coming campaign, and in particular needing to replace last season’s star on-field performer Ben Stephens who had been selected for a place at the prestigious Jamie Vardy V9 Academy which eventually led to him being snapped up by National League Champions Macclesfield Town as part of their preparations for life in the EFL League Two.
Other departures were Justin Marsden who immediately followed Adams to Rugby in an Assistant Manager role with Loyiso Recci and Lee Thomas also switching to Butlin Road.
Later during the summer Charlie Evans was another to join the Rugby exodus while Louis Connor and Liam Francis moved to Redditch, although both were later to also take the well trodden route to Rugby, and shortly before the start of the new season Andy Gallinagh opted to move to Worcester City.
But Byfield immediately impressed Town supporters by securing the return of former fans favourite Kieren Westwood from Stafford Rangers while he was also able to persuade Edwin Ahenkorah, Eli Bako, Jimmy Fry, James Hancocks, Will Grocott, Jazz Luckie, Dan Summerfield and Mike Taylor to continue at Town.
And other new recruits soon began to be drafted in including defenders Chris Cox, Jamie McAteer, Brad Maslen-Jones and Jordan Williams, midfielders Claudio Dias, Kynan Isaac, Kevin Monteiro, Albi Skendi and Lewis Wilson and strikers Wilson Carvalho, Callum Powell and Nabil Shariff.
Also arriving were Steve Walker as Assistant Manager and Head of the new Academy, Nathan Marsh as Goalkeeping Coach and Leigh Woodall as Physio.
And to complete the summer of upheaval it was announced that having hitherto been shirt sponsors that most loyal of Town supporters Arden Garages Ltd were to take over as ground sponsors from MoodChimp.
The usual crop of friendlies seemed to go well as Byfield sorted out his squad with the pre-season programme culminating with a home game against a Leicester City X1 at which the ground was officially renamed the Arden Garages Stadium.
Byfield’s only difficulty was in relation to the goalkeeping position with a number of triallists not coming up to scratch, and in the end Byfield turned to the ex-Solihull Moors veteran Nathan Vaughan relying on his experience at a higher level to provide at least a short term solution to the problem as Town ended a summer of upheaval seemingly well prepared for the big kick off.
So it was very much into a brave new world when Town began with a home fixture against St Neots.
It was a new Division, a new ground sponsor, a new Board, a new management team and virtually a new team on the field as well. Only Jimmy Fry, Will Grocott and Edwin Ahenkorah from Carl Adams’ squad of last season made the starting line-up with Jazz Luckie (used) and Mike Taylor (unused) on the subs bench while there was no place at all for Eli Bako, James Hancocks or Dan Summerfield all of whom had featured to some degree in the pre-season friendlies.
And at least Town got off to a winning start with Grocott pouncing for the only goal shortly after half time.
But in spite of the result all was not well and Darren Byfield had to be talked out of resigning immediately afterwards citing issues over the signing of players and in team selection.
So it was hardly the ideal scenario for an already difficult looking trip to Stourbridge the following Monday and may have contributed to a limp effort from Town as the Glassboys stormed to a 3-0 lead in the opening half hour and then strolled through the rest of the game.
Nevertheless Stourbridge had been impressed by the pace and persistence of Callum Powell and swooped to entice him to Amblecote a few days later while Kynan Isaac disappeared after being taken off in the second half only to resurface some six weeks later when Byfield had left.
It was a better Town performance at Royston where a stunning strike from Brad Maslen-Jones and a trademark bullet header from Mike Taylor secured a well deserved point, but they were again off the pace at home on Bank Holiday Saturday allowing Lowestoft to take the points with a 3-1 scoreline.
And it looked like another defeat at Banbury on Bank Holiday Monday until Nabil Shariff fired in a late equaliser from the penalty spot.
But even though results were hardly going Town’s way there was still no place in any of the matchday squads for last season Herald Player of the Year Dan Summerfield, and the popular defender reluctantly took the decision to move to Redditch United.
Heading into the second month of the campaign Town were without a win since the season’s opening day and probably the last fixture they wanted was against pre-season title favourites and eventual champions Kettering Town who arrived at the Arden Garages Stadium having won all five of their games so far.
