Howards bags late winner as Puritans get back on track

Leam Howards grabbed the late winner for Banbury United at Stratford Town
Leam Howards grabbed the late winner for Banbury United at Stratford Town

Substitute Leam Howards grabbed the late winner as Banbury United got back to winning ways in the Evo-Stik Southern League.

The Puritans came from behind to beat Stratford Town 3-2 in Monday’s premier division clash. Overall, there was little between the two sides but in an entertaining game it was United who came out on top to maintain their impressive away record this season.

Ben Stephens gave Stratford the early lead but Tom Winters equalised before the break and Ricky Johnson put the visitors in front after the restart. Mike Taylor equalised but Howards came off the bench to bag the late winner and all three points.

Charlie Wise was fit to return to the centre of defence, which allowed Johnson to play up front while Jack Harding returned in place of Oxford United trainee Niall Clayton.

The opening stages were fairly equal in terms of possession but it was the home side who looked the more likely to open the scoring. A dangerous cross from right Eli Bako saw Wise have to make a timely interception, heading the ball clear, before Stephens shot wide from 25 yards.

Stratford took the lead in the 18th minute when good passing play down the right then saw the ball come in from the right with it falling nicely for Stephens to hook it over Harding and into the back of the net from ten yards.

United responded well to going behind, a Charlie Hawtin cross saw Johnson’s header from 12 yards go just wide and on the half hour mark a Winter’s cross saw the United skipper’s header pushed away by Louis Connor around the post.

But United equalised in the 33rd minute when an Elliot Sandy shot from 15 yards was punched away by Connor but Winters was on hand to strike a glorious volley from the edge of the area into the top corner of the net.

Stratford should have restored their advantage when a quick break ended with low a cross from Stephens which found Will Grocott who had plenty of time and space but he shot over the bar from 15 yards when he should have done better.

Six minutes after the restart United went in front when a Jordy Ngathe cross from the right was headed back at the far post by Winters and Johnson was on hand to nod the ball home from close range.

Another cross by Winters was headed wide by Johnson but Stratford were level on the hour mark when a free-kick from Grocutt saw Taylor get to the ball first eight yards out and he fired home powerfully into the back of the net.

The last half hour developed into a very open affair with both sides going for and looking as though they might snatch a winner.

But with eight minutes left it was United who got it. When the ball came in from Conor McDonagh on the right it was missed by Loyiso Recci and went through to Howards who slotted the ball home past an exposed Connor from ten yards.

Not surprisingly, United were put under some pressure in the closing minutes and Stratford went very close to equalising in the first minute of stoppage-time when a shot from Taylor from the edge of the area hit the post. But United held on to claim all three points.