Wealdstone scored two goals in the final ten minutes to secure a deserved 2-0 victory in a highly entertaining season finale at home to Canvey Island on Saturday.
Strikes from Charlie Penny and veteran Peter Dean ensured the three points for the champions, in a game that in truth could have gone either way.
The Stones, who were crowned Ryman Premier Division champions eleven days earlier at Margate, had slipped out of form in recent games, but returned to the party just in time, ahead of their Middlesex Senior Cup final next weekend.
It was the hosts who made the brighter start to the game, flying out of the traps, and they could easily have been out of sight within the first quarter of an hour.
In the opening minute, Michael Malcolm released Penny to break into the box, but Gulls’ ‘keeper Josh Vickers parried it away to safety.
Moments later Malcolm again was the provider, and after good link up play between himself and Tom Pett, the latter could only shoot straight at the visitors’ grateful stopper.
Watford loanee Luke O’Nien was pulling all of the strings in the Stones’ midfield, and his perfectly weighted through ball found the heavily involved Malcolm, whose tame effort was easily dealt with.
Gordon Bartlett’s side, who had their trophy presented to them after the match in front of a packed Bulla Stand, were utterly rampant, and Luke Pigden’s crashing 25-yard attempt was an indication of the confidence running through the team.
Canvey, sitting safely in twelfth position at the start of play, began to recover and gain a foothold in the match, and on twenty-six minutes mustered their first attempt of note towards Jonathan North’s goal, a low drive from skipper Matt Game trickling inches wide.
The visitors continued to grow in confidence and might have gone into the interval ahead, but for some solid Stones defending. Ashley Dumas combined well with Sheldon Sellears down the Gulls’ left, but Sean Cronin bravely cleared his teasing cross. Minutes later, John Sands’ powerful header was tipped wide by an out-stretched North as The Islanders began to turn the screw.
As the players emerged after half time the crowd, staggered by how the match could still be goalless, rallied behind their team, knowing they were capable of sucking the ball down the hill and into The Bulla Stand net.
It was Canvey who created the first opening of the second period, however, with Sellears the man coming close. After being put in the clear, he struck the inside of the post, before Sands fired high and wide at the end of an exhilarating attack.
Danny Heale’s side were playing like a team who simply had nothing to lose on this final day of the season, and will kick themselves for not cashing in when the next flurry of chances came. Jerome Okimo’s under-hit back pass was intercepted by Sands, who was lurking dangerously, but his initial effort was straight at North, followed by a pot-shot cleared heroically off the line by Cronin.
This was no ordinary last game of the season between two sides effectively playing for nothing, and the end-to-end drama continued to the death. Next it was Stones’ turn to launch an attack, and after fine work on the left from the fleet-footed Pett, Penny’s header was well saved, before he slammed the rebound against the woodwork.
Bartlett looked to his bench and brought on Jonny Wright and Scott McCubbin in place of Malcolm and James Hammond, and Wright almost had an instant impact. After Luke Pigden’s fierce drive was thwarted, the forward found himself unmarked, but the excellent Vickers was again to his team’s rescue.
Peter Dean was the manager’s final substitution, entering the fray at Pigden’s expense, perhaps something of a sentimental move in what may turn out to have been his final appearance for Wealdstone.
It looked like it may just be one of those days for both sides; a great game but a matter of missed opportunities, especially when O’Nien, who had impressed throughout, saw his looping header catch the top of the bar; but the deadlock was soon to be broken.
As the game entered its final ten minutes, Penny was expertly put clean through on goal, and the Millwall loanee kept his cool to stroke the ball past Vickers and into the bottom corner, sending the home faithful into raptures.
Moments later, the forward should have added a second, receiving the ball from Elliot Godfrey after O’Nien’s close control, but this time Vickers was equal to it.
There was to be another, though, and after Wright’s effort had come back off the post, Dean pounced to hammer home, sparking great celebrations and creating pandemonium in the stands, to seal an immensely satisfying 2-0 win for the champions.
Wealdstone: North, Hammond, Okimo, Parker, Cronin, Godfrey, O’Nien, Pigden, Malcolm, Penny, Pett, Subs used: Wright, McCubbin, Dean. N/u: McCluskey, Bentley
William Hill MoM : Peter Dean
Match Report By Matt Desai