Stafford Rangers 2 Northwich Victoria 0

Saturday 31st December 2005
Stafford Rangers 2 Northwich Victoria 0
Nationwide North
At: Marston Road
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Programme: £2 (48 pages)
Attendance: 1677
Weather: dry
Duration: first-half: 48:22; second-half: 48:56

I’ve got plenty of memories of watching games between Stafford Rangers and Northwich Victoria. Indeed, from my first full season watching Stafford Rangers home games, I can recall a couple of memorable games against Vics back in 1977. The first one was a league game, a goalless draw which (checking my records) attracted a crowd of 2984 – huge in my eyes back then. That game took place in September and a couple of months later, Vics were back at Marston Road for an FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round replay which Rangers won 2-1 with a late goal scored by Keith Brookes who died in a car crash a few months later.

Moving forward almost 30 years to another important derby – I still think of games against Northwich as derby games because they were Rangers’s nearest side during the 1970s.

With both sides pushing for promotion, it was Stafford Rangers who took the points and returned to the top of the Nationwide North table with a hard-fought victory over third-placed Northwich. Neil Grayson and Nathan Smith found the net during in seven-minute spell after the half-hour mark of this highly entertaining clash. However, both sides played all but the opening 14 minutes with ten men after Wayne Daniel and Mark Sale were controversially sent off for violent conduct.

Stafford Rangers got the game underway attacking the Shed (or town) end in the first half. Neither goalkeeper had been called into serious action when Sale confronted Daniel off the ball after play stopped on the edge of the Stafford area. Both men were shocked, and crowd was left puzzled, after straight red cards were produced on the advice of an assistant referee.

Stafford player-manager Phil Robinson eventually brought on an extra central defender on the half-half mark, Liam Murray, in place of sacrificed Robin Gibson to replace the departed Daniel. Shortly after in the 33rd minute, Smith fed Grayson who fired past Kristian Rogers from the edge of the area to give Rangers the lead.

In the 98th competitive game between the two long-standing rivals, Stafford netted a vital second goal five minutes later. Levi Reid, who was outstanding in midfield, got the better of Jon McCarthy on the left before delivering an accurate near-post cross. Smith managed to bundle the ball over the lead despite the close attention of defender Ben Chapman.

Just before the interval, Craig Lovatt was inches away from scoring a third goal for the home side. His lob, from 20 yards out, shaved the top of the bar.

Northwich needed a goal to get back into the game and made an attack-minded start to the second half. However, it was Rangers who went close to scoring again when Nathan Talbott forced Rogers to tip over a rising long-range shot from.

Rogers’ opposite number Dean Williams maintained his side’s two-goal advantage with an excellent near-post save to deny Allen.

Stafford certainly needed to resolutely defend with the visitors putting them under pressure.

In a very open and highly entertaining finale, Lovatt almost put the outcome beyond doubt. Put clear, he rounded Rogers only to see his shot rebound off the post from a narrow angle. Rogers also made a great diving save to keep out an angled shot from Grayson.

Stafford needed to defend resolutely in the closing stages to preserve their clean sheet and become the first side to prevent Northwich from scoring in the league this season.

My nominated Star Man was Levi Reid and for entertainment it had to be 5 out of 5!

Stafford Rangers (black and white stripes / black / black): 1. Dean Williams, 2. Matt Clarke, 3. Nathan Talbott, 4. Craig McAughtrie, 5. Wayne Daniel (capt), 6. Craig Lovatt, 7. Levi Reid, 8. Kevin Street, 9. Neil Grayson, 10. Nathan Smith, 11. Robin Gibson. Subs: 12. Dave Walker (for Smith, 83), 14. Paul Groves (not used), 15. Liam Murray (for Gibson, 31), 16. Danny Edwards (not used), 17. Phil Robinson (not used).

Northwich Victoria (yellow / sky blue / white): 1. Kristian Rogers, 2. Jon McCarthy, 3. Ben Chapman, 4. Steve Payne (capt), 5. Michael Carr, 6. Kieron Charnock, 7. Richard Battersby, 8. Mark Devlin, 9. Jon Allan, 10. Paul Brayson, 11. Mark Sale. Subs: 12. Matt Garner (not used), 14. Michael Byrne (for Battersby, 67), 15. Danny Mayman (not used), 16. Carlos Roca (for Chapman, 60), 13gk. Ben Connett (not used).

Referee: M. R. Warren (Cheslyn Hay).
Assistants: J. W. King (Swadlincote) and A. Muldoon (Swadlincote).

1-0 Neil Grayson (33)
2-0 Nathan Smith (38)

Stafford: Wayne Daniel (RC, 15), Kevin Street (YC, 15), Matt Clarke (YC, 35)
Northwich: Mark Sale (RC, 15), Jon Allen (YC, 22), Jon McCarthy (YC, 27), Paul Brayson (YC, 80)

Stafford Rangers Stripes 0 Congleton Vale 1

Saturday 31st December 2005
Stafford Rangers Stripes 0 Congleton Vale 1
Staffordshire County Senior League Division 1
At: Yarnfield Pitch 3
Kick-off: 12-00 noon
Programme: free (8 pages)
Attendance: 16 (headcount)
Weather: overcast
Duration: first-half: 45:20; second-half: 50:06

Two games today on the last day of the year and the first one, a noon kick-off, provided the opportunity to see Stafford Rangers Stripes entertain Congleton Vale on Pitch 3 at Stone Dominoes’ Yarnfield complex.

Confusingly, both sides named a ‘Ross Clarke’ in their starting line-up – a Stafford striker and Congleton defender who took corners.

Congleton Vale (in yellow and green) got the game underway defeding the changing room end in the first half and created a couple of decent chances around the quarter-hour mark. Ross Clarke’s right-wing corner was flicked on and driven wide by Tom Jackson. Then, from a cross by Jake Moss, Jackson got in a header which was superbly turned round the right-hand post by Stafford goalkeeper Matt Sargeant.

Having created few first-half chances, Stafford almost took the lead within two minutes of the restart. Richie Miller hit a low shot which Vale goalkeeper Simon Farrell kept out with his boot.

With drizzle falling, Stafford had the ball in the net in the 52nd minute. Byron Benton receieved a pass from Miller before firing home, only to see the ‘goal’ disallowed by the referee after consulting his assistant.

Mark Ogden [also wearing 9] replaced Darren Byrom in the 55th minute and the substitute scored what proved to be the winner two minutes later. Chris Riley crossed low from the right to the far post where Ogden fired home.

Congleton were reduced to ten men in the 71st minute when Ross Clarke fouled Miller and picked up a second booking. Alex Gibbons took the free-kick which was heading for the top-right corner before Farrell pushed the ball clear.

Sargeant rescued his side with a diving save to keep out a shot from Ogden.

With Matthew Davenport providing an ‘old head’ at the back for the visitors, Stafford tried to take advantage of their extra man. Resolute defending prevented the home side from equalising and, in stoppage time, Ross Clarke saw a shot blocked by a defender.

So, Stafford suffered only their second defeat in the league and I headed for Marston Road for the 3 pm kick-off between Stafford Rangers and Northwich Victoria.

