12:33pm Sunday 9th March 2014
By Andrew Simpson
THE good news for Witton is that they avoided defeat when not at their best.
They are no closer to a position of safety in the Premier Division though, a prompt to feel frustrated after being held by opponents they were expected to overcome.
Perhaps that is an explanation too.
Seven days earlier, Albion played with freedom against Chorley – favourites to win the title.
Unburdened, Brian Pritchard’s men produced their best football of the season.
Tasked with taking the initiative when faced with a Rangers team all but condemned to relegation, they could not summon up the same courage that had defined their previous performance.
Annoyingly, they would not have needed match that ferocity to win this game.
Of greater concern is the amnesia in defence that gifted two goals to Stafford in the closing stages of the first half.
So bad was Witton’s marking, particularly the second time the hosts scored, even Rangers fans’ delight was diluted by derision.
Dan Cope swooped on Jon Breeze’s misplaced header to steer in an equaliser five minutes before the interval.
Worse was to follow.
When a corner from the right reached James McCarthy, he had time to stand still and then shoot without an Albion player reacting.
Goalkeeper Matt Cooper blocked his attempt, only for Alex Curtis to jab in the loose ball.
So swift was the turnaround, it was easy to forget the visitors had dominated most of the preceding 40 minutes.
They settled once Michael Powell had smuggled over the goalline after Rob Bodie headed Danny Andrews’ free kick in his direction.
When calmer, they convinced.
Referee Grant Taylor erred when refusing to punish Levi Reid’s nudge on Martyn Jackson, pushed into an advanced position to cover the enforced absence of Josh Hancock, inside the penalty area.
Powell drilled a low effort narrowly wide, then Jackson was thwarted in shooting stride by full back Andrews Griffiths’ timely intervention.
Cope’s leveller, from Ian Craney’s floated cross, followed from nowhere.
It proved no jolt, for Witton were still asleep when a flag kick found McCarthy in a different post code to the nearest defender shortly afterwards.
The introduction of Scott Bakkor, sent on to support in attack an oft-isolated Alex Titchiner, did not raise them from their slumber.
Ally Brown toe-poked off target after wriggling onto the substitute’s flick, but still there was no spark.
Bakkor, bizarrely, was booked for diving in the box despite Lewis Chalmers clearly tripping the forward after he touched the ball clear of the defender’s swinging leg.
Or not, according to the match official.
A crazy 60 seconds then determined the outcome.
First, Stafford replacement Matthew Berkeley sliced wide of an open goal. Reprieved, Witton scored instantly.
Anthony Gardner’s deflected free kick fell kindly for Powell, whose shot was clawed clear by Brain. However Andrews, alert, nodded in the rebound.
Substitute Dave Walker left the field on a stretcher following a collision with Boro’s net-minder, who blocked with a boot to deny Andrews a dramatic – and probably ill-deserved – winner in stoppage time.
Stafford (4-4-2) Brain (GK), Griffiths, Chalmers, Ballinger, Davies, Reid, Craney, Burke, Curtis (Berkeley 76), McCarthy (Henderson 68), Cope (Lees 76) Subs not used Johnson (GK), Bullock Goals Cope 40 McCarthy 45 (+1)
Witton (4-5-1) Cooper (GK), Brown, Bodie, Harrison, Gardner, Andrews, Breeze (Bakkor 53), Powell, Jackson (Sheehan 81), Dawson (Walker 75), Titchiner Subs not used Plant (GK), Crofts Goals Powell 19, Andrews 85 Booked Bakkor (simulation)
Referee Grant Taylor (Stratford)
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