STRATFORD Town insist they fear nobody as they prepare to end potentially the greatest season in their history by battling for a place in step two for the first time.
Having lifted the Southern Challenge League Cup to follow their best ever FA Trophy run and securing their highest finishing position in the non-League pyramid, Thomas Baillie’s side guaranteed a place in the play-offs with Monday’s thrilling 3-2 win at home to fellow contenders Biggleswade Town.
Town head to champions Kettering Town on Saturday, with the possibility of finishing fourth if Alvechurch, who lie one point ahead, fail to win at Needham Market.
Regardless, Baillie’s men will be away to either to Stourbridge or King’s Lynn Town next Wednesday in the play-off semi-finals.
To reach National League North, however, they will have to win the final and then a Super Final against the winners of the Northern Premier play-offs.
But, having won eight of their last 11 league and cup games, Stratford coach Steve Walker says they will be unfazed by the challenge ahead.
“The spirit in the dressing room is tremendous and I can’t speak highly enough of all of them. The lads deserve all the credit,” he told the Stratford Town Independent Supporters Association.
“They have won the League Cup and have qualified for the play-offs and they have put in real performances week in, week out.
“It takes season-long consistency to get into the play-offs and we have shown that. We are in the play-offs and we want to win them whether we have to play home or away.
“We are a good footballing side and we aren’t scared of anybody.”
Monday’s clash with Biggleswade had become make-or-break after Town had slipped to a 3-2 defeat at Lowestoft Town on Saturday.
It become a test of character as well as ability as they came from behind to end the Waders’ hopes to win 3-2 at the Arden Garages Stadium.
Sean Lucien fired the visitors ahead four minutes before half-time but Stratford responded with second half goals from Mike Taylor, Wilson Carvalho and Dan Creaney.
Top-scorer Taylor bagged his 19th goal of the season after chasing down keeper Ross Etheridge’s long punt to level on 68 minutes and Carvalho fired them ahead five minutes later from the spot after he had been upended by Waders skipper Kieran Forbes.
Sub Creaney volleyed home for 3-1 on 86 minutes but there was further drama in the sixth minute of stoppage time when Matt Ball slotted home a penalty for Biggleswade but it was too late to deny Town.
“I couldn’t be more proud of those lads in the dressing room,” added Walker.
“I told the lads at the break they had 45 minutes to rescue their season and they went out and delivered superbly. We made some subtle changes to the way we were playing and they worked so well that Biggleswade hardly had a kick in the second half.”
On Saturday, Town had hit back from 2-0 down to level at Lowestoft, only to concede a winner with five minutes left.
Striker Jake Reed finished with a hat-trick for the hosts who avenged their League Cup semi-final defeat at Stratford.
Reed pounced on 27 and 34 minutes but Nabil Shariff capitalised on a defensive mix-up to net for Town six minutes before half-time.
Two minutes into the second period it was 2-2 after Creaney responded quickest after his first effort from a Will Grocott corner had hit the post, but on 85 minutes Reed grabbed his third from a Dylan Williams cross for his 100th goal on his 200th appearance.