Following the midweek heartache of conceding a goal in added-time to lose 1-0 to Workington, the Rams knew that to-day’s match against top-of-the-table Warrington Rylands was bound to provide a stern test. Even more so when taking into account that the Rams had suffered the worst defeat in the club’s history – 8-nil – in the corresponding away fixture earlier this season.
If the Rams were hoping luck might swing back their way, it didn’t seem so when in-form striker John Murphy incurred a pre-match injury which left him a spectator on the day. In his place though, Domaine Rouse, starting the match in the target-man role up front, managed to unsettle a rather immobile-looking Warrington back three defenders with darting runs and some clever lay-offs.
However, midway through the first half, the visitors began to assert greater authority on the game. First, a corner from the right was met by an attacker free at the near post – again it has to be said that the Rams’ marking at corners is woeful – the situation only being salvaged by keeper Tom Stewart pulling off an instinctive last-ditch save to palm the ball over the bar.
Not long after, Warrington appeared to have gone into the lead after Richard Smith struck a powerful volley into the net only for celebrations to be cut short by the delayed hoisting of an assistant referee’s flag for offside. As tensions mounted between the two sides, the referee doled out yellow cards like confetti. With a sense of relief, he blew the whistle on a goalless first half.
The second half started with the Rams on the front foot. Shots from Jamie Rother and Domaine Rouse brought out good saves from the away team keeper. This was as good as it got though, before a wave of away team raids put the home goal under siege. Striker Kane Drummond was through on goal only for Tom Stewart to pull off a stupendous save. With pressure building, Stewart denied the visitors with a startling sequence of three point-blank saves from short distance before managing to dive full length to tip past the post a shot from 20 metres out, all these saves happening within split seconds of each other.
Everything though seemed to be heading for some kind of breakthrough. This duly arrived in the 81st minute when home skipper Tom Kennedy and Warrington striker Kane Drummond committed themselves 50-50 to winning a ball that had fallen between them. The impact of the clash left both players writhing on the ground and needing sustained medical attention. With the two of them back on their feet again, the referee made it clear he thought Kennedy was the villain of the piece by booking him.
Then, with players and crowd alike in a state of disbelief, he awarded a penalty. Placing the ball on the spot, Warrington’s David Bell calmly tucked it away beyond Stewart’s despairing right arm dive to gift the visitors an all-important opening goal.
Manna from heaven as it was for them, the table-leaders then did everything they needed to do to cling on to their lead. Time was against the Rams and it was to be their fate in the end to go down to a third consecutive 1-0 defeat, still leaving them perilously close to the dreaded 18th position relegation play-off spot.
With the end of the season looming ever closer, and a difficult-looking away match next week against in-form Kidsgrove, the outcomes of the last few remaining matches leave the Rams’ survival hopes on more of a knife-edge than anyone would have wanted.
RAMSBOTTOM: Stewart, Fitzgerald (Collinge 89), Kennedy (c), Osi-Efu (Ormrod 76), Barlow, Ventre, Hasler-Cregg, Rother, Rouse, Abadaki, Grimshaw (Donaldson 70). Sub not used: Murphy.
Pics: Jake Horrocks