Leigh RMI 1 Stafford Rangers 3

Saturday 22th October 2005
Leigh RMI 1 Stafford Rangers 3
Nationwide North
At: Hilton Park
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Programme: £2 (32 pages)
Attendance: 301
Weather: sunny, dry
Duration: first-half: 49:06; second-half: 48:15

Stafford Rangers returned to second position in the Nationwide Conference North table, and within two points of leaders Northwich Victoria, with a deserved victory at Leigh RMI.

Like their two victories last week, Stafford all but wrapped up the victory during the first half – veteran Neil Grayson and youngster Nathan Smith both found the net during the opening 20 minutes. Peter Thomson made sure of maximum points with a third goal on the hour after Leigh had reduced the deficit within two minutes of the restart with Chris Simm's penalty.

Before kick-off, Stafford manager Phil Robinson faced a difficult decision as ever-present central defender Craig McAughtrie failed to recover from a calf injury. He opted to start with Alan Dodd, who had an excellent game, alongside Wayne Daniel.

Stafford got the game underway attacking the Atherleigh Way end in the first half and enjoying plenty of possession. Grayson saw an early header held by Leigh goalkeeper John Lamb. They almost took the lead in the 10th minute from their first corner as Paul Groves had a shot cleared off the line by home skipper Andy Roscoe.

But Stafford then survived a couple of scares. Neil Smith fired straight at Dean Williams but should have scored with his next chance. The striker got past Daniel and broke into the Stafford area only to be thwarted by an excellent save by the Stafford goalkeeper.

After home goalkeeper John Lamb pushed away a shot from Thomson, it was no surprise when Stafford took the lead in the 17th minute. Thomson headed Groves’ cross on to the far post where Grayson drove the ball home.

Leigh had begun the game wearing red and white striped shirts alongwith black shorts and socks. The clash with Stafford’s black and white striped shirts made it difficult for those watching from the stands, and presumably the referee and players as well. So before play resumed after the goal, the Leigh players changed into a plain yellow shirts.

Back to the action and Stafford’s advantage was extended four minutes later. Defender Lee Atherton was forced into a mistake by Thomson on the edge of his own area. The ball fell to Nathan Smith, 25 yards out, who fired into the top-right corner for his third goal in just four starts for Stafford.

Well on top, Stafford should have increased their advantage before half time. Grayson sent a dipping shot over the bar and Lamb made an excellent save to keep out a shot from Nathan Smith. Thomson also headed wide. Leigh were perhaps fortunate to be trailing by only two goals at the interval.

Leigh got back into the match within two minutes of the restart. Steve Brockley made a penetrating run into the Stafford area only to be brought down by Groves. Chris Simm converted the resulting penalty (photo right).

But Rangers soon got into gear and scored a vital third goal just after the hour mark. A back-pass from Liam Coyne failed to reach Lamb who had advanced to the edge of his area. Thomson intercepted and pushed the ball past the Leigh goalkeeper before helping the ball into an empty net.

Stafford were content not to concede another goal during the last half hour. They could have further increased their advantage in injury time when substitute Levi Reid drilled a low shot inches wide.

This was my third visit to Hilton Park. Originally, during the 1980s, I saw Leigh host Hull FC at Rugby League then watched football between Leigh RMI and Lancaster City in May 1996.

Leigh RMI (red and white stipes / black / black; yellow/black/black): 1. John Lamb, 2. Mark Drew, 3. Steve Brockley, 4. Ryan McDowall, 5. Liam Coyne, 6. Lee Atherton, 7. Lee Shillito, 8. Steve Smith, 9. Neil Smith, 10. Chris Simm, 11. Andy Roscoe (capt). Subs not used: 12. Tony Dunne (for Atherton, 31), 15. Lee Thompson (not used), 16. Ian Tyalor (for Brockley, 77), 17. Graham Tench (for Simm, 59), GK. James Mann (not used).

Stafford Rangers (black and white stripes / red / red): 1. Dean Williams, 2. Paul Groves, 3. Nathan Talbott, 4. Alan Dodd, 5. Wayne Daniel (capt), 6. Neil Grayson, 7. Lee Downes, 8. Kevin Street, 9. Peter Thomson, 10. Nathan Smith, 11. Danny Edwards. Subs: 12. Alex Gibson (not used), 14. Phil Robinson (not used), 15. Dave Walker (for Smith, 79), 16. Liam Murray (not used), 17. Levi Reid (for Edwards, 73).

Referee: Darren Lee (Morecambe).

0-1 Neil Grayson (17)
0-2 Nathan Smith (21)
1-2 Chris Simm (47 pen)
1-3 Peter Thomson (62)

Leigh: Andy Roscoe (YC, 8), Neil Smith (YC, 56), Mark Drew (YC, 79)
Stafford: none