STAFFORD TOWN 1
TEN-man Rocester were within moments of claiming a morale-boosting FA Cup win against neighbours Stafford Town only to be denied victory by a stoppage-time equaliser headed home by Town’s player-manager Adam Cunningham.
Without reaching any great heights, the Romans always looked capable of coming through the tie even after being reduced to 10 men following the dismissal of Steve Brannan shortly before half time.
Midfielder Brannan put his team under unnecessary pressure when he received a second yellow card for a needless foul on the half-way line, and having already been cautioned for a petulant flare-up, the inevitable red card followed.
Things had started quite well for Rocester, although they could easily have been stung 10 minutes in when Darren Bullock misjudged a high ball into the area and Cunningham stole in behind him, but Richard Froggatt comfortably gathered Cunningham’s tame shot.
Aaron Dillon produced Rocester’s first decent attempt on goal when he cut infield from the left before drilling a powerful shot into the midriff of visiting keeper Dale Reaney.
As the Romans started to get a grip on the game, they made the all-important breakthrough – unsurprisingly through leading scorer Dan Brown.
With 20minutes on the clock, Brown darted after George Barlow’s neat first-time ball into the right-hand channel.
Although Brown’s initial effort squeezed past Reaney it was blocked by a covering defender, but Brown was on-hand to slot the ball into the net at the second time of asking,
The Romans probably should have doubled their lead after Nick Ward’s superb lay-off sent Brannan galloping away on the right, but after making a great run from half way to the penalty area avoiding two tackles, his angled shot flew narrowly wide of the far post.
Morgan Hurley, one of three ex-Romans in the Stafford team, was their main threat going forward, and he was unlucky not to equalise after a mazy run into the box from the right.
Cutting inside past two defenders, he made enough space to get his shot in only for Froggatt to make an excellent save, diving low to his left.
Brannan’s red card left Rocester on the back foot for much of the second period and the Romans were dealt another blow when Brown, struggling with a sore hamstring, had to be replaced ten minutes into the second half.
New signing Marley Hamilton was also introduced to the fray, and he was extremely unlucky not to mark his debut with a goal midway through the second half when another excellent pass from Barlow sent Hamilton away.
The youngster got to the ball first and floated the ball expertly over the stranded Reaney, only for it to bounce up off the six-yard line and hit the bar.
It would surely have sealed the contest in Rocester’s favour, but it wasn’t to be.
The visitors ballooned several attempts high over Froggatt’s goal from distance as they tried to get back on terms, and with the 90 minutes up they finally got the opening they had been searching for.
Hurley got the better of Dillon and delivered a pin-point cross to the far post, where Cunningham arrived to nod the ball in.
There was still just enough time for a massive let-off for Rocester when Joe Woodward’s speculative effort caught in the strong wind and then bounced up, but Froggatt was able to get the faintest of touches to send the ball wide.
SCORERS: Romans – D.Brown (20). Stafford – Cunningham (90).
ROMANS: Froggatt; Burt; Holland (Hamilton 53) (Pugh 88); Barlow; Allen; Bullock; Brannan; Upton; Ward; D.Brown (Johnson 55); Dillon. Subs not used: Wain; Shaw.
STAFFORD: Reaney; Cresswell; Nadat (Smallman 71); Smith; Price; Woodward; Johns; Turner (Doody 73); Hurley; Cunningham; Barnfather. Subs not used: Davies; Ellis.
RED CARD: Romans – Brannan (41) (two yellows).
YELLOW CARDS: Romans - Burt.
REFEREE: M Murfitt (Stoke-on-Trent).