Rushall Olympic 0 Stourbridge 2
The Glassboys secured a play-off place with a solid display and an ultimately comfortable win against their Black Country neighbours.
A first half penalty from Luke Benbow and a well-taken goal from Ethan Jones shortly after the break sealed the win that means Stourbridge moved up to third, above Nantwich Town, and are assured of their play-off spot with a game still to play.
Defeats for Whitby Town and Grantham Town mean that they can no longer catch the Glassboys. However, there is still much to play for in the final League game of the season next Saturday at home to fourth-placed Nantwich. The Dabbers could return to third with a win on Thursday night at Halesowen Town, but if Stourbridge win next Saturday it would guarantee a third-place finish at the very least, and with it a home semi-final.
It is still possible for Stour to finish anywhere between second and fifth, depending on the outcome of the remaining fixtures in midweek and on Saturday.
Manager Gary Hackett named an unchanged starting line-up and substitutes’ bench from Saturday’s home win against Frickley Athletic, clearly expecting his team to pick up where they had left off in that convincing win, and his instinct was rewarded with one of the Glassboys’ most complete and composed performances for some weeks. Rushall, meanwhile, named seven former Stour men in their eleven.
The home side, kicking down the slope, had the first opening on five minutes as Gurjit Singh turned and found enough space to send in a shot that Matt Gould was comfortably equal to, whilst the Glassboys responded through Tom Tonks’s effort from 25 yards two minutes later which cleared Jose Veiga’s crossbar.
Thereafter the game settled into something of a stalemate for the best part of the next twenty minutes, broken only by a near post header wide by Tonks from a Leon Broadhurst corner 22 minutes in.
But the Glassboys were to break that deadlock in perhaps controversial circumstances with 29 minutes played. Broadhurst played a ball forward which Brad Birch looked second favourite to reach but the midfielder showed great tenacity to get to the ball ahead of Sam Whittall, with the home side feeling he used his hand to do so, before the Rushall man – another playing against his former club – upended Birch with a challenge that was clumsy at best. There were protests that saw defender Joe Hull cautioned and Pics’ manager John Allen banished from the touchline, but Luke Benbow retained his composure to open, drilling his penalty low to Veiga's right.
Yellow cards followed for both Veiga, after some jostling at a corner, and Broadhurst, who pulled back Lewis Probert as Rushall looked to break, and briefly the game threatened to develop a niggly aspect that thankfully didn’t materialise into anything further. Broadhurst fired well over from distance, and then Michael Partodikromo drove a shot well wide at the other end, and the interval arrived with Stourbridge a goal to the good.
Rushall made a change at the break, with Aaron Forde introduced in place of Singh, but their plans of a comeback were dented within two minutes of the re-start as the increasingly impressive Ethan Jones doubled Stour’s lead. Tonks collected the ball 25 yards out and lifted a pass into the area where Jones’s touch took him away from Whittall before firing emphatically past Veiga for his third goal in as many games.
Benbow saw a shot well held by Veiga on 53 minutes as the Glassboys went in search of a third goal, and he then saw his ambitious backheel flick held comfortably by the Pics’ keeper shortly afterwards.
The home side pressed more as the half continued, and Matt Gould was called into his first meaningful save with 62 minutes played as Partodikromo’s free kick found its way through to the unmarked Hull. Gould, though, was quickly off his line to block, with Stuart Pierpoint clearing the loose ball to safety, and then a minute later Gould had to palm away George Bowerman’s cross at the expense of a corner.
Stour were still causing problems, and Birch saw his attempt blocked by Whittall two minutes later, but Gould had to be alert again shortly afterwards to claim the ball low down at his near post as substitute Stan Mugisha closed in after Hull had flicked on a long throw.
The final twenty minutes saw the Glassboys look the most likely team to add to the scoreline. Jones had a deflected shot saved well by Veiga, and then the keeper was on his toes again to save from Kayelden Brown, before Bowerman fired wastefully over from Rushall’s best move of the game, as Forde set up him up ten yards out.
Tonks’s shot narrowly cleared the angle of post and bar, Benbow’s free kick from out wide was blocked by Hull, and then Veiga saved from the Glassboys’ top scorer twice more in stoppage time. It mattered not to the large contingent of Stour supporters in the crowd of 536, though, as they celebrated the three points that confirmed the season would continue into the last week of April.