Connor and Cooke conjure late Dabbers comeback

Late goals from Connor Heath and Sean Cooke helped to pull a draw from what was looking like a damaging defeat in a thrilling 2-2 draw against Stafford Rangers.

On a day of brilliant attendances across the Northern Premier League, 1,076 were in Staffordshire as Alex Fletcher dragged an early effort wide while off balance for Stafford, Joe Cuff managing to get in behind Caspar Hughes who was starting in a less familiar right wing back position in a 3-5-2 formation.

The hosts had started the stronger, and made that count on 10 minutes. A free kick a couple of yards outside the box was hit in such a way that it bounced right in front of returning keeper Matty Gould, on a difficult surface he failed to collect it first time and Jake Charles was there to poach the opener and continue his good scoring form.

The Dabbers were struggling to adapt to the conditions, first touches were often poor and distribution was frequently wild, but eventually they began to settle into things and look to get back into the game.

After just about clearing a couple of dangerous Stafford corners, it was Nantwich’s turn to threaten from one, Joel Stair heading powerfully but wide as he tried to repeat his trick from our last meeting two years ago.

A key moment came seven minutes before the break. Thomas Tonks was preparing another one of his missile long throw ins (featuring more towel usage than a Benidorm beachside), when it came into the box there was some sort of coming together between James O’Neill and Joe Malkin, referee Niall Smith had the best view of anyone and immediately gave O’Neill a straight red card to hand the Dabbers some momentum.

Nantwich pressed hard for an equaliser before the break, Troy Bourne steering a difficult header over and Cockerline bringing out a brilliant save from Tyrell Belford either side of Joe Cuff almost being let in at the other end. But Stafford retained that 1 goal lead into half-time.

The Dabbers continued to push in the second half but to no avail. Stair headed over again, then a corner was almost flicked in at the near post were it not for Belford coming good again for Stafford.

As you’d expect against ten players, it was attack versus defence for the most part, but it was hard for Nantwich to break through against a back line that was standing up really well to the situation they were in.

1-1 so nearly came with 15 minutes to go, sub Connor Heath clipped a delicate cross for Sean Cooke to head well but it dropped agonisingly wide and it was then you began to wonder if it would be another one of those days for Nantwich.

That idea was rammed home in some style on 81 minutes. The excellent Cuff nutmegged Caspar Hughes on half way and was away, and on getting to the edge of the box largely unchallenged smashed home an exceptional strike that was in as soon as he hit it, buried into the bottom corner for 2-0 in what Dave Cooke described after as ‘a Premier League finish’.

Dave also remarked afterwards that he was worried this game was turning into another Scarborough, another away game against ten men where we were punished for not taking our chances. But just two minutes later, the Dabbers were back in it.

A scramble in the penalty area saw Belford not get the ball away and Heath was on hand to tap in and give the away side hope.

Stafford’s patchy home form then began to tell on a nervous crowd and an increasingly nervous team as their composure faded and the Dabbers got well on top. Cooke hit the crossbar with a sublime curling effort from the edge of the box.

But Sean wasn’t done yet. another raking ball into the box dropped nicely for Cooke and he poked into the far corner to send the travelling fans crazy in the second minute of stoppage time.

And there was almost an incredible winner. A free kick right in Cooke territory went just wide, then with the last kick of the game, a snapshot after a corner was miraculously tipped onto the crossbar by Belford to end the game at 2-2. On the face of it, not the best result given the length of time against 10 men, but with how things were with 8 minutes to go, this was a vital point going into the Witton game on New Year’s Day.

Teams

Stafford Rangers: Tyrell Belford, Andy Burns, Joe Dunne, Alex-Ray Harvey, Ethan Stewart, James O’Neill, Joe Kenton, Tom Tonks, Jake Charles (Khaellem Bailey-Nicholls, 90), Alex Fletcher (Ben Woods, 38), Joe Cuff (Theo Bailey-Jones, 82)

Subs not used: Michael Tait, Tom Carr

Goals: Charles (10), Cuff (81)

Red card: O’Neill (38)

Nantwich Town: Matty Gould, Joel Stair, Matty Devine, Troy Bourne, Josh Langley, Caspar Hughes, Joe Robbins, David Vaughan (Connor Heath, 74), Dan Cockerline, Sean Cooke, Joe Malkin (Shaun Miller, 64)

Subs not used: Matt Bell, Tommy Montefiori, Jacob Edwards

Goals: Heath (83), Cooke (90+2)

Attendance: 1076