Crunch clash in thrilling title race

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THE Daniels will face title favourites Ilkeston in a crucial clash for both sides at a packed Premier Kitchens Arena tomorrow.

Ilkeston pose the first of three tough December challenges at the top of the Evo-Stik First Division South and their visit will be biggest game at Stamford for several seasons.

Stamford moved to the top of the table last Saturday but were beaten at Loughborough on Tuesday and had slipped down to fourth, following wins for Carlton and Grantham, by Wednesday evening.

But with the top five all within three points of each other Stamford, Ilkeston, Sheffield, Grantham or the latest leaders, Carlton Town, could all claim top spot by tea time tomorrow.

Ilkeston are likely to bring 200 fans and Stamford boss Tommy Brookbanks wants Daniels fans to make their voices heard come kick-off at 3pm.

“At this stage it’s our biggest game of the season,” said Brookbanks.

“Keep cheering us on and backing the players. There should be goals. They leak goals; we leak goals. It will probably be 4-3 to somebody. It will certainly be entertaining.”

The EvoStik First Division South is turning into a thrilling race and Brookbanks added: “This season is the tightest I have seen.

“Ilkeston and Hucknall have come down from higher levels after financial problems while Coalville bring FA Vase pedigree.

“We know it will be tough but we are in a great position.”

Stamford drew 2-2 at Brigg Town on Saturday which was enough to move them to the top of the table but without Kieran Watson and star striker Bruno Holden, who was recovering from a cheek injury sustained at Brigg, they then lost 2-0 at Loughbrough.

Brookbanks added: “We will have Bruno back against Ilkeston thankfully. We missed him on Tuesday.

“I knew it would be difficult at Loughborough. They are a good side and our run had to end at some time. Now what is important is that we bounce back quickly.”

Stamford started slowly at Loughborough, going behind after just three minutes.

Luke Garton let a crossfield pass slip under his foot and Jack Dale-Brown crossed to the far post where Sam MacVicar headed the ball back across for Dan Henton to tap in at the near post.

This should have been a wake-up call for the Daniels but moments later they were again at sixes and sevens when a deep cross found former Stamford striker Jamie Clarke unmarked. Thankfully for the Daniels, his volley was well wide. Soon after, Jacob Blackwell rattled the Daniels crossbar.

Stamford’s first meaningful chance came after 30 minutes when a great Harry Deane cross was met by Nick Ghislanzoni whose header was fumbled by the Dynamo keeper but cleared at the second attempt.

Stamford improved in the second half with Joe Pheasant’s header tipped over. Ghislanzoni had a shout for a penalty after he looked to have been caught in the area but his appeals were waved away by referee Sian Massey.

Clarke had a free header for Loughborough while at the other end Stamford’s Jake Gibson shaved the post with the keeper rooted to the spot as both teams sought the crucial second goal.

Loughborough finally doubled their lead with 20 minutes to go. A long punt upfield by Jake Betts found MacVicar and his shot from the edge of the area went through Ziccardi’s legs and into the net.

After Ilkeston tomorrow, the Daniels face Sheffield away on Tuesday, and Rainworth and Lincoln United before the Boxing Day clash with local rivals, Grantham Town who, with games in hand, are perhaps in the best position of all.

Stamford (v Loughborough): Ziccardi, Garton, Hewitt, Pheasant, Chamberlain, Toyne (Staff 65), Deane, Steadman (Brooks 75), Watson, Ghislanzoni, Gibson (Schiavone 86). Subs not used: Harvey.