And they had little difficulty in extending that run to six with a 3-1 success in spite of having to play the last twenty minutes a man down following a sending off leaving Town in 18th place in the fledgling League table with just five points from their six games.
That afternoon marked the final Town appearance of Edwin Ahenkorah who departed to Rushall Olympic and also Nabil Shariff who returned to St Neots before making the switch back to Town at the turn of the year.
But there was also another far more significant development as it proved to be the final match of Darren Byfield’s brief managerial reign. Byfield suggested that he and the Board had “different views of how the club should be run” while a statement from the Board said that “it was in the interests of both parties to part company.”
Whatever Byfield had gone with Steve Walker and Nathan Marsh being handed charge of first team affairs until a new permanent manager could be appointed.
And they couldn’t have got off to a worse start with their first game being a home F A Cup tie against near neighbours and old rivals Alvechurch. Prize money had been doubled in the F A Cup this year making progress even more financially important than before, but it all went horribly wrong for Town with debutant Cody Fisher being red carded ten minutes before half time and a late Church goal taking them through.
Keeper Ross Etheridge on loan from Nuneaton Borough also made his Town debut replacing the injured Nathan Vaughan – who was never to return – but there was also the curious decision to relegate Will Grocott to the subs bench and then not bring him on even after Town had gone behind.
How crucial that decision was is obviously open to debate but Grocott was reinstated for the next match which saw Town at last return to winning ways with a comfortable success over already struggling Bedworth United.
And there was another Town debutant with midfielder Ross Oulton coming on as a second half substitute after joining from AFC Rushden and Diamonds.
By now Jordan Williams was being preferred to Brad Maslen-Jones as Jamie McAteer’s partner in the centre of Town’s backline with that combination developing into a massive part of Town’s season, and realising the situation Maslen-Jones switched to Bedworth in time for their next game the following Tuesday.
But a few days after the Bedworth game came the most significant arrival of Town’s season when Thomas Baillie was appointed as Head of Football. Baillie had been in charge at Kettering when they won the Southern League Division One Central title in 2014/15 but resigned soon after and had been out of football since, so for Town to persuade him back was something of a coup.
And he seemed to be wildly optimistic as he immediately talked of Town breaking into the end of season promotion play offs.
Few supporters really took him seriously with Town languishing in the bottom half of the table, but his prediction proved to be spot on as under his guidance Town had climbed to fifth by the season’s end to qualify for a play off spot.
Initially his role was to assist Steve Walker and Nathan Marsh and his first match in the dug out was a home fixture against Redditch the next Saturday which had been brought forward from a midweek date in November as the Reds had mirrored Town’s early exit from the F A Cup.
And under his watchful eye Town made it back to back wins to begin their climb up the table which continued next weekend as they dug in to earn a draw at Rushall where Kynan Isaac made a surprise return albeit only on the subs bench.
So it was seven points from three games with four goals from Mike Taylor whose overall total of six took him to a share of top spot in the Division’s leading goalscorers list.
The month began with a Birmingham Senior Cup tie against Coventry City Under 23’s for which Town fielded a much changed team which included French midfielder Guillaume Taty and a fourth keeper of the season in Richard Walton who arrived on loan from Matlock Town.
And after the 90 minutes had ended goal-less it was Walton who was the hero as he saved two spot kicks in the penalty shoot-out to send Town through to the next round.
Town had the following Saturday off as their scheduled opponents Coalville Town were still involved in the F A Cup, and before they were to be in action again there had been significant changes to their management structure with Head of Football Thomas Baillie taking over responsibility for all Town first team matters assisted by two newly appointed coaches in Scott Machin and Paul Davis.
Scott Machin had been with Thomas Baillie when during his successful time at Kettering while Paul Davis had recently left his post as manager at Redditch United, and as a result of these changes Steve Walker and Nathan Marsh reverted to their previous roles as Head of Academy and Goalkeeping Coach respectively.
In a separate move Victoria Gray had already taken over as physio from Leigh Woodall.
The first match for the new set-up was a testing away trip to Kings Lynn where Town had lost every time they had played there, but that stat was consigned to history with as Town battled to a 0-0 draw – a scoreline which was to be repeated another four times as the season progressed.
Another feature of the game was the performance of Taty who was booked early on and continued to rampage about until he was substituted in the 25th minute to avoid being sent off never to be seen in a Town shirt again.
