Will Dawes celebrates scoring the winner v Boston Utd in The FA Cup to take Bards through to the first round.
The highlight of the season was undoubtedly the FA Cup run which is covered separately here – https://stratfordtownisa.com/2022/11/06/fa-cup-run-2021-22-review/
Off the pitch developments over the season
- Developments to the Fanzone including the new Pie and Pint Bar and Club Shop,
- Hospitality Suites improvements,
- Installation of the new Digital Scoreboard, the first at this level in November
- Re-development and complete refurbishment of the Academy Classroom,
- Significant branding changes including changes to the window graphics for the Hospitality Suites and Club bars,
- Re-development of the excellent 4G facility including laying a new surface and replacing the floodlights with LED lighting,
- Improvements to the access to the Sports bar,
- New stand creating more standing space for segregation if required, with added fencing and fire exit gates to enhance safety in November for the FA Cup 1st round requirements.
- Significant amount of earth moving to enable the development of a re-purposed Junior Pitch,
- Exit and Egress gates installed,
- Terracing steps and roofs installed,
Nicknamed ‘The Bards’ after a competition involving the local community, Head Coach Paul Davies was still in charge and, after the last 2 seasons finished prematurely and declared ‘null and void’, Bards again faced the same teams as the previous years apart from Kings Langley who transferred to the Southern Section. This meant we had a couple of blank week-ends, one of which was at the very end of the season – let’s hope there was nothing riding on the last set of fixtures. Jordan Williams, Will Grocott, Will Dawes, Jimmy Fry, Dan Vann, Kynan Isaac, Enoch Andoh all re-signed as did Ashley Sammons after the first league game. Amongst those leaving was goalkeeper Dale Belford so the impressive Liam O’Brien was brought in in goal. Experienced leader Joe Magunda (central defence), Ahmed Obeng (winger), midfielder Dan Lafferty, striker Jannai Gordon were also signed. Also leaving included defender George Heaven, midfielder Jamie Curtis, winger Callum Powell, defender Sam Muggleton and winger George Kaziboni
9 pre-season friendlies lasted five weeks and stated on the road with a 6-1 defeat at Heather St Johns! A 2-1 win at Bishops Cleeve followed, then the rest of the friendlies were played at home starting with a 5-1 win v a Coventry City select XI. A feisty 1-0 defeat to Yeovil with lots of bookings was followed by an entertaining 3-2 win v Kidderminster Harriers XI. 2 defeats followed v Kings Lynn and a useful young pacy Leicester City side before Stratford beat Bedford (who were to be promoted from step 4 during the season) 1-0 in their last game. There were concerns over some injuries in the friendlies particularly to the central defenders but they were ready for the season which started with a difficult fixture against one of the favourites.
August – Bards start the month in play off form
Bards tough start at Coalville ended with a 3-1 defeat in a bruising encounter in pouring rain. ‘Bards rued missed chances’ was the headline although Jannai Gordon did open his account on 10 minutes to equalise. The league debutants (now including Jack Self) gave a good account of themselves with Magunda named man of the match for his presence in the air.
First home game, a local derby v rivals Redditch with goalkeeper Kieran Boucher always hard to beat and Dan Sweeney up front. In front of over 500 on a Tuesday night, it was a repeat of the 2-1 victory the previous season. A Kynan Issac thunderbolt cannoned off the post in a fiercely fought contest. Bards were 2-0 up at half time scoring through Obeng and Dawes who caused Redditch problems all night, both firing past the excellent Boucher and both forcing Redditch to make 2 subs tactically at half time. The game was more even after half time and Redditch pulled one back with a header after an hour but Bards saw the game out well.
Next a “compelling, high-octane” 3-0 win against Royston saw The Bards leap to fifth. Bards got off to the perfect start with Gordon opening the scoring after 3 minutes from Self’s cross. The game opened up in the second half with chances both ends and Gordon doubled his and Bards’ tally after 65. It was a gritty game up to then with 4 bookings apiece and soon after a Royston player fell into the boardings after a tussle with Isaac who was shown the red card. Bards were still on top though and after Dawes was brought down in the area at the end, he picked himself up to tuck away the penalty for a 3-0 win.
