Nuneaton Borough 1 Stafford Rangers 1

Saturday 28th January 2011
Nuneaton Borough 1 Stafford Rangers 1
Nationwide North
At: Manor Park
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Attendance: 2183
Weather: sunny

Former Stafford Rangers goalkeeper Richard Brush, making his Nuneaton debut, pulled off two great first-half saves to arguably prevent his old side taking all three points from this top of the table clash.

After second-placed Nuneaton had taken an early lead, the 21-year-old, who made three Rangers appearances back in September, twice denied veteran Neil Grayson – including a marvellous penalty save.

Eventually, Stafford levelled on 71 minutes through Paul Groves.

With Grayson passing a fitness test and skipper Wayne Daniel returning from suspension, Phil Robinson selected a full-strength side.

Unbeaten at home for 13 months, Nuneaton decided to bombard the Stafford defence from the word go and went ahead after just four minutes. A vicious inswinging corner from Michael Love fell inside the six-yard box and Jason Taylor sidefooted home.

The home side kept up the pressure and, on 22 minutes, they won four corners in quick succession. From the second, Dean Williams tipped over a header from Terry Angus.

But Stafford are not top for nothing and they battled back into a dominant position before half time.

And as the interval approach, Brush, who has also featured for Hednesford Town this season, emerged his side’s hero. On 34 minutes, he turned round a header from Grayson, who hit the bar from the resulting corner. Two minutes later, Robin Gibson was brought down in the area, only for Brush to push away Grayson’s penalty.

Things got heated just before half-time as Grayson, Craig Lovatt and Gez Murphy were all booked – three of seven players to see yellow but this was a competitive rather than dirty game. FA Cup hero Murphy was lucky to stay on the field for comments made to the referee.

Though Rangers were on top during the second half, Nuneaton almost caught Rangers napping soon after the restart. Robert Oddy found space on the right and got in a low angle shot which the diving Williams pushed away to safety.

The bulk of the chances were created by Robinson’s side and tightly marked Gibson couldn’t direct a shot on target after being found by Nathan Smith’s deep cross. Smith also fired tamely at Brush from Groves’ knock down.

The introduction of Peter Thomson for Levi Reid provided an extra forward and fresh target man to relieve 41-year-old Grayson who had taken plenty of punishment in his titanic battle with experienced 39-year-old defender Angus.

Stafford got their deserved equaliser on 71 minutes. Thomson has a shot blocked inside a crowded area and Groves hammered home the rebound.

Late in the game, both Kevin Street and Thomson both fired wide, and Brush gathered up another shot from Grayson, as Stafford tried so hard to win the game right until the final whistle.

With both third-placed Northwich and Harrogate, in fourth, having to settle for a point as well, everything remained unchanged at the top with Stafford maintaining their six-point lead.

Nuneaton Borough (blue/white/blue): Richard Brush, Robert Oddy, Michael Love, Gary Fitzpatrick, Neil Moore (capt), Terry Angus, Ian Foster, Michael Noon, Brian Quailey, Gez Murphy, Jason Taylor. Subs: Michael Frew, Kevin Wilkin, Simon Rea, James Holmes (all not used).

Stafford Rangers (red/red/red): Dean Williams, Paul Groves, Nathan Talbott, Craig McAughtrie, Wayne Daniel (capt), Craig Lovatt, Levi Reid, Kevin Street, Neil Grayson, Nathan Smith, Robin Gibson. Subs: Lee Downes, Dave Walker (for Smith, 86), Peter Thomson (for Reid, 57), Matt Clarke, Liam Murray.

Referee: M. C. Dexter (Leicester).

1-0 Jason Taylor (4)
2-0 Paul Groves (71)

Sponsors’ Man of the Match: Michael Noon.
Non-League Paper Star Man: Richard Brush.