Wealdstone showed guts and determination at The Vale on Saturday when they a turned a half-time deficit into a much needed victory with a sparkling second half display delighting the vast majority of the 554 crowd.
Stones were simply all over the place in a putrid first 15 minute spell when they were second best in virtually all areas of the park and succumbed to a 5th minute goal. But the home side did what they do best and played their way out of trouble with some excellent passing football and eventually their domination was turned into goals from Scott McGleish, Tom Hamblin and Tom Pett.
In the midst of squally showers and a prophetic warning of a rapid storm to come, Stones survived a mere five minutes of incessant Grays pressure before James Hammond was exposed on the right and from a whipped in cross namesake Jeff Hammond slid the ball home gleefully at the far post to stun the home side. Memories of recent matches against Margate and Hornchurch quickly welled up as the fired up away side piled on the pressure and it seemed a second goal was not far away. Stones defence creaked. Jonathan North saved as Gray’s Joao Carlos appeared to have freedom of the right flank, then Hammond again went close as he flashed a header just the wrong side of North’s far post.
With Gray’s failing to add to their tally when in almost total control Wealdstone sensed some respite and gradually began to get their act together. Stones first real attack of note saw McGleish stretch from a searching Jey Siva cross but it was no more than a half –chance.
Stones were incensed when a clear looking penalty claim was waved away when Chris Moore was pulled down after Lamar Johnson had spilled the ball
But when the industrious Elliott Godfrey was able to take a measured strike at goal that was tipped away by a cagey looking Johnson it seemed the tide may just be turning as the contest entered the 25 minute mark.
With a freed up Glen Little now pulling all the strings in the middle Stones finally began to look the part and Tom Pett was now making a nuisance of himself and wriggling behind and through the previously untroubled away defence.
Nevertheless Stones went into the break a goal down but the signs were better for the remainder of the clash
Playing down the slope and into a noisy Bulla Stand, Wealdstone finally made the breakthrough in controversial circumstances. Referee Mellor had been markedly conservative with his decisions thus far but surprised everyone in the ground by pointing to the spot when a prone Joe Nightingill got in the way of the ball with his arm. Grays were mortified and loud in their protests but Scott McGleish gratefully despatched the penalty on 50 minutes. Suddenly the whole complexion of the game changed and the momentum was now firmly with the home side.
Jonny Wright then entered the fray, in place of the luckless but hard working Chris Moore, and Stones’ impetus gathered more pace and goal threat. This was Wright’s opportunity to make an impact and he took it.
The game now became increasingly stretched as space opened up for the more free flowing home side to exploit with Little charging through the middle and continually probing to find the killer ball. But although Grays had dropped back they could still counter, and Tom Pett showed his defensive qualities when he was well placed to head off the line from a corner.
Wealdstone continued to pile forward and from a corner they took the lead. Johnson contrived to push the ball onto the post and from the rebound skipper Tom Hamblin bundled the ball home on 76 minutes.
Seven minutes later and Stones had wrapped up all the points. Wright received the ball out wide, cut in brilliantly and laid the ball into path of Pett who needed no invitation to rifle home with a superlative finish into the top corner.
This was a hugely important win for Stones as they now prepare to face top of the table Maidstone United in the second qualifying round of the FA Trophy at The Vale next Saturday.
Wealdstone: North, Hammond, Siva, Hamblin ©, Okimo, Godfrey, Little, Pigden, McGleish, Moore, Pett. Subs used: Wright, Dean. N/u: Haxhia (GK), Bentley, Bailey.
William Hill MoM: Tom Pett
Match Report by Nick DuGard