Stafford Town’s first match of 2022 ended with defeat to Sandbach United as they found themselves on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline on a rain-soaked pitch. Despite having moments in the game, Stafford were unable to get the final pass or shot right and their despair was compounded by the loss of influential frontman Josh Oultram to a serious knee injury on the stroke of halftime. After some superb work by the Sandbach ground staff the match went ahead but the pitch was certainly not conducive to long spells of possession, resulting in an end-to-end affair with neither side able to fully control the game. After a Josh Wilson free kick into the box was headed over in the second minute, Sandbach saw a dangerous low cross from the right cleared. Sandbach were looking more dangerous but Stafford ‘keeper Henry Smith was not forced into making any actual saves, the defence doing enough to keep the hosts at arms-length and make the final shot difficult as Sandbach put two shots wide and had a low cross from the right cut out just in time. Stafford had little in the way of shots of their own with the exception of a speculative effort from distance by ‘Kaz’ Danilian that was easily saved. A change of shape for Stafford saw them improve towards the end of the half, with their best move coming in the 35th minute, a swift breakaway saw the ball played out to Nathan Scott on the right, a cut back finding Oultram in the box but his shot was blocked for a corner. As half time approached a good ball by Danilian released Ryan Taylor on the left, who got to the by-line and pulled the ball back across the goalmouth and although Declan Arber was able to get to it at the far post, the angle was tight and his effort found only the side-netting. In the final minute Oultram slightly overran the ball as he drove down the left, a fair tackle from a defender as he was off balance combined with the slippery conditions leading to a severe knee injury. HT 0-0. The injury to Oultram saw the introduction of Kyle Ashman and he had an early shot blocked after cutting inside his man on the edge of the box. After another Sandbach shot was put wide, some neat interplay in the 54th minute between Wilson and Taylor on the right corner of the Sandbach box created an opening for Wilson but he was not clinical enough and the shot was saved. Sandbach took the lead a minute later when Smith was unable to hold onto a shot from distance and the follow-up was bundled home. A good free kick by Danilian into the box in the 60th minute resulted in a header that was deflected for a corner before Stafford were offered a lifeline as Sandbach had a player sent to the sin bin for ten minutes for dissent. Stafford made the advantage count, Wilson controlling a high clearance on the edge of the box and playing the ball out to Ashman on the left, his eventual low cross finding Wilson again in the box and although he fluffed his lines initially, the ball fell kindly and he made no mistake at the second time of asking to level the scores. Sandbach then curled another effort wide and had a goal disallowed for offside although they were perhaps unfortunate as the ball appeared to come off a Stafford player. In the 76th minute a run down the right by Taylor led to a cross to Arber in the box but his shot was blocked. A minute later Sandbach took the lead again, an incisive break down the right culminating in a low cross and close-range finish. Stafford had a great chance to equalise in the 84th minute, a break in behind the Sandbach defence by Arber drew both defenders in the box, the ball squared to substitute Tom Duffy to finish but he put the chance just over the bar. Sandbach looked to run the ball into the corners as the game drew to a close, Stafford unable to create a final chance to equalise despite throwing men forward. FT 2-1 Sandbach United. Stafford will look to bounce back against near neighbours Eccleshall on Saturday 15th January at Evans Park before a long trip to Birkenhead to face Cammell Laird on Saturday 22nd January.