Stourbridge 4 Nantwich Town 2
The Glassboys came from behind twice to secure a home Play-Off semi-final against Workington on Monday night.
Manager Gary Hackett once again named the same starting eleven that had seen off Frickley Athletic and Rushall Olympic in the previous two matches, but there was one change among the substitutes with Dan Preston replacing Jacob Wedderburn after recovering from illness.
Traditionally, matches between these two teams have been open, entertaining affairs, and with both sides seeking a win to ensure they finished as high as possible in the play-off places this one was expected to be no different.
Stourbridge were first to threaten inside the opening three minutes, as Kayelden Brown’s far post header from a Tom Tonks corner was acrobatically saved by Daniel Gyollai in the Dabbers’ goal, with Joel Stair heading the loose ball behind., and then from the resulting flag kick, Luke Benbow’s back header was claimed by Gyollai under the bar.
The visitors’ first opening did not arrive until 11 minutes in, when the long-limbed Vinny Mukendi rose at the far post to head goalwards, but Matt Gould, who signed a new 12-month contract on the morning of the game, was down smartly to hold on.
Ryan Brooke fired well over from 25 yards three minutes later, as Nantwich began to exert a little control, and their pressure was rewarded with 18 minutes played as Mukendi opened the scoring, guiding Josh Hancock’s left-wing cross beyond Gould for inside the six-yard box.
It could, probably should, have been much worse for Stour just three minutes later, as Andy White got to the by-line and pulled the ball back for Hancock who could only lift his shot over from a very good position. The let-off briefly sparked the Glassboys into life, but Brown could only shoot weakly at Gyollai from the edge of the area.
Brooke was again off target just before the half hour, whilst Benbow found enough space from a Tonks corner at the other end to get a glancing header in but not enough power to ensure its accuracy, and the ball drifted well wide.
Darryl Westlake tried his luck from a long way out, no doubt hoping to repeat his strike against Matlock a few weeks previously, but Gyollai was equal to it, albeit at the second attempt, and then there was another scare for the Glassboys defence as Stuart Pierpoint was robbed by Mukendi who somewhat wastefully lashed his hurried shot wildly off target when he had time to do better.
The first half was probably even in terms of possession and territory, but it was the Dabbers who had shown the greater ability to create openings and they were worthy of their lead. It was a scoreline that would, at that stage, have seen the Glassboys heading off to Spennymoor for a midweek semi-final, and there was palpable anxiety among the majority of the 1,312-strong Amblecote crowd.
Both sides made changes at the break, but it was the introduction by Hackett of Jordan Archer for the injured Brad Birch that bore fruit almost instantly. The new arrival picked up a ball from Benbow two minutes into the half and drove at the heart of the Nantwich defence, luring Stair into an injudicious challenge that had referee Robin Dadley pointing to the spot. A delay whilst Kennedy Digie received treatment for an injury at the other end did nothing to put Benbow off and he confidently sent Gyollai the wrong way from 12 yards.
Stourbridge were back in third place, but parity was only fleeting as the Dabbers led again just seven minutes later. Josh Green was penalised for a foul on Hancock some 25 yards out, and the victim picked himself up to arrow a sumptuous free kick into Gould’s top left-hand corner with the Glassboys keeper powerless despite his full-length dive. Fifth again, and once more Spennymoor beckoned.
This time the wait for another goal was just four minutes, and this time it was a Glassboys free kick that did the trick, with Tonks sending in an in-swinger from the left that was met by the unmarked Pierpoint who headed past Gyollai.
Three more minutes passed, and along came another goal, and now Stourbridge led for the first time. Tonks crossed from the opposite flank this time after a half-cleared corner had been played back out to him, and Brown was first to react to guide his header into the corner.
A series of substitutions broke up the game for a while, as the visitor sought to press the Stour defence, whilst the Glassboys looked to get Benbow and Archer exploiting the gaps that left, and running at defenders wherever possible, and they got their reward on 70 minutes as Benbow got in a cross from the right which Archer met with a lopping header that just found its way inside the far post. It ended a mini-drought for the former Bedworth man, who had not scored since the win at home to Matlock in early March, but it was thoroughly deserved after his impact on the game.
He was less successful three minutes later, however, as Benbow and Brown combined to give him a sight of goal, only for a stumble to prevent him getting in a shot. Benbow then flashed an effort across the face of goal as time ran down with much of tension having dissipated.
A final flurry in stoppage time saw free kicks at either end, with Gould holding on to Tom Peers effort for the Dabbers, and then Benbow missing the target by some distance at the other end. It mattered not, though, as the full time whistle signalled the win that Stourbridge needed to seal that home semi-final.