Stafford Rangers 2 Rushall Olympic 5
THERE was a disappointing start to 2014 for Evo-Stik strugglers Stafford Rangers as three former players returned to Marston Road to inflict more misery.
Rushall struck a nap-hand on New Year's Day as Rangers,who had conceded four goals in both of their previous two games over the festive period,suffered a third successive holiday defeat.
After trailing 3-0 at the break, Rangers did show more of what is needed from them, from now until the end of the campaign, with a more spirited second half performance.
And there was also the welcome sight of striker Karl Ashton netting his first goal of the season, having returned on Boxing Day after being sidelined since April with a serious ankle injury.
Ashton came off the bench for the last half hour and scored with a late diving header, but by then the game was well out of Rangers' reach.
Rushall dominated the first half, taking a seventh minute lead through Josh Craddock, who headed in James Dance's corner.
The visitors created other chances and eventually doubled their tally when former Boro player Carl Palmer fired home at the far post on 27 minutes.
Rangers had not tested Rushall keeper Chris Gemmell when the Pics made it 3-0 through experienced campaigner Dele Adebola after 38 minutes.
It was virtually on the stroke of half-time when Rangers finally threatened through Phil Mooney. He burst into the Rushall box but then chose to pass inside when a shot appeared the better option, and the chance went.
From the restart, and with striker Jack Lees having replaced the struggling Jack West, Rangers began to show more. A move started by the former on 57 minutes was eventually tucked away by the same player at the far post and Boro fans were given hope.
But nine minutes later, Rangers on-loan defender Tom Morris gave away an unneccessary penalty for a trip on Palmer and ex-Boro defender Gavin Caines slotted home the resultant penalty.
Worse was to follow when a Rushall free kick found Palmer wide right and his low cross was turned in at the near post by Christian Dacres, who started the season at Stafford.
Rangers' long suffering fans did have the final cheer with a fine diving headed goal from Ashton with two minutes to go, but by then all three points had been secured by Rushall.
This latest result leaves Rangers still with a massive task to firstly reach the league safety mark which now stands at 17 points.
Next up for Rangers is a crucial relegation battle at home to Stocksbridge Park Steels on Saturday (3pm).
Rangers team v Rushall - Jon Brain, Andy Griffiths, Tom Morris, Jack West (Jack Lees 45), Darren Bullock, Jermaine Johnson, James McCarthy, Phil Mooney, Dan Cope (Matty Burke 78), Louis Harris, Oliver Davies (Karl Ashton 61). Subs not used, Sean Kinsella, Alex Curtis; Referee: Matt Wilkes (Stourbridge); Att: 323.