GRAHAM Drury praised his side’s strength of character after they fought back to win 4-3 at Northwich Victoria on Saturday, despite playing the final stages of the game with striker Greg Smith in goal.
Smith pulled on the goalkeeping jersey after the dismissal of Elliott Shilliam which came after the Daniels had used all three substitutes, and the Stamford boss said: “We showed a lot of character. Our keeper got sent off and we had to dig in. It was a great three points.”
Stamford were 2-1 down at half-time but rallied to go 4-2 up before a nervy final quarter of an hour followed Shilliam’s dismissal for a second yellow card. Northwich pulled one back, scoring at the rebound from a spot kick saved by replacement keeper Smith, but the Daniels held on for an excellent opening day win.
Drury had no disputes about the decision leading to Shilliam’s red card. He said: “I think he was slow reacting and he brought their player down. It’s a lesson to learn for him.”
The Stamford boss said both of the home side’s first could have been avoided and he was impressed by how skipper Richard Jones reacted after being at fault for at least one of Northwich’s first half goals.
“It was a silly mistake that gave them the opener,” said Drury. “Richard should have cleared it but he tried to nod it back to the keeper and brought their guy down.” As a result, Lee Dodgson scored the first of his two goals for Victoria from the spot.
Gary King pulled one back on 45 minutes but deep into injury time, Paul Mooney restored Northwich’s lead.
“We spoke at half time about how important it was for Jonesy to pick himself up,” said Drury. “I was shocked that we were 2-1 down but I told the lads to keep believing and Richard showed his quality. It showed how much it meant for him.”
Andy hall, Sam Mullarkey and Jones all scored for Stamford in the second half before the edgy finale.
“I think in the end we got what we deserved,” added Drury.
Stamford had brought a fair number of fans for their opening away game of the season - almost as many as Northwich, many of whose fans had boycotted the game in protest at having to travel 40 miles to watch their team.
Stamford began with King on the right and Jordan Smith in the middle and they combined well after only three minutes but King’s cross just evaded Mullarkey.
Stamford dominated the play but the Vics wasted their first chance when King lost the ball on the edge of their penalty area. They moved the ball upfield quickly but Joseph Guest tried to side foot the ball home with time to do much better.
With only 15 minutes gone Stamford were forced to make an early change, when Jack Cotton replaced Tom Batchelor.
Despite being well on top, Stamford weren’t creating chances and the first test for the keeper came from Paul Mayo, forcing Gary Spotswood, on loan from Vauxhall Motors, to tip the ball over the bar.
With 34 minutes gone, a long ball forward was chased down by Christopher Luby. As he tried to go round Elliott Shilliam the keeper brought him down. The only doubt was the colour of the card but fortunately for Stamford it was yellow. Dodgson converted the spot kick.
Two minutes later King was brought down inside the box but the referee gave a free kick outside. King took the kick which was saved by Spotswood. The ball looked as if it would drop behind him but it landed on the bar.
As play moved into stoppage time, Mayo took a very quick throw over the Northwich defence for an alert King to reach just before Spotswood and steer the ball past the keeper.
Going in level wouldn’t have reflected Stamford’s domination of the game but with almost the last kick of the half, Mooney made it 2-1 with a superb free kick from 25 yards.
Northwich lifted their game in the second half and Stamford struggled to get out of their half but despite the pressure, the only chance to increase their lead was wasted when Conor Roberts shot well wide and two goals within two minutes turned the game in Stamford’s favour.
First Andy Hall was fouled but the referee allowed play to continue and Hall took advantage firing home from 25 yards. Then a mistake from Spotswood conceded a corner. Danny Brooks delivered a testing ball which wasn’t cleared and finally Mullarkey drove the ball home.
Yet another Brooks corner created the fourth goal this time headed home by Jones.
At 4-2 and just over ten minutes left it looked as if Stamford would cruise home but then came Shilliam’s dismissal and a second spot kick for Dodgson. Smith saved the penalty but the ball rebounded to Dodgson who nodded the ball into the net.
Northwich piled on the pressure but Stamford defended solidly and Smith had only one save to make.
Stamford: Elliott Shilliam, Rob Maddox, Paul Mayo, Tom Batchelor (Jack Cotton 15), Richard Jones, Danny Brooks, Gary King (Greg Smith 76), Jack McGovern, Jordan Smith, Sam Mullarkey (Jake Gibson 63), Andy Hall. Subs not used: Joe Hopewell, Richard Stainsby.
Man of the Match: Andy Hall.
Stamford’s first home game is against Lincoln United tomorrow evening. Kick off is at 7.45pm.