THOMAS Baillie highlighted the positive spirit around in-form Stratford Town after revealing that not one player wanted to miss their midweek cup win at Didcot Town.
The Town boss used the CSS League Challenge Cup tie as an opportunity to shuffle his squad and give game time to players recently on the fringes.
But, giving consideration to the fact that Stratford face a Saturday-midweek-Saturday schedule every week until the end of January, he also gave players the chance to rest if they wanted. Not one said they did.
“I sent out a message after the Halesowen game to say that if any player wanted to take a break and miss Tuesday, then that was fine,” said Baillie. “Everyone said they wanted to play.
“When you’re on a run of good results, it’s funny how players don’t get niggles, or little knocks. If you’re struggling, it’s a different story.
“That’s credit to this group of players. They are a great bunch, a together group. You can see the camaraderie in the squad.”
Baillie made six changes on Tuesday and had challenged the players coming in to prove they merited their opportunities.
Ross Oulton made his presence felt in midfield and both Claudio Dias and Andre Olunkanmi, on his first start, looked lively, while there was also a debut for new recruit Tom Fishwick – a defender signed from Redditch United.
Despite falling behind to Adam Learoyd’s 33rd-minute goal, Jordan Williams levelled with a header from Oulton’s free kick six minutes later.
It remained 1-1 after 90 minutes and then keeper Ross Etheridge saved two penalties in the shoot-out as Town prevailed 4-2 to reach the quarter-finals with successful kicks from Jimmy Fry, Dias, Mike Taylor and Jarrell Hylton.
The performance leaves Baillie with a few more options for Saturday when Town entertain Barwell at the Arden Garages Stadium.
After last weekend’s 2-0 win at Halesowen, Town lie within striking distance of the Southern Premier Central play-off places, with at least two games in hand of all bar one of the teams above them.
Both goals came in the second half, with Wilson Carvalho converting a penalty after Taylor was fouled just before the hour mark and then Will Grocott produced a poacher’s strike to fire home a loose ball after keeper Kieran Boucher pushed out a Kynan Isaac shot.
“Saturday was a really professional performance,” said Baillie. “I felt we were always comfortable, they never really troubled us.”