THREE second half goals ensured Rocester took maximum points from Saturday’s crucial relegation battle against fellow strugglers Heather St John’s.
In what was a must-win game for the Romans, Dave Shaw’s side displayed the type of character needed to haul themselves away from the drop zone by coming from behind to win this topsy-turvy encounter that was played on a saturated pitch.
The drama began more than 30 minutes before kick-off when a torrential thunder storm hit the Leicestershire village, causing the players to cut short their warm-up routines and head back to the dressing rooms for cover.
Once the rain had eased, Nuneaton referee Paul Hands decided that conditions were still good enough for the game to go ahead after a 20-minute delay to the scheduled kick-off time.
It was the hosts who adapted quickest to the conditions, but their early zip was nullified comfortably by the Romans, who soon began to look the more dangerous side going forward.
With Aaron Dillon and Tom Ellerton both prepared to take on the full-backs the Romans were starting to ask a few questions of the Heather defence, and Dillon was twice brought down in dangerous areas without being awarded a free kick, and was amazingly cautioned for
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‘simulation’ after going past his marker and having his shirt quite clearly tugged back.
Rocester’s angst was, however, soon forgotten when they took a 30th minute lead with a fine goal from a sweeping move that began with Liam Shaw’s early pass from a central position to Ellerton on the right.
The wide man took the ball in his stride and squared it across the area to Dan Brown, who took a touch before steering it into the net.
Within a couple of minutes Heather were denied an equaliser when Richard Froggatt came out quickly to save from Troy Wallen with his feet, but Rocester responded immediately themselves when Ellerton again burst into the area, only to be sent crashing by two home defenders who converged into him.
Rocester’s penalty appeals appeared perfectly valid but they were waved away by the referee, who instead awarded a free kick to Heather.
The Romans had been worth their lead, but Heather hit back before the interval to turn the game on its head with two goals in four minutes.
Dean Withers grabbed the first with a well-placed shot after finding space on the left of the penalty area, and then in the 41st minutes Withers turned provider when he delivered a great free kick in from the left that was headed firmly past Froggatt by Hayden Johns.
Importantly, Rocester restored parity less than two minutes into the second half when Brown was tripped as he turned past a defender inside the area, and with the spot kick awarded it was Brown who got up to strike it past Gary Hateley.
Both teams tried to seize the initiative but it was Rocester who came up with the all-important next goal following a 67th minute corner, Paul Whalley sliding in to get the final touch after a frantic goalmouth scramble.
Just two minutes later Rocester rounded things off with a killer fourth goal. Brown maybe should have scored when he raced clear into the area, but when he was tackled the ball broke nicely to Shaw, who fired it into the empty net.
Heather rallied in the closing stages but Froggatt was easily able to deal with two long-range efforts from Johns.
GOALS: Withers 37, Johns 41 (Saints). Brown 30, 47 pen, Whalley 67,Shaw 69 (Romans).
SAINTS: Hateley, Green, Wright, Johns, McPherson (McMenamin 61), Chapman, Woodbine, Samra, Wallen, Slack, Withers. Subs not used: Woodward, Powell, Reece, Gorle.
ROMANS: Froggatt, Beardsley (T Brown 66), Holland, Whalley, Allen, Wain, Ellerton (Rutland-Jones 66), Strzyzewski, Shaw (Lawrence 78), D Brown, Dillon. Subs not used: Johnson.
YELLOW CARDS: Froggatt, Dillon, Strzyzewski (Romans).
REFEREE: P Hands (Nuneaton).
Saturday, February 1 - Rocester v Coleshill Town, 3pm.
Tuesday, February 4 – Rocester v Heath Hayes, 7.45pm.
Saturday, February 8 – Loughborough University v Rocester, 3pm.