Wealdstone’s coronation as Ryman League champions must wait until Saturday at least after bogey side Lowestoft denied them once more at The Vale Tuesday night. Wealdstone had never beaten Lowestoft in eight previous attempts and it was the former Eastern Counties League outfit who dashed their promotion hopes in a stormy playoff semi-final two years ago.
Therefore hopes were high for the sweetest of revenge on a night when victory would all but clinch the crown. However, though a very early Charlie Penny chance got away and Johnny Wright later hit the bar, Stones rarely looked like getting the win they craved with Lowestoft’s understandably more composed football worthy of at least a point. Therefore, it is off to Grays Athletic at the weekend where at this point a win will be needed to be champions although the requirement may be less depending on the fates of two of the challengers AFC Hornchurch and Bognor in matches on Thursday.
Boss Gordon Bartlett shuffled his pack once more after Saturday’s defeat to Metropolitan Police. Wes Parker was back at the heart of defence in place of Tom Hamblin, while Glen Little, Luke Pigden and Tom Pett were restored in midfield for Luke O’Nien, Stefan Bailey and Carl McCluskey respectively.
On a night so important Wealdstone’s best sight of goal came in the opening seconds when Penny was sent racing clear. The youngster released by Millwall last week was one-on-one with Ashlee Jones, but as fates would have it the keeper who was in goal for Wealdstone in that playoff semi-final of 2011-12 forced him wide and Penny could not wrap his foot around the ball from an acute angle.
With four of the previous eight encounters having ended in goalless draws it should have surprised no-one chances were few, Wright’s skidder on 17 minutes the first to require a save from either keeper. It was the visitors though who were dictating play and their first big chance came on 20 minutes. Stones lost possession in midfield and Robert Eagle’s through-ball split Wes Parker and James Hammond setting Chris Henderson in on goal but he snatched at the chance and shot across goal and well wide.
Parker was the first man to get booked for a block on Jake Reed as the Trawlerboys countered strongly. The resulting free-kick was cleared for a corner, but Wealdstone were increasingly under the cosh. The visitors were close again on 35 minutes when a half cleared corner dropped to Henderson whose astute ball found Eagle on the right-side of the box, but with clear sight of goal the winger like Henderson earlier failed to hit the target.
With Lowestoft dominating possession Rossi Jarvis then sliced through the middle of the home defence to unleash a shot beaten out by Jonathan North. It was against the run of play when Stones produced the closest thing to a goal four minutes from the break when Johnny Wright got across his marker to head Luke Pigden’s right-wing corner against the bar and away to safety.
It was an isolated moment and Jake Reed soon warmed North hands again with another stinging drive. Yet on the stroke of half-time one ball inside the full-back by Little gave Pett a sniff of goal before a last-ditch tackle put the ball behind.
Having been over-run in midfield in the first half Bartlett opted to stiffen the boiler room at half time with Wright sacrificed in favour of Scott McCubbin. Wealdstone began positively with a flurry of corners, but with little physical presence up front they struggled to make chances and the nerves were soon evident once more.
However, a rapier like counter from the Stones saw Pett lead the charge before crossing to Penny at the far post, but the alert Jones was down to save the shot from close range. Lowestoft were back in their smooth passing game, but Stones almost caught them out on 62 minutes when Little found McCubbin out wide on the right and his teasing cross had to be tipped over by Jones.
Still the nerves continued and it was Lowestoft who launched the next counter when Jerome Okimo’s poor touch sent Jarvis racing forward beyond the cover. North advanced to get a hand on the shot and Okimo who had tracked back tidied up to put the ball behind. McCluskey and club stalwart Peter Dean were thrown into the fray late on in place of the tiring Little and Pett who had been sick before the game.
There was one scramble in the Lowestoft box, while the Trawler Boys were close again at the other end with a header over the bar.
However, with striking legend Richard Jolly watching in the 852 crowd, the one goal the hosts craved would not come, meaning it is not job done just yet.
Wealdstone: North, Hammond, Okimo, Parker ©, Cronin, Godfrey, Little, Pigden, Wright, Penny, Pett. Subs used: McCubbin, McCluskey, Dean. N/u: O’Nien, Bentley.
Match Report by Jon Batham, Harrow Observer