Bards’ 4-0 victory at St Ives in the next game really started to raise expectations as we leapfrogged the previously unbeaten opposition. We’re told the newly laid 3G pitch took some getting used to but goals from Fry and Dawes before half time and Grocott and Andoh right at the end sealed the win.
Bank Holiday Monday saw Banbury come to town and in front of a bumper crowd, they took the honours with the only goal from a set-piece after an hour in a closely fought contest. A terrific strike from Sammons hit the post on 7 as Bards had the better of the early exchanges but couldn’t make the breakthrough although it could be argued the visitors deserved their victory.
In the rest of the league – Peterborough Sports beat Stourbridge 8-4 in what probably would be the game of the season and were the only team with a 100% record. Unbeaten Banbury (13), Hednesford (11) and Tamworth (10) made up the play off places with us. Needham Market (1) Stourbridge (2) Lowestoft and Hitchen (3) made up the bottom 4. There were bumper Bank Holiday crowds – 1060 Bromsgrove v Stourbridge and 1175 Tamworth v Nuneaton.
September -1 league win and 1 defeat
We started with 2 Cup games, the FA Cup 1st qualifying round 3-1 win at Carlton (click here) and 1st round of the League Challenge Cup with Bards still currently the holders from the 2018/19 season. With several players rested, despite an Andoh hat-trick, Bards were knocked out of the League Cup 5-3 at Cirencester so a new name would be on the trophy. Lewis Wilson made his first start in the game.
Returning to the league, a Jimmy Fry header after 36 minutes won the game v winless Stourbridge which saw The Bards rise to sixth. If it wasn’t for Liam in goal, they surely would have come away with at least a point as their performance belied their lowly position and they arguably had the better of the game. The Bards gave the ball away on several occasions and were susceptible to Stourbridge breaking.
There then followed 2 more cup games, the 4-0 win over Nuneaton (click here) in the FA Cup 2nd qualifying round and a Birmingham Senior Cup game v Burton Albion. In another entertaining game, with slick moves and free flowing football, Bards rested many players facing a strong Burton side who included many of their first teamers. Owen James, in particular, took his chance with his pace causing Burton problems all night and he scored our 2 goals – on the half hour mark to make it 1-0 capitalising after a keeper error and, after Burton had scored a couple, our equaliser to make it 2-2 with 7 minutes to go after fine work from Dawesy. Burton had taken the lead after the hour through Jacob Maddox who had played 1 game in the Champions League for Chelsea – not many times has a player playing in the Champions League played against us, let alone scored against us. Sadly, The Bards were unable to score again despite the game going into a penalty shootout – only the minimum 6 attempts were needed as the Burton keeper saved 2 pens and we hit the post with the other attempt. Still Bards gave a good account of themselves.
The last game of the month saw the longest league trip of the season to Lowestoft. We’re told The Bards produced a hard-working display and spurned a number of chances to break the deadlock with both keepers in fine form. The 2-0 score line was apparently not a fair reflection of the game and with the game fairly even, Lowestoft broke the deadlock after 76 and in added time converted a penalty.
In the league after the last full round of fixtures on the Saturday – Peterborough Sports still led the way with 21 with a defeat, unbeaten Banbury were in 2nd with 17 and a game in hand. Coalville (17) Hednesford (15) and Tamworth (13) made up the top 5. Bards were 2 points behind in 8th. Winless Stourbridge had 3, Nuneaton and winless Needham Market (4), Hitchin and Barwell (6)
October – 3 defeats out of 4 and 14 conceded – maybe having one eye on the FA Cup
October started with the FA Cup 3-2 win against Long Eaton (click here) which saw us in the hat (or the pot these days) for the 4th qualifying round for the first time in our history. The tie against Boston Utd created much excitement amongst the fans and maybe the players too as 12 goals were conceded in the next 2 games.
