STAFFORD TOWN 2 ROCESTER 1
ROCESTER crashed out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle as Darryll Johns' late winner settled Tuesday night's extra preliminary round replay in favour of hosts Stafford Town.
There was a sense of deja vu for the Romans, as they went out of the world's oldest cup competition at the hands of lower level opposition for the second season running.
Rocester came within a hair's breadth of winning at Hillsfield on Saturday before Reds player-boss Adam Cunningham's injury-time equaliser forced a replay, but this time it was Town who drew first blood.
Again it was Cunningham who netted, putting the hosts into a tenth minute lead despite vociferous offside appeals from the Rocester contingent.
While the Romans back four stopped and waited for a linesman's flag which never came, Cunningham advanced on goal and slotted the ball under Richard Froggatt.
The Romans responded quickly, and Tom Brown made a driving run down the right flank before sending in a cross for Aaron Dillon (pictured) to direct the ball past Dale Reaney and in at the foot of the left-hand post.
Although the remainder of the first-half saw little to separate the two sides it was the Romans who created the better goal-scoring chances. Dillon helped Allwyn Thompson's cross onto Josh Johnson in the penalty area, but the striker missed the ball with a left-footed air shot.
Darren Bullock's throw was headed across goal where Dillon blasted over at the far post.
Reaney was called into action to push away Johnson's long-range strike at full-stretch, before a late linesman's flag rendered his sterling efforts irrelevant.
Rocester were dealt a blow when Brent Upton was carried off injured three minutes after the break, adding to their growing list of walking wounded.
Stafford took advantage, and attacked the Romans with renewed vigour.
Alex Barnfather hooked a shot over Froggatt's goal, and Jake Turner met a near post free kick but was unable to turn his effort on target.
Ex-Roman Morgan Hurley also went close after finding space in the Rocester box, but fired into the side netting.
The Romans did rally somewhat, and Reaney was called into action three times in quick succession.
The Stafford keeper made a low save from Johnson at the expense of a corner, before having to deal with two tricky free kicks from Dillon, punching the first clear under pressure and getting his fingertips to a second thunderous effort which seemed destined to sail in under the bar.
However, disaster struck for the Romans on 77 minutes when Johns grabbed what turned out to be the winning goal. Hurley chased down a ball which looked destined to run out of play, hooking it over to the far post where Johns headed home.
Rocester had a chance to level when Bullock had the vision to pick out Liam Shaw, but when the Romans sub slipped the ball to Dillion he was quickly closed down by Ismail Reid.
The Romans struggled to find a response, their best chances coming from set pieces.
Shaw headed Dillon's free kick over, while another from Dillon cannoned into the defensive wall.
Dillon delivered another free kick into the box in the dying seconds, which somehow eluded everyone and clipped the outside of the far post on its way out.
But Stafford, who also featured ex-Rocester man Jordan Nadat, held on, and while they remain rooted to the foot of the Midland Football League Division One table, they now have a home FA Cup tie against Norton United to look forward too, while the Romans are left to concentrate on rectifying their own league position.
GOALS: Cunningham 10, Johns 77 (Reds); Dillon 17 (Romans)
REDS: Reaney, Cresswell, Nadat (Reid 81), Henderson, Price, Woodward, Johns, Turner, Hurley, Cunningham (Bradbury 85), Barnfather. Subs not used: Buckham, Ellis, Doody, Burslem, Smallman.
ROMANS: Froggatt, Burt, Allen, Barlow, Wain (Hamilton 80), Bullock, Brown, Upton (Shaw 49), Johnson, Dillon, Thompson (Atherton 80). Subs not used: Pugh, Nutt.
ROMANS STAR MAN: Aaron Dillon – set pieces kept Stafford on guard.
REFEREE: J Bell (Lichfield).