Gainsborough Trinity vs Stafford Rangers

A Declan Howe brace sees Gainsborough Trinity to victory, as they hang on to beat Stafford Rangers.

The visitoring Stafford brought a fiery second-half comeback, but Howe’s two first-half goals were enough for the three points.

The Holy Blues returned home just 48 hours after beating Bamber Bridge on Saturday, facing a Stafford side who sat in the relegation zone. 

Despite Boro’s lowly league position, they beat Gainsborough 4-0 on Boxing Day in the defeat that sparked Trinity’s good run since the turn of the year.

The hosts had won nine of their 12 games in the calendar year so far, while Stafford won two on the spin to put them within reach of Northern Premier League safety. 

First-Half:

Fraser Preston got the game underway at the KAL Group Stadium, but it was Declan Howe who scored the early goal. Preston blocked an attempted clearance in the Stafford half, and Gainsborough’s number ten latched onto it to lash the ball past Cameron Belford. 

It was the striker’s seventh goal in as many games. 

Russ Wilcox’s side were continuing to pose a threat down the left, as former Scotland under-19s international Preston linked-up well with full-back Ashley Jackson and returnee Dayle Southwell. 

Southwell forced a good save from the Stafford ‘keeper after 12 minutes, as he played a neat give-and-go at the edge of the box. 

Trinity dominated the early proceedings, with a Tyreece Onyeka cross that evaded the on-rushing Connor Heath, Stafford’s only chance of the opening 20 minutes.

The in-form Howe doubled his and Gainsborough’s tally in the 22nd minute. Jackson beat his man on the left and stood a nice ball up to Howe at the back-post, who nodded the ball in off the underside of the bar.

Owen German fired a stern effort over the Stuart Horley Stand at one end, before Preston curled a tame effort into Belford’s hands at the other. 

Stafford grew into the game late in the half, with play down the left causing George Hornshaw problems. Health curled in a nice cross, which on-loan Sheffield United ‘keeper Dylan Wharton gathered at the second attempt under pressure from Stafford top-scorer Kaiman Anderson.

The game had a bit of needle as half-time neared, with little flashpoints popping up at all sides of the pitch. It continued after referee Waqar Ahmad blew his whistle, as Stafford boss Dave Cooke confronted him going towards the tunnel. 

Gainsborough Trinity vs Stafford Rangers
Gainsborough record their tenth win of 2024.

Second-Half:

Stafford Rangers started the second-half well, with Joe Willis heading on an out-swining corner to the back-post. Anderson was beaten to it, but he didn’t have to wait long for an opportunity.

He was taken down by Trinity defender Hamish Douglas in the box, forcing the referee to award a spot-kick. Anderson picked himself back up and fired the penalty into the bottom corner of Wharton’s goal. 

It was a completely different game to the first-half, as Stafford looked to complete the turnaround. Kian Taylor almost had an instant impact as he was substituted on and quickly cut inside before firing a shot into the grasp of Wharton.

With 20 minutes left to play, the game was on a knife edge. Bailey Conway rifled a poor long-shot over the bar, as the match became scrappy. Onyeka and Anderson had chances at the other end, but couldn’t provide that decisive touch.

Stafford’s increased possession wasn’t turned into clear cut chances, as the clock wound down. 

However, substitute Taylor had an opportunity with five minutes to go. He cut in from the left and stung the palms of Wharton with a stern effort. 

Joe Willis spun and shot high over the bar, before Trinity had a chance on the counter-attack.

Howe selfishly laid off the ball to substitute Joe Stacey, rather than going alone for his hat-trick. He didn’t turn his chance into a goal, instead forcing a save out of Belford.

Gainsborough managed to see out the last few minutes, adding a fourth consecutive home win to the impressive run of form.

Gainsborough Trinity 2-1 Stafford Rangers:

Declan Howe’s first-half brace was enough for three points as Trinity added a tenth win of 2024. 

They have now won eight of their last nine outings, in a rich vein of form that has lifted them into the top-half of the Northern Premier League.

Gainsborough travel to Lancaster City on Saturday, looking to continue their fine form.

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