Table topping Peterborough Sports (9 wins out of 10) came to town and for 70 minutes it was a tight contest at 2-2. Ashley Sammons gave The Bards the lead after only 5 minutes with a low shot from the edge of the area. Nicholson for the visitors caused problems all afternoon as Peterborough came back into the game and he scored twice on 32 and 41 minutes to make it 2-1 at half time. Gordon fired home just after half time but Sports were relentless in going for a win with Liam making a string of fine saves but was beaten on 71, 81 and Nicholson then completed his hattrick on 85 after Wilson had been sent off.
Tuesday night at Biggleswade followed and for the 2nd successive game they scored 7 goals (and were relegated at the end of the season). Andoh scored our only goal against the team he would go on to play for. We were told it was an error strewn performance with The Bards off the pace but fears were growing of how many Boston might score against us.
However, 2 magnificent performances in The FA Cup 4th Qualifying round saw Bards progress (click here) – a 1-1 draw at Boston was followed by The Bards winning the replay 3-2 in a thrilling night at The Arden Garages Stadium. Gordon was in fine form again scoring 3 of the goals with Dawsey getting the eventual winner to take us through. We were paired with Shrewsbury in the next round (first round proper) and again excitement gripped the fans but would this affect league form?
A trip to rock bottom Hitchin followed and a gritty performance on a difficult pitch saw The Bards win 1-0, Gordon heading home before half time. The game though may be best remembered for the apparently controversial straight sending off of the influential Joe Magunda which would keep him out of the FA Cup game v Shrewsbury – a huge miss.
A rather low key affair v Rushden and Diamonds on a Tuesday night followed as the games came thick and fast. With 8 matches in the month in total (9 if we needed a replay v Long Eaton), some of the players looked a bit weary, others were rested or injured. Ex Bard Ravi Shamsi was causing a nuisance and he opened the scoring on 23 when a free kick went straight in – the only shot on target of the half. Magunda equalised just after half time bundling the ball in from a corner but Diamonds regained the lead on 55 from a free header to win the game 2-1. Tiredness showed with several bookings and long balls bypassing midfield.
The last game of the month saw an FA Trophy trip to Royston who were 2-0 up at half time with Andoh scoring our consolation. Academy player Michael O’Regan made his full debut and was reliable when called upon – the first of many academy players to hopefully come into the side.
In the league – Biggleswade hit Barwell and us for 7, Peterborough scored 5 in a row for 2 games, Royston won 7-1 at St Ives, Needham scored 6 at Hitchin and Coalville beat Peterborough Sports 6-2. The tables after the last full round of fixtures on the Saturday saw Peterborough Sports 33 from 13, Coalville 30, unbeaten Banbury 26 (from only 10), Rushall 25 and Hednesford 23. Hitchin Town 7 Nuneaton 10 St Ives (who were 4th when playing us) and Needham Market 12 made up the bottom 4. The Bards were lying comfortably in mid-table.
November – FA Cup hangover as Bards lose three in a row, Tim Flowers replaces Paul Davis
November started with the FA Cup game v Shrewsbury (click here) on another memorable day. After losing 5-1, a scoreline that some may feel flattered the visitors, particularly as it was level at half time, it was time as they say to concentrate on the league.
There did seem to be a bit of a hangover as Bards lost 2-1 on Alvechurch’s sloping pitch. A diamond formation was employed that Alvechurch exploited. New signings Mikey Taylor and Adam McGurk were up front, after Bards striker Gordon went to Hereford, but neither seemed match fit and rarely troubled the ‘Church’ defence. The deadlock was broken by Ex Bard Claudio Dias with a close-range strike. Andoh equalised 10 minutes from full time with an excellent run and finish but ‘Church’ won the game through a hotly disputed penalty after a handball inside / outside the area a minute later.
A trip to Barwell also saw The Bards come home pointless. We’re told it was a fairly even contest but with defensive errors. Ex Bard Ben Stephens (the leading league scorer) was up front for Barwell and predictably opened the scoring after 40 minutes – Wilson was our lone striker and didn’t really carry a goal threat. We were also facing Ross Oulton and needed a player like him to shore things up a bit in midfield. Another defensive calamity saw Barwell go 2-0 up on the hour, poor defending on 70 made it 3 and a goal direct from a corner sealed a 4-0 win. That meant 1 win in 7 games and with a home game against Rushall it was likely to be 1 win in 8.
