Wealdstone had to come from two goals down to salvage a point against a tough East Thurrock United side on Saturday in their quest to reach the play-off zone.
But a dramatic second half recovery never looked on the cards after a tired and jaded looking Stones gifted their well organised visitors a comfortable two goal lead at the interval. This appeared to be the ‘reaction’ game as Stones incredible physical and mental efforts over recent weeks finally caught up with them, but some astute substitutions in the second period – aided by a sending off – brought Stones level and they could and should have claimed all three points in the end.
The solitary point gained wasn’t enough to stop Stones tumbling back down the Ryman Premier Table to 12th position with other results not going their way. With key suspensions kicking in again Wealdstone face another herculean task over the next three matches – all of them away from home.
After a slow start from Wealdstone they had a good chance to take an early lead on eight minutes when a trademark long throw from Lee Chappell found Chris O’Leary whose flick header went just wide.
East Thurrock were gifted an opportunity at the other end with a quarter of an hour played as Sean Cronin made a mess of a defensive header allowing Sam Higgins to run clear, however the striker couldn’t capitalise as he hit a weak effort straight at Jonathan North.
In a first half of few chances, the visitors took the lead with a set piece on 33 minutes. Reiss Peddie was tripped by Smith 20 yards from goal, and former Colchester United man Joe Keith stepped up to curl an inch perfect free kick over the wall and in off the post, leaving North helpless.
Stones were then dealt a further blow two minutes after the goal when Chris O’Leary had to be withdrawn due to injury. Alex Dyer came on in his place.
A freak goal right on the stroke of half time ensured that Stones would have a mountain to climb in the second half. A needless foul on the left hand side allowed Matt Hall to curl a free kick into the box where it was met by an unmarked Sam Higgins who made no mistake heading in from close range.
Jonathan North was called into action soon after the restart, doing well to block an effort from Higgins as he ran clear on goal following a long punt forward, as Stones lethargy continued.
But Thurrock were reduced to ten men on 52 minutes when Sam Collins was shown a second yellow for an elbow on Scott McCubbin and the sending off changed the dynamic of the contest.
Manager Gordon Bartlett then opted to change formation, reverting to three at the back which allowed McCubbin and Chappell to get forward and with Dyer probing and threading passes from the midfield, Stones began to look far more threatening.
The change in shape seemed to work well and Stones reduced the arrears on 65 minutes when Richard Jolly bundled home his 40th goal of the season following a neat interchange with the ever lively Dean who had replaced Fitzgerald.
With 15 minutes to play substitute Peter Dean had a great chance to level when he burst into the box and lofted an effort over ‘keeper Richard Wray which dipped just wide.
Stones did pull the game level on 83 minutes. Chappell’s long throw was only cleared as far as Alex Dyer on the edge of the box who showed great skill to find the bottom corner with a deceptive effort off the outside of his foot. Kurtney Brooks almost scored a dramatic third soon after the restart with a scorching volley that flew just wide. Tom Pett also came close after curling a shot over the bar from the edge of the box following a clever lay off from McCubbin.
Stones continued to press hard as United back peddled and Pett’s brilliant turn and cross should have delivered a winner but Cronin blazed wildly over.
The final five minutes saw an all guns blazing effort from Wealdstone as they fought to snatch a late winner but the damage of that awful first half was just too much to fully erase and the 10 men of East Thurrock just held on.
Wealdstone: North, McCubbin, Chappell, Parker (c), Cronin, Smith (Massey 57), Brooks, O’Leary (Dyer 35), Fitzgerald (Dean 46), Jolly, Pett. Subs not used: Hammond, Hoban
Man of the match: Alex Dyer