Stafford Rangers Stripes (black and white stripes / black / black): 1. Matt Sargeant, 2. Dan Holgate, 3. Jemiah Richards (capt), 4. Alex Gibbons, 5. Ed Booth, 6. Josh Robinson, 7. Andre Francis, 8. Byron Benton, 9. Richard Miller, 10. Ross Clarke, 11. Joe Harratt. Subs: 12. Matt Skinner (not used), 14. Glenn Davies (for Richards, 84), 15. Courtney Shaw (not used), 16. Jamie Phoenix (for Harratt, 54), 17. Mark Bailey (not used).

Congleton Vale (yellow/green/yellow): 1. Simon Farrell, 2. Ross Clarke, 3. Jamie Smith, 14. Matthew Davenport, 5. Grant Robinson, 6. Thomas Burgess, 7. Michael Clewlow, 8. Tom Jackson, 9. Darren Byrom, 10. Chris Riley (capt), 11. Jake Moss. Subs: 9. Mark Ogden (for Byrom, 55), 15. Stephen Davenport (not used), 16. Lucas Clarke (not used), 17. Toby Hassall (not used).

Referee: S. Finney.
Assistants: T. Lane and L. Barnet.

0-1 Mark Ogden (57)

Stafford: Josh Robinson (YC, 42), Jamie Phoenix (YC, 78), Ed Booth (YC, 86)
Congleton: Ross Clarke (YC, 17), Ross Clarke (YC/RC, 71)

Slimbridge 3 Almondsbury Town 1

Tuesday 27th December 2005
Slimbridge 3 Almondsbury Town 1
Gladwish Land Sales Hellenic League Premier Division
At: Wisloe Road
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £4; Programme: £1 (28 pages)
Attendance: 70
Weather: dry, cold wind, brief snow shower
Duration: first-half: 46:42; second-half: 54:18

The second leg of today’s ‘double’ was a Hellenic League Premier Division game between Slimbridge and Almondsbury Town (not to be confused with the opposition at Cadbury Heath earlier).

Almondsbury got the game underway attacking the south end of the ground towards the entrance. Slimbridge took the lead in the 19th minute. Robbie Colwell got to the right-bye line and pulled the ball back to the far post where Steve Badham ran in to hammer the ball home.

The home side extended their lead in the 38th minute. Badham turned provider as he slipped the ball into the path of Joe Tustain who slotted it past the advancing goalkeeper into the net from 15 yards out.

Slimbridge goalkeeper Adam Thomas was unable to continue after he was hurt diving at the feet of an Almondsbury attacked. Tustain took over in goal.

The visitors halved the deficit in the 84th minute. Danny Copeland crossed from the right into the area and Badham put the ball in his own net attempting a clearance.

However, Slimbridge wrapped up the win as they restored their two-goal advantage in 89th minute. After his initial shot was blocked by defender Russ Knight, Andy Varnham scored from the rebound with a shot via the underside of the bar.

Slimbridge (blue/blue/white): 1. Adam Thomas, 2. Leon Stirling (capt), 3. Ashley Thomas, 4. Mike Green, 5. James Cole, 6. Alton Axton, 7. Matt Green, 8. Johnny Meadows, 9. Joe Tustain, 10. Robbie Colwell, 11. Steve Badham. Subs: 12. Craig Cole (for Stirlingm 68), 14. Andy Varnam (for Thomas, 72; Tustain went in goal), 15. Paul Miller (not used).

Almondsbury Town (yellow/black/black): 1. Lionel Fear, 2. Joe Lott, 3. Carl Bagley, 4. Grant Monelle (capt), 5. Nathan Humber, 6. Rob Sheriton, 7. Marcus Mapstone, 8. Nick Tiley, 9. Danny Copeland, 10. Jason Reykind, 11. Paul McKelvaney. Subs: 12. Russ Knight (for Monelle, 83), 14. Ricky Bishop (for Sheriton, 75), 15. Jody Scott (for Lott, ht).

Referee: A. Rocke (Hereford).
Assistants: B. Lovegrove (Hardwicke) and L. Pennington (Cam).

1-0 Steve Badham (19)
2-0 Joe Tustain (38)
2-1 Steve Badham (84 og)
3-1 Andy Varnam (89)


Cadbury Heath 2 Almondsbury 1

Tuesday 27th December 2005
Cadbury Heath 2 Almondsbury 1
Toolstation League Division 1
At: Springfield
Kick-off: 12-15 pm
Admission: £3-50 including 52 page programme
Attendance: 82
Weather: sunny, icy wind
Duration: first-half: 49:00; second-half: 49:48

With Stafford Rangers having played yesterday, today provided a perfect and welcome opportunity to visit to two previously unvisited grounds down the M5 – Cadbury Heath’s Springfield ground and Slimbridge’s Wisloe Road ground on the way home.

In the first game of the ‘double’, home side Cadbury Heath came from behind to win this keenly-contested Bristol derby with two late goals, after visitors Almondsbury had taken a first-half lead.

Visitors Almondsbury (in green and white hoops) took the lead in the 26th minute after the home goalkeeper Chris Fox was penalised for handball outside his area when kicking out of his hands. Zacharia Molui quickly took the free-kick and curled the ball around the wall and into the net by the right-hand post despite the attempts of Fox to save.

Briefly looking at the Division 1 table in the programme, Cadbury Heath stood in 17th position with 16 points from 19 games. Three positions higher were Almondsbury with 24 points from 22 games.

In sunshine with an icy wind, Cadbury Heath levelled things up with an 82nd-minute equaliser. Nick Dyer crossed deep from the right and substitute Dan Pearce fired home a looping shot.

In a dramatic conclusion, the other home substitute Paul Bryant fired into the top-right corner of the net from 10 yards out.

Cadbury Heath’s Springfield ground on the eastern side of Bristol boasts a small area of covered standing but no floodlights.

Cadbury Heath (red shirts with white sleeves / red / red): 1. Chris Fox (capt), 2. Jordan Richards, 3. Dave Scutt, 4. Simon Brown, 5. Andy Spicer, 6. James Clist, 7. Ryan Nicholls, 8. James Cobbly, 9. Nick Dyer, 10. Tom Knighton, 11. Leon Malloney. Subs: 12. Paul Bryant (for Richards, 52), 14. Dan Pearce (for Malloney, ht), 15. Mark Cooke (not used).

Almondsbury (green and white hoops / white / green and white hoops): 1. Chris Coles, 2. Richard Barrett, 3. Matthew Tottle, 4. Neil Bailey, 5. Thule Sealetsa, 6. Danny Lane, 7. Zacharia Molui, 8. Dan Cockram, 9. Andy Brookbanks, 10. Kriss Reubens (capt), 11. Tom Beecham. Subs: 12. Ben Lewis (not used), 14. Graham Lippiatt (for Reubens, 79), 15. Adam Alford (for Molui, 71).

Referee: M. Walford.
Assistants: S. Thomas and S. Brown.

0-1 Zacharia Molui (26)
1-1 Dan Pearce (82)
2-1 Ben Lewis (88)

Cadbury Heath: Chris Fox (YC, 28), Dave Scutt (YC, 31), Dan Pearce (YC, 56)
Almondsbury: none

Stafford Rangers 1 Worcester City 1

Monday 26th December 2005
Stafford Rangers 1 Worcester City 1
Nationwide North
At: Marston Road
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Programme: £1 (48 pages)
Attendance: 1372
Weather: drizzle, cold
Duration: first-half: 47:42; second-half: 49:53

Stafford Rangers held on top spot in the Nationwide North table thanks to a late equaliser scored by Matt Clarke on his debut. With time running out, the defender, signed last week from Redditch United, got on the end of a free-kick from Kevin Street to cancel out a goal scored by Des Lyttle just past the half-hour mark.