Predictably, Bards lost 3-0 v Rushall flying high in the league but wherever they are they always do well against us! With a reshuffled back line, knocks and a fussy referee hardly helping, a deflected shot gave Rushall the lead on the half hour, 2 minutes later, Isaac was then shown red for a professional foul – the free kick ending up in our net anyway. 2-0 at half time and already using 2 subs, the defeat was confirmed when Pics made it 3-0 on the hour. Still, we only have to play them once more this season.
Where was the next win coming from…at Tamworth in an unexpected 2-0 win. Bards were virtually back up to strength at the back and included new signing 23-year-old Jack Storer up front who had played Championship and high-level Scottish football, scoring spectacular goals but reading up on him also disciplinary issues. There was a feeling of it would be lively with him around. Grocott opening the scoring in the end-to-end game “with a sensational curling shot into the far corner of the net leaving Singh grasping at thin air”. Owen James headed in the second and The Bards saw out the 2-0 victory – their second in 9 matches at a ground where we have always struggled. “A delighted Paul Davies made a point of going to the Bards faithful at the end of the game”. It was to be his last game in charge as he was replaced by Tim Flowers. We will always thank Paul for the terrific cup run we had but the feeling was by the Rushall game, the poor league form could not continue. We were not a side for the pools coupons – 6 wins and 9 defeats in Davis’ 15 games in charge this season.
Tim Flowers first game in charge was sadly more memorable for Liam sustaining a nasty gashed leg 10 minutes from the end on his 30th birthday as advertised by the new extended scoreboard. It was probably a good first game to have in charge after we beat the struggling visitors 4-0 in the FA Cup earlier in the season. It was slightly closer this time in a topsy turvy game but Bards scored 4 again and were 3-0 up at half time. It was a very slow start with both teams cancelling each other out but after 33 the game came to life. Obeng chased down the Nuneaton keeper forcing him to slice the ball towards Dawes whose shot was cleared near the goal line by a defender for a corner. From the corner, after uncertain defending, Storer poked home for his first goal. 2 minutes later, Obeng hit a brilliant low drive into the net and was fouled in the area 7 minutes later leading to Grocott scoring the penalty. Nuneaton with Leroy Lita up front had the wind in the second half and used it on the hour mark sending a high ball over the defence which was finished ‘expertly’. 4 minutes later, they pulled another one back from a header and The Bards were under pressure from then on as the visitors continued to press – more so with 8 minutes to go when Beresford had to replace Liam after a long worrying 12-minute delay. Nuneaton had a man sent off for a nasty challenge on the once again excellent Dawes and after 90+13 minutes he drove the ball into the net to make it 4-2 to much celebration but clouded by worries over Liam’s injury.
In the league, Nuneaton had a 6-2 win at Stourbridge and Peterborough Sports scored 7 at St Ives. Coalville were top with 43 points from 18 games, but unbeaten Banbury (42) and Peterborough Sports (39) had 2 games in hand. Rushall (35) and Leiston (31) made up the top 5. Hitchin (13) Redditch (15) Lowestoft and Nuneaton (16) were at the bottom. Bards moved up a place to 11th
December – we draw for the first time in the league!
Bards used the wind to their advantage in the first half against Lowestoft and a long ball from Grocott after 5 saw Storer race clear and bury the ball into the net. Bards then dominated until the 21st minute when a high cross in the wind was headed into The Bards net and the away side then took the initiative. Another cross into the box after 40 minutes was unable to be cleared and after hitting the post twice, Lowestoft forced it home. There were no more goals in the 2nd half so it was 2 defeats against the side that would finish bottom and thoughts confirmed that Liam would be missed.
Bards were then due to play Needham Market but Storm Barra put paid to that and the game was called off mid afternoon due to the waterlogged pitch.
Those that went to Rushden saw 4 spectacular goal of the season contenders, 3 from The Bards to avenge the defeat earlier in the season. Rushden were one of the in-from teams (5 wins out of 6) and took the lead just before half time after something of a stalemate with new keeper Murphy Mahoney untroubled till then. A free kick from 25 yards bent over the wall and into the bottom corner. The second half was all Stratford – Storer the scorer hitting screamers from 30 and 20 yards and Ash Sammons bending one into the top corner. Bards were looking more assured and game management was improving under the new experienced boss. Harry Wakefield made his starting debut working tirelessly to hold the ball up front and the rest of the attackers all had fine games.
