A trip to play bogey side Lowestoft was never going to be easy, made all the more difficult by atrocious playing conditions. On an uneven surface Stones played down the slope with the strong wind behind them in a 1st half that opened frantically. The only change to the opening line up from the Bury match was Carl McCluskey coming in for Michael Malcolm.
In the 1st minute Pigden’s cross was fumbled by ex-Stone Ashlee Jones in the Lowestoft goal, but the ball rolled agonisingly across the goalmouth with no Stone on hand to punish the error. Almost immediately afterwards Stones breathed a huge sigh of relief as Okimo brought down Jake Reed on the edge of the box. However the referee only produced a yellow card, much to the dismay of the Lowestoft bench and much of the crowd. Some of the Lowestoft fans I spoke to near the incident believed that although Reed was the last man, he had lost control of the ball and this was the view the referee took. The resultant free kick was curled just wide by Smith.
Stones had the ball in the net after 13 minutes but unfortunately it was ruled out for offside. Lowestoft were playing with high intensity closing Stones down well, and had the better of the opening 20 minutes. Glenn Little made a great run from just inside the opposition’s half gliding through tackles with ease, but unusually he fluffed the final pass.
On 35 mins Pett won a corner with some good work on the right, and Pigden’s corner was met firmly by Hamblin’s head, but unfortunately straight at Jones. Stones finished the half strongly, a Pigden cross just eluding McCluskey’s head, and then with the best chance of the half, Little again skipped past a couple of defenders but his shot hit the far post and rebounded to safety. However on 45 minutes, Stones finally got the goal their efforts had deserved, but not without a huge slice of good fortune. A poor back pass was intercepted by Scott McGleish who coolly rounded Jones and slotted the ball home. Once again Stones hearts were in mouths as the linesman had raised his flag all too quickly for off-side. Although he realised his mistake, another day, another referee could have blown his whistle before McGleish scored.
Maybe this was going to Stones day at Lowestoft, although a slender one goal half time advantage was always going to be tough to defend after the break against an increasingly strong wind.
North was called into early 2nd half action. A free kick just eluded everyone but he reacted superbly to save at full stretch. Then it was Hamblin’s turn to make a superb block from Frew’s well-directed shot. On a rare 2nd half Stones attack, Okimo found himself in the unusual position of bursting through on goal, but his tame shot went straight to the grateful Jones.
Lowestoft got their equaliser on 56 minutes when their lively forwards closed down the Stones defence as they tried to clear, the ball rebounded fortuitously straight into the path of Jake Reed to slot home past an exposed North.
On the hour Stones had their best chance of the half when Little’s cross was headed goal-bound , but this was cleared off the line. The pendulum however was swinging in the home team’s favour, with Stones struggling to get out of their own half with the wind forever strengthening. Eagle had an excellent chance to score when sent clear through the middle but shot straight at North. Another free kick from the half way line again eluded everyone, this time bouncing high towards the top corner before North again flung himself at full stretch to push the ball over the bar. On 65 minutes the injured Hamblin, such a rock at the heart of the defence was replaced by Bentley as Stones prepared for further waves of attack. On 70 minutes Frew was brought down on the edge of the box only for Smith to hit the free kick just over the bar.
Stefan Bailey replaced Little with 5 minutes remaining, the Stones defence was holding firm. In stoppage time McCluskey conceded a free kick on the edge of the box, and Stones fans must have feared the worst, but this time Smith fired the free kick high over the bar.
All in all a strongly contested match in which the weather probably won the day, the final score a fair 1-1 draw. A good turn out also from the Stones fans numbering close to 100 in a crowd of 446.
Stones : North, Hammond, Okimo, Hamblin (Bentley 65), Cronin, Godfrey, Little (Bailey 85), Pigden, McGleish, Pett, McCluskey
Unused subs : Siva, Malcolm, McCubbin