Stafford got the game underway attacking the Shed/Town End in the first half. They enjoyed plenty of possession during the opening 15 minutes without forcing visiting goalkeeper Danny McDonnell into action. Nathan Smith and Lee Downes both drove over the bar while a dipping 30-yard shot from Kevin Street landed just over the bar.

Having had to work hard for the ball, Worcester started to put Stafford under pressure and dominated the last half-hour of the first half. Skipper Lyttle, who headed over at the near post, eventually put his side ahead in the 33rd minute from a similar position. A long throw on the right by Rob Warner was flicked on and the veteran former Nottingham Forest defender hooked the ball home at close range.

McDonnell made a fine flying save to hold onto a 25-yard shot from Paul Groves in the 42nd minute to keep the visitors in front at the interval.

Both sides made a change two minutes into the second half with Worcester forced to replace influential defender Chris Smith, once a Stafford Rangers player. Stafford’s replacement, Levi Reid, added some urgency to Stafford cause. Midfielder partner Craig Lovatt created a chance for Nathan Smith who drove straight at McDonnell.

On the hour mark, Dean Williams pulled off a great save to prevent Worcester extending their lead. From a free-kick played into the area by Les Hines, the home keeper made a flying one-handed save to keep out a close-range shot from Adam Webster.

Worcester certainly put in a hard-working and organised performance which looked likely to leave the league leaders frustrated. But Stafford got back on level terms in the 83rd minute. Street, fouled by Hines on the edge on the area, whipped a free-kick to the far post where substitute Clarke guided the ball home.

Stafford threw everything at Worcester in the closing stages and, in injury time, McDonnell turned round a shot from Craig McAughtrie.

Just before the final whistle, George Clegg was dismissed after receiving for a second booking, and McAughtrie drove the resulting free-kick against the wall.

Robin Gibson was named Man of the Match.

Stafford Rangers (black and white stripes / black / black): 1. Dean Williams, 2. Paul Groves, 3. Nathan Talbott, 4. Craig McAughtrie, 5. Wayne Daniel (capt), 6. Craig Lovatt, 7. Lee Downes, 8. Kevin Street, 9. Neil Grayson, 10. Nathan Smith, 11. Robin Gibson. Subs: 12. Levi Reid (for Downes, 48), 14. Dave Walker (for Gibson, 77), 15. Danny Edwards (not used), 16. Liam Murray (not used), 17. Matt Clarke (for Groves, 59).

Worcester City (blue/blue/white): 1. Danny McDonnell, 2. Rob Warner, 3. Les Hines, 4. Chris Smith (Hodnett, 47), 5. Justin Thompson, 6. Des Lyttle, 7. Tom Warmer, 8. Nic Colley, 9. Leon Kelly, 10. Adam Webster, 11. George Clegg. Subs: 12. Andy Preece (not used), 14. Troy Wood (not used), 15. Liam McDonald (not used), 16. Samuel Wedgbury (not used), 17. Danny Hodnett (for Smith, 48).

Referee: M. Ackerman (Manchester).
Assistants: R. Archbold (Albrighton) and P. J. Reade (Wolverhampton).

0-1 Des Lyttle (33)
1-1 Matt Clarke (83).

Worcester: George Clegg (YC, 86), George Clegg (YC/RC, 90+4)

Stafford Rangers Res 0 Burton Albion Res 2

Monday 19th December 2005
Stafford Rangers Reserves 0 Burton Albion Reserves 2
Central Conference
At: Marston Road
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Programme: teamsheet
Attendance: 58
Weather: cold, dry, freezing
Duration: first-half: 46:30; second-half: 45:16

Both Phil Robinson and Nigel Clough, respective first-team managers of Stafford and Burton, played some part of this pre-Christmas reserve team fixture which the Brewers won with goals scored in quick succession either side of the interval.

Stafford got the game underway attacking the Town End and, despite play being open, neither goalkeeper was tested during the opening quarter hour. Rangers then won a left-wing corner delivered by Alex Gibbons which Liam Murray met with a glancing header that Nigel Clough cleared off the line.

Matt Sargeant produced a decent save in the 20th minute to tip over a rising shot from Eric Graves. The Stafford goalkeeper was tested again after the interval approached when he turned round a close-range shot from Dave Anderson.

Burton, who had been on top, took the lead in first-half stoppage time. John Brayford headed home a right-wing cross at close range.

The visitors doubled their lead less than three minutes after the restart. Anderson played the ball into the path of Alex Britton down the right who shot towards goal. However, the unfortunate Alex Gibson hammered an attempted clearance into his own net.

After Murray saw another header cleared off the line, Burton were awarded a 61st minute penalty for a foul by Gibbons on Oliver Hancock. Anderson stepped up to hit the spot kick towards the right-hand corner only to see Sargeant pull off a diving save.

A couple of further saves from Sargeant prevent Burton from scoring again and the closest Stafford came to a consolation goal was a late shot from Dave Walker fired straight at goalkeeper Tom Gutteridge.

Stafford Rangers Reserves (black and white stripes / black / black): 1. Matt Sargeant, 2. Alex Gibson, 3. Liam Murray, 4. Alex Gibbons, 5. Jemiah Richards, 6. Ed Booth, 17. Lee Downes (capt), 8. Phil Robinson, 9. Richard Haynes, 10. Dave Walker, 11. Danny Edwards. Subs: 12. Josh Robinson (for Downes, 82), 14. Dan Holgate (not used), 15. Richard Miller (not used), 16. Andre Francis (for Gibbons, 68), 18. Ross Clarke (for Robinson, 49).

Burton Albion Reserves (blue/blue/blue): 1. Tom Gutteridge, 2. John Brayford, 3. Nigel Clough, 4. Neil Edwards, 5. Lee Stafford (capt), 6. Lee Ayres, 7. Alex Britton, 8. Oliver Hancock, 9. Dave Anderson, 10. Andy Ducros, 11. Eric Graves. Subs: 12. Karl Wayte (for Anderson, 63), 14. Tom Liversage (for Ducros, 73), 15. Callum Green (not used), 16. Chris Maxwell (not used), 17. Calvin Smith (for Clough, 70).

Referee: Terry Holbrook.
Assistants: J. Holdcroft and P. Hussey.

0-1 John Brayford (45+1)
0-2 Alex Gibson (48 og)

Cards: none.

Stafford Rangers 4 Lancaster City 2

Saturday 17th December 2005
Stafford Rangers 4 Lancaster City 2
FA Carlsberg Trophy First Round
At: Marston Road
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Programme: ???
Attendance: 646
Weather: cold, sunny
Duration: first-half: 46:14; second-half: 47:53

Conference North leaders Stafford Rangers took a break from league action and survived a second-half fight back from managerless Lancaster City as they booked their place in Monday’s FA Carlsberg Trophy Second Round draw. Veteran striker Neil Grayson led the way with a brace of goals just before half-time with Nathan Smith and Dave Walker also finding the net for Stafford.

