Ilkeston Town got the new NPL Midlands season off to a winning start with a 3-1 win at Stamford on Saturday.
With both sides tipped to have strong seasons this was a chance for Martin Carruthers’ men to make an early statement of intent, and whilst there is still plenty of work to be done the result and the manner in which it was achieved will have thrilled their strong following that made the trip to Lincolnshire.
Carruthers named two academy products – Seke Spence and Mitchell Tait – in his line-up and both played their part in an away performance that largely nullified the threat of the home side whilst taking three of the few chances they were able to break away and create.
It took 13 minutes for the first real chance to come, Zak Goodson released through the middle by Alex Troke but under pressure and from a slight angle his shot was pushed wide by keeper Dan Wallis.
Stamford lost key midfielder Rob Morgan injured on the half-hour mark, then a short corner culminated in Ilkeston’s Charlie Wakefield seeing a low ball into the six yard box blocked by Wallis.
But the Robins would get the lead three minutes before half-time, as the ball broke to Troke near the byline and his chipped cross forced an error in the Stamford six-yard box and Billy Bennett was able to nick in and stab the ball home.
Opposing left-back Connor Bartle nearly levelled straight away, albeit there would have been a bit of luck about it as his volleyed cross had to be tipped wide by the back pedalling Ross Durrant as the wind got hold of the ball and nearly took it in at the far post.
Goodson curled a shot straight at Wallis in stoppage time as the Robins sought a second before the break, but the half would end with a lead the visitors deserved overall.
The second-half took a while to produce a chance too, 64 minutes having elapsed before Stamford’s Tom Siddons’ free header from a left wing corner bounced down and towards the corner of the net but Bennett was on hand to nod the ball wide for a corner.
Moments later, Bennett then was on hand to double the Robins’ lead. Once again it was Troke who was the provider, this time finding space on the right wing to swing in another fine cross and Bennett stole in to head into the corner of the net on 68 minutes.
Siddons headed just wide of the post at the other end as Stamford tried to get back in the game, then he saw another header go close but this time Kieran Fenton saved a certain goal with a clearance off the line.
Durrant then had to be on hand to get down low and palm James Blunden’s low shot past the post – the hosts giving it a good go as the game entered its final ten minutes.
But their hopes were ended on 82, as Charlie Wakefield chipped a fine ball over the top for Troke to run on to and the Robins man proceeded to lob Wallis and seal the three points.
Wakefield nearly added a fourth when running on to Troke’s knock down but saw his volley saved well by Wallis, before Stamford finally registered a consolation in stoppage time when Jon Challinor found space in the penalty area and fired low into the corner of the net.
But that would be all they’d have to offer, as Ilkeston saw out a fine opening day win.
Stamford: Wallis, Armstrong, Bartle, Vince, Freeman, Blunden, Johnson, Morgan (Butterworth 31, Challinor 61), Siddons, Hicks (Goncalves 61), Matwasa.
Subs not used: Snedden, Peverell.
Ilkeston: Durrant, Bennett (Rogers 86), Spence (Verma 72), Wakefield, Maguire, Fenton, Marzano, Goodson (Carvell 72), Campbell, Troke, Tait.
Subs not used: Stainsby, Irvine.
Ref: Joe Woolmer
Report by Mark Duffy