CARL ADAMS says the best way for Stratford Town to ease the pain of their FA Cup disappointment will be by proving they can match the top teams in the Southern League Premier Division.
Shellshocked Town exited at the first stage for the fifth year in a row after AFC Mansfield, in their first season in the Cup, turned over a two-level difference to win 2-1 on home soil on Saturday.
However, having been given one boost by securing striker Edwin Ahenkorah on contract, boss Adams says Town need to bounce back when they play two of the top eight, plus another pre-season contender, in the next week.
After travelling to Dorchester Town on Saturday, Town head to eighth placed Merthyr Town followed by a rearranged home game against Frome Town, who lie fifth, at the DCS next Saturday.
Adams was left wondering how Stratford suffered a shock exit at Mansfield, after creating chance after chance, and says Stratford will need to quickly get the Cup defeat out of the system to deal with another testing run of fixtures.
“We missed so many chances,” said Adams. “It was unbelievable. It just wasn’t our day.
“I like to think I’m an honest guy and I will say if we were poor. For the first 45 minutes we blew them out of the water and how it was 0-0 I don’t know.
“AFC Mansfield had a go in the second half and after they scored we replied really well and we should have at least brought them back to the DCS.”
Town had fallen behind to Gary Bradshaw’s effort on 67 minutes but Guy Clark equalised with a header from Jamie Sheldon’s corner. The winner, however, came in the 80th minute with a brilliant solo effort from Oliver Fearon.
“From their point of view, the winner was an absolute worldy, their player dancing around four players and then slotting home,” said Adams. “From my point of view, he has run 40 yards and we haven’t got in a tackle.
“But we got punished for our poor finishing.
“We’ve not yet got that consistency. One week, the forwards have been in top form but our defensive work has been poor. Then the next we’ve defended solidly but we’ve not taken our chances.
“The only complete performance so far was at Kettering and we got our rewards with a 3-0 win against one of the powerhouses of non-League.
“The fixture list has been tough. If you look at the table, we will probably have played six of the top ten in our first ten matches.”
Stratford have been given a vital tonic after securing the services of key forward Ahenkorah on a contract for the rest of the season.
Adams describes the former Redditch forward as ‘the real deal’ and wanted to ensure he could not be snaffled away by clubs with bigger wage bills.
Ahenkorah missed the second half of last season with a hamstring injury and, while he has yet to find the net this term, he has been regaining form and fitness.
“I’ve lost Michael McGrath in the summer and then Mike Taylor to money so I’m delighted we’ve been able to keep Edwin here for the season,” said Adams.
“After his injury, he is still a little bit rusty but once he gets that first goal he will be up and running.
“Edwin is only 21 and the sort of young, hungry player we want to develop. He can only get better.”
A further boost for Town will be the first appearance of the season for pacy front-runner Dior Angus.
The former Kidderminster and Solihull wide player starred in early pre-season until he picked up a hamstring injury but Adams expects to be able to name him in the squad to face Dorchester.
“Dior always offers a real spark and a lot of pace – it’ll be good to have him involved,” added Adams.