Stafford got the game underway attacking the Town End in the first half and defending into the low sun.

Lancaster made an attacking start to the game. Tom Pope sent a glancing header wide before providing the pass that led to his side taking the lead in the 7th minutes. Alex Taylor drilled a low shot wide into the bottom right corner of the net from 10 yards out.

The visitors continued to impress and Taylor forced Stafford goalkeeper Dean Williams to tip over a close-range header.

However, Stafford got back on level terms in the 18th minute and proceeded to dominate the remainder of the first half. Nathan Talbott started a move when Nathan Smith finished with a low angled shot across goal from the left out of reach of the diving Tony McMillan.

Both of Rangers central defenders could have put their side in front. Craig McAughtrie sent a dipping free kick just over the bar from fully 30 yards out. Skipper Wayne Daniel bust through the City defence with a one-two with Robin Gibson but was unable to get in a clear shot. Kevin Street also fired inches over.

Stafford eventually turned their pressure into a goal in the 41st minute. Neil Grayson was brought down by Neil Uberschar just inside the area and the veteran striker got up to blast home the resulting penalty.

Rangers struck again three minutes later. Smith crossed accurately from the left and Grayson powered a header into the roof of the net to score his 10th goal of the season.

With nothing to lose, Lancaster came out fighting in the second half and reduced the deficit in the 65th minute. Williams was knocked to the ground punching a free kick inside a crowded area and Stuart Howson headed into an unguarded net.

Buoyed by the goal, Lancaster threw an extra striker, Dave Shaw, and pressed for an incredible equaliser, which had appeared highly unlikely at the interval. Steve Skinner fired across the face of the Stafford goal and also glanced a header wide. Andy Bond and Taylor both drove over the bar.

However, the visitors were always vulnerable on the break and so it proved on 80 minutes. Substitute Danny Edwards stayed onside to latch onto a long ball from Levi Reid and slipped it past McMillan. The shot was going wide and Dave Walker slid in to force the ball over the line.

It should have been game over but plucky Lancaster didn’t give up the fight. Williams got down to keep out a shot low from Taylor then dramatically saved an 87th-minute penalty from Bond, awarded for a foul on Shaw by Street inside the area

Stafford manager Phil Robinson was delighted with the victory. He said: “I took us ten minutes to get going but in the final half hour of the first half I thought we were excellent and managed to get on top of them. Deservedly we came in 3-1 up”.

Robinson was full of praise for striker Neil Grayson and added: “Brilliant performance again [by Neil] and his energy levels are fantastic. He led by example for the whole of the game.”

Neil Grayson was selected as the Non-League Paper’s Star Man while Nathan Smith was named Man of the Match.

Stafford Rangers (black and white stripes / black / black): 1. Dean Williams, 2. Paul Groves, 3. Nathan Talbott, 4. Craig McAughtrie, 5. Wayne Daniel (capt), 6. Craig Lovatt, 7. Levi Reid, 8. Kevin Street, 9. Neil Grayson, 10. Nathan Smith, 11. Robin Gibson. Subs: 12. Liam Murray (not used), 14. Danny Edwards (for Gibson, 69), 15. Dave Walker (for Smith, 69), 16. Lee Downes (for Reid, 83), 17. Phil Robinson (not used). Player/manager: Phil Robinson.

Lancaster City (sky blue / sky blue / sky blue): 1. Tony McMillan, 2. Mike Eckersley, 3. Andy Scott (capt), 4. Steve Skinner, 5. Joe McMahon, 6. Stuart Howson, 7. Andy Bond, 8. Neil Uberschar (Shaw, 66), 9. Alex Taylor, 10. Tom Pope, 11. Ryan Elderton. Subs: 12. Dave Shaw, 14. Lee Foxcroft (not used), 15. Martin Holliday (not used), 16. Scott Greenwood (not used).

Referee: N. Smith (Chesterfield).
Assistants: J. M. Hayes (Stockport) and S. Durban (Cheadle).
Fourth Official: R. J. Tinsley (Bolsover).

0-1 Alex Taylor (7)
1-1 Nathan Smith (18)
2-1 Neil Grayson (41 pen)
3-1 Neil Grayson (43)
3-2 Stuart Howson (65)
4-2 Dave Walker (81)

Stafford: Kevin Street (YC, 77)
Lancaster: Mike Eckersley (YC, 59)

Harrogate Town 0 Stafford Rangers 2

Saturday 10th December 2005
Harrogate Town 0 Stafford Rangers 2
Nationwide North
At: Wetherby Road
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Programme: ???
Attendance: 505
Weather: sunny
Duration: first-half: 47:24; second-half: 48:53

Stafford Rangers maintained their three-point advantage at the top of the Conference North table with a comfortable victory over promotion rivals Harrogate Town. Kevin Street and Neil Grayson scored the goals in the second half with spectacular strikes to become the first side to win in the league at Wetherby Road this season.

Phil Robinson made one change with Levi Reid starting for the first time since September. And the former Port Vale midfielder justified his place in the side, ahead of Liam Murray, with an excellent hard-working performance. Lee Downes returned from injury with a place on the bench but striker Peter Thomson was still not fit enough to participate.

With floodlights on from the start, Harrogate got the action underway attacking the changing rooms end in the first half – right to left in relation to my seat in the press box.

Chances were scare during the opening half hour with, perhaps, Harrogate, ahead in terms of possession. Chris Ellerker drove wide from 25 yards out and a low shot from the giant striker Marc Smith was kept out by the diving Dean Williams.

Stafford’s first serious attempt on goal came just after the half-hour when Nathan Smith beat a couple of defenders before firing over the bar. The chance started a long period of dominance for the league leaders that was to last until the final whistle.

Stafford's Assistant manager Paul Groves drove inches over the bar and, just before the interval, saves from home goalkeeper Michael Price prevented both Nathan Smith and Grayson from giving Stafford the lead.

However, Price could do nothing to keep out Kevin Street’s shot in the 49th minute which put Stafford ahead. From a corner, the former Shrewsbury midfielder fired home from 20 yards just inside the right-hand post.

Rangers could have easily doubled their advantage sooner than they did but for the heroics of goalkeeper Price. He first made a fine save from Reid and then kept a low shot from Nathan Smith with his legs.

Eventually, Stafford’s second goal went in the 68th minute. Street chased the ball down the left and played it back to Talbott who crossed low to the ‘D’. With a first-time shot, Grayson hammered the ball into the roof of the net to score what the veteran described as one of the best goals he had scored for a while.

The only black spot on the game was a 19-man tussle sparked by a heavy challenge on Stafford substitute Danny Edwards in the 79th minute. Nathan Smith and Town's skipper Roy Hunter, a former West Bromwhich Albion trainee, were both booked for their part in the incident.

Harrogate ended up finishing the game with ten men. Defender Chris Mason appeared to kick Craig Lovatt off the ball in the 86th minute and received a straight red card after the referee consulted his assistant.

Nathan Smith should have made it three in injury time. Set up by Reid, the youngster got round Price before slicing wide of an empty net.

