Rugeley Rangers 4 Chesterton AFC 4

Wednesday 29th February 2012
Rugeley Rangers 4 Chesterton AFC 4
Staffordshire County Senior League Division 1
At: Red Lion Ground, Brereton
Kick-off: 7-30 pm
Admission: £2 including 12-page programme
Weather: mild, dry, misty
Attendance: 40 (headcount)
Duration: first-half: 45:34; second-half: 49:32

What were the odds of that happening? Back in April I saw Rugeley Rangers draw 4-4 with local rivals Lea Hall and tonight, amazingly, the scoreline was the same this time against Chesterton AFC. Rugeley appeared to cruising towards a substantial victory with a 3-1 half-time lead that was extended early in the second half by hat-trick hero Joe Murphy. However, two quick goals just before the hour mark got Chesterton back in contention and they clinched a point from Dan Macdonald’s spectacular 35-yard free-kick.

Several things have changed for Rugeley Rangers since I saw that initial 4-4 draw back in April. To start with they have been promoted from Division 2 to Division 1 of the Staffordshire County Senior League. Also, they have moved less than a mile up the A51 from Brereton Town’s ground, where the Lea Hall game was played, to the Red Lion Ground which has a long association with Brereton Social FC. And, they have become regular programme issuers as well.

The first person to greet me at the ground was ‘Tram’, making a return visit to the ground having seen Lichfield City play a home game many years ago. Soon we were joined by ‘Hednesford Rob’ and ‘Ratty’ as well as six or seven other travellers.

Going into this evening’s game, Rugeley Rangers (35 points from 19 games) occupied eighth position, some 14 points behind leaders Wolstanton United Reserves who had played three games more. A bit further down the table in 12th position were visitors Chesterton AFC (20 points from 19 games), well clear of bottom side Longton Harriers who picked up their first league points of the season last Saturday at the 21st attempt.

The Red Lion Ground is a familiar venue to me which I first visited back in 1985. Changes have been made over the years and now there is a stand on the near touchline around half-way containing around 100 yellow-coloured seats.

Programmes arrived a few minutes before kick-off and an interesting, none-the-less most-welcome, publication it was. Personally, I think it is good news that clubs at this level produce regular programmes as they can be good fundraisers. The glossy outer eight pages were the programme from last month’s Northern Cup game against Old Xaverians with a four page insert in the middle relevant to tonight’s game. Earlier in the season, Chesterton beat Rugeley 5-0 in a ‘very stormy, physical match’.

Chesterton (in all red) got the game underway defending the A51 end and attacking down the slope. However, Rugeley were quickly into gear and took the lead after just 75 seconds. Rhys Baker took the ball forward down the left and found Joe Murphy unmarked inside the area who slotted home the opening goal. The perfect start for Rugeley and great news for ‘Tram’!

The visitors won two corners before equalising in the 10th minute. Nath Marlow played a free-kick forward down the left to Kyle Cooke who crossed into the area. Matt Gee was unmarked inside the area and he volleyed part Rugeley goalkeeper Adam Hill into the left side of the net.

Wasting no time, Rugeley were back in front less than two minutes after the equaliser. Murphy found space down the right and hit a low right-foot angled shot into the far left corner of the net past the diving Chesterton goalkeeper Ant Anderson.

A cleaner contact with the ball two minutes later from Murphy could have given the midfielder his hat-trick. Instead, it looped in the air and Anderson made a clean catch on his line.

Rugeley full-back Matt Cole will be pleased no cameras were recording the game, especially in the 28th minute. Cole took what he thought was a foul- or non-throw and picked up the ball which travelled barely two yards on to the pitch. Unfortunately for the defender, the throw was legal and he was penalised for handball, not given the opportunity for a second attempt!

Still dominating as they had done for the majority of the first-half, Rugeley increased their lead five minutes before the interval. Tom Wright latched onto a throughball, rounded the advancing Anderson and sidefooted into the net, avoiding covering defender Marlow who had got back into the six-yard box.

I decided to walk around the pitch during the early stages of the second half and found hard-standing all round the perimeter. I guess this dates back to a time when the ground regularly hosted West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division games.

Carrying on where he left off, Murphy completed his hat-trick in the 48th minute which a goal that looked have put the outcome beyond doubt in favour of Rugeley. Pete Robinson found Murphy with a throw-in down the right and the nippy midfielder beat several defenders before shooting low into the far left corner of the net.

Chesterton started the comeback with their second goal scored in the 55th minute. Dan Macdonald, wearing ‘7’ like Murphy, send a screaming and unstoppable long-range drive flashing past Hill into the net.

The visitors scored again on the hour to make the scoreline 4-3. Macdonald delivered a free-kick from the right to the far spot which Hill failed to hold and central defender Sean Vaughan headed home at close range.

The Rugeley bench were concerned, especially when Macdonald’s shot was deflected wide for a corner: “Get back in their faces, not the other way round,” shouted the manager to his side.

On an evening of players wearing ‘7’ scoring the bulk of the goals, it was Macdonald who scored Chesterton’s 75th-minute equaliser. From fully 35-yards out, he curled a free-kick straight into the right side of the net, again giving Hill no chance of saving.

Macdonald had the chance to win the game for Chesterton deep into stoppage time after Neil Hill tripped Cooke on the edge of the area. Rugeley assembled a seven-man wall which Macdonald could not avoid hitting.

Surely, my third Rugeley game sometime in the future can’t finish 4-4, can it?

For the record, this was my first midweek game on 29th February and with the only previous game I’d seen on this date was Slough Town 2 Stafford Rangers 2 on a Saturday afternoon at Wexham Park precisely 20 years ago.

Rugeley Rangers (navy blue / navy blue / navy blue): 1. Adam Hill, 2. Matt Cole, 3. Tom Cunningham, 4. Jack Turner, 5. Matt Bushnell (capt), 6. Pete Robinson, 7. Joe Murphy, 8. Neil Hill, 9. Tom Wright, 10. Rhys Baker, 11. Ashley Andrews. Subs: 12. Dan Bolas (not used), 14. Dave Jones (not used), 15. Jam Russell (for Murphy, 70), 16. John Hurley (for Andrews, 80), 17. Dan Arnold (for Cole, 72). Manager: Craig Corrigan.

Chesterton AFC (red/red/red): 1. Ant Anderson, 2. Shaun Morgan, 3. John Wood, 4. Nath Marlow, 5. Sean Vaughan, 6. Tom Gibson (capt), 7. Dan Macdonald, 8. Mick Rodgers, 9. Kyle Cooke, 10. Matt Gee, 11. Kyle Clarke. Subs: 12. Phil Farr (for Gee, 70), 14. Matt Clowes (for Rodgers, 50), 15. Andy Smith (not used), 16. Nathan Green (for Wood, 74), 17. David Betts (not used).

Referee: Ken Swift.
Assistants: Ron Daley and Stuart Kerr.

1-0 Joe Murphy (2)
1-1 Matt Gee (9)
2-1 Joe Murphy (11)
3-1 Tom Wright (41)
4-1 Joe Murphy (48)
4-2 Dan Macdonald (55)
4-3 Sean Vaughan (60)
4-4 Dan Macdonald (75)

Rugeley: Ashley Andrews (YC, 29), Matt Bushnell (YC, 80), Neil Hill (YC, 90+4)
Chesterton: none