There was huge relief that the Vale pitch was declared fit for play following incessant rain but Wealdstone’s proud unbeaten home league record stretching as far back as 14 months was unceremoniously brought to an abrupt end and with it a hugely disappointing start to the New Year, leaving Wingate to celebrate a meritorious victory.
Stones scored two late goals in this excruciating match and for a few late pulsating minutes a miraculous draw even seemed possible; but this would have masked a dire performance that was for the most part bereft of any spark and midfield creativity that has shot Wealdstone to a challenging position in the Ryman Premier this campaign.
Wingate started the game deep in the relegation zone and without a win under their new manager Gary Meakin, but almost from kick-off it was evident that The Blues, bolstered by several significant new signings, would be anything but pushovers. And so it proved and a déjà vu to last season’s fixture.
Stones struggled to assert themselves during the Boxing Day clash at Harrow Borough and this match bore the same hallmarks on a similarly heavy pitch. The difference this time was that Wingate took their goal chances clinically and sadly for the home side, there were plenty of them. It is difficult to pin point why Wealdstone should underperform to the extent they did but this was painful stuff for the vast majority of the New Year’s Day attendance of 512.
Stones may look to a significant and controversial refereeing incident when the game was still at nil all. Richard Jolly was through on his own, but wide of goal when it appeared to all in the ground that the striker was clearly upended. And with the defender being the last man it looked like a red card offence but referee Matt Foley saw things differently and play was waved on. Within minutes Wingate had taken the lead from one of many quick counter attacks and the die was cast.
Stones did start reasonably brightly as was to be expected and Alex Dyer curled a ball just over the bar after 4 minutes but then promptly got himself booked after dwelling on the ball and then holding a player back who had nicked it away. Lee Chappell was then in the right place at the right time to clear off the line from Daniel Brown after the first of many a defensive lapse on the flank.
Jolly shot straight at Jack Middleton but then Andre Scarlett broke clean through and only Rikki Banks’ outstretched leg prevented a goal. Stones huffed and puffed playing down the slope but after Jolly received no change from the referee after appearing to be hauled down it became pretty much one way traffic.
Wingate scored their first on 29 minutes from Daniel Brown who looked lively throughout, and this had been coming. Celebrations were premature when Jolly headed in as he was called back for offside – and not for the first time.
The hard working Chris Moore tried his luck after turning well and Wes Parker headed over but the away side’s runs from deep were causing Stones all sorts of problems. Anthony Thomas smacked Banks’ upright before The Blues rubbed salt in gaping wounds with a second and killer goal 5 minutes before the break with another effort from Brown after Banks was completely exposed.
The second period brought no change in fortune or midfield nous from Wealdstone who could have conceded again within minutes of the restart – again from Brown. But Stones did at least throw some caution to the wind and started to attack in numbers. It appeared to be game over when the much travelled Wayne O’Sullivan shot home on 61 minutes for 0-3 to a stunned silence from the home faithful.
A below par Alex Dyer missed excellent chances as Stones to their credit ratcheted up the tempo in the final quarter of the match. Finally, with 6 minutes remaining, Stones pulled a goal back with a great volleyed strike from Jolly following a Scott McCubbin cross.Incredibly, 45 seconds later Stones had pulled the deficit even further back when sub Nathan Webb drilled home for a cool finish and suddenly Stones realised that had a real chance of snatching a highly unlikely but hugely welcome point.
As Wingate’s defence now panicked, Stones piled forward with 5 minutes plus added time remaining, but just couldn’t quite do what seemed mission impossible. Even so the miraculous turnaround could have been delivered if Jolly had kept his strike on target instead of blazing over when in a great position with two minutes to go.
Stones must be given credit for making a real fight of it at the death but they should never have been in such a dire position as the league proved once again that absolutely nothing can be taken for granted.
After the match an angry Gordon Bartlett said on Clubcall: ‘Credit to Wingate but we were absolutely awful and I want to apologise to our supporters who paid to watch that performance today. We were lack lustre and our energy levels were very poor until the last 25 minutes when our substitutes sparked things up. I am bitterly disappointed and we have to get back to winning ways quickly, starting on Saturday.’
Wealdstone: Banks, McCubbin, Chappell, Parker, Cronin, Dyer, Brooks, O’Leary, Moore, Jolly, Pett. Subs used: Webb, Hammond, Tumwa. N/u: James, Haxhia (GK)
MoM: Rikki Banks