|NPL Premier Division
Stafford Rangers delivered their long suffering supporters a belated Christmas present with a 4-0 victory over Gainsborough Trinity.
With fellow strugglers Atherton Collieries also winning, the result wasn’t enough to lift Rangers off the foot of the table but will give Dave Cooke’s men a much needed boost in moral as they battle to avoid the drop.
Rangers made three changes to the side beaten at FC United. Tyreece Onyeka and Connor Heath who both impressed as second half substitutes came in for Nathan Blissett and AJay Leitch-Smith while Ben Woods replaced 16 year old Jack Shorrock who was recalled by Port Vale and made his Football League debut and scored in the Valiants defeat at home to Barnsley.
With Rangers going in to the game with just one win in six and a run of five straight defeats, they came up against the only side in the league with a worse six match record as Gainsborough had picked up just a single point in that time. It was therefore no surprise that this encounter took some time to settle and there was little quality on show in the opening quarter.
The closest either side came to a goal was following a mix up in the Stafford defence. Keeper Cam Belford took charge by coming off his line to clear but with his goal untended, Bobby Johnson’s effort from the right touchline drifted wide of the far post.
It was somewhat out of the blue that Rangers went ahead on 31 minutes. Ben Woods found Connor Heath with a ball down the line and the recent signing cut in from the by line before seeing his centre strike the arm of Hamish Douglas. Referee Jamie Conde pointed to the spot and Kaiman Anderson did the honours from 12 yards, rolling the ball just beyond the reach of Ben Bottomley’s right hand.
Gainsborough had half a chance to get level but Johnson’s shot struck Joe Willis just inside the area yards.
Rangers extended their lead on 38 minutes when Anderson held off a challenge in midfield to put Onyeka away on the right. The winger stumbled as he got inside the area but managed to keep his composure to slot past Bottomley.
Soon after, Anderson found the side netting from a tight angle as Rangers threatened to move further ahead.
The visitors made two changes at half time to increase their attacking options but, after a scrappy start to the half, Rangers exploited the gap at the back and went 3-0 up on 62 minutes.
Willis threaded a pass through to Connor Heath who in turn found Onyeka in space on the right. His low centre found Anderson who slammed the ball in to the roof of the net.
With memories still fresh in the minds of the corresponding fixture last season (where Rangers threw away a 3-0 lead to lose 3-4), this wasn’t a time to switch off and a similar fight back might have been launched had Declan Howe taken his chance but his shot was blocked by the Stafford defence with Belford beaten.
Nerves must surely have eased when Rangers went four up on 77 minutes. Woods sent a long ball to Anderson on the left and he got behind Ashley Jackson to pick out Sam Bird who found space with his first touch before beating Bottomley.
On a relatively quiet afternoon for the Stafford keeper, Belford was barely troubled. He went low to his right to keep out Johnson’s long range free kick just before the break and made another save from Dylan Cogill in the final stages to keep his goal intact. Both were saves that any keeper at this level would be expected to make and he was able to record just his third clean sheet of the NPL season.
Stafford: 1 Cam Belford, 2 Andy Burns, 3 Ben Woods, 4 Joe Willis, 5 Ethan Stewart, 6 Jake Moult, 7 Tyreece Onyeka (12 AJay Leitch-Smith 87m), 8 Sam Bird, 9 Kaiman Anderson (14 Niah Payne 87m), 10 Sean Cooke, 11 Connor Heath (16 Ethan Morgan 87m). Unused Subs: 15 Nathan Blissett, 17 Derek Ubah
Gainsborough: 1 Ben Bottomley, 2 George Hornshaw, 3 Ashley Jackson, 4 Bailey Conway, 5 Hamish Douglas (14 Tom Parkinson 46m), 6 Dylan Cogill, 7 Lewis Butroid, 8 Bobby Johnson, 9 Danny Devine (17 Kyle Simpson 46m), 10 Declan Howe (15 Joel Holvey 81m), 11 Jack Moore-Billam. Unused Subs 12 Fraser Preston, 16 Nathaniel Wallace
Referee: Jamie Conde
Cautions: Willis, (Stafford), Cogill, Howe (Gainsborough)
Report by Chris Elsley
KO KO 28 31 38 40 45 45 63 75 77 81 89 89 89 FT
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