FOR league leaders Northwich Victoria, this was the night an 11-matches unbeaten run that had taken them to the table’s summit came to an end.
Gone was the dominance that did for Bradford at the weekend, replaced by an insipid version of Vics that could do nothing to stop Stafford from winning a match here for the first time since 1994.
It is a reminder too that the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League remains capable of springing a surprise.
Few, including the visitors themselves judging by their defensive selection, could have predicted that a fall would follow Saturday’s success against a title rival.
However Andy Preece’s men, despite lining up with four different faces, seemed drained.
Still, the damage is slight for only victory for Chorley at in-form Chester tomorrow, Wednesday, can knock Northwich off top spot in the standings.
Meanwhile Rangers, buoyed by taking an interval lead given to them by Sean Kinsella’s brilliant free kick, can count themselves unlucky not to have added to their goals tally in the second half.
They ceded the initiative, at least initially, to the hosts.
Michael Clarke headed too high when Nathan Woolfe whipped in a dipping centre from the left, then Luke George diverted to safety a shot from the same player following David Fitzpatrick’s corner.
Stafford’s only attempt was authored by lone attack Chris Budrys, who hooked over his effort after Adam Sumner had failed to cut out Jon Sheldon’s assist.
Vics’ full back switched play with a stunning pass to Paul Ennis five minutes later, Steve Abbott heading off target from Graeme Law’s subsequent cross.
Stafford were sure Kyle Armstrong should have been sent off when he bundled over Budrys as the pair chased a lofted pass in the seconds before half time.
He escaped with a caution, but Kinsella’s curving shot inside the near upright from the resulting free kick was punishment in kind.
Preece switched systems at the interval, introducing Ryan Wade to the attack while pushing Woolfe and Ennis into orthodox wing positions.
But the familiarity with their usual formation, if not its fluidity, that had given Vics an edge in the first half was replaced by a disjointedness that meant they rarely looked likely to rescue a
Stafford, now with an extra man in midfield, made the most of it.
Budrys buried his head in his hands soon after the restart when, unmarked from inside the six yards box, he headed the ball into the turf with such force that it bounced over the bar.
Blackhurst then shot too close to Ben Hinchliffe from Rangers’ next raid.
The visitors, perhaps sensing they had the best chance of any opponent to end Vics’ sequence, were first to every loose ball as they assumed the initiative.
From one such episode did Sheldon’s drive rattle an upright as time ran out. Ennis was sent off for a petulant kick at Blackhurst in stoppage time, the Stafford player dismissed too for his part in
the unnecessary fracas that followed.
Vics’ Star Man Adam Sumner. An encouraging response to being dropped following his afternoon to forget at Stocksbridge earlier in the month.
Unflustered in possession, the teenager showed a willingness to join the attack when the opportunity presented itself.
A mention too for goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe, who made enough saves in the second half to stop Stafford from swelling their margin of victory.
Vics (4-3-3) Hinchliffe (GK), Law, Collins, Armstrong, Sumner (Short 79), Abbott (Roddy 54), Field, Fitzpatrick (Wade 46), Ennis, Clarke, Woolfe
Subs not used Raphale Evans, Tony Evans
Booked Armstrong , Collins (both fouls), Wade (dissent)
Sent off Ennis (violent conduct)
Stafford (4-5-1) Johnson (GK), Donnelly, George, Dicker, White, Heler, Blackhurst, Skelton (Morton 67), Kinsella (Nagington 90), Sheldon, Budrys (Shotton 85)
Subs not used Wood (GK), Stevenson
Goal Kinsella 44
Booked Donnelly (kicking the ball away)
Sent off Blackhurst (violent conduct)
Referee John Dowd (Wirral)