PAUL SMITH praised the application of a much-changed Redditch United team despite being on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline against Stratford Town in the Southern League Challenge Cup on Tuesday night.
The Reds’ gaffer made several changes to the side which had made it three successive Southern Premier Central victories courtesy of Saturday’s impressive 2-0 home victory over Banbury United and, whilst Smith was pleased with the midweek efforts, he conceded Town were the better team on the night.
First half goals from Lewis Wilson and Kynan Isaac gave Stratford a lead they never looked like surrendering. Wilson slotted home from former Red Mike Taylor’s knockback for the opener on 18 minutes and Isaac scored his first Stratford goal on the stroke of half-time after Jimmy Fry’s shot had been saved.
Ahmed Ali pulled a goal back eight minutes from time but the Reds were unable to find an equaliser in the second round tie.
“Stratford (now 11 games unbeaten in all competitions) came into the contest off the back of an unbeaten run which stretched as far back as early September, so it was always going to be a tough game and, in all honesty, they were better than us,” said Smith.
“I made a number of changes to give some players valuable game time and keep them match-fit, which meant a shape change and it didn’t quite work out for us.
“However, we go again on Saturday when we take on Bedworth United.”
United’s latest league success – which lifted them out of the drop zone – came against a strong and talented Banbury side and arrived courtesy of second half goals from midfielder Robbie Bunn and talismanic Shaquille Leachman-Whittingham.
The Reds make the visit to rock-bottom Bedworth knowing their opponents are yet to register a league victory this season and Smith believes that tag makes Stuart Storer’s side a dangerous proposition.
Smith added: “We put in, in my view, our most pleasing performance (under Smith’s management) against Banbury, so I am hoping we replicate that and show the same workrate, quality and commitment against a team who have nothing to lose and that’s what makes them so dangerous.
“We won’t worry about them, though, we’ll worry about ourselves and the game plan we want to carry out. It’s business as usual and we’ll ensure there is no complacency when we take to the pitch on Saturday.
“The lads are pulling in the same direction and starting to pick up results. The hard work is slowly paying off but there is a long way to go.”
The Reds, who are also in action on Tuesday when they host title hopefuls Stourbridge, will be without Lewis Wright who remains sidelined (hamstring) and is likely to be out of contention for at least another fortnight.
Jamie Ashmore is unavailable to play, but the likes of Whittingham-Leachman, Bunn and Michael Nelson are all likely to be recalled to the side this weekend after sitting out Tuesday’s defeat.
Among the starters at Stratford was 18-year-old midfielder Harry Franklin who has joined the Reds on dual registration terms from Hereford until January. Franklin will continue to be available for Hereford during the duration of the deal should the Bulls require his services.