Midlands Soccer Alliance
Ellesmere Rangers 3
Stratford Town 4
A FIRST-HALF hat-trick from visiting striker Mykel Beckley was countered by a Danny Barton brace as two leaky defences used an end-of season encounter to entertain the crowd at Beech Grove.
After some preliminary sparring it was Rangers who struck first on 14 minutes as Chris Cathrall cleverly created space for a cross on the right for Barton to glance the ball into the bottom right hand corner from five yards.
They were ahead for only a minute. When a cross came into the home box visiting striker Mark Faulds mis-hit his shot and it fell invitingly for Mykel Beckley to score his first goal in a first-half hat-trick.
Ellesmere almost went behind immediately as an ill-advised pass across his own penalty area by the normally reliable Ian Rowlands was intercepted by Rob Thompson-Brown but keeper Sam Jones was off his line quickly to block.
Stratford were looking dangerous and netted twice more before the interval. Both goals utilised the pace of Beckley and were created by nothing more imaginative than a long ball over the top.
Ellesmere reshuffled in the second half with Rowlands moving to centre back.
And there were signs that Stratford's defence was no better than Ellesmere's as a through ball by Roy Griffiths was collected by Barton who had time to slot the ball inside the keeper's near post.
The visiting keeper denied Barton his hat-trick tipping over a close range header but as Ellesmere pushed for an equaliser they were leaving gaps at the back with Stratford squandering chances.
However they did add a fourth when Rob Thompson-Brown seized one of the opportunities to fire home from 10 yards.
Ellesmere still had their chances, none more presentable than Roy Griffiths whose header from six yards just drifted over a gaping goal.
But the same player gave Rangers a lifeline when a free kick from the right 30 yards out appeared to go straight into the goal with neither attackers nor defenders getting another touch.
Griffiths had a further opportunity at the far post but his close-range shot was blanketed out by covering defenders.
And in the end it was Stratford who came closest to scoring again when Rowlands blocked an attempted shot by sub Avon Jephcott which was then tipped against the bar by keeper Jones before rebounding to safety.
Ellesmere now have two away fixtures. On Tuesday, they travel to Rocester followed on Saturday by a trip to Kirby Muxloe.
The final of the Walsall Senior cup has been set for May 16 at Walsall's Bescott Stadium when Ellesmere will play Evostik First Division South team Rushall Olympic.