Pre-Season: 28 July 2016 – Stratford Town 7 Coventry Sphinx 0

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Stratford Town trounced Coventry Sphinx by seven goals to nil as they emphasised their superior league status at the DCS Stadium. The Southern League side proved too hot to handle for their Midland League opponents, who offered very little in front of goal on the night. Richard Gregory helped himself to a hat-trick for the hosts, but further ammunition was provided by a brace from Edwin Ahenkorah, as well as goals from Will Grocott & Charlie Evans, as Stratford coasted to victory.

Stratford’s attacking intent was clear from the off as they carved the visitors open in the eighth minute, but somehow failed to convert. Trey Braithwaite found his way in behind the Sphinx defence rather too easily down the left to set up the opportunity. His square ball across the six-yard box was inch perfect for Jamie Sheldon, but the midfielder fluffed his lines at the critical monent.

The hosts did not have to wait long to find the net however, as Grocott curled in the opener twelve minutes in. The goal was preceded by an unchallenged run forward from Evans, who then slipped a pass through to Grocott to calmly finish when one-on-one with Sphinx keeper, Scott Dutton.

Coventry Sphinx attacked sporadically with occasional committed runs forward from Liam Cairns and Luke Downes, but they ultimately failed to produce hardly any clear goalscoring chances. Stratford Town were enjoying much more success in front of goal and the player at the forefront of their endeavours was frontman Gregory. Such was his threat, he twice came close to doubling the lead as the first half approached the halfway mark. Firstly he was denied by Downes who came out to smother the forward after he latched onto a superbly weighted long ball from right-back, Jordan Cullinane-Liburd. Then he nearly converted once again as he met a flick-on header from the resulting corner, but his effort was turned behind at the near post.

The following corner provided some joy for Stratford when they were awarded a penalty for a handball after Sphinx failed to clear their lines. Gregory stepped up to send Dutton the wrong way which was certainly a suitable reward for his previous commitment.

Things were beginning to look particularly ominous for the away side in the 38th minute as Stratford added a third. Sheldon played an optimistic ball downfield from inside his own half, only for the ball to evade two Sphinx defenders allowing Evans to be clean through on goal. He duly added the finish into the far corner from a tight angle with only Dutton to beat, showing great composure in the process. Kieren Westwood almost added another in the dying embers of the half, but the left-back was thwarted by an acrobatic save from Dutton at his near post with the effort aimed towards the top corner.

A raft of substitutions slowed down the cohesion of the hosts for periods in the second half, but they were still ruthless enough to find the net on four more occasions. It took less than ten minutes for Stratford to make it four in fact with Gregory doubling his tally. He applied a simple finish from a chipped Grocott pass towards the far post as Sphinx were exposed once again.

Later on in the half, the home side introduced Ahenkorah to their frontline and his impact was immediate as he fired home Stratford’s fifth of the evening from close range, after Coventry Sphinx lost possession deep inside their own half. With nine minutes remaining, Ahenkorah struck again with the goal of the night. He lashed his effort home at the near post with the ball finding the net off the underside of the crossbar. The goal was even more impressive considering Ahenkorah had very little in the way of a target to aim for.

Stratford made it seven only a couple of minutes later when Gregory scored his third of the night by pouncing onto a rebound. Logan Kelling hit a fairly tame effort from just outside the box, but the Sphinx substitute keeper spilled the ball into the path of Gregory, who couldn’t believe his luck as he tapped home with ease.

All in all it was an enjoyable enough encounter despite the clear gulf between the two sides. I’m sure Stratford will feel encouraged by their performance which included plenty of good spells of possession as well as being clinical in front of goal. Coventry Sphinx on the other hand will need to take a long hard look at their defensive deficiencies.

Stratford Town: Cooper, Cullinane-Liburd, Westwood, Fitzharris, Francis, Clark, Sheldon, Braithwaite, Gregory, Grocott, Evans.

Subs: Ahenkorah, Baigent, Fox, Kelling, Gomez, Hylton.

Coventry Sphinx: Dutton, Harris, McCalla, Albrighton, Nkose, Blackmore, Steane, Johnson, Cairns, Downes, Thomson.

Subs: Eggleton, Taylor, McArdle, Harkin, Gumery
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