Monday, January 2, 2006

ANDY Preece must wish Stafford Rangers are on the menu each and every week.

Despite Stafford's impressive position at the zenith of Nationwide North, Worcester can point to two highly impressive and hungry displays against the table-toppers.

Only poor finishing prevented City securing a maximum haul at Marston Road on Boxing Day.

And yesterday, once Adam Webster cancelled out Craig McAughtrie's first-half opener, galvanised City looked a good bet to throw a much bigger spoke in the Rangers runaway train.

Although they could not quite garnish all three points at St George's Lane, Worcester can be mightily satisfied with their reaction to the New Year's Day nightmare at Hyde United.

Preece made one change from that Tameside shocker, replacing Nick Colley with teenager Sam Wedgbury, while Danny Hodnett continued in the absence of injured Chris Smith.

Hodnett has cut an impressive figure since his summer move, slotting in to good effect across midfield and defence when called upon, but he suffered a traumatic first 20 minutes.

He was partly to blame for Stafford's goal on 15 minutes, which arrived moments after Nathan Talbot cleared Webster's back-flick attempt off the line.

From their first corner of the game, Levi Reid caught City off-guard by knocking the ball back into the penalty area.

Veteran Neil Grayson flicked on the delivery and big centre-half Craig McAughtrie, catching Hodnett unawares, swooped to guide the ball neatly past Danny McDonnell.

City's defence continued with their carelessness, Hodnett twice shovelling clearances straight to Stafford's forwards, while experienced heads Des Lyttle and Justin Thompson were often casual in dangerous areas.

But, meanwhile, the home side enjoyed the lion's share of possession and came within a whisker of levelling on the half-hour mark as Leon Kelly headed Les Hines' deep cross against the crossbar.

Whatever Preece and assistant Andy Morrison relayed to their players during the interval, it worked a treat as Worcester came flying out of the traps in the second-half.

Tom Warmer whizzed a superb flying cross from the left flank, which deserved a glorious finish before being cleared behind, and City scored from the resultant corner.

Thompson scooped Rob Warner's in-swinging delivery towards goal and, from two yards out, Webster stabbed home only his fifth league strike of the campaign.

For the next 25 minutes, aroused Worcester piled forward incessantly to put their noses in front.

Webster curled a 25-yarder into Dean Williams' hands and the goalkeeper was beaten all ends up when McAughtrie inadvertently headed Hines' free-kick onto the roof of his own net.

In almost a carbon copy of City's equaliser, Webster could not squeeze the ball home on 60 minutes after Thompson flicked on Warner's corner.

Another great chance eluded the home side when Kelly raced down the right flank to fizz an inch-perfect ball across the face of goal.

Clegg raced in to finish from close range, but the former Bury midfielder put his left-foot effort wide.

Despite City's relentless pressure, Stafford always posed a threat on the break and Craig Lovatt was unlucky not to put the visitors ahead again.

Lovatt was put clear by Grayson but thwarted low down by McDonnell. However, the blocked clearance fell back to Lovatt and his second attempt required a timely goal-line clearance from full-back Hines.

Lovatt then horribly skewed another right-footed shot wide under pressure from Thompson.

At the other end with eight minutes left, Kelly brushed aside McAughtrie and Wayne Daniel after latching on to Clegg's clever through-ball, but he side-footed agonisingly wide of the upright.

CITY: McDonnell, Warner, Hines, Hodnett, Thompson, Lyttle, Warmer, Wedgbury, Kelly, Webster, Clegg. Subs not used: Walker, Wood, Hyde, Colley, Khan.