A VASTLY improved performance, particularly in the first half, should have earned Rocester new manager Dave Shaw a share of the spoils at the very least against Loughborough University on Saturday.
However, a glaring miss that should have given them a two-goal cushion, coupled with a second-half goalkeeping error, meant Shaw began his managerial career with a defeat.
With fellow strugglers Continental Star and Heather St John’s both picking up points, the loss saw the Romans drop to the foot of the Midland Alliance table.
But despite their lowly position, there is a renewed optimism at Hillsfield.
Shaw gave three players their debuts in a line-up which also included Aaron Cole, who was with the club earlier in the season.
His new-look Romans took the game to their opponents from the start, and with pace and options up front they looked anything but a team in a relegation battle.
The lively Romans had a couple of penalty shouts correctly waved away by referee Spencer Turner.
But he then appeared to deny Rocester a golden chance to take the lead after visiting keeper Brendan Hazlett took a short goal-kick to central defender Josh Hill.
Hill slipped and was caught in possession a yard outside the area.
Between them, Dan Brown and Liam Shaw forced the error, and were both clear on goal only to be stopped in their tracks by the official who surprisingly ruled that the goal-kick had to be retaken.
Rocester finally got their reward in the 39th minute when Aaron Dillon did well on the right, taking the ball into the area and delivering a low cross to Brown.
The striker took a touch before steering the ball past Hazlett to open the scoring.
That lead really should have been doubled moments before the interval. Shaw’s pressure forced Hill into another slip.
The manager’s younger brother held the ball up well waiting for support, and when it arrived he found Tom Ellerton at the far left post with an open goal at his mercy. Unfortunately for Ellerton and Rocester, he somehow skewed it wide.
With a two-goal lead maybe Rocester would have gone on to take the points.
But Loughborough made the most of their good fortune by upping their game after the break, and they enjoyed a solid 20-minute spell that turned the game on its head.
Kieran Kenlock twice fired good efforts narrowly wide across the Romans goal.
And it came as no surprise when they forced an equaliser just before the hour through Jack Poxon, who glanced a neat near-post header past Wayne Smith from a corner.
Rocester dug in to regain their composure, and they might well have regained the lead too when Cole’s excellent break and cross from the left found Brown on the edge of the area.
But the striker blazed his shot high over the bar.
The game was finely balanced, but the scales tipped in the visitors’ direction when Smith failed to hold on to Max Herbert’s routine free kick and Poxon pounced to stab home the loose ball.
SCORERS: Romans – Brown (39). Students – Poxon (58) (66).
ROMANS: Smith; Beardsley; Holland; Whalley (Jones 85); Wain; Allen; Dillon; Ellerton; Shaw (Johnson 69); Brown; Cole. Subs not used: Spencer; Cannon.
STUDENTS: Hazlett; Mueller; Brenan; Nash; Hill; Wilkinson; Poxon; Herbert; Kenlock; Owusu-Ansah (Winchester 67); Dunkley (Emmeth 81). Sub snot used: Partridge; Minihan; Lancaster.
REFEREE: S Turner (Wolverhampton).