Daniels Secure Final Place
Stamford secured their place in the Evo-Stik League Division One South play-off final after an epic 2-1 victory at Frickley Athletic on Tuesday night.
First-half goals from Rob Morgan and Kieran Wells laid the foundations for a superb success against a free-scoring Frickley side who had finished 11 points and three places above the Daniels in the final league standings.
Wells was then red-carded in the second half for a late challenge on Frickley goalkeeper Jake Turner as the Daniels were forced to produce a dynamic backs-to-wall display late on to thwart their hosts.
Goalkeeper Dan Haystead’s heroics and an awesome defensive display were finally breached in the fifth minute of injury-time but, despite Athletic hitting the crossbar four times in the second period, Stamford held out to secure a place in Saturday’s final at Bedworth who were 2-1 home winners over Chasetown in the other semi-final.
Delighted Daniels boss Graham Drury piled the praise on his players after a tactical change to their formation paid dividends against a Frickley side who had done the double over Stamford in their league meetings this season.
Drury said: “I’m absolutely elated.
“We made a tactical change by moving Eliot Putman further forward and playing Jon Challinor at left back because we had done our homework on Frickley and felt we could exploit them down the right-hand side.
“It was on my shoulders if it went wrong by changing it around, but I knew my players were big enough to take it on board.
“I had faith in them and the belief that they would stand tall when they had to.
“We deserved to be 2-0 ahead after the first half and we knew Frickley would come out for the second half and pile the pressure on.
“But Dan Haystead was amazing. He came for punches and made crucial saves while the whole team put their bodies on the line but that was what I expected of them.
“I’m over the moon to get the victory, but it’s still only half-time because we’ve now got to go to Bedworth on Saturday and finish the job.”
Stamford quickly adjusted to their tactical change as they made a flying start to the semi-final and enjoyed the early domination of their in-form hosts.
Henry Eze headed a good chance over the bar from a Jake Duffy corner while a strong run and shot from Morgan brought a decent save out of Turner.
The deadlock was broken after 21 minutes when a cracking cross from Ben George picked out Morgan whose looping header flew into the top corner of the home net.
The goal was deserved after a bright opening and Stamford’s night soon got even better when they doubled their advantage after 34 minutes.
Challinor’s long throw into the box sparked a scramble and Daniel Burns was adjudged to have handled and Wells stepped up to
emphatically fire home the spot kick.
The hosts then enjoyed their best spell of the opening period in the final flurries before half-time with Eze producing two brilliant blocks from a Jacob Hazel piledriver and Haystead making the first of a series of superb saves in stoppage time.
Athletic also rattled the crossbar for the first time in the game as Stamford survived a couple of late scares to keep their two-goal lead intact.
Frickley were sent out 10 minutes early for the start of the second half and that had the desired impact as they immediately took the game to Stamford.
Haystead superbly thwarted Jameel Ible and was then at full stretch on numerous occasions to keep out Nicky Darker’s booming long throws that nearly crept under the Stamford crossbar.
The prolific Gavin Allott shot straight at Haystead when well placed before Stamford’s goal started to lead a charmed life with Ible rattling the crossbar with another header.
Haystead palmed away a decent strike from Reece McGinley with Hazel flashing the following up across the face of the Stamford goal.
Stamford’s hopes then suffered a setback when Wells was red-carded with 23 minutes remaining when he caught the prostrate Turner late after the goalkeeper had won the race to gather a through ball.
The dismissal only strengthen Stamford’s resolve though and galvanised the Daniels’ immense rearguard action.
They looked dangerous on the break with skipper Jordan Smith seeing a couple of tidy efforts go close while Turner had to be alert to push away a Duffy free-kick.
That was to be Turner’s last involvement in the contest as he was replaced by back-up goalkeeper Paul Stancliffe as the game entered the latter stages.
The hosts threw extra bodies forward with Ible thrust into their attack but, with Haystead calm under intense pressure along with the rock-solid centre-back pairing of Eze and Delroy Gordon, Stamford somehow kept Frickley at bay.
Ible sent another header against the crossbar with Stamford scrambling the ensuing follow-up clear as the match went into seven minutes of injury-time.
Frickley finally breached the Stamford rearguard in the fifth minute of stoppage time as goalkeeper Stancliffe, up for another Athletic corner, turned the ball goalwards and Hazel converted from close range amidst a swarm of bodies.
There was still time for Frickley to force another couple of corners, coupled with Darker’s long throws, but Stamford were determined to not their lead slip away.
The final whistle was greeted by a mixture of euphoria and relief as the Stamford players celebrated wildly in front of their awesome army of travelling fans.
A repeat performance, both on and off the pitch, will now go a long way to towards Stamford regaining their Premier Division status as attention turns to Saturday’s play-off final at Bedworth.