Stow Reserves secure silverware at Brisbane Road

Stow’s young reserve side crowned a superb season, winning the Essex Alliance Senior Division Cup in front of a raucous crowd at Leyton Orient’s Brisbane Road. For Stow, it was a culmination of ten months’ hard work where Eny Okoro’s squad put in the performance of a lifetime against the odds-on favourites.

The odds were stacked against Stow from the start. Baresi had only lost one league game on their way to the Senior Division title, and were stacked with players with step two, three and four experience. They even had the luxury of fielding an international forward in Marvin Hamilton, who recently represented Sri Lanka. 

So you may have expected Baresi to control the game from the off, but it was Stow who dictated the pace of what turned out to be a hectic game. Straight from kick-off Stow pressed and hurried, and could have been ahead after just a minute. George Hellen shot well from the edge of the box, and Eric Andoh’s save fell straight to Matt McDowell who slotted home, but not before the assistant referee raised his flag for offside.

Stow had an even better chance after nine minutes when Bilel Benyoucef was taken down by Andoh on his way to goal. Top scorer Issa Sidibe stepped up, but his spot kick was tame and easily saved. But it mattered little as three minutes later as Benyoucef picked out an unmarked Sidibe in the box, who slotted into the far corner.

It could have been two for Stow when McDowell shot just wide of goal after making some room in the box, but midway through the half the league Champions pulled themselves level. Hamilton’s corner was perfectly placed to float over Enos Duah in the Stow goal and into the far side-netting.

On the slick surface, both sides played adventurous football, and it made for a pulsating encounter, worthy of a cup final. McDowell netted what turned out to be the winner on the half-hour mark, when Ezra Agyiri’s shot was blocked into the Stow forward’s path, and he made no mistake, tapping the ball home from close range.

Murat Karagul should have levelled for Baresi, heading wide when unmarked six yards out, and Stow had some heroic defending from Duah, and centre backs Charlie Hunt and Bosko Trivunovic to thank to keep their lead at the break.

The second half followed much the same way as the first, with Stow setting the tempo but Baresi’s quality really showing at times. Lewis Jones almost brought Baresi level for a second time when his shot crashed off the crossbar, onto Duah’s back and out for a corner.

Despite scoring straight from a corner earlier in the game, Baresi played every other corner short, allowing Stow the space to break more than once.

Stow firmed up their defence, especially down the wings in the second half, and Baresi were being limited to increasingly-frustrated long-range shots and crosses from deep which sailed harmlessly out of play.

For such a young side, it may have been the expectation that Stow would get nervy in the final moments, and a whopping ten minutes added time. But if anything, they held their nerve the better of the two sides, and even as time ticked over, they were committed to going for goal rather than heading for the corner flag. Agyiri and Sidibe both had chances to ice the Stow cake, but both fired narrowly wide.

And it could have been costly, as deep into injury time Baresi laid siege to the Stow goal. in one incredible passage of play, Duah thwarted his opponents from four consecutive shots, before Finlay Sims finally hooked the ball clear.

But Stow held firm, and when the referee finally blew his whistle in the 100th minute, Stow’s players were mobbed on the pitch by their adoring fans; with skipper Ikenna Okoro eventually lifting the trophy once the commotion had died down.

Stow finished the season as the league’s second-highest scorers with 91 goals from just 28 games, and had Louis Mallandan, George Hellen, Ezra Agyiri, Matt McDowell and Issa Sidibe all involved in the first team. The future is brighter than ever in E17.

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