Isthmian North Play-off Semi-Final
Brentwood Town 2 Stowmarket Town 1
JOHN CHUBB at the Brentwood Centre Arena
Brentwood Town reached the Isthmian North play-off final for the first time since 2015 on Tuesday night, Ashley Nzala’s late winner securing them a late victory over a spirited Stowmarket Town side in front of a record home crowd.
Both sides had early first-half opportunities, Brentwood’s Matt Cripps volleying well over the crossbar just before Craig Parker went close for Stowmarket.
With 12 minutes gone, the home side’s Tom Richardson who had ended the season on top of the Isthmian North goalscoring charts with 29 to his credit, fired wide after George Craddock’s cross had provided him with a chance.
Then four minutes later, Blues’ Rob Harvey had a shot that visiting defender Tommy Smith did well to thwart.
The home side broke the deadlock in the 23rd minute, Richardson slotting the ball home from close range to make it 1-0 to Rod Stringer’s side.
Just after the half-hour mark, Stow’s Josh Mayhew had a great chance to equalise but his effort went just wide of the post to the right of Brentwood goalkeeper Harry Girling.
The Suffolk side had a further decent chance just before the interval, when a free kick resulted in Ollie Brown’s shot being blocked by Blues defender Jake Gould before Reggie Lambe missed from the rebound, so it remained 1-0 to Brentwood at half-time.
The visitors made a very bright start to the second half, but on 64 minutes Brentwood’s Jai Reason beat a couple of players just outside the area before seeing his shot parried away by Stow keeper James Bradbrook.
A chance at the other end followed not much later, after visiting substitute Willie Clemons found himself in space but his shot was way over the bar.
Then, with four minutes remaining Stowmarket’s resilience paid off as Parker fired home from the edge of the area to make it 1-1.
But just as it looked as though the match might head into extra time, Brentwood’s Ashley Nzala headed home in the fourth minute of time added on and put his side into Friday’s final away to Canvey Island, who beat Felixstowe & Walton United 3-1 in the night’s other semi-final.
Brentwood Town (Manager: Rod Stringer) – Harry Girling, Connor Hogan, Jake Gould, Jack Humphrey, Matt Cripps, Jai Reason (Josh Gray 78), Rob Harvey, Charlie Kendall, Tom Richardson (Andrew Freeman 68), George Craddock (Daniel Ogunleye (64), Ashley Nzala.
Stowmarket Town (Manager: Paul Musgrove) – James Bradbrook, Chris Casement, Tommy Smith, Jack Ainsley, Joe Jefford, Tom Bullard, Ollie Brown (Willie Clemons 50), Tevan Allen, Craig Parker, Josh Mayhew (Luke Brown 78), Reggie Lambe.
“We managed to find that winning mentality that we’ve had for a quite a while”, Brentwood Town manager Rod Stringer said after the match.
“They (Stowmarket) have been in the play-offs pretty much all season (whereas) I’ve had to bring these boys though, and keep believing, we’ve had an amazing run and we’ve done so so well, so credit to the players, credit to the club.
“We only had seven points when I got here (in October) but we’ve finished third in the league, five points off the top and we’ve pretty much been a match for everyone.
“I didn’t really change the squad around and stuck with the same personnel, adding two or three players….the players I brought in gelled really well with the players who were already here.
“We’ll be ready for them (Canvey) but they’ve got the home advantage, so we’ve got to be good on the day.
“For us to be in a play-off final now….it’s probably one of my biggest achievements in football”.
(With thanks to Victoria Polley for some of the quotes. My full interview with Rod can be seen here)