Two photographers, one old fan and a Director’ made the trip to Leiston midweek so information during the game for us armchair fans was sparse trying to update each other on WhatsApp. Flashscore flashed 1-1 by half time not knowing who the scorer was for a while. In the end it came up Joe Magunda in injury time who deflected the ball in from Sammons’ indirect free kick in the box after an error from their keeper. The match report on the club site also told us it was a 12-hour 400 mile round trip for them so good job the game went ahead after a pitch inspection! It sounds again though like an opportunity missed in an end-to-end game, but it was a first league draw of the season
5th placed Alvechurch was the last home game for The Bards before the New Year and it wasn’t a classic. A typical dogged local derby against them saw Alvechurch hit the woodwork and have one off the line. Some crunching challenges on Isaac saw a red for the opposition and The Bards take control but with both defences holding firm, a decent point against a side that would make the play-offs.
The last game of the year – a Bank Holiday game at top of the table Banbury Utd in front of over 1,200 saw a controversial penalty for the leaders seal the points for another 1-0 win against us. After a Bards corner was cleared, Banbury broke away and Vann’s back pass to keeper Mahoney was under hit with Wreh chasing it. The 2 came together and the referee pointed to the spot – the penalty was converted after 40 minutes and that ended the scoring. It was another gritty game in poor conditions with Bards never really threatening.
In the league it was Barwell 4 St Ives 5, and Lowestoft 3 Leiston 5 in their ‘local derby’. As usual over the festive break there were bumper crowds, with 1650 at Bromsgrove v Stourbridge and 1100 Hednesford v Rushall as well as 1200 at Banbury.
January – our first goal in 7½ hours
After the first round of games in January, Banbury were starting to pull away 11 points clear with 60 despite suffering their first defeat. Coalville (49), Peterborough (45) Rushall (44) and Alvechurch (41) made up the top 5 – they would finish in the top 5 at the end of the season. Lowestoft (18) Hitchin and Nuneaton (20) Biggleswade (21) were at the bottom. Bards were in mid-table.
1,083, the highest home crowd of the season saw the second successive 0-0 draw in a local ‘New Year’ derby that again contained little quality in this mid-table tussle. Bards had 1 shot on target in the first half with a only a few more in the second. Bromsgrove offered little either although the game came a bit more to life when Bromsgrove hit the top of the bar and Storer being stamped on that surely should have been spotted by the assistant if not the ref. Concerns were raised over 3½ games without scoring and the fitness of Taylor and McGurk.
Another local derby, this time at Redditch, another 90 minutes without scoring a goal, despite Leroy Lita coming into the side, but 3 were conceded at the other end. Again, the Bards were shot shy in front of goal having 1 on target all game. As the game grew more techy, Redditch had a player sent off with 15 to go for 2 yellows and Storer suffering the same fate 10 minutes later. All in all, a day to forget as Redditch rode out easy winners
Bards then did the double over Tamworth with a 1-0 win from a Will Dawes goal just after half time between 2 evenly matched sides. Bards again included left back Melis Bushaj from Solihull Moors and the defender played some fine games for us. Tamworth included 2 former fans favourites – Obeng (who had recently switched from The Bards) and Chris Cox who was player of the year a few seasons back. Joe Magunda had also departed (another big miss) but midfielder Ross Oulton returned to the club. Liam was also a welcome returnee in goal and made a fine save from dangerman Dexter Walters who would go on to join us this year. Dawes fired home a screamer from a tight angle after 49 – our first goal in 7½ hours and The Bards could have added to their scoring where it not for their excellent keeper. The Bards climbed 5 places after sealing the points.
Bards then faced 2 sides back-to-back who would go on to contest the play off final. Both games would end 1-1 which gave us hope for the future and showed the improvement under Tim Flowers with the team starting to settle down.
