Ashton United 2 Stourbridge 3
The Glassboys secured a tense 3-2 win at fellow play-off chasers, Ashton United, after fighting off a second-half comeback from the hosts.
First half goals from George Bowerman, Dan Scarr and Karl Hawley gave Stourbridge a commanding 3-0 half-time lead, but the home side hit back in the second half, piling the pressure on and pulling two goals back to make for a tense last ten minutes.
However, the result was not enough to elevate the Glassboys into the play-off spots, thanks to a 90th minute winning goal for Workington at Matlock Town.
Gary Hackett was forced into one change from Monday’s 2-0 defeat at Halesowen Town, with Bowerman replacing the injured Matt Dodd, and Chris Lait also returned to the starting line-up in place of Sean Geddes.
The game had been in some doubt after heavy overnight rain had persisted well into the morning, but thanks to the efforts of the Robins’ volunteers, the pitch just about passed an inspection at 2 pm. From the kick-off, however, Stourbridge set about making them regret their hard work, and they were ahead within for minutes.
Ashton’s martin Pilkington had already shown his threat when breaking clear and attempting a lob that drifted wide of the far post, before Bowerman escaped down the right for Stourbridge, before cutting inside and seeing his left-foot shot take a deflection off a defender, thereby deceiving another on the line, who was unable to keep it out.
And it was even better news for the healthy contingent of Glassboys supporters six minutes later. A long throw from Tom Tonks on the right was headed clear, but Lait managed to recycle the ball and his cross was flicked on by Hawley to Scarr, who was afforded too much space at the far post to control the ball and slam it past Paul Phillips in the home goal.
Hawley dragged a shot wide on 13 minutes as Stourbridge continued to push forwards, but the Robins began to come more into the game, with Kristian Green doing well to head clear a dangerous cross after 19 minutes, and then James Dean, who had been such a thorn in the Glassboys side when the teams met at the War Memorial Ground tried his luck with a 22nd minute volley that was well off target.
Still Stourbridge pressed, stretching the home defence all the time. Tonks had a go from 25 yards, with the ball always going over, and then Hawley got on the end of a near-post cross from Tonks, only for a defender to get enough on the ball to deflect it wide for a corner.
There was a real scare for the Glassboys on 35 minutes as Ashton broke quickly and incisively from a Stourbridge corner, but Chris Baguley could only drag his shot across the face of goal with Dean unable to get on the end of it.
That spurned chance proved to be pivotal just two minutes later, though, as Hawley put the Glassboys further ahead. Lait attacked the penalty area and was only denied by the boot of Phillips as he shot, but the winger was alert enough to regain the loose ball and tee up Hawley who picked his spot beyond Phillips from 15 yards.
Immediately after the goal, Stuart Pierpoint hobbled off, having picked up a knock to his ankle a few minutes earlier, to be replaced by Joe Hull, but the change did nothing to unsettle the Glassboys’ rhythm as Hawley again tested Phillips, although the offside flag had already been raised.
Baguley again shot wide from the edge of the area shortly afterwards, but the effort was in keeping with the Robins’ inability to seriously test Gould during the first half, whilst Stourbridge had the ball in the net again three minutes before the break, albeit Hawley clearly handled in doing so and was rightly cautioned.
The half closed with Bowerman again running at the Ashton defence, before being upended by Cavell Coo, who joined Hawley in the notebook, and was almost doubly punished by Lait as he took aim from the set-piece and was only denied by Phillips’ out-stretched hand as the ball look bound for the top corner.
A three-goal interval lead was beyond the Glassboys’ wildest dreams, but there was never any chance that a team of Ashton’s quality would meekly accept their fate. Initially, though, it was Stourbridge who pressed with Lait seeing his shot held comfortably by Phillips, ad then Hull having a shot deflected over after the Robins’ keeper had dealt less successfully with a corner.
A double substitution for Ashton gave them some impetus, with winger Matty Chadwick in particular proving to be troublesome down the right, and they began to create chances. Dean was just unable to get up high enough to meet Pilkington’s 53rd minute cross, with his header dropping wide, and then Pilkington himself nearly burst through only for Green to divert the danger.
But Ashton’s increasing pressure eventually paid off just after the hour, as Chadwick crossed from the right, and Green was only able to divert the ball into the net from close range under pressure from the lurking Dean.
Stourbridge responded through Justin Richards, whose 64th minute shot as deflected wide, but that was a rare attempt on goal as the home side largely held sway. Jay Gorton saw his shot go wide of the far post from a half-cleared corner on 67 minutes, and then five minutes later Chadwick cut inside and fired in a shot that was only narrowly wide of Gould’s left-hand upright. And a minute after that Gould saved well from Pilkington, with Hull deflecting Chadwick’s follow-up over the crossbar.
Substitute Ashley Vincent combined with Hawley on 77 minutes before shooting over when he might have done better to take on his man, and then Hawley fed Richards three minutes later, and his cross was cut out before it could reach Green, who had initiated the move.
Ashton squandered a real chance with 81 minutes played as Pilkington played in Gary Gee who hurried his shot and was off-target.
Pressure eventually told, though, and the Robins pulled a second goal back with just seven minutes to go as Dean met a long ball and flicked a header on to Pilkington who drew Gould and slipped the ball beneath him and into the net.
The closing minutes saw the home side mount a stern examination of the Glassboys’ defensive credentials, and it was one that the yellow shirts proved equal to, limiting clear chances to a minimum. The biggest scare came three minutes into stoppage time when a cross in from the right came all the way through the area and drifted wide of the far post.
Three vital points for Stourbridge, and some much-needed confidence ahead of the last three weeks of the campaign.