Harrogate Town (yellow and black stripes with yellow sleeves / black / black): 1. Michael Price, 2. Jamie Heard, 3. Richard Dunning, 4. Leigh Wood, 5. Chris Mason, 6. Chris Ellerker, 7. Ben Jones, 8. Roy Hunter, 9. Marc Smith, 10. Danny Holland, 11. Lee Philpott. Sibs: 12. Tony Lennon (for Ellerker, 18), 14. Jason Wray (for Lennon, 58), 15. Chris Coupe (for Jones, 80), GK. Liam Sutcliffe (not used).

Stafford Rangers (red/red/red): 1. Dean Williams, 2. Paul Groves, 3. Nathan Talbott, 4. Craig McAughtrie, 5. Wayne Daniel (capt), 6. Craig Lovatt, 7. Levi Reid, 8. Kevin Street, 9. Neil Grayson, 10. Nathan Smith, 11. Robin Gibson. Subs: 12. Liam Murray (not used), 14. Danny Edwards (for Gibson, 75), 15. Dave Walker (not used), 16. Lee Downes (not used), 17. Phil Robinson (not used).

Referee: M. Foley (Sheffield).

0-1 Kevin Street (49)
0-2 Neil Grayson (68)

Harrogate: Roy Hunter (YC, 79), Chris Mason (RC, 86)
Stafford: Nathan Smith (YC, 79)

Oldham Town 3 Maine Road 0

Tuesday 6th December 2005
Oldham Town 3 Maine Road 0
Moore and Co Solicitors North West Counties League Cup
At: Whitebank Stadium
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Admission: £4; Programme: none
Attendance: 30 (headcount)
Weather: cold, dry
Duration: first-half: 45:26; second-half: 46:40

Division 2 side Oldham Town proved too strong for higher-ranked Maine Road of Division 1 as they progressed to the next round with a 3-0 victory. It was a particularly memorable night for James Curley who bagged a hat-trick.

This game was rearranged as the original tie was abandoned due to floodlight failure with the score at 1-1.

Oldham Town played at the Whitebank Stadium, located to the south of Oldham Town Centre. There are three separate stands at the top of the slope, close to the entrance with one containing seats. Another area of covered standing is located behind the bottom goal with an additional seated stand on the far touchline near the top corner. Last but no least is a further area of covered standing in the corner by the entance on the near touchline - a total of six separate stands!

Maine Road (in yellow shirts, blue shorts and yellow socks) got the game underway attacking up the slope in the first half. It was an opening attacking start by both sides though the visitors were on top by the quarter hour mark.

Oldham took the lead in the 36th minute. Curley took the ball into the area on the right with defender John Mason alongside. The striker had enough space to hit an angled into the opposite bottom-left corner of the net.

Curley soon broke clear but was forced wide by the advancing keeper. He still was able to cut in and shot over the bar.

A slip by Mark Clancy in the 39th minute allowed Curley to get past Maine Road keeper Greg Hall and slot into an empty net to double Oldham’s lead.

Maine Road had a couple of chances around the hour mark to get back into the game. Mark Mitchell blasted a free-kick at the wall after keeper Oldham David Cornell had fouled Gareth Richards just outside the area. Richards then fired over from the left corner of the area.

Oldham certainly had to battle to retain their two-goal advantage and survived a scare in the 78th minute. Jerome Wright drove a free-kick from the left across the face of goal which Chris Simms got a touch to but couldn’t direct the ball on target.

The outcome was put beyond doubt in the 82nd minute when Curley completed his hat-trick. Chasing a long ball, he charged down Hall’s clearance and slotted into an empty net.

In the closing stages, Jonathan Phillips fired just wide of the right-hand post from the edge of the area and, at the other end, Cornell got down to save and hold a low shot from Richards.

Oldham Town (blue/white/white): 1. David Cornell, 2. Andrew Kennedy, 3. Chris Ward, 4. Jonathan Phillips, 5. Tony Hanlon (capt), 6. John Joyce, 7. Ashley Leith, 8. Nathan Everritt, 9. Darren Scanlon, 10. James Curley, 11. Lee Neville. Subs: 12. Dave Bowker (for Curley, 85), 15. Leon Meilier (for Leith, 68), 16. Aaron Hopwood (for Ward, 24).

Maine Road (yellow/blue/yellow): 1. Greg Hall, 2. Chris Simms, 3. Mark Clancy, 4. Alex Jay (capt), 5. John Mason, 6. Colin Marshall, 7. Mike Senior, 8. Mark Mitchell, 9. Gareth Richards, 10. Steven Cheetham, 11. Jerome Wright. Subs: 12. Lee Ashton (for Clancy, 82), 14. Paul Wadsworth (for Cheetham, 82), 15. John Rawlinson (for Marshall, ht).

Referee: T. Massey.

1-0 James Curley (36)
2-0 James Curley (39)
3-0 James Curley (82)

Oldham: none
Maine Road: Steven Cheetham (YC, 50)

Stafford Rangers 3 Gainsborough Trinity 0

Saturday 3rd December 2005
Stafford Rangers 3 Gainsborough Trinity 0
Nationwide North
At: Marston Road
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Programme: £2 (48 pages)
Attendance: 704
Weather: dull, overcast, showers
Duration: first-half: 45:53; second-half: 48:37

Stafford Rangers returned to the top of the Conference North table with a deserved victory. Leading scorer Nathan Smith gave Rangers an early lead with Kevin Street and Neil Grayson finding the net in the second half to break the stubborn resistance of midtable Gainsborough.

Gainsborough (in all yellow) got the game underway attacking the Social Club End. They enjoyed plenty of possession during a lively start and Jamie Sherlock drove over the bar.

Nathan Smith sent a right-foot drive inches wide, as Stafford got going, before opening the scoring in the 13th minute. After combining with Neil Grayson, Smith hit a rising shot which slipped through the hands of visiting goalkeeper Jamie Holmshaw. Despite attempts to clear on the line, a raised assistant’s flag signalled a goal for Smith before Paul Groves, following-up, forced the ball into the net to make sure.

Stafford kept going forward and, four minutes later, Robin Gibson found Smith who pulled the ball back from the right bye-line. Kevin Street fired low from 30 yards out but a deflection of Trinity’s Danny Wood took the pace off the ball and Holmshaw gathered up.

Stafford continued to threaten. Smith again went close with a low drive and Craig McAughtrie curled a long-range free-kick inches wide. Street dribbled into the Gainsborough area only to be thwarted by a brave tackle from Richard Pell. The ball ran free and Grayson blasted a first-time shot over the bar.

Just before the break, Adam Burley volleyed a rare Trinity chance straight at Rangers goalkeeper Dean Williams.

There was a ten-minute delay to the second half while a replacement match official was found after the referee was unable to resume after the interval. Dr Michael Lee answered an appeal and he ran the line with Mr Stanier taking over from Mr Heywood in the middle.

When play resumed, both Alex Higgins and Tom Baker fired at Williams as the visitors tried to get back on level terms.

Grayson wasted a great chance by shooting weakly at Holmshaw before creating Stafford’s second goal in the 64th minute. He ran towards goal only to be thwarted and Street bundled the ball home.

The lead would have been further extended had Holmshaw not kept out a low Smith shot with his boot. Skipper Wayne Daniel had a header cleared off the line before Ranges added their third goal in the closing stages. Substitute Dave Walker crossed low from the right and Grayson slotted the ball past Holmshaw at close range.