And although it was impossible to foresee then it was at Kings Lynn that Town’s season was to end some six and a half months later with defeat in the play off semi final.
From then on the month was all about Cup clashes against Alvechurch beginning with a 4-2 League Cup success which included what was surely the Goal of the Season from Will Grocott as he lobbed the embarrassed Church keeper from virtually on the halfway line.
A first ever game against Leiston followed with Town having to recover from going a goal down after just 22 seconds to eventually win 3-2 which hoisted them into the top half of the table before it was back to Alvechurch this time in the F A Trophy.
A battling draw at Lye Meadow meant a midweek replay at the Arden Garages Stadium when Town blew the Church away with a scintillating first half display which saw them go in at half time already three up and subsequently able to cruise through the second 45 minutes.
Striker Amos Kabeya made his Town debut from the subs bench in the replay but was released after only two further undistinguished substitute appearances while also leaving Town after having severely limited opportunities under the new management team were Eli Bako, James Hancocks, Jazz Luckie and Kevin Monteiro.
Town’s upwards progress in the League had to be put on hold as five of their seven games this month were in Cup competitions, but it was a League match which started it all off as they cruised to a comfortable 2-0 win at St Ives.
An equally comfortable dismissal of Redditch in the Second Round of the League Cup followed before two games against Mickleover Sports in the F A Trophy. Jordan Williams first half strike looked to have seen Town through to the next round in the first encounter before Mickleover grabbed a late equaliser.
And it was Town who struck late in the replay with Mike Taylor netting the only goal of the evening in the 88th minute.
Maybe the exertions of those two closely fought clashes told the next weekend when the long trip to Needham Market resulted in Town’s first League defeat since Thomas Baillie took over with the other notable feature of the match relating to Taylor Morrison.
Recruited from Alvechurch this proved to be the defender’s only Town appearance before returning to Lye Meadow and he marked it by firing in Town’s solitary goal in the closing minutes.
Then it was back to the Arden Garages Stadium for a midweek Birmingham Senior Cup tie with Aston Villa in which Mike Taylor made his 100th Town appearance and Shawn Richards made his Town debut.
For 90 minutes it followed the previous tie against Coventry City as it ended 0-0 and thus needing to be decided by a penalty shoot out.
This time though Town were on the wrong end of the deciding lottery with the Villa keeper Matija Sarkic beating away Kieren Westwood’s spot kick to send Town out.
But Town then ended the month on a high when the upwardly mobile Northern Premier League side South Shields were the visitors in a Third Qualifying Round F A Trophy tie.
South Shields took an early lead but Wilson Carvalho levelled from the penalty spot after half time and Town looked to be facing a midweek replay in the North East until Mike Taylor pounced with a close range finish in the fourth minute of added time to propel Town into the First Round proper for the first time ever.
After their Cup heroics in November Town were back to the bread and butter of League action with a comfortable 2-0 win at Halesowen.
Richard Walton had moved to Coalville so Etheridge was back as keeper and he was to be the hero in the following midweek trip to Didcot in the Third Round of the League cup where two stunning saves saw Town through to another penalty shoot-out success with Tom Fishwick and Andre Olukanmi both making their debuts.
The next weekend saw them come from behind to beat Barwell 2-1 with Jamie McAteer heading the winner in added time after Mike Taylor had equalised with his 14th goal of the season.
Four days later it was the same scoreline when Tamworth were the visitors to the Arden Garages Stadium with Town having to overcome Kynan Isaac’s first half sending off.
But the Tamworth game was to have other repercussions. Mike Taylor was held back by Thomas Baillie until half time and although he didn’t score he was the catalyst in ten man Town’s electric second half performance.
And Tamworth were so impressed that a week later they had lured Town’s leading scorer to the Lamb with an offer which apparently he couldn’t refuse but which a few weeks later he probably wished he had.
Meanwhile Town’s next fixture was their history making appearance in the First Round proper of the F A Trophy with a challenging trip to National League AFC Fylde. What should have been an occasion to savour was turned into an ordeal as the game was played throughout in driving wind and lashing rain with an uncertain goalkeeping display from Ross Etheridge contributing to a 5-1 defeat.
It was then on to St Neots for the last Saturday before Christmas where there were changes on the pitch and in the dugout.