First a Tuesday night under the Arden Garages lights saw Bards grind out a 1-1 against second placed Coalville with the back 4 and Liam magnificent all game. Bards took the lead in this enthralling encounter with a penalty from Grocott on 11 minutes after Owen James was fouled in the box. Coalville hit the bar from a free-kick with the rebound going narrowly wide but the Bards held on till half time. Coalville though did equalise on 58 from a tight angle but the Bards managed to hold on for a point through more excellent game management and a bit of luck – Coalville hitting the post with the ball falling straight to Liam.
Despite Peterborough Sports having the wind and the slope, the Bards were the better of the sides with the score goalless at half time as both defences were on top. On the hour though Sports opened the scoring with a corner going right across the goal and scrambled in at the far post. “Will Dawes ensured a well deserved share of the points, when he cut in from the left and turned the right back inside out, before producing a carbon copy of the goal against Tamworth, as he smashed the ball inside the near post with the keeper grasping at thin air” stated the club website. Stratford moved up into 10th place with 32 points with only 5 points separating the 10th and 17th placed sides.
In the league, 2 other crowds over 1,000 for the ‘New Year’ fixtures saw 1100 at Barwell v Nuneaton and Stourbridge v Redditch. Bromsgrove v Alvechurch also drew over 1,000 and Banbury v Rushden. Banbury (70) pulled 13 ahead of Coalville (57 with a game in hand) Peterborough and Rushall (51 2 games in hand) Alvechurch 46. At the bottom, Lowestoft, Hitchin and Biggleswade had 23 and Nuneaton 25.
February – Bards slip down 3 places
February started with a thrilling 3-3 draw against Biggleswade, a thrilling game maybe but only 1 point in both games against a side to be relegated. Bards were facing Enoch Andoh who had transferred to the visitors. Once again Bards used the wind in the first half but went 2-0 down within the first 20 minutes, both coming from Neal, the second from the penalty spot. Stratford took the initiative after the 2nd half especially with the introduction of Owen James near the hour. He was brought down in the area 4 minutes later and Grocott scored from the spot. James then squeezed a shot under the keeper after 73 and when Storer scored on 87 with another screamer, it looked like The Bards had secured the points despite going down to 10 after Vann’s 2 yellow cards. However, there was a dramatic finish as Neal completed his hat-trick after heading in an Andoh cross.
A goalless draw followed at Nuneaton with a lack of goalmouth action, 11 bookings and and Storer once again sent off for 2 bookable offences after 70 minutes by an over-fussy referee.
The game at home to Hitchin was postponed before the start due to heavy rainfall.
Another clean sheet at home to Hednesford for a match that will be remembered for a stunning 30-yard strike from Ashley Sammons after 72 to earn the points – when the ball was laid off to him, he sent a rocket that hit the top of one post bounced along the line and hit the other post before trickling in. Bards had the better of the chances before half time but Hednesford came more into the game in the 2nd and the defence had to make some fine blocks with Liam making good saves again.
A fruitless trip to Needham Market towards the end of the month meant Bards earned only 1 point in Suffolk this season. We’re told Bards made advantage of the wind in the first half without any clear cut chances but Needham went ahead after 36 with their first shot on target. 40 seconds from our kick off it was 2. Further goals in the 65th and 77th minute saw Needham (who were the lowest ranked side still left in the FA Trophy Quarter Final stage) wrap up the points with Lita scoring our consolation in injury time.
In the league, Tamworth hit Barwell for 6. Banbury pulled 17 clear with 80 points, Rushall (63), Coalville (63) Peterborough (54) and Rushden (52) leapfrogged Alvechurch. Biggleswade went to the bottom with 24, Lowestoft 26, and Hitchin 27 were in the PPG relegation spot.
March – Tim Flowers departs
Bards started March completing the double over Hednesford in 12 days after a 2-1 win. The pitch was not in the best of conditions – Hednesford not playing a home game for 6 weeks. Liam O’Brien was man of the match making numerous great saves. The teams were level in the table when the game started but Bards started the better and took the lead after 15 with a Lafferty volley. Hednesford looked to respond but on the half hour, Lita lobbed the Hednesford keeper (apparently, he was 6 foot 6) and it was 2-0 at half time. Bards were happy to settle on their lead but needed Liam to make 2 outstanding saves when we were without a forward for the last 15. Hednesford scored their consolation a minute form the end.