Walker went agonisingly close to adding a fourth in injury time. Latching on to a long clearance by Williams, he slipped the ball past Holmshaw but also narrowly wide of the far post.

Stafford Rangers (black and white stripes / black / black): 1. Dean Williams, 2. Paul Groves, 3. Nathan Talbott, 4. Craig McAughtrie, 5. Wayne Daniel (capt), 6. Liam Murray, 7. Craig Lovatt, 8. Kevin Street, 9. Neil Grayson, 10. Nathan Smith, 11. Robin Gibson. Subs: 12. Danny Edwards (for Gibson, 74), 14. Dave Walker (for Smith, 84), 15. Levi Reid (for Murray, 63), 16. Phil Robinson (not used), 17. Alex Gibson (not used).

Gainsborough Trinity (yellow/yellow/yellow): 1. Jamie Holmshaw, 2. Danny Wood, 3, Adam Burley (capt), 4. Nick Ellis, 5. Richard Pell, 6. Alex Higgins, 7. Charlie Trout, 8. Jamie Sherlock, 9. David Reeves, 10. Tom Baker, 11. Ryan Mallon. Subs: 12. Jamie Smith, 14. Wes Parker, 15. John Rowan, 16. Liam Parker, 17. Menga Lheureux (all not used).

Referee: M. Heywood (Northwich) replaced at half-time by B. Stainer (Warrington).
Assistants: B. Stainer (Warrington; replaced by M. Lee) and I. Hurdle (Holmes Chapel).

1-0 Nathan Smith (13)
2-0 Kevin Street (64)
3-0 Neil Grayson (86)

Stafford: none
Gainsborough: none

Non-League Paper Star Man: Kevin Street.

Leigh RMI 1 Stafford Rangers 4

Saturday 26th November 2005
Leigh RMI 1 Stafford Rangers 4
FA Carlsberg Trophy Third Qualifying Round
At: Hilton Park
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Programme: £2 (32 pages)
Attendance: 165
Weather: sunny
Duration: first-half: 47:03; second-half: 48:56

Stafford Rangers followed up last month’s 3-1 victory in the league at Hilton Park with another comfortable win by an ever greater margin over Leigh RMI. Today, they were forced to work hard during the first quarter of this FA Trophy Third Qualifying Round tie before recording what turned out to be a comfortable victory. Nathan Talbott put them ahead and also scored a late fourth goal while Dave Walker and Neil Grayson also found the net. Leigh finished the game with ten men while Stafford pocketed a cheque for £3,000 and a place in the First Round draw which will be made on Monday.

Phil Robinson opted to field Grayson and Walker as his two strikers. The usual duo of Peter Thomson and Nathan Smith had been injured and weren’t considered right to start the game. Like Walker, defender Liam Murray also came into a team which the manager felt good enough to win the tie – and his judgement was spot on.

After the game, Robinson said: “It is a fantastic result which gets us through to the next round. I thought we were a little bit slow to start in the first half but in the second half stronger and dominated the last 45 minutes. I think we were good value for the four goals over the course of the game and maybe got another couple.”

Leigh, struggling near the foot of the Conference North table, enjoyed plenty of early possession. They went close to scoring when Gareth Stoker curled a free-kick inches wide and Ian Taylor sent a dipping shot just over the bar.

Rangers, forced to work hard for the ball, took the lead against the run of play in the 22nd minute. Walker, on the left, found Craig Lovatt inside the six-yard box who should have scored instead of firing against the boot of home goalkeeper John Lamb. Lovatt picked up the loose ball and rolled it to Talbott who fired home.

However, Leigh equalised just 68 seconds later when Chris Simm sent a rising 25-yard drive thundering which Dean Williams had no chance of keeping out.

Stafford regained the lead in the 27th minute and never looked in danger of losing. From a long throw from Murray, Grayson flicked the ball down to Walker who sidefooted home his first competitive goal for the club at close range.

Robin Gibson replaced Danny Edwards just after the hour mark and his first contribution was to set up Stafford’s third goal. He delivered a low cross from the right into the six-yard box which the sliding Grayson directed into the net.

Leigh’s slim hopes of salvaging a draw were all but ended in the 78th minute. Neil Smith and Grayson were both booked for their part in a tussle involving several players inside home penalty area. Unfortunately for the Leigh defender, his second yellow card in three minutes was swiftly followed by a red one.

Talbott had never scored twice in a game but now can boast a first career brace. In the 84th minute, he latched onto a chip over the Leigh defence by Walker and fired past Lamb from 10 yards out for Stafford’s fourth goal. His performance didn’t go unnoticed by the Non-League Paper’s reporter who named him as Star Man.

Leigh RMI (red and white stripes / black / black): 1. John Lamb, 2. Tony Dunne, 3. Andy Roscoe (capt), 4. Gareth Stoker, 5. Neil Smith, 6. Steve Brockley, 7. Mark Drew, 8. Steve Smith, 9. Ben Ashmole, 10. Chris Simm, 11. Ian Taylor. Subs: 12. Lee Atherton (not used), 14. Adam Girdlestone (for Steve Smith, 79), 15. Paul Lewis (not used), 16. Steve Settle (for Drew, 65), 17. Graham Tench (not used).

Stafford Rangers (yellow/red/red): 1. Dean Williams, 2. Paul Groves, 3. Nathan Talbott, 4. Craig McAughtrie, 5. Wayne Daniel (capt), 6. Liam Murray, 7. Craig Lovatt, 8. Kevin Street, 9. Neil Grayson, 10. Dave Walker, 11. Danny Edwards. Subs: 12. Alan Dodd (not used), 14. Robin Gibson (for Edwards, 62), 15. Levi Reid (for Lovatt, 90), 16. Nathan Smith (not used), Peter Thomson (not used).

Referee: D. W. Stewart (Wallasey).
Assistants: P. J. Croft (Birkenhead) and W. E. Gresty (Chester).

0-1 Nathan Talbott (23)
1-1 Chris Simm (24)
1-2 Dave Walker (27)
1-3 Neil Gryason (62)
1-4 Nathan Talbott (84)

Leigh RMI: Neil Smith (YC), Steve Smith (YC, 66), Neil Smith (YC/RC, 78)
Stafford: Robin Gibson (YC, 66), Neil Grayson (YC, 78)

Stafford Rangers Res 1 Kettering Town Res 1

Wednesday 23rd November 2005
Stafford Rangers Reserves 1 Kettering Town Reserves 1
Central Conference
At: Marston Road
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Programme: free teamsheet
Attendance: 96
Weather: cold, dry
Duration (45): first-half: 42:05; second-half: 47:38

The presence of recently-appointed Kettering Town manager Paul Gascoigne at Marston Road resulted in double the attendance the reserves usually attract.

Stafford Rangers got the game underway attacking the Town End in the first half with captain Robin Gibson wearing the ‘17’ shirt rather than the ‘7’. They dominated the first half in terms of chances and possession and Dave Walker had a couple of decent scoring opportunities. He headed wide a cross from Alex Gibbons after good work by Jamie Phoenix and also forced Kettering’s goalkeeper Craig Patterson into a fiving save.

While Kettering were more livelier after the break, Stafford continued to threaten and Patterson turned round a well-strick 20-yard free-kick hit by Levi Reid.

