In-form Bugbrooke will provide tough test to Blackstones bid
Blackstones will be aiming to move another step closer to securing their place in next season’s FA Cup competition when they entertain fourth-placed Bugbrooke at the ALH Recruitment Stadium on Saturday.
A top six finish in Division One of the United Counties League is expected to be enough to secure the Stamford side their place in next season’s prestigious competition.
Lee Clarke and Daniel French’s charges cemented their grip on fifth spot last weekend with a 3-2 home success over seventh-placed Lutterworth Athletic.
And co-boss Clarke wants to continue that winning run against an in-form Bugbrooke side who have burst into the top four after a sensational run of results.
The Badgers beat Stones 3-0 at the start of November and, since then, have lost just two of their last 20 league games.
Clarke commented: “They have been on a brilliant run since they beat us. They outclassed us at their place.
“We know it’s going to be a tough game and we will have to make sure we’re at our best. We didn’t start too well down there so we will need to show a bit more quality.
“We’ve been playing well this year and we’ve made ourselves a side that is hard to beat. We’ve come a long way in that sense and we need to make sure we’re on our game again.
“It would be great to qualify for the FA Cup and, if can finish in fourth place, then that will have been a decent season.
“The top three are clear so we want to be the best of the rest and we’ve put ourselves in a position to achieve that.”
Stones will go into Saturday’s contest after a hard-fought 3-2 home success over Lutterworth Athletic last weekend.
They were forced to make a few subtle changes from the midweek line-up that had returned from the long trip to Long Buckby with a 3-2 victory.
Liam Buttery came in at the right-back slot as Ben Easson was not available while Jack Bates failed a late fitness test having sustained an injury against Melton seven days earlier.
Stones started aggressively and challenged for every ball with Josh Edmondson busying himself on the edge of the box.
He found his route blocked by a resolute defence while Clarke’s experience and trickery saw shots on the turn and headed attempts flash wide.
It was the visitors who, although seemingly pinned back in their half, looked a threat when a chance arose and in the 17th minute, having won a corner, Jeff Woodard managed to head the cross back across goal and into the home net.
As is Stones’ tactic now, attack is the best form of defence and the visitors found the pressure increase with Martyn Fox sending a couple of chances wide.
They levelled on 24 minutes when Ben Cowles was unceremoniously upended on the edge of the box and, stepping up to take the kick, he drove the ball hard and low through the wall and the Athletic keeper - who had been faultless up to this point - failed to gather it and fumbled it into his net.
Stones now patiently increased the intensity of the attacks and seven minutes later a cross from the right wing found Clarke on the six-yard box and he calmly side-footed the ball home.
Lutterworth then suffered a further first half setback when Josh Rapley was sent off after collecting two cautions.
The second half continued with Stones looking to control the game before they were forced into a change with Jones De Sousa on for the injured Edmondson.
With just under half of the period played, Cowles brought the ball down the wing and slid inside to Moore-Papworth who in turn crossed to Clarke, loitering in the box, and with a dinked lob back across the goalmouth, Andrew Boome headed over the keeper and under the bar.
Now, with a two-goal cushion, Stones appeared to ease off which gave the visitors a bit of space and a fast break down the right wing and a cross to the unattended Barnes Gladman saw the deficit back to one.
The last 13 minutes saw Stones regain control of the game and see it out to secure all three points.
Clarke continued: “It was a tough game, but it was important for us to beat the teams around us.
“We probably made hard work of it after they had a player sent off in the first half.
“We should have controlled the game a little bit more. We were a bit impatient which affected the quality of our attacking.
“We deserved to get the win though and, at this stage of the season with a tight group of teams around you in the league, that was more important than the overall performance.
“We knew that if we got the win on Saturday it would leave us in a good position because with the sides around us playing Lutterworth Town and Anstey Nomads it’s given us a bit of breathing space.
Stones: Bellairs, Buttery (Westley), Wilmer, Pell, Simpson, Fox, Boome, Moore-Papworth, Edmondson (De Sousa), L Clarke, Cowles. Subs not used: Archer, Taylor, Bates.