There was then a 2nd game in 3 days at Stourbridge, on the usual Monday night, before a bizarre mid-Spring weekend break. A game of 2 halves scoring wise at an unhappy hunting ground. Despite Stourbridge, who were now up to 8th, starting the better, Ash Sammons scored from outside the area with a shot that bounced before the keeper after 18 and Lita doubled the score on 29 slotting home from around the penalty spot. Stourbridge were still troubling our keeper more than we were there’s – Liam as per usual making some fine saves. Lita scored again but was flagged offside and Bards held on until the 70th minute until a header went in at the near post. It was the first of 4 goals for Stourbridge in 13 minutes. A minute later a header back to Liam fell short and his clearance cannoned back off the onrushing forward and into the net. A free kick across the box in the ‘corridor of uncertainty’ was tapped in and Jordan Williams put through his own net after another cross, again much to the delight of the Stourbridge management and subs who invaded the pitch after the goals went in.
Following the match, there was the news of the shock departure of Tim Flowers with The Bards expected now to finish around mid-table – his brief to ‘keep us up achieved’. As much as the tactics, tightening up at the back and game management seem to have improved under him, results on the pitch were marginally better and it was ironic that the most common result was a draw considering we were without one in Paul Davis’ 15 games. Flowers ended with W5 D7 L5 and gained us another 22 points from 17.
Leiston were next to visit The Bards and under Ian King with the assistance of John Hill, there was another change in tactics to be more dominate, with the full backs pushing up. Taking advantage of the wind in the first half, Bards took the lead through left back Bushaj after 15 minutes ghosting in after a corner. Man of the Match Lafferty on 40 made it 2-0 at half time. Lita was sent off for a 2nd yellow midway through the 2nd half and Leiston started to dominate but only managing to pull one back on 89. Bards held on despite 10 minutes being added on to the amazement of the crowd. With Bards comfortably in mid-table but not mathematically safe, some youngsters were brought in onto the bench – Paul Field, Harry Higginson and Brennan Dennis Barrett.
Bards season then tailed off with only 1 win in 7.
Next up was a home game v strugglers Hitchin with the score 1-0 again but this time in Hitchin’s favour. There were few chances for either side. Bards did have the ball in the net but Lita was ruled offside and on 65 Hitchin slotted the ball past O’Brien.
The last game of the month saw us go to ‘bogey side’ and play off contenders Rushall on ‘Non-League Day’ without Lita and Bushaj who departed after Hitchin. It’s always a tough game and The Bards fell behind on 6 minutes. Storer scored our only goal on 21 with plenty of chances being created but Rushall went back in front after 26. A third from the home side on half time killed the game with Bards out of sorts in the 2nd half conceding the final goal on 77 minutes via a overhead kick.
In the league, 1500 saw Bromsgrove v Biggleswade (free entry)
April – Bards consolidate mid-table position as the season tails off
On 2nd April, 1835 saw Banbury wrap up the league with their 90th point after 36 games, 20 points clear of Coalville who had 6 games left. Peterborough Sports 68, Rushall 66 and Rushden 61 were in the top 5. Lowestoft 29 Biggleswade 32 and Nuneaton 36 made up the bottom 3 – Lowestoft having 5 games left to avoid relegation. 1250 saw Bromsgrove v Redditch and 1350 were at Banbury’s last home game.
