Wealdstone bravely kept their title hopes alive on Saturday as they came from behind to earn a precious point at league leaders Whitehawk. With Stones sitting in second place, seven points behind The Hawks with two games in hand, it was imperative that they avoided defeat against the big spending Sussex side if they were to maintain their hopes of automatic promotion.
And things looked bleak for a time as Stones fell behind to a first half strike from Hakeem Araba, but a much improved second half performance saw them deservedly find an equaliser through Alex Dyer before both sides were reduced to ten men late on in a tense and exciting finale.
Spurred on throughout by over 300 visiting fans that made the trip to the south coast, it was Wealdstone who had the first opportunity of the afternoon with two minutes on the clock. Lee Chappell embarked on a trademark surging run down the left hand side before swinging in a vicious cross which just evaded the onrushing Richard Jolly before finding its way to Kurtney Brooks at the far post. Brooks had time to take a touch before firing an effort just past the wrong side of the post.
The home side spurned an opportunity to open the scoring on 13 minutes when James Fraser whipped in a dangerous free kick which was met by the powerful Araba whose towering header flew just wide of the upright.
Danny Mills then wasted another good chance five minutes later; firing over from close range after Rikki Banks failed to clear Fraser’s corner.
Whitehawk took the lead with 25 minutes on the clock. Wealdstone failed to clear their lines properly from a near post corner, with a goalmouth scramble ensuing which gave Araba the opportunity to stab the ball home from close range.
Stones were struggling to get the ball down and play their usual passing game on a large undulating surface in what was turning out to be a frustrating opening 45 minutes for the visitors; although they did create a chance five minutes before the break when Peter Dean made space for himself just outside the box before letting fly with a left footed effort which was beaten away by Chris Winterton in the Whitehawk goal.
Wealdstone looked brighter at the start of the second half, with Chris O’Leary heading wide from Lee Chappell’s free kick before Winterton had to be alert to save a driven free kick from Chappell after Dyer had been pulled back 25 yards from goal.
Wes Parker came close to continuing his recent impressive goal scoring form on the hour mark, meeting Jolly’ cross with a powerful header which was tipped over the bar by Winterton.
Despite Stones now dominating possession, Whitehawk were still a threat on the counter attack and Araba perhaps should have doubled his side’s advantage on 65 minutes when he ran clear of the Wealdstone defence, however he could only fire well over when one on one with Banks.
Raphael Rossi-Branco then embarked on a surging 50 yard run five minutes later, but like Araba he could only fire well over and the opportunity was lost.
The equaliser for Stones finally arrived on 75 minutes and what a beauty it was for the visiting fans to celebrate. Alex Dyer picked up the ball 20 yards out on the left hand side before cutting inside and letting fly with an effort from the edge of the box which flew into the far corner giving Winterton no chance.
Two minutes after the goal Stones were reduced to ten men when substitute Chris Moore, who had only been on the pitch for three minutes, was shown a straight red for a late lunge on Whitehawk centre back Matt Lawrence.
The home side then had a man sent off themselves three minutes later in what was turning out to be a feisty and controversial end to the game. Mark Knee got involved in a spat with Stones substitute Nathan Webb, with the Whitehawk man appearing to strike Webb in the face giving referee Gary Parsons no option but to show Knee a straight red.
The final ten minutes were extremely tense as the highly impressive Wealdstone support raised the volume in an attempt to lift their side to a winner.
Stones carved out a couple of half chances late on, with Chappell using his long throw to good effect as the home side desperately clung on for a point and they were able to see out the match after 4 minutes of added time.
Next up for Wealdstone is a trip to Thurrock on Wednesday, before they entertain Concord Rangers at The Vale next Saturday, 3pm kick off.
Wealdstone: Banks, McCubbin, Chappell, Parker (c), Cronin, Dyer, Brooks (James 90), O’Leary, Dean (Moore 74), Jolly, Pett (Webb 71). Subs not used: Godfrey, Locke
Attendance: 587 (320 Wealdstone)