Etheridge was replaced in goal by Aston Villa loanee Matija Sarkic who had knocked Town out of the Birmingham Senior Cup a few weeks earlier with his decisive save in the penalty shoot-out, while striker Shane Benjamin had joined from Nuneaton Borough to take over from the departed Taylor.
And in the dugout two figures were notable for their absence with both Assistant Manager Scott Machin and Goalkeeping Coach Nathan Marsh having been let go.
But Town again came through with another 2-1 win and repeated that scoreline for a fourth successive League match against Banbury on Boxing Day before the year ended with a crunch home game against the powerful Stourbridge side which had inflicted their heaviest defeat of the season back in August.
Making his Town debut was Dan Preston while another “newcomer” was Nabil Shariff who had returned from St Neots, and in front of the season’s biggest Arden Garages Stadium crowd of 620 it was a lot closer this time with neither side able to find the back of the net as it ended 0-0.
But it showed how much Town had improved under Thomas Baillie and they were now rapidly closing in on the play off places.
Town began 2019 as they had finished 2018 with a goal-less draw this time away at Biggleswade on New Year’s Day, but they saved one of their worst home performances of the entire season for the next weekend as Alvechurch repeated their F A Cup success back in September scoring the only goal of the game in the 94th minute.
But the disappointment didn’t last long as midweek brought a League Cup Fourth Round tie against Kettering with Town again showing the penalty shootout prowess by advancing into the Semi Finals.
And when they returned to League action it was a trip to face Tamworth and Mike Taylor
Taylor had been a fans favourite at Town but was exactly the opposite at Tamworth and even more so afterwards as Town added to the Lambs’ woes with a 1-0 win.
Another week and another defeat later Tamworth parted company with their manager and a few days later Taylor had left as well to link with Leamington.
Town though were continuing their seemingly relentless progress up the table and were to end the month in third spot after wins over Hitchin and Needham Market followed by a battling draw in their sixth meeting of the season against Alvechurch and then another 1-0 away win at Redditch.
Player movements inevitably carried on as the games ticked by. Matija Sarkic who had made such a favourable impression in goal returned to Aston Villa at the completion of his loan spell after the Tamworth game allowing Etheridge to return and Kieren Westwood moved to Bromsgrove Sporting as Kynan Isaac became the first choice left back, while Shane Benjamin, Claudio Dias, Jarrell Hylton, Andre Olukamni and Shawn Richards were others to depart.
Arrivals during the month were Felipe Barcelos, Curvin Ellis, Mo Sebbeh-Njie and Kian Williams while Dan Summerfield made a brief return making only three appearances before moving on to join Carl Adams and many of his last season’s Town team mates at Rugby.
Town’s progress into the play off places had been based on a solid defence and particularly the central pairing of Jamie McAteer and Jordan Williams, but at the same time they were hardly prolific at the other end with the result that their “goals for” column was markedly less than their play off rivals.
And this was now to really bite as they begun February with a turgid goal-less score against an equally defence minded St Ives which marked the end of Preston’s stay at Town, and after having a weekend off due to a surprise postponement of their away match at Leiston which prompted a number of conspiracy theories on social media they fell to a 2-0 defeat against Coalville.
The Ravens had somehow always come out on top against Town in their MFA days, and were deserving winners at the Arden Garages Stadium on a night which also saw both McAteer and Williams red carded.
Town briefly got back on track with a comfortable win against struggling Halesowen which featured a debut goal from Dan Creaney who had joined from Coalville and who had apparently been a target of Thomas Baillie’s for some considerable time.
But the optimism from that result was shortlived as Town’s shortcomings in front of goal resurfaced during 2-0 defeats at Rushden and Diamonds – where both McAteer and Williams were suspended after their Coalville indiscretions – and Hitchin.
Meanwhile there was yet another debutant in keeper Laurence Bilboe on loan from Rotherham United who replaced Ross Etheridge at Hitchin to become the sixth keeper used by Town this season.
Town failed to find the back of the net for a third successive game in a dire 0-0 draw at Barwell and their play off hopes were starting to recede, but there was some comfort for supporters as that game saw the return of Mike Taylor.