Bards last win of the season came at home to Barwell and the return of leading scorer in the league, Ben Stephens. Harry Higginson came in as left back as the defence kept their last clean sheet of the season. A typical Ash Sammons goal on 62 was followed on 81 by a “‘wonder goal by Man of the Match Jack Storer on 81 minutes. “Worth the entrance fee alone”, “You’ll not see a better goal at The Arden Garages this season”, “Goal of the season – you’ve just seen it” and “That’s the best goal I’ve seen down here for many a year” were just some of the comments reverberating around the Stadium and the bars at the end of the game. Having popped up on the right Storer cut in and twisted and turned the full back before curling the ball at an astounding pace into the top corner of the net with Castle in the Canaries goal grasping for thin air. It was hit with such force that the keeper didn’t even get chance to admire the shot!” (club website)
Against Needham Market in the last game under the lights, it was goalless after 78 minutes – then there were 5 goals. The early stages were scrappy with Stratford employing a long-ball game and taking 60 minutes to test the keeper. Against the run of play, Bards opened the scoring with another screamer from Sammons with a fierce dipping and curling effort. However, 2 minutes later Needham Market equalised after a top in after a shot hit the post. 4 minutes later, Jordan Williams put Bards back in front with a header from a corner but 6 minutes later after 90, Page scored a 2nd equaliser from a header at the back post. After 8 minutes of injury time, despite chances to clear the ball, with the last kick of the game Needham lashed home to gain the 3 points. Vann, Fry and Turner were withdrawn on the night due to injuries and Liam struggled throughout the game with a cut sustained earlier in the day.
Three more goals were conceded at Royston who reversed the league result earlier in the season. Bards were missing several injured players so youngsters O’Regan (sub), Field (Cheltenham loanee right back), Aisthorpe (Leicester City loanee left back), Denness Barrett (sub) and Tellyn (sub) joined Higginson in the 16. Bards started brightly on a demanding pitch but were 1-0 down after uncertainty in defence on 16 minutes. Royston made it 2 after 28 from the spot after indecision from the ref whether it was in / out the area. “Royston never appeared in any danger of losing the match and the third goal arrived on 65 minutes. This was billed a mid-table contest with The Bards on 46 points and Royston 50 points and was another single figure attendance from the Bards supporters, as two photographers were supported by just a few player taxi drivers.” (club website)
Bards last home game of the season was Easter Saturday against St Ives and dangerman Ex Bard Nabil Shariff. It was a very disappointing game, a bit like we were ‘on the beach’ ,conceding a penalty after 5 and a 2nd on 17 minutes as St Ives looked to secure survival. Nabil Sharrif made the game safe on 52 as it took 85 minutes for Bards to have a shot on target.
The website stated “There have been a number of changes on the pitch since the opening game of the season against Redditch back in August, with just six players who started the first game of the season starting today.
Redditch 17th August, 2021
O’Brien, Turner, Magunda, Williams, Isaac, Sammons, Fry, Grocott, Obeng, Dawes, Gorden.
St Ives 16th April, 2022
O’Brien, Wilson, Vann, Williams, Higginson, Sammons, Fry, Lafferty, Storer, Grocott, Dawes.”
Awards after the game were given to:
- Most Improved Player – Dan Lafferty
- Supporters Player of the Season – Will Dawes
- Manager’s Player of the Season – Liam O’Brien
- Herald Player of the Season – Liam O’Brien
The last game of the season saw a trip to Bromsgrove Sporting on Easter Monday in front of 807 on a tricky surface. With a number of players injured, several youngsters were included again – another academy player Jack Collins made his debut later in the game. Bards conceded their 3rd penalty in 3 games after 27 which was converted. Bards equalised 10 minutes later through Brennan Dennis Barrett driving home after a short corner. Bromsgrove hit the post at the end but it was honours even for the final game for Bards who were 13th but could slip a couple of places with another round of fixtures in the league the week-end after! .
Bards stayed 13th in the end after Redditch and St Ives failed to win their last games.
“This was a season that started with Paul Davies and finished with Ian King with Tim Flowers sandwiched in the middle. The incredible FA Cup run culminating with the televised game in November seems a long time away. Attention will soon turn to next season – pre-season friendlies and appointment of a new Manager.” (club website)
|League Points per game comparison|
In the final league table, Banbury ended up with 102 points, 23 clear of Peterborough Sports. Peterborough Sports beat Coalville who finished 1 point behind them 2-0 in the play off final in front of 1900. Rushall finished with 69 but sadly didn’t go up! Alvechurch overtook Rushden for the last play-off place in the last game of the season after they both finished on 65. Lowestoft (33) and Biggleswade (34) who Bards failed to beat were relegated. Barwell (41) finished in the relegation PPG place but stayed up due to having a better record than other sides at step 3.