Racing Club hand Stratford a finishing lesson
For the opening half-hour of this FA Carlsberg Vase first-round clash, it was a case of when, and not if, the home side would put the game to bed.
Camped in the visitors’ half, and with a front line that would not look out of place in the Southern League, the Midland Alliance side created a string of chances for the normally so reliable Josh Blake and Ben Mackey.
But to their credit, Racers threw bodies in the way of shots and rode their luck, with the prospect of going in at the interval level the pinnacle of their ambition.
However, a crazy three-minute period in the run-up to half-time changed the complexion of the game so completely that from then on in, Racers never looked like relaxing their stranglehold on the game.
Stratford’s first sight of goal came inside 60 seconds, with the ball falling to Blake after Mackey was afforded too much time on the edge of the box. However, the former Brake pushed his shot wide to set the tone for an afternoon which would eventually see him hauled off at half-time.
A loose pass across the Racers backline led to Chris Murphy taking possession, but his inviting cross was glanced wide of the target by Mackey.
Mackey and Blake failed to test Ash Malholtra with a further effort apiece before Murphy came closest to breaking the deadlock, only to see his fierce shot rebound to safety off a post.
Mackey had a shot cleared off the line by Leon Thomas and a fiercely struck effort blocked by Michael Batchelor, while Brown induced groans from the home fans by shooting well over from distance and then missing the target with a free header.
Encouraged by their let-offs, the visitors began to gain a foothold in the game and it was from their first serious attack that they opened the scoring. Substitute Michael Crawford’s free-kick looked innocuous, but Andy Gregory’s back-header lacked pace, allowing Luke Fuller to go one-on-one with home keeper Tom Cross. Fuller’s initial effort lacked conviction, but the midfielder reacted quickest to head the rebound into an empty net.
Danny Lennon should have doubled the lead after outpacing a hesitant-looking back line, but his sidefooted effort drifted wide of the far post with Cross in no-man’s land.
It mattered little as Racers were handed a gilt-edged opportunity to open up a two-goal lead following Joss Holford’s clumsy challenge on Lennon inside the box. Fuller sent Cross the wrong way from the spot, but Stratford’s misery was not complete.
Stuart Herlihy and Adrian Neil clashed in the centre circle, with both players appearing to move their heads into each other. A red card was brandished to Herlihy, but to the surprise of everyone in the ground, including Neil who had started to make his way back to the dressing room, the Warwick man only received a yellow.
Titterton threw on Mykel Beckley and Nathan Edgington after the break in an attempt to get back into the game, but Town could only muster a Mark Faulds shot which was deflected for a corner.
With the extra man at their disposal, Racers were content to pick off their hosts on the counter and Martin Crawford should have done better after a quick break exposed Town’s three-man defence.
Michael Crawford and Lennon both wasted good headed opportunities before Mackey glanced Murphy’s inviting cross wide at the other end, prompting Titterton to replace the misfiring striker with Martin Thompson.
However, shortly after his introduction it was game over as Racers substitute Myron Semper teased a foul out of Gregory in the box, Fuller stepping up to complete his hat-trick.
Edgington forced Malholtra into his first real save of the game in the 89th minute before Racers made it 4-0 with a move of real quality.
Semper worked his way to the byeline and crossed for Lennon to head home from close range, completing a scoreline which, on the evidence of the first 30 minutes, would barely have seemed possible.
Knight is expected to give his fringe players a run out in tomorrow’s Coventry Evening Telegraph Cup match at home to Brinklow (1.45pm).