CARL ADAMS admitted Stratford Town wasted their best ever chance to reach the FA Cup first round after their heart-breaking exit to Scarborough Athletic, writes Colin Stoner.
“A bitter pill to swallow” was the verdict from the Stratford manager after his side had led through Jazz Luckie in Tuesday’s replay – only to concede late on and then ship three goals in the final five minutes of extra time to bow out 4-1 in front of nearly 500 at the MoodChimp Stadium.
It had come after Town had also led twice in Saturday’s first match at the Flamingo Land Stadium through Luckie and Dan Summerfield, but Scarborough hauled themselves level at 2-2 with a scrambled goal in the third minute of stoppage time.
With a home tie for the winners against Hyde – who, like Scarborough, play in Northern Premier Division One North – in the final qualifying round, it was a huge missed opportunity for a headline-grabbing, money-making possibility to reach the first round proper.
Adams admits it will be a challenge to get the disappointment out of the players before they head to Hitchin Town on Saturday in the Southern Premier.
“It’s not so much a feeling of deflation but frustration. We had that cup tie in our hands three times and we have handed it back to them,” he said.
“I don’t think we have played well over the two ties but we have certainly created enough in terms of chances to win the tie.
“The biggest opportunity for me was at Scarborough on Saturday but we weren’t strong enough mentally to see the game out.
“The difference was composure in front of goal. They had four shots on goal on Tuesday and scored four. We must have had seven good chances but we didn’t take them. The players have got to take responsibility.
“It’s a tough one to take. I will get over it. The question is whether we can get over it as a team.
“Now we’ve got a tough game at Hitchin and the difficult task is to lift the lads.”
Tuesday’s replay was action-packed, full of twists and turns – which included Town U9s coach Justin Kearney having to run the line after volunteering when referee Josh Smith pulled a calf muscle in the first period of extra time and senior linesman Richard Walker stepped into the middle.
Luckie fired Stratford ahead on 26 minutes from Will Grocott’s corner and they should have finished off the tie. Luckie and Ben Stephens had golden chances to make it 2-0, with Liam Francis heading over and Grocott forcing keeper Tom Taylor to save at the second attempt.
With Francis and Andy Gallinagh outstanding in defence, Stratford seemed to be keeping Scarbrough at arm’s length until Seadogs full back Craig Nelthorpe lashed home a thunderous 30-yard free kick to level on 74 minutes.
Then, when penalties loomed, Scarborough found a hero in super-sub James Cadman. His sizzling shot put them ahead on 115 minutes, another slick finish made it 3-1 within 60 seconds and then he provided the assist for Michael Coulson to add a cruel fourth.
Meanwhile, Town will now be at home when they face Solihull Moors in Tuesday’s Birmingham Senior Cup first round clash. Moors asked for a switch because of fixture congestion at their ATG Stadium.