First game comes complete with first point as St Ives Town settle into Southern League Premier Division life

Harry O'Malley scored St Ives Town's first goal at Southern League Premier Division level as they dr

Harry O'Malley scored St Ives Town's first goal at Southern League Premier Division level as they drew 1-1 with Stratford Town. Picture: HELEN DRAKE - Credit: Archant

A first-ever football match in the Southern League Premier Division might not quite rival the start of the Olympic Games in terms of events of sporting significance yesterday, but it was certainly an occasion that meant every bit as much for those connected to St Ives Town.

The club’s opening foray at this level did come complete with Rio-like weather, but there was no gold-medal winning outcome as they had to settle for a first point, rather than a first victory, by drawing 1-1 with Stratford Town in scorching conditions at ProEdge Westwood Road.

It was a display worthy of success in all honesty, but an occasional lack of ruthlessness in front of goal and one defensive mishap ensured the spoils were shared in front of a healthy crowd of 342.

Not that there is any disgrace in that for a club which has come such a long way in such a short space of time. It will undoubtedly take time to adjust following a second promotion in the space of four seasons, but on the evidence of this sweltering 90 minutes, Saints have absolutely nothing to fear.

Opening day visitors Stratford were a bottom-half side last term in their own debut Premier Division campaign, but shrewd judges at this level expect them to do considerably better this time around.

Yet Saints were the better side as a team featuring six debutants – among them young goalkeeper Ollie Sutton who was signed less than 48 hours before kick-off following an ankle injury to regular number one Tim Trebes - gave a pleasing account of themselves.

‘Outstanding’ might have been a slightly generous description of their display from manager Ricky Marheineke, but his point that they controlled the game almost from start to finish couldn’t be quibbled.

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“The players were a little bit disheartened at the final whistle,” admitted Marheineke. “But they have no reason to be.

“I’m not at all disappointed with a draw in our first game at this level. We have our first point on the board and there is a lot for us to feel proud about.

“It was an outstanding performance as far as I am concerned. If we play to that standard throughout the season, we will win plenty of games of football.

“We’ll also pick up result when we perform a lot worse than we did in this match.”

New recruit Liam McDevitt was required to perform an early piece of defensive tidying up before Saints got onto the front foot.

Josh Dawkin saw a hopeful 20-yard shot saved before Ben Seymour-Shove sent in a low cross that begged for a finishing touch that it didn’t receive.

A sweet Jordan Jarrold free-kick then flashed through the Stratford box with skipper Charlie De’Ath millimetres away from a decisive contact before Saints did eventually hit the front from an almost identical position.

Jack Higgs took over delivery duties and guided in a ball which received the faintest of glances from full-back Harry O’Malley as etched his name into the history books as the first Saints player to find the net in Step 3 football.

It was an almost-perfect time to hit the front moments before the break and it should have been swiftly followed by another goal inside the opening minute of the second period.

Sam Ives pounced on a weakly-hit back-pass, but steered his effort inches wide of the far post with only visiting goalkeeper Niall Cooper to beat.

Ives then headed a Seymour-Shove cross wide of the opposite upright moments later before Seymour-Shove himself tested Cooper with a 25-yarder that required careful handling after taking a lively bounce off a slowly-baking surface.

But when another goal did arrive, it was at the other end as Stratford substitute Mike Taylor was left in acres of space and with stacks of time to equalise.

He struck in the 69th minute (just four minutes after arriving from the bench) after a deflected cross from fellow replacement Edwin Ahenkorah looped over the head of De’Ath, who was powerless to cut it out.

Taylor certainly left nothing to chance as he struck with staggering power from six yards. Had the ball not crashed into the net off the underside of the bar, it may well have landed in Needingworth.

Stratford had rarely threatened previously with Sutton, who arrived from Stamford after spending time at St Neots Town and Eynesbury Rovers last season, required to make only one notable save. That came from a Richard Gregory shot midway through the first half.

Goalmouth incidents were then in short supply again until stoppage time when Saints went in search of a dramatic winner.

And only a full-length, flying save from Cooper denied them as substitute Joe Carden stepped inside onto his left foot and unleashed a shot that was arrowing towards the corner of the net.

There was still time for Higgs to sky a 20-yarder after a clever Carden dummy, but honours ended even as Saints settled into Step 3 life. It continues at Chesham on Tuesday.