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Stafford Rangers 0-1 Ashton United - Report

A 1-0 defeat to Ashton United confirmed Stafford Rangers’ relegation from the Northern Premier League.

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The Rangers threw everything at their opponents to try and find a way back into the game, but were unable to find the net for a second consecutive match after Samuel Baird headed Ashton ahead.

Basford United netted a 99th-minute equaliser against champions Radcliffe to officially send the Rangers down. Stafford had required a win to ensure their survival battle went to the final day of the season.

Dave Cooke dropped defender James O’Neill who made way for Isaac Lee as the Rangers looked to bounce back from defeat to the already relegated Atherton Collieries the previous weekend. And, they started how they’d have hoped, on the front foot.

Kaiman Anderson rattled the post with his left-footed shot in a promising start, but Ashton dominance followed as Cameron Belford tipped Alexander Byrne’s effort to safety before the 15-minute mark.

Sean Newton directed a header wide for play-off chasing Ashton before Stafford’s Kian Taylor blazed an effort high over the goal from close-range. A chance the winger will rue.

Sean Cooke’s deflected effort was held by goalkeeper Paul Cooper before the Rangers lost A-Jay Leitch-Smith to injury. Jack Stafford replaced the winger and made an instant impact, nearly heading his side ahead at the back-post after the half-hour mark.

Cooper stood strong and the side’s entered the break with nothing between them.

Jack Stafford denied Samuel Baird with his header clearing at the post, but with his second opportunity two-minutes later, the Ashton defender made no mistake in finding the net. Baird met James Hardy’s low free-kick with his diving header and it was a disastrous start to the second-period for Stafford.

Kielen Adams headed off-target on the hour-mark searching to double Ashton’s lead as the Rangers began to show urgency and fight.

Sean Cooke and Jack Stafford both saw efforts blocked before Connor Heath fired narrowly wide after being substituted on alongside Fletcher Rushbury for his debut. Boss Cooke bolstered his attack hoping to claw a goal back, but it never came despite their efforts.

The lowest scorers in the league so far this season - with 36 - faltered and faced relegation despite their late rally.

Stafford players slumped to the ground with disappointment as their fate was sealed miles away by Basford scoring and securing their own safety.

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