Despite of their pressure, Stafford couldn’t find the net and it was Kettering who opened the scoring in the 73rd minute. A slip by Levi Reid allowed Michael McKenzie to get clear past the tackle of Jemiah Richards and beat Matt Sargeant from 15 yards out.

Sargeant produced a flying save to hold a shot from Matt Peacock as the visitors almost doubled their lead in the 87th minute.

Stafford kept in touch and Gibson saw a shot from Walker’s cross headed clear from in front of goal by Stuart McClosty.

Eventually, Stafford equalised in the second minute of stoppage time when Substitute Richie Miller crossed from the left which Patterson dropped the ball into the net.

Stafford Rangers Reserves (black and white stripes / black / black): 1. Matt Sargeant, 2. Alex Gibson, 3. Matt Skinner, 4. Levi Reid, 5. Jemiah Richards, 6. Liam Murray, 17. Robin Gibson (capt), 8. Alex Gibbons, 9. Ross Clarke, 10. Dave Walker, 11. Jamie Phoenix. Subs: 12. Andre Francis (for Reid, 82), 14. Courtney Shaw (for Clarke, 57), 15. Richard Miller (for Phoenix, 66), 16. Byron Benton (not used), 17. Dan Holgate (not used).

Kettering Town Reserves (red/red/red): 1. Craig Patterson, 2. David Blake, 3. Don Thompson, 4. Kevin Dixon (capt), 5. Mark Njotsa, 6. Craig Attwood, 7. Michael McKenzie, 8. Joe Cooper, 9. Steven Slade, 10. Chris Difante, 11. Ryan Zico-Black. Subs: 12. Ibrahim Kevegyir (not used), 14. Tom Ingram (for Slade, 61), 15. Matt Peacock (for McKenzie, 82), 16. Stuart McClosty (for Njosta, ht).

Referee: Terry Holbrook (Wolverhampton).
Assistants: Glyn Thomas (Walsall) and Adam Mullins (Rugeley).

0-1 Michael McKenzie (73)
1-1 Richard Miller (90+2)

Stafford: none
Kettering: none

Barrow 1 Stafford Rangers 1

Saturday 19th November 2005
Barrow 1 Stafford Rangers 1
Nationwide North
At: Holker Street
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Attendance: 907
Weather: cold, dry, freezing pitch
Duration: first-half: 45:55; second-half: 50:15

Neil Grayson grabbed a late equaliser at a cold Holker Street to salvage a point for Stafford Rangers. The veteran striker prodded the ball home at close range from a knockdown by Wayne Daniel to cancel out Tom Cowan's opening goal scored for Barrow early in the second half.

With plenty of time on my hands before kick-off, I saw the opening exchanges of Furness Cavaliers’ home game on their ground next to Holker Street, which kicked-off early due a lack of floodlights.

At the main reason for heading up to Cumbria, Barrow got the game underway attacking the changing rooms end in the first half.

Rangers welcomed back defender Craig McAughtrie after a five-match absence through injury. Lee Downes was missing again but both Nathan Talbott and Peter Thomson passed fitness tests to take their place in the starting line-up.

The home side, without a manager following the sacking of Lee Turnball last Thursday, were hit by injury and suspension, which sidelined a long list of regulars and forced a teenager to make a rare start in goal.

On a Holker Street pitch that survived a precautionary 10 am inspection, Stafford should have taken the lead in the 14th minute. Grayson deep left-wing cross fell to Danny Edwards who couldn’t get in a shot.

Thomson, who had a goal disallowed for offside, put Nathan Smith clear soon after but Boro’s leading scorer sliced a shot well wide. Bizarrely, the referee awarded a corner even though the shot went nowhere near goalkeeper Ben Morsby.

Kevin Street saw a deflected shot deflected into the arms of Morsby as it appeared likely that Boro would eventually be rewarded with a goal. But Barrow battled into the game and mounted a strong challenge in the latter stages of the first half. Dean Williams, however, was rarely troubled and Paul Howarth flicked a near-post corner over the bar.

Barrow continued to dominate after the break and Gavin Knight fired straight at Williams.

The same player forced a great save out of the Rangers keeper, which led to Barrow taking the lead in the 56th minute. From the resulting corner, a shot from Chris Taylor was blocked on the line by Williams but Cowan drove home the loose ball.

Barrow could have extended their lead and put the outcome beyond doubt. Mike Rushton fired wide under pressure from Talbott and Darren Edmondson missed the target by inches with a header.

With time running out, Grayson struck to earn a point in the 88th minute, which could prove vital if the promotion race proved to be as tight as many predict. Levi Reid lifted a cross from the left towards the far post. Wayne Daniel headed the ball goalwards to Grayson to slot home at close range.

Barrow (white/blue/white): 1. Ben Morsby, 2. James Cotterill, 3. Steve Ridley, 4. Darren Edmondson (capt), 5. Kevin Dawson, 6. Tom Cowan, 7. Mike Rushton, 8. Paul Howarth, 9. Andy Hill, 10. Gavin Knight, 11. Chris Taylor. Subs: 12. Mike Kewley (not used), 14. Guy Heffernan (for Cowan, 65), 15. Jonathan Smith (for Rushton, 90+5), 16. Paul Raven (for Howarth, 90+1), 17. Phil Coombe.

Stafford Rangers (red/red/red): 1. Dean Williams, 2. Paul Groves, 3. Nathan Talbott, 4. Craig McAughtrie, 5. Wayne Daniel (capt), 6. Neil Grayson, 7. Craig Lovatt, 8. Kevin Street, 9. Peter Thomson, 10. Nathan Smith, 11. Danny Edwards. Subs: 12. Alan Dodd (not used), 14. Robin Gibson (for Thomson, 61), 15. Dave Walker (not used), 16. Liam Murray (not used), 17. Levi Reid (for Edwards, 61).

Referee: Mr R. L. Metcalfe (Fulwood).
Assistants: W. King and R. Skeath.

1-0 Tom Cowan (55)
1-1 Neil Grayson (88)

Barrow: Tom Cowan (YC, 48), Steve Ridley (YC, 72), Darren Edmondson (YC, 82)
Stafford: Craig McAughtrie (YC, 76)

Stafford Rangers 2 Hinckley United 3

Saturday 12th November 2005
Stafford Rangers 2 Hinckley United 3
Nationwide North
At: Marston Road
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Programme: £2 (48 pages)
Attendance: 964
Weather: sunny
Duration: first-half: 46:56; second-half: 48:10

The ‘Manager of the Month curse’ struck again as Conference North leaders Stafford Rangers were left stunned by Hinckley United’s last minute winner.

Before the game, Stafford boss Phil Robinson received a large bottle of Champagne to mark his second Manager of the Month award of the season.

Stafford got the game underway attacking the Shed/Town End in the first half and defening into a low sun. They dominated the first half and Danny Edwards should have put away a simple chance after just 3 minutes. With an open goal to aim at, the winger sidefooted against the bar after Nathan Talbott burst through the visitors defence.

Hinckley were fortunate to retain all eleven players when midfielder Richard Lavery escaped with just a yellow card for a crunching two-footed tackle on Stafford’s leading scorer Nathan Smith.

