Stamford secure play-off place as Kieran makes instant impact after Haystead’s penalty heroics
Stamford secured their place in the Evo-Stik League Division One South play-off places with a 1-0 home win over Cleethorpes in a nailbiting final day of the season clash at the Zeeco Stadium on Saturday.
Needing a point to secure their play-off spot, a dramatic turn of second half events swung the match in Stamford’s favour.
First goalkeeper Dan Haystead produced a superb penalty save to deny Danny North before the Daniels took the lead minutes later when substitute Kieran Wells headed home with his first touch.
Wells had only been on the field a matter of seconds when he nodded in the vital goal that secured an away semi-final tie at Frickley Athletic on Tuesday night to the delight of manager Graham Drury.
Drury said: “I’m over the moon to have secured a place in the play-offs.
“It was hearts in mouths at times because Cleethorpes made it a real battle for us and neither side created too much.
“I thought the penalty decision was harsh so justice was done as Dan has made a great save and gone on to keep our 24th clean sheet of the season which is a phenomenal achievement.
“I’ve always managed teams who have tried to out-score the opposition, but I know what this league is about and I wanted us to be more resolute this season.
“It’s all credit to the lads. Brad Wells was gutted to be taken off, but Kieran has come on, scored with his first score and that’s given everywhere a massive boost in confidence to take into Tuesday night.”
A cagey and tense opening period saw the Owls create the best early chance but North blazed over when well placed after being teed up by Curtis Bateson.
Mike Armstrong fired a fierce shot over the visitors’ crossbar while Jordan Smith saw an effort go narrowly wide following Brad Wells’ flick on.
Rob Morgan sent a shot close from outside the box before Delroy Gordon produced a couple of pieces of top-drawer defending to deny both North and Bateson.
Callum Ball was introduced at the start of the second half in place of Smith as Stamford sought to find a vital breakthrough with all of their play-off rivals in winning positions.
It took a timely tackle from Henry Eze to block Jack Richardson’s route to goal before the visitors were awarded a penalty when a fiercely-driven cross was harshly adjudged to have struck Jake Duffy’s arm.
However, Haystead hurled himself to his left to keep out North’s spot kick and recovered quickly to block the follow up.
This sparked Stamford’s introduction of Kieran Wells as they broke away and forced a corner where the substitute put himself in the right place at the right time to head home.
Cleethorpes threw more players forward in search of an equaliser which allowed Stamford to break at will as the Owls understandably tired with this being their fifth game in eighth days.
Ball headed straight at Liam Higton after being picked out by Eliot Putman’s cross while Duffy produced a terrific tackle at the other end to deny Richardson a shooting chance when well-positioned.
Challinor cracked a sweet strike that Higton palmed away before the Cleethorpes custodian excelled to tip over an audacious effort from Kieran Wells.
Wells then broke the offside trap, but fired inches wide of the far post before another well-struck Challinor effort was met by an equally impressive response from Higton as Stamford finished on top to secure their place in Tuesday’s play-off semi-finals.
Stamford: Haystead, Armstrong, Putman, Challinor, Gordon, Eze, Morgan, Duffy, Smith (Ball), B Wells (K Wells), Brown-Hill (George). Subs not used: Fortnam-Tomlinson, Burgess.
Cleethorpes: Higton, Lacey, McKay (Robertson), Davis (Dickens), Lowe, Bloomer, Richardson, Flett, Bateson, North, Oglesby (Cooper).