DESPITE more than matching Highgate United for much of Saturday’s game, Rocester’s propensity for conceding sloppy goals ensured a defeat which sucked them back into the Midland Alliance drop zone.
Rocester left themselves with a mountain to climb after gifting Highgate a two-goal start inside 10 minutes, but fought back to level before the break – only for Tom Lacey to snatch a late winner in a second half dominated by the Romans.
Farcical defending saw Romans skipper Carl Allen divert Reece Lynch’s tame header past his own keeper, Richard Froggatt, to give Highgate the lead inside a minute.
During the opening stages, Highgate bombarded the Rocester box, and both Allen and defensive partner Daniel Wain were called upon to head clear more than once.
Tyrone Wilson also made a perfectly-timed sliding challenge to halt Daryl Jones’ advance into the area.
When a corner was delivered in to the near post on nine minutes, the statuesque Romans defence were caught napping as Lynch nipped in to flick the ball across for Richard Robinson to double Highgate’s lead.
Aside from a wayward long-range effort from Tom Ellerton, the Romans had been unable to exert much pressure at the other end, but in the 13th minute their fortunes changed.
Tom Brown delivered in a deep free-kick, which Liam Shaw headed back across goal for strike partner Micky Machin to knock home.
The goal swung the momentum in Rocester’s favour.
Brown fired wide from distance before Shaw did well to direct his shot on target under pressure – only for visiting goalkeeper Chris Jay to claim.
Jay also did well when he raced out to beat Wilson to the ball.
Froggatt had to remain alert at the other end, being called into action to tip over Jones’ firm left foot effort.
Rocester continued to press for the equaliser, with Machin shooting wide from Dillon’s cross and Jay claiming at the second attempt after Ellerton had done exceptionally well to get a shot in.
Wilson’s trickery on the right earned a corner, and the diminutive winger headed wide from Ellerton’s delivery.
The Romans levelled two minutes into first-half stoppage time as a foul on Shaw presented Brown with a chance from around 20 yards, and his free kick found its way into the bottom corner.
Rocester continued to make the running after the break, with Machin heading over from Brown’s cross and George Barlow also firing over after a deft turn in the box.
Ellerton’s thunderous 30-yard strike just before the hour mark looked to have caught Jay unawares, but the Highgate keeper somehow clawed it away.
Another Rocester attack saw Machin play the ball through to Dillon, who in turn fed Barlow, but he fired wide.
However, Rocester’s defensive frailties resurfaced on 72 minutes when a half-cleared ball fell to Lacey on the edge of the box, and his low strike took a couple of deflections on its way through a crowded box and into the bottom corner.
Rocester still created opportunities to salvage a point, and Jay pulled off the save of the match to push Barlow’s strike around the post at full stretch.
The Romans saw their hopes dealt a blow when the influential Ellerton limped off with five minutes left.
Rocester saw their final chance go begging when Machin took a heavy touch as he tried to latch onto Dan McDonald’s through-ball.
GOALS: Machin 13, Brown 45+2 (Romans), Allen 1 (og), Robinson 9, Lacey 72 (Highgate).
ROMANS: Froggatt, T Brown, Dillon, Whalley, Allen, Wain, Wilson, Barlow, Shaw (McDonald 73), Machin, Ellerton (Johnson 85). Subs not used: Rutland-Jones.
HIGHGATE: Jay, Robinson, Lacey, Joe Adams, Hall, Reynolds, Lynch (Jordan Adams 88), Jones (Fuller 46), Benjamin, King, Pulisciano. Subs not used: Rolfe, L Brown, Curtis.
STAR MAN: Tom Brown – set up one goal and scored another, all without neglecting his defensive duties.
REFEREE: D Parkes (Stoke).