Monday, December 26, 2005

WORCESTER City paid the price for missed golden opportunities as they dropped two Nationwide North points at leaders Stafford Rangers.

City looked destined to claim their first away league victory of the season at Marston Road yesterday following Des Lyttle's exceptional scissor-kick finish on 33 minutes.

The visitors won the tactical battle, despite the huge gulf in league places, and top goalscorer Adam Webster should have extended his side's advantage on three occasions after the break.

But the normally reliable Webster was short of the killer touch and Rangers survived to rescue a point when former Kidderminster Harriers and Hereford United man Matt Clarke poked a late equaliser.

City were reduced to 10 men in stoppage time as George Clegg received two yellow cards, but his dismissal mattered little as last-gasp Stafford pressure was comfortably handled.

All-in-all, Worcester will be bitterly disappointed to squander victory after out-thinking their table-topping hosts.

They owed much of their supremacy to a sterling performance from the back three -- with Lyttle outstanding as sweeper -- while Tom Warmer shone in the centre of midfield.

Stafford looked to find the early goal and Nathan Smith came close with a 25-yard drive on the turn that fizzed over Worcester's crossbar.

Lee Downes also sent a long-range shot wide as the home side dominated the early possession, while City struggled to progress into the Stafford half.

Worcester eventually found their feet and applied pockets of pressure. Webster failed to connect from eight yards from Les Hines' long free-kick.

At the other end, Danny McDonnell was almost punished for hesitating over a back-pass. Grayson rushed to block McDonnell's clearance but the ball rebounded away from goal and City's number one rushed to smother before Nathan Smith could pounce.

City grew more in confidence and took an unlikely lead from their first authentic opportunity.

Rob Warner's long throw-in was nodded on by Stafford old boy Chris Smith and his veteran colleague Lyttle acrobatically scissor-kicked the ball into the bottom corner.

It was a fantastic, well-executed volley from the former Nottingham Forest full-back.

Stafford, rocked by the goal, were stung into action and should have restored parity three minutes later.

Kevin Street's inswinging free-kick was perfectly weighted for Paul Groves and Craig McAughtrie, but they collided at the back post.

Moments later, McDonnell held onto Groves' 25-yard left-foot drive with a stunning save and also held a swirling effort from Smith before Webster spurned the first of his trio of chances.

Hines' inswinging free-kick was poked goalwards from four yards out by Webster, but Dean Williams kept out his effort with a low stop.

On 70 minutes, he put a free header wide, again from close range, and his nightmare continued when slicing over a one-on-one with Williams.

Stafford should have been dead and buried, but the title contenders recovered to level with seven minutes left.

Hines was adjudged to have fouled Kevin Street on the edge of the box.

And from Street's free-kick, sub Clarke arrived to slot home unmarked at the back post.

McDonnell superbly tipped away McAughtrie's 18-yard low drive in injury time, while Clegg's red card brought a few late seconds of tension.

CITY: McDonnell, Warner, Hines, Smith (Hodnett 47), Thompson, Lyttle, Warmer, Colley, Kelly, Webster, Clegg. Subs not used: Preece, Wood, McDonald, Wedgbury.