Character counts as battling Daniels earn priceless points in promotion quest
Daniels boss Graham Drury hailed the character and battling qualities of his side after they pocketed three priceless points in their promotion quest on Saturday.
Kieran Wells’ first goal in Stamford colours secured a 1-0 home success over play-off rivals Leek Town as the Daniels gained immediate revenge for last week’s away reversal by the same margin against the Blues.
The match was played in a gale-force wind and freezing cold conditions at the Zeeco Stadium and Drury was delighted with how his side applied themselves in a victory that moved them five points clear of their defeated visitors.
Drury said: “I asked the lads to give a real high intensity, high pressing performance to stop Leek playing because they’re a good footballing side.
“We showed a lot of character and worked very hard. We stepped up to the plate in awful conditions and it’s a huge win from a massive game.”
“It was a good team performance. We showed great desire and I’m chuffed to bits.”
Stamford made a couple of changes to the side that had been beaten by Leek the previous week as, with regular number one Dan Haystead unavailable for the crunch clash, the Daniels turned to last season’s custodian Sam Donkin to fill the goalkeeping berth.
And, although superbly protected by the rock-solid Stamford defence, Donkin excelled whenever called into action, with one particular superb first half stop shortly after Stamford had taken the lead.
Drury explained: “Sam is such a reliable keeper and that’s what I wanted and I can’t thank him enough for helping us out.
“He’s been playing for Biggleswade and Whitehawk this season but he hasn’t played enough because he’s been working on his coaching licenses..
“It’s tough coming into a close group and not knowing everyone, but Sam’s a strong personality and has the right mentality to be able to do that and he’s made a good save at a crucial time just after we had scored.”
Drury also began with the Wells brothers - Kieran and Brad - in attack along with Ollie Brown-Hill who made his first start of the season.
And his selection paid off when Kieran Wells scored the only goal of the game - his first since joining Stamford - midway through the first half.
Drury commented: “The players justified their selection by the way they battled in awful conditions.
“I was over the moon for Kieran to get his first goal for us. Both the Wells’ get goals and chances from their sheer work-rate and that’s been the case today.
“It’s tough on the lads who were left out. They are obviously disappointed to not start and I wouldn’t want players at the club if they weren’t disappointed at not playing but they’ve got to channel it in the right way and take their chance when they get it because everyone has a big part to play.
“We shouted for Eliot Putman to get the ball short from the corner for the goal and it’s good that the players are listening to the instructions and taking on board what we’re telling them and have got the belief in what we’re doing.
“It was a big performance and I think five wins from the last eight games will be enough to get us in the play-offs.”
Just two points separated the sides going into this clash and it was Stamford who started the brighter with the elements in their favour.
They forced a succession of corners in the opening exchanges before breaking the deadlock after 23 minutes.
Jake Duffy played the corner short to Putman whose cross was flicked on by Delroy Gordon for Kieran Wells to pounce and rifle home from close range.
Leek’s response was instant and Donkin showed rapid reflexes to turn away a goalbound effort from Nathan Whitehead.
Stamford looked the more likely to increase their lead as they forced nine corners in the opening period with Henry Eze heading inches wide from a Duffy delivery just before the break.
The visitors were expected to offer more of a threat after the break with the strong wind now in their favour.
But Stamford have perfected the art of one goal victories this season and didn’t really look in any danger of conceding.
Their back four were water-tight with Gordon and Eze again imperious while the midfield engine of Duffy, Rob Morgan and Mike Armstrong - with the later introduction of substitute Jon Challinor - kept Stamford’s work-rate high.
Robert Stevenson struck an effort wide for the visitors while Eze was in the right place to block a well-struck effort from Tim Grice as Stamford struck to their task to earn a vital victory over their play-off rivals.
It now leaves Stamford with a five-point cushion over the Blues and also moves them further clear of the chasing pack currently outside of the play-off spots.
Stamford: Donkin, George, Putman, Armstrong, Gordon, Eze, Morgan, Duffy, K Wells (Adams), B Wells (Smith), Brown-Hill (Challinor). Not used: Fortnam-Tomlinson, Ball.
Leek: Roberts, Green, Richards, Grocott, Lycett, Bailey, Whitehead (Grice), Hall, Johnson, Trickett-Smith (Shelley), Stevenson (Grimshaw). Not used: Maguire, Lemon.