ROCESTER’S seven-match unbeaten run came to an end at Hillsfield on Saturday when a talented Alvechurch side took all three points with a solitary strike midway through the second half.
The new-look visitors paraded almost an entire team of recently signed young players linked with Birmingham City who, on this evidence, appear likely to force their way into the title reckoning despite a slow start to the season under their former management team.
The Romans should not be too disappointed after losing out in a tight contest, but they will look back at a missed penalty and a defensive howler which led to the only goal as the key moments that swung a game that could have gone either way.
Church made a lively start and only an acrobatic clearance by Chris McComisky prevented a golden opportunity for them in the first few minutes, but Rocester soon had the visitors on the back foot when Chris Sterling broke into the area and sent in a low cross that Jordan Nadat could not force over the line.
Sterling was looking sharp and causing problems again in the area when he was brought down by goalkeeper Liam Maher in the 22nd minute — and Rocester had the perfect chance to take the lead when referee Jon Bell pointed to the spot.
Nadat stepped up to take it, but Maher made amends for his error with a good save, blocking the well-struck penalty with his feet.
Jamie Spencer was only just off target for the visitors with a scorching drive just before the interval.
Rocester looked much sharper after the restart and Edwin Ahenkorah was unfortunate to see his shot cleared off the line after he had danced around two defenders inside the area.
Carl Allen was also out of luck when his header flew narrowly wide as the Romans continued to probe, but Alvechurch responded by almost taking the lead themselves when the home defence failed to clear a free-kick, with Gary Ray firing wide from a great position.
The decisive moment arrived in the 68th minute after Ryan Grocott’s careless square pass 30 yards out was intercepted by Spencer.
He pushed the ball to Ryan Edmunds on the right and, having made a fine run to the by-line, pulled the ball back to Spencer, who rammed it into the net from close range.
Omari Sterling-James then had two great chances to make the game safe for Alvechurch, but on each occasion, with only goalkeeper Richard Froggatt to beat, he fired his shot narrowly wide of the target.
They were big let-offs for Rocester but, having survived those scares, they pushed hard for an equaliser and were desperately unlucky not to get one.
Nadat probably should have levelled the scores when he latched onto Darren Bullock’s flick-on, but Maher produced an excellent save low to his right and grabbed the ball at the second attempt before any of Rocester’s forwards could pounce.
Bullock was next to be denied by another super save by Maher, with the keeper somehow getting a hand to a wellplaced header from the big centre-back, who got up well to meet Grocott’s teasing cross.
One more chance fell to Nadat five minutes from time but, after controlling the ball, he blazed his shot a yard over the bar.
GOAL: Spencer 68 ROMANS: Froggatt, McComisky (McLeod 87), Rogers, Bullock, Swain (Pirrie 74), C Allen, Ahenkorah, Holland, Sterling, Nadat, Grocott; subs not used: Johnson, Smith, Langston.
CHURCH: Maher, Hatfield, Humphries, Cosgrave, S Smith, J Allen, Edmunds, Ray, Spencer (Luckie 87), Sterling-James, Dunkley (Kenny 74); subs not used: Taylor, Spink.
REFEREE: J Bell (Cannock).