Hid brief stay at Leamington had been even less successful than his ill-starred time at Tamworth but although he had been away from Town for some two months and 16 games he was still top of Town’s goalscoring chart when he came back,
Even so Town were hardly in the best of form ahead of their next two fixtures which were the return games against play off rivals Rushden and Diamonds and Coalville, and their problems looked set to get even worse in the 36th minute of the Rushden encounter when Ross Oulton limped off with a season ending ligament injury.
Jimmy Fry was on the subs bench to protect him from a further booking which would have led to a suspension as this was the last match before the yellow card amnesty, but he had to come on and with fifteen minutes to go he pounced to fire in the only goal of the game and suddenly Town’s play off ambitions were up and running again.
Up to now the central defensive pairing of Jamie McAteer and Jordan Williams had been pivotal in Town’s progress, but after the Rushden game McAteer’s season was to be disrupted and eventually ended by unavailability and injury.
Tom Fishwick, Jimmy Fry, Albi Skendi and Lewis Wilson were all tried as his replacement with varying degrees of success but Town still seemed able to grind out the results.
The following weekend they achieved what had always seemed beyond Town teams of the past by winning at Coalville after trailing at half time before facing a midweek 350 mile round trip to Leiston.
This meant a lunchtime departure from Stratford and a return at 3 o’clock the next morning but it was all worth it as it was another three points. Again Town had to come from behind but Wilson Carvalho equalised from the penalty spot with the last kick of the first half and Mike Taylor headed in the winner just 42 seconds after half time to make the long journey home seem that much better.
Eventual runners up Kings Lynn then showed their class scoring early and late to secure a 2-0 win at the Arden Garages Stadium after which Thomas Baillie suggested that three wins from their remaining six games would see Town safely in a play off spot.
And the first of those wins was immediately achieved with a comfortable success at already relegated Bedworth where Ross Etheridge was back in goal after Rotherham had suddenly and unexpectedly switched Bilboe’s loan to National League side Havant and Waterlooville.
But Town had now won four of their last five and combined with a number of favourable results elsewhere they were looking fairly secure in fourth place.
Meanwhile Taz Ahmed had arrived as physio in place of Victoria Gray while according to the Companies House website Town had appointed two new directors in Michael Dormer and Michael Purvis
Town though were jolted out of any play off complacency when mid-table Rushall followed Kings Lynn by leaving the Arden Garages Stadium with all three points thanks mainly to an inspired display from their keeper Matt Sargeant.
But suddenly play off talk was interrupted by the resumption of the League Cup. The competition had been forgotten by more or less everyone as the powers that be dealt with a couple of clubs apparently fielding ineligible players but with all that sorted Town were given a week’s notice that they had been handed a home semi final tie against Lowestoft Town.
So three months after their quarter final success over Kettering it was back to cup action for Town, and although only 143 turned up to see it the semi final was probably the most dramatic 90 minutes seen at the Arden Garages Stadium all season.
Lowestoft led 1-0 at half time and had the chance to go two up from the penalty spot early in the second half but Ross Etheridge produced a brilliant save and almost immediately after Town equalised.
Lowestoft soon regained the lead when Etheridge undid his previous good work by giving away another penalty and with Town struggling to get back into the game the visitors were still hanging on grimly until Wilson Carvalho made it 2-2 with only four minutes to go.
Another penalty shoot out seemed inevitable but with Lowestoft now in disarray Chris Cox headed in the winner in the 89th minute to spark wild celebrations both on and off the pitch.
So onto the Final against Cinderford which after all the previous delays was arranged with somewhat unseemly haste for the following week and instead of the usual two legged basis it was to be decided on a single game with Town winning the toss to have the tie played at the Arden Garages Stadium.
So at home against a lower ranked team Town had a favourite’s chance and duly obliged with Kynan Isaac netting the only goal of the evening just after the hour mark as Thomas Baillie emulated Morton Titterton’s feat of 2011 by winning a League Cup in his first Town managerial season.
In between the two cup games Town had strolled to a comfortable win against Royston which was more memorable for the luckless McAteer limping off after only eight minutes of his comeback reappearance to end his season, and after the euphoria of the League Cup triumph they had to face up to a couple of tricky fixtures over the Easter weekend.
