Atherstone Town 1 Stafford Town 2
STAFFORD Town made sure the Les James Challenge Cup remained in the county town for a second year after a hard fought success over nine-man Atherstone Town, at Walsall’s Bescot Stadium on Wednesday night.
In their league clashes this season Stafford had only picked up a single point against their fellow Midland Combination Premier rivals but the Evans Park outfit forced the issue early on with Darryll Johns twice going close.
His first effort on 17 minutes saw him drive just over after the Atherstone defence had failed to clear. Two minutes later he held off two defenders and forced a fine diving save out of Atherstone keeper Lloyd Storey.
Storey then thwarted Alex Barnfather, before Atherstone pressed and a fine turn and shot from Ben Ashby deflected off James Price before drifting over for a corner.
It was on 35 minutes that this final turned. A mistake by Atherstone’s Greg Webb let in Morgan Hurley, who appeared to be brought down in the box by Storey, although the Atherstone players and bench strongly disagreed.
While Storey was red-carded, Stafford midfielder Jack Langston kept his cool and successfully put away the resultant spot kick to give the Reds the lead.
Within three minutes Stafford had increased the lead, much to the delight of boss Adam Cunningham and the Evans Park supporters. Johns moved in to meet an excellent cross from Barnfather and eventually forced the ball home.
On the stroke of half-time, Atherstone’s Dan Creaney missed a good chance to cut the deficit when heading wide.
Although several Atherstone players were still feeling aggrieved following that penalty award the began to come more into the tie and Creaney again went close with a header when meeting a free-kick from Ashby.
At the other end, Johns had a great chance to seal the game on 56 minutes when beating replacement keeper Ashley Grey, but somehow Webb got back to deny him.
It got worse for Atherstone when the hard working Ashby was show a straight red card for kicking out at Stafford keeper Richard Stone on 57 minutes.
But the nine men battled on and created several opportunities with Darren Eggleton firing just wide, while the same player saw his dangerous cross deflect off Mat Dockerty and drift just over.
There was a tense finale for all concerned in the Stafford camp when Creaney pulled a goal back with just five minutes to go, but Cunningham’s charges held out to celebrate a memorable night for the Evans Park club.
Stafford team: Stone, Creswell, Woodward, Dockerty, Price, Langston, Ellis, Morris, Hurley, Barnfather, Johns. Subs: Fox, Henderson (for Price 63), Burslem (for Barnfather 80), Bloor (for Langston 67), Turner.
Just 12 months ago, Stafford neighbours Brocton lifted the same trophy, at the same ground, with a 2-0 win over Walsall Wood.