TOWN'S HORROR SHOW MEANS YET ANOTHER EARLY F A VASE EXIT
Stratford Town - 0
Racing Club Warwick - 4 - Fuller (3) 42 45 (pen) & 73 (pen) Lennon 90
On an afternoon when everything that could go wrong did go wrong Town turned in a totally embarrassing performance to be dumped out of the F A Carlsberg Vase by near neighbours Racing Club Warwick who probably couldn't believe how comfortable it ultimately was for them to clinch a thoroughly deserved place in the next round.
And yet it all seemed so different for most of the first half as Town bossed the possession but tellingly without being able to make the crucial breakthrough, and they were then undone in the closing minutes of the half as the Racers snatched a two goal lead with Town's misery compounded by Stuart Herlihy's sending off.
Needing to put in a spirited response in the second half to get back into the game Town did exactly the opposite, and two further strikes from the Racers simply added to the dejection of Town's bemused supporters.
The Racers have been in freefall in recent seasons but under new Manager Lee Knight their fortunes have revived and they went into this game lying 9th in the Athium Midland Combination Premier Division ktable with 10 points from 9 games. Knight had made a handful of appearances for Town under Micky Moore, and the Racers side here included a number of ex-Town players including the much travelled striker Danny Lennon and the dependable full back Leon Thomas.
Town's starting line-up showed a number of changes from King's Lynn last weekend beginning in goal when Richard Morris limped out of the pre-match warm-up and was replaced by Tom Cross.
The back four was totally rejigged with Adam Cooper having left to take up an Assistant Manager role at Bedworth United. Danny Haynes moved inside to partner Andy Gregory in the middle with Joss Holford moving to right back from midfield, while on the other flank Ross Brown took over from Ricky Baker at left back. with Baker switching into midfield, while up front Josh Blake was preferred to Mykel Beckley.
Encouragingly Town began as if they meant to build up a match winning lead as soon as they possibly could. In the opening minute Blake fired narrowly wide after being played in by Ben Mackey, and soon after Chris Murphy whipped over a cross from the right only for Mackey's first time flick to drift beyond the far post.
With Town well on top it only seemed a matter of time before the goals would start to go in, but due to a combination of resolute defending and some careless finishing that never happened.
Blake should have done better than blaze over from eight yards out from a Holford pass as the Racers failed to properly clear a corner, and this was followed by Murphy going clear down the inside right channel only to shoot against the post when a pass inside to the waiting Blake and Mackey was surely the better option.
Either side of the half hour mark Mackey had a shot cleared off the line by Leon Thomas and then had a fiercely struck effort blocked by Batchelor, and Brown joined in the action by shooting over from distance and then heading over from a Mark Faulds free kick.
But then in a crazy last three minutes before the interval Town pressed the self destruct button not once but three times.
The sequence of disasters started with Town's defence being caught out when substitute Michael Crawford - on for the injured Racers skipper Batchelor - launched a free kick deep into the Town half. The normally reliable Gregory didn't get enough pace on his attempted header back to Cross, who didn't help by being slow off his line, and Luke Fuller nipped in to shoot against the stranded keeper and then as the ball looped up he reacted the quickest to head it into the empty net.
Lennon should have doubled the lead within a minute as he outpaced Haynes onto an Andre Tulloch through ball only to pull his shot wide as Cross came out to challenge, but Town failed to learn from this let-off. The Racers were soon back on the attack and as Lennon tried to dribble across the penalty area he was tripped by Holford and Fuller coolly sent Cross the wrong way from the spot.
As if being two down was not bad enough there was worse to come before the half time whistle as Herlihy and Adrian Neil were involved in some argy-bargy in the centre circle. Herlihy received a straight red card, but curiously the card for Neil was only yellow when everyone - including the player who initially took a couple of steps towards the dressing room - was expecting another red, and Town must have realised then that the fates were against them as well.
Half Time - Stratford Town 0 Racing Club Warwick 2
Accepting that desperate measures were now needed Morton Titterton made two changes for the restart, bringing on Mykel Beckley and Nathan Edgington for Brown and Blake, moving Holford into Herlihy's place in midfield and relying on just three - Haynes, Gregory and Baker - at the back.
But sadly Town never looked like getting back into the game. Lacking creativity and invention they made it easy for the Racers to close them down, and their passing got progressively worse as the half went on.
Apart from a rasping effort from Faulds ten minutes in which was deflected behind off Neil they failed to test the Racers keeper Ash Malholtra, and instead it was the Racers who might well have extended their lead with Cross needing two attempts to hold a useful effort from the lively Lennon and then getting down low to his right to keep out a Lennon header.
Cross then did well to hang on to a Fuller free kick after Haynes had brought down Lennon 20 yards out, and Town's awful afternoon was summed up with twenty minutes to go.
The crowd was already voicing its frustration when Murphy found room on the right to float over a pinpoint cross which found Mackey with time and space on the six yard line. All he had to do was pick his spot and give Town a lifeline, but instead he glanced his header hopelessly wide and was immediately replaced by Martin Thompson.
A couple of minutes later it was effectively "game over" as Town conceded a second penalty when Gregory brought down Myron Semper and Fuller in an action replay of his earlier spot kick completed his hat-trick with the minimum of fuss.
Inevitably though Faulds was still keeping going and he rattled Malholtra's left hand post with a well struck shot from the right while Edgington at last forced a save out of Malholtra late on, but it was all irrelevant now and Town's humiliation was completed in the final minute when Lennon headed the Racers fourth from a Semper left wing cross.
So yet again Town have badly under-achieved in the F A Carlsberg Vase when - after their F A Cup heroics - they were surely hoping to get through the next two or three rounds at least.
Instead all that is left this season is the Baker Joiner MFA - and anything less than a win at Dunkirk on Tuesday evening could well leave them with too much ground to make up after four defeats already - and the Polymac Services League Cup in which they have to begin their defence with a decidedly tricky tie against table topping Westfields.
Suddenly there's a lot less to look forward to than there was two games ago.
TOWN : Cross, Holford, Brown (Beckley 46), Faulds, Gregory, Haynes, Herlihy, Murphy, Mackey (Thompson 71), J Blake (Edgington 46), Baker. Unused Sub - K Fellows
R C WARWICK : Malholtra, L Thomas, Martin Crawford, Batchelor (Michael Crawford 34) , L Blake, Neil (Semper 64), Charlton Lynch 81), Fuller, C Thomas, Lennon, Tulloch. Unused Subs - Langley & Hewitt (GK).
Attendance - 226
The View From The Dug-Out - Morton Titterton is distraught at his side's performance
"This is my worst day in football as a player and manager. For 40 minutes we absolutely battered them, but then five minutes of madness and indiscipline have cost us, and as a consequence we are out of the F A Vase.
With a changed formation in the second half we tried to break them down, but we never looked like doing so and then conceded two more poor goals. It was a dreadful afternoon."
Match Stats by Rod Abrahams
Town - GA 17 OT 3 HW 2 CW 6 FC 13 OS 1 YC 2 RC 1
R C Warwick - GA 12 OT 7 HW 0 CW 2 FC 7 OS 9 YC 1 RC 0
Town Yellow Cards - Haynes & Holford Red Card - Herlihy
R C Warwick Yellow Cards - Neil
Match Report by Bryan Hale