First up on the Saturday was the lengthy trip to Lowestoft who gained at least a modicum of revenge for their semi final defeat as their star striker Jake Reed celebrated his 200th appearance with a hat trick to take his total to exactly 100 as the Trawler Boys had the better of the 3-2 scoreline.
And suddenly Town’s play off hopes were in doubt as Biggleswade were catching them fast and were due to be Easter Monday’s visitors to the Arden Garages Stadium.
If the Waders were to win that game they would go above Town on goal difference with only one game to go, and when they were leading 1-0 at half time it looked as if Town’s season was unravelling.
But in a virtual repeat of their semi final heroics against Lowestoft a fortnight earlier Town turned it round with a stunning second half comeback which saw them win 3-2 to take them to 72 points thus making certain of finishing fifth in the table and claiming the coveted play off spot.
So to Kettering for their final match of the regular season. The Poppies were already champions and with more than one eye on the following week’s play off match Thomas Baillie opted for a much changed side against his former club.
Skipper Jimmy Fry was the only regular in the starting line-up which featured five debutants including three from the Academy plus another debutant on the subs bench. Unsurprisingly Kettering cruised to a 5-1 win but as Baillie said the result was unimportant compared to the result of the upcoming play off and his first choice players had been given a well deserved rest.
So all the focus was now on the play off semi final scheduled for Wednesday May 1st in which Town faced an away game at Kings Lynn.
But suddenly everything was thrown into doubt when the F A and the Southern League stunned Town by investigating a possible regulations infringement relating to Dan Creaney’s loan move from Coalville back in February.
Town’s game and the other play off match between Alvechurch and Stourbridge were both called off while the enquiry took place and chaos reigned.
Eventually Town were found guilty and docked three points but that didn’t affect their play off qualification and the trip to Kings Lynn was rearranged for Saturday May 4th after just about every other day of the week had been mentioned and then ruled out.
But there wasn’t to be a happy ending even though Mike Taylor fired Town into a half time lead. The Linnets hit back to go 2-1 ahead early in the second half before Town were offered a lifeline with a penalty giving them the chance to draw level.
Wilson Carvalho had scored with every spot kick he had taken during the season, but he blazed this one over and that effectively ended Town’s hopes of further progress and their season with the Linnets adding a third goal late on just to make sure.
In spite of this disappointment there were still plenty of positives to take from the campaign not least the tremendous achievement of lifting the prestigious Southern League Challenge Cup with Town now added to the illustrious list of previous winners.
And in the League the year by year improvement under Carl Adams which – as mentioned earlier – was only halted 12 months ago by that late Bishops Stortford strike continued under Thomas Baillie in spectacular style as his side surged up the table from fifteenth to fifth while the points total of 72 from 42 games easily outstripped last season’s return of 55 from 46 games.
Added to that is the record breaking F A Trophy run to the First Round Proper and there is little wonder that the feelgood factor around the club is probably now at an all time high.
But that will bring with it increased expectations for next season when further improvement will inevitably be even more difficult.
Much then will depend on how many of this season’s squad will return and how it can be strengthened. The defence was the basis of Town’s success but the side was not as effective at the other end.
In spite of their fifth place finish Town failed to score in 12 League games and their goals total in the League of 55 was only better than the bottom six in the table plus St Ives in 13th.
Another curious feature of the season was that no less than 54 players were used but 34 of those only appeared eight times or less. So many players arrived – sometimes with a fanfare like Barcelos, Kabeya and Taty – only to disappear almost immediately, while the starting line-up for the play off game at Kings Lynn included nine players who were already at Town under Darren Byfield with the two exceptions being Ross Etheridge and Mo Sebbeh-Njie.
Meantime off the field developments are already in progress. The programme notes for the match against AFC Rushden and Diamonds on March 5th make interesting reading with reference to “a new kit which will be custom made.”
Feedback from supporters is to be sought regarding its design and home and away colours with the objective being “to create a unique recognisable Stratford Brand.”
That though is all for the future and after an exciting and exhausting campaign it’s best to sit back and let Thomas Baillie have the final word.
“It’s been a season to be proud of” reflected the Town boss as he sat in the dug out at Kings Lynn after the play off exit.
And surely that’s a sentiment with which all Town supporters would wholeheartedly agree.
Review compiled by Bryan Hale, Pictures by Steve Wood