Wealdstone’s title aspirations took a dent on Saturday as a leggy performance saw them held to a draw at lowly Wingate & Finchley.
Having played twice in midweek, including a late dramatic victory over Concord Rangers two days previously, it was always going to be a tough afternoon for Stones as they focussed on maintaining their impressive unbeaten run but targeting a victory.
Initially matters went according to plan after Richard Jolly marked his return to the starting line up by handing Wealdstone the lead on 10 minutes, but former Stone Hector Mackie levelled things ten minutes before the break and the in the end the game could have gone either way.
The second half was a nervy affair as both sides looked to snatch a winner, but ultimately the sides had to settle for a point which on the balance of play was probably a fair result, but not one that Stones Manager Gordon Bartlett would have expected coming into the game.
There were a number of changes in personnel from the side which had overcome Concord on Thursday night, with Rikki Banks, Wes Parker, James Hammond and Chris O’Leary replacing Jonathan North, Nathan Webb, Darren Locke and Kurtney Brooks. There was also a return to the starting XI for Richard Jolly who replaced Scott McGleish in attack.
Jolly was obviously keen to make an impression and did just that when he put his side ahead with ten minutes on the clock. Lee Chappell played a long ball forward from the back, with Jolly timing his run to beat the offside trap and holding off the covering defender before finding the far corner with an exquisite finish.
Stones were dominating the opening exchanges, and Peter Dean came close to doubling his side’s advantage two minutes later when he saw his flicked header fly just over following Chappell’s corner.
Alex Dyer then had a chance, hitting a cross-cum shot which bounced just wide of the post with Wingate ‘keeper Bobby Smith struggling to get across.
The home side had struggled to get their foot on the ball in the opening half hour, but they had their first chance of the on 30 minutes when Mackie played a ball over the top to Anthony Thomas who dragged his shot across the face of goal. Thomas was proving to be a thorn in Wealdstone’s side with some clever forward play
Two minutes later they had another chance, Thomas firing just wide with a free kick from 25 yards after he had been bundled over by Sean Cronin.
It was now Wingate who were dominating possession, and it was perhaps no surprise when they levelled things up on 35 minutes. Wayne O’Sullivan swung over a cross from the left which was only cleared as far as Mackie who chested it down before lashing a shot past Banks.
Jolly was then guilty of missing a glorious chance to restore his side’s lead three minutes before the break. Tom Pett fired over a great cross which found Jolly unmarked six yards out, but he could only head inches wide when he should have scored.
Stones had a penalty shout turned down eight minutes after the restart when Scott McCubbin went down under a challenge from Andre Scarlett, but the referee waved play on much to the player’s annoyance.
Both sides were struggling to create chances in the second half, although Peter Dean did have a shot which flew just wide following a long ball from the back by Cronin.
Banks came to Wealdstone’s rescue on 70 minutes, saving well with his feet after the lively Jack Hutchinson had played in substitute Spencer Bellotti.
At the other end Smith showed great reflexes to keep out a header from Cronin as both sides worked harder to snatch all three points.
The best chance for either side came for the hosts five minutes before the end. Wes Parker could only clear a cross as far as Leon Smith, with the former Wealdstone loanee firing well over from close range when he should have punished his former side.
All in all it was a disappointing afternoon for Stones, but seven points from three games still represents a good return in what was a challenging and unrelenting week for the team.
They now turn their attentions to Monday’s huge derby encounter with Harrow Borough at The Vale, 3pm kick off.
Wealdstone: Banks, Hammond (Webb 66), Chappell, Parker (c), Cronin, Dyer, McCubbin, O’Leary (Brooks 66), Dean (McGleish 64), Jolly, Pett. Subs not used: North, James
Crowd: 342 (Wealdstone 220)