The Staffordshire Senior Cup is one of football's oldest competitions having first been run in 1877 when Stoke defeated Talke Rangers in the Final. Stoke went on to win the following year too and are still the competition's most successful side with 19 titles. It's a competition that used to be dominated by the area's professional clubs, Aston Villa, West Brom and Wolves have all clocked up double figures, as too have Stafford Rangers, champions for the last three tournaments.
Oddly, depsite the proximity of the clubs, there is a not a great history of games between the teams. In fact, they only appear to have been in the same Division once in recent history, 2018-19, when both were in Midland League Division 1. Uttoxeter finished seven places and 21 points above their neighbours that season but, on the pitch, honours were far more even. An early season 0-0 draw at Hillsfield was followed by a 1-0 Boxing Day win for Uttoxeter.
Uttoxter were promoted to the Midland Premier Division (Step 5) two seasons ago, so play at a Step above Rocester in the North West Counties Division One South. This season has not started particularly well for either club although Town, with one win from their seven league games, will ceratinly be happier than The Romans. Rocester are anchored to the bottom of their table having lost all ten of their league outings so far. Even worse, they have scored just three times whilst conceding an average of over three per game.
Rocester's Hillsfield Stadium is situated just to the East of Rocester village. The ground is adjacent to an old mill building, built by the famous industrialist Richard Arkwright, that now is home to the JCB Academy, a school for Year 9 and above with a focus on engineering. There is ample parking to the rear of the stadium which is accessed through a single turnstile in the corner of the ground. On the car park side of the ground is the clubhouse, next to which is the main stand, The Gilbert Egerton Stand. The dugouts are also on this side of the pitch. Opposite this there is also a covered standing area which straddles the half way line. On both sides of the ground there are grass banks which allow a good view across the playing area.
Rocester, as the home club, were resplendent in their change kit of all blue while their visitors wore a rather natty yellow kit with unique patterns on the shirt and shorts. My only qualm was the use of white numbers on a yellow background. Almost impossible for us old gits to see the numbers clearly from further than 20 yards away.
In a fairly even opening few minutes, although neither keeper was threatened, both sides looked up for the game. Rocester, to be fair, didn't have the look of a team still searching for the first win of the season.
After 9 minutes the home side got themselves in front. It wasn't the prettiest of goals, but they wouldn't mind in the least. A long punt from keeper Charlie Wood turned the Uttoxeter backline and, under a little pressure, Harry Bickerton headed the ball past his own keeper. 1-0
The goal didn't open any floodgates. In fact, it was the only significant action within the first 20 minutes. That was until Ethan Newton-Taylor decided to try his luck from 20 yards, seeing his effort skid just wide of the home goal. Again, after this effort, there was plenty going on in the centre of the park, but neither keeper was being unduly threatened. However, the game did come to life more in the last 10 minutes of the half, as Uttoxeter tried to step it up, looking for an equaliser. They forced their first corner after 35 minutes and although it came to nothing seemed to spark them into action. With four minutes to go until the break they were again on the prowl. Following a bit of pinball in the home penalty area, Sam Birks latched onto a loose ball but could only loop his effort over the bar. Then with the referee getting ready to blow for the break, the visitors came even closer. A corner from the left found Thorley at the back post. His header looked goal bound until Wood somehow managed to produce a point blank save to keep his side in front.
HT Rocester 1 Uttoxeter Town 0. A fairly even first half with clear cut chances few and far between. Probably fitting that the the difference so far was an own goal. Uttoxter came into the game more as the half wore on and looked to have the upper hand just before the break.
Uttoxeter had their hosts pinned back in their own half but still couldn't get them selves back on level terms. Then, as often happens they were caught on the break. Rocester, after soaking up a fair bit of pressure launched a raid of their own with Connor Mason shooting low past Tolley. 2-0.
That goal sparked the game into life and only three minutes later Uttoxeter got themselves right back in it. A deep cross from the left was met at the far post by Paul Hughes who played it back across the six yard box for Sam Birks to tap the ball over the line. 2-1.
If I was a betting man I would have probably put a few quid on Uttoxeter at least getting an equaliser at this point. Their tails were up and you could see that they thought they were going to pull it back. However, try as they might, they still couldn't get the all important goal. Then, on 81 minutes, they were sucker punched again. Substitute Greg Large went on a powerful run down the left, stepped inside and unleashed a beautiful curling, dipping shot over Tolley into the far corner. 3-1. A fantastic goal.
Town were still not giving up. As we entered the final few minutes Thorley once again came close, heading over when he maybe should have at least got it on target. If that one had gone in, we could have been in for a very interesting final minute or two.
FT Rocester 3 Uttoxeter Town 1. A first win of the season for The Romans, local bragging rights, a 'cupset' and progress in the Staffordshire Senior Cup. Not a bad night's work for the home side.
At the weekend Rocester travel to Ashby Ivanhoe in the FA Vase. Uttoxeter are back in league action as they welcome Highgate United to the Oldfields Sports Ground.
Rocester: Wood, Stevens, Paddock, Zona, Bullock(c), Wadsworth, Payne, Elliott, Mason, Niven, Bates. Subs: Burrows, Lomas, Large, Redgate, Rennelson
Uttoxeter Town: Tolley, Bickerton, Thorley, Newton-Taylor, Dyche, Comery(c), Richardson, Harper, Hughes, Birks, Hassell. Subs: Neild, Baines, Kenny, Weldon, Hepburn
Ground Number: 327