It was no surprise when Rangers took the lead in the 14th minute, after Smith hit an angled shot on target from the left corner of the area. Goalkeeper Danny Haystead failed to hold and the ball went in off own defender Brad Piercewright under pressure from Peter Thomson.

The home side kept up the attack and Thomson sent a low drive flashing past the post.

As the interval approached, Hinckley got more into the game and levelled in first half injury time. Lee Colkin slotted home a low cross from Marc McGregor at close range.

The visitors stunned Boro by taking the lead six minutes after the resrart. Jamie Lenton took advantage of poor defending to drill a low shot past Dean Williams from 10 yards out. McGregor fired over the bar as Hinckely looked to extend their advantage.

However, substitute Levi Reid was unlucky not to equalise with a low shot from 25 yards that rebounded off the left-hand post with Haystead beaten.

Eventually, Stafford’s pressure was turned into a levelling 77th minute goal. Neil Grayson headed down a Reid cross for Thomson to slot home.

Rangers mounted a storming finish, and had Hinckley hanging on for what looked like a point, until they conceded a 90th minute winner on the break. Substitutes Jemaine Palmer and Owen Story combined with the latter scoring with a low shot that cost Stafford top spot in the table.

The visitors should have added a fourth in injury time. Lenton got on the end of a pass from Palmer inside the six-yard box but the ball somehow went over the bar.

Nathan Talbott was named Non-League Paper Star Man and the Sponsors’ Man of the Match as well.

Stafford Rangers (black and white stripes / black / black): 1. Dean Williams, 2. Paul Groves, 3. Nathan Talbott, 4. Alan Dodd, 5. Wayne Daniel (capt), 6. Neil Grayson, 7. Craig Lovatt, 8. Kevin Street, 9. Peter Thomson, 10. Nathan Smith, 11. Danny Edwards. Subs: 12. Liam Murray (not used), 14. Levi Reid (for Edwards, 61), 15. Dave Walker (not used), 16. Alex Gibson (not used), 17. Robin Gibson (for Smith, 87).

Hinckley United (blue/blue/red): 1. Dan Haystead, 2. Neil Cartwright, 3. Jamie Lenton, 4. Richard Lavery, 5. Carl Heeley (capt), 6. Brad Piercewright, 7. Stuart Storer, 8. Leon Jackson, 9. Marc McGregor, 10. Laurant Cluzel, 11. Lee Colkin. Subs: 12. Andy Brown (not used), 14. Jermaine Palmer (for McGregor, 72), 15. Sam Shilton (not used), 16. Owen Story (for Cluzel, 81), 17. Leigh Platnauer (not used).

Referee: E. J. Tarry (Wythenshawe)
Assistants: R. J. Woodward (Congleton) and S. P. Wright (Sale).

1-0 Brad Piercewright (14 og)
1-1 Lee Colkin (45+2)
1-2 Jamie Lenton (51)
2-2 Peter Thomson (77)
2-3 Owen Story (90)

Stafford: none
Hinckley: Richard Lavery (YC, 7), Laurant Cluzel (YC, 39), Owen Story (YC, 90)

Stalybridge Celtic 2 Stafford Rangers 3

Tuesday 8th November 2005
Stalybridge Celtic 2 Stafford Rangers 3
Nationwide North
At: Bower Fold
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Programme: £1-50 (32 pages)
Attendance: 519
Weather: rain
Duration: first-half: 50:28; second-half: 47:58

Striking sensation Nathan Smith scored another two goals as Stafford Rangers bounced back from Saturday’s defeat in the best possible way. Twice they fell behind at eight-placed Stalybridge to goals from Lee Ellington but Kevin Street and Smith got Boro back on level terms. Then Smith hit a deserved winner with 14 minutes left and with Northwich held at home by Nuneaton, Rangers actually extended their advantage at the top of the table to three points.

This was arguably Rangers’ best performance of the season considering that both Craig McAughtrie and Wayne Daniel were missing through injury. Phil Robinson, who started for the first time since February, was forced to name an unfamiliar three-man central defence of Liam Murray, Alan Dodd and Paul Groves.

The Bower Fold boasts cover on all four sides of the ground and Stafford got the game underway attacking up the slope towards the Lockwood & Greenwood Stand.

Stalybridge took the lead in the 11th minute on a wet pitch that survived a 5-30 pm inspection. Ellington ran in to head home Steve Garvey’s right-wing corner.

Playing in continuous rain, Rangers got back on level terms seven minutes later with a spectacular strike. Stand-in skipper Kevin Street sent an unstoppable 30-yard drive into the top-left corner of the net.

Street was denied a second goal on 35 minutes when home keeper Paul Pettinger pushed over another rising shot that was heading for the top corner.

Celtic stunned Boro by regaining the lead deep into first-half injury time in controversial circumstances. With no obvious delay in play, an extra fifty seconds over the four minutes of added time indicated by the referee had elapsed when Ellington fired home at close range after Rangers failed to deal with a corner which was knocked down by Barrie Keeling.

Attacking down the Bower Fold ground’s slope in the second half towards the Joe Jackson Stand, determined Rangers worked hard to claim all three points. Peter Thomson, who had another good game, got clear into the area only to see his shot blocked by the advancing Pettinger

Eventually Stafford levelled again on the hour mark when good approach was rounded out with a rising 20-yard shot from Smith.

Dean Williams pulled off a good save to keep out a low shot from Ellington through a crowd to keep Boro in contention.

The winner came in the 77th minute and it was Smith who was on target again. Set up by Thomson and Nathan Talbott, he sent a low shot past Pettinger from 15 yards to score his seventh goal of the season.

Stalybridge had a real go to salvage a point but Boro restricted them to just one decent effort on goal. Neil Prince’s 25-yard drive flashed past the goal just before the start of stoppage time.

Ellington was named Man of the Match.

Stalybridge Celtic (blue/blue/white): 1. Paul Pettinger, 2. Tom Baker, 3. Mark Barnard, 4. Barrie Keeling, 5. Mark Haran (capt), 6. Chris Price, 7. Steve Garvey, 8. Paul Sykes, 9. Lee Ellington, 10. Jody Banim, 11. Neil Prince. Subs: 12. Phil Eastwood (for Garvey, 85), 14. James Turvey (not used), 15. Kevin Parr (for Baker, 73), 16. Nathan Wharton (not used), 17gk. Nick Buxton.

Stafford Rangers (red/red/red): 1. Dean Williams, 2. Paul Groves, 3. Nathan Talbott, 4. Alan Dodd, 5. Liam Murray, 6. Neil Grayson, 7. Lee Downes, 8. Kevin Street, 9. Peter Thomson, 10. Nathan Smith, 11. Phil Robinson. Subs: 12. Craig Lovatt (for Robinson, 39), 14. Danny Edwards (for Smith, 82), 15. Dave Walker (not used), 16. Alex Gibson (not used), 17. Alex Gibbons (not used).

Referee: I. A. Rose (Blackpool).
Assistants: A. Gear and A. Young.

1-0 Lee Ellington (11)
1-1 Kevin Street (18)
2-1 Lee Ellington (45+5)
2-2 Nathan Smith (60)
2-3 Nathan Smith (77)

Stalybridge: Barrie Keeling (YC, 68), Jody Banim (YC, 82)
Stafford: Nathan Talbott (YC, 30), Craig Lovatt (YC, 64)