CARL Macauley winced after discovering the outcome of games elsewhere.

He admitted then to a sense of regret after watching his side succumb to Stafford Rangers – a result that saw Witton Albion’s chances of contesting the promotion play-offs recede further.

In truth, they won’t now.

Theirs was a subdued performance, which felt strange given the circumstances.

Farsley Celtic, a rival to whom Witton are giving chase, were vulnerable to dropping points against second-placed Warrington Town.

Perhaps not prevailing at Throstle Nest on Thursday, which they ought to have done, had been a decisive psychological blow.

It did not help either that Robert Thompson-Brown arced a perfectly-placed free-kick into the top corner inside two minutes.

Albion mustered a response of sorts, and Kieran Morris blocked in the nick of time to divert Tom Owens’ shot from Matty Devine’s cut-back.

Nick Ryan headed high from corner before Witton players puffed their cheeks with relief after Devine appeared to nudge Tyrell Waite to the floor inside the penalty area.

Stafford’s speed on the counter caused problems, and goalkeeper Calvin Hare stretched fully to parry Massiah McDonald’s dipping shot after he had drifted inside.

Meanwhile Will Jones is likely to suffer recurring nightmares after scooping over from inside the six-yard box after Steve Tames picked him out on the half-hour.

He will have felt worse too when Jack Sherratt, a former Witton midfielder, swerved in a second goal for the visitors after shuffling the ball onto his stronger foot.

Macauley said afterwards that he felt confident even then that his team would create further chances.

And they did.

Rob Hopley met Tames’ cross shortly after half-time with a header that lacked the force to trouble Boro custodian Adam Whitehouse.

Substitute Prince Haywood’s free-kick dipped late while Jones, confidence perhaps dented by his earlier miss, chose to pass to Tames rather than shoot after running clear.

Albion also sent on Anthony Gardner and Paul Williams in an attempt to spark a comeback, although it was the visitors that did that instead.

Devine was tripped by Sam Griffiths with three minutes left, and Tames dispatched the resulting penalty.

Irritated, Whitehouse kicked the ball away to delay a restart.

It succeeded, but only because he was sent off by referee Matt Corlett who showed a yellow card to him for a second time after an earlier caution for time-wasting.

Substitute goalkeeper Riley Stephenson was then beaten before he had even touched the ball when Hopley prodded Devine’s cross into the net.

However the striker was in an offside position.

Stafford held on, inflicting on Witton a seventh home defeat of the campaign.

The damage wrought on the hosts’ hopes of finishing in the top five is more significant though.

Witton | 4-4-2 | Hare (GK), McKenna (Gardner 58), Ryan, Wilson, Devine, Tames, Owens, Foley, Dale (Haywood 46), Jones (Williams 66), Hopley, Subs not used Evans, Neild (GK) Goal Tames 88 (penalty) Booked Devine (foul), Tames (dissent)

Stafford | 4-4-2 | Whitehouse (GK), Griffiths, Morris, Vann, Westwood, Waite, Craddock, Sherratt, McDonald (Reid 76), Thompson-Brown (Brown 90), Perry (Stephenson GK 90) Subs not used Davis, Chilcott Goals Thompson-Brown 2, Sherratt 40 Booked Craddock, McDonald, Waite, Perry (all fouls), Whitehouse (time-wasting), Griffiths (dissent) Sent off Whitehouse (kicking the ball away, second caution)

Referee